To music fans of a certain age, the word Muzak conjures up treacly instrumental versions of popular rock songs, piped to captive audiences in places like elevators and dentists' offices. But in fact, Muzak had a long history of recording and broadcasting transcriptions of classic jazz and Tin Pan Alley songs before it took this unfortunate turn in the 1960s and '70s, and in the '80s it evolved into a pioneer of satellite radio, offering 15 channels of programmed music from established artists--years before XM and Sirius started doing same thing for consumers. Now, it offers more than 80 channels, and it's more ubiquitous than you might imagine--I've been at two gyms in the last five years that subscribe, for instance.
The company's turning 75 years old later this year, and has a special commemorative site that details its history, including its pioneering use of 33 1/3 RPM LPs back in the '30s and its foray into "functional music" that was scientifically designed to alter the moods of workers and customers in the '60s. (If this didn't help inspire Devo, it should have.) In the background, samples play from Muzak's archive of more than 10,000 songs--right now, you can hear artists from the '30s and '40s like Tommy Dorsey, The Carter Family, and the (original) Riders of the Purple Sage. If they're smart, they'll offer the entire archive for sale as downloads--it might help them emerge from Chapter 11 sooner.
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