Mental Floss writer Ethan Trex has a great piece on its website today about the history of Muzak, one of the most misunderstood and mysterious companies the United States has ever produced. It might be one of the most universally disliked companies as well.
The very definition of bland, stale background music, mentioning the word “Muzak” will get you dirty looks from anyone who takes his music seriously. However, the company has a fairly interesting history. For instance, it was founded by a World War I Army General, George O. Squier. The piece also explains how the term ‘elevator music’ entered the American lexicon.
As a kid Muzak was everywhere, but I mainly remember being forced to listen to it back in the 1970s at the old Western Supermarket in my hometown of Trussville, Alabama. I’m certain other in my age group share that type of experience.
However, the company I worked for during my first office job out of college had an account with Muzak. This was in the mind 1990s just before satellite radio and Itunes but during the reign of MTV as a cultural force. Muzak, accordingly, went through a period of adjustment updating its image and repertoire for a ‘hipper’ generation.
You could hear the new Muzak streaming through those little white speakers in the ceiling tiles every stinking day, and, let me just tell you, there is nothing more depressing than hearing an easy-listening version of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze while working in a sterile, office cubicle.
Sitting here thinking about it, I can feel the energy and happiness being sucked out of my system.