Ultra Lounge Vol.16SoundsationalIn KrautCocktail Mix

The 90s Easy Listening Revival: Introduction

Easy Listening Compilations


There is no denying there was an explosion of interest in easy listening music in the 1990s. 


The cd and lp sleeves shown here represent only a fraction of the compilations released from the 1990s onwards and whilst new releases these days are fewer in number they still appear periodically in different guises. The easy listening revival also left in it's wake a host of lounge blogs catering to afficionados still captivated by the genre. 


Googling easy, exotica, bachelor, cocktail, lounge and jet set uncovered a cornucopia  of titles as did further searching with words like library, mambo, Muzak, commercials, tiki, TV, groovy and spy


New descriptors materialised in the 90s such as loungecore, ultra-lounge, elevator music, retro-lounge and space age bachelor pad music as major labels, minor labels and bootleggers rushed to find new ways to put a fresh spin on what was essentially a huge rebranding and repackaging exercise for very old music.


It's been twenty years since this revival burst onto the record collecting scene so Forumusic is pulling together a series of articles about it this year under the a banner entitled The 90s Easy Listening Revival.


Music To Watch Girls ByIn a Cocktail MoodUltra Lounge VolGet Easy!Cocktail MixUltra-LoungeThe Beat The Shake and The LoungeEasy TempoEasy ListeningBlow-Up Vol. 1Betty Page Danger GirlAnother Crazy Cocktail Party

Was there an Easy Listening Scene?


We’re curious to trace where the interest in all things easy evolved from in the first place, the impact it had on culture and it’s continuing influence now.  We were going to cocktail stick all our articles under a cocktail umbrella called The 90s Easy Listening Scene but the word ‘scene’ very quickly began to feel awkward. 


From a UK perspective there were a large number of established club nights mixing easy listening into their playlists in and around London in 1994 when style magazines such as ID and The Face first began to notice it but to call it a scene would be a misnomer. Scene suggests a more widespread and codified group with a uniform look, attitude and taste in music in the manner of Mods, Rockers or Punks.


Whilst some inhabitants of nights like Smashing, Blow-Up and Indigo's did blaze a trail for an easy listening look it never became widespread enough to catch on nationally. Blow-Up's clientele were primarily from the Mod scene and preferred suits and button-downs to colourful acrylic polo-neck sweaters and houndstooth jackets.


Easy listening appealed to older clubbers uninterested in either trainspotting the latest rare groove and funk discoveries or joining the Rave cast of thousands sweating in purpose-built warehouses all over the UK every weekend. For one chapter we'll be exploring the London club scenes of the 80s and 90s that paved the way for the revival of interest in all things easy drawing on the experiences and recollections of those who were there.

Easy TempoSpace capadesCrime JazzSix Martinis and a Broken HeartMo'Plen 2000Pop ShoppingArriva La BombaBirds Do ItBachelors Den Vol.2 Ultra-Lounge Vol. 14Funkophonic SoundMo'Plen 3000

From Swing and Lounge to TV and Film Themes


All the compilations shown on this page are dated from 1994 onwards. Most came out in Europe and America from 1995 to 1999 with the majority here being from 1996 and 1997.


Pre-1994 easy listening compilations tended to be titled with descriptors like swing, crooners or oldies containing selections from artists who had hit the pop charts in the past and were known names. Many were released off the crest of the swing revival which was popular in the US in the late 80s and played a major role revitalising interest in 40s and 50s music.


From 1994 selections shifted towards finger-clicking lounge singers of a Rat Pack persuasion. These held sway alongside a resurgence of interest in singers who had popular TV shows in the 70s such as Andy Williams, Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones. Compilations of 60s and 70s TV and film themes were also popular when the easy revival first went from underground clubs to overground media interest in 1995.


When interest began to wane in the late 90s and early 00s the torch was picked up by smaller labels catering for lounge diehards who continued to want easy listening from more obscure sources. Pop Shopping featured jingles and songs from German television commercials and Crippped Dick Hot Wax and others began releasing soundtrack selections from 60s and 70s European porn movies.


It was perfect mood music to enjoy by the light of lava lamps impossible to source in the early 90s but mass-produced and omnipresent by 1999.


Ultra Lounge Vol 17Swingin' CheeseEasy ListeningBetty Page Jungle GirlEasy ProjectUltra-Lounge Vol. 11Music For TV DinnersMusic For A Bachelors DenCigar Classics Vol.1Easy TempoUltra-Lounge Vol. 13Cocktail Mix

Space Age Bachelor Pad Music


Our timeline moving from the 80s swing revival in the US to obscure European porn soundtracks via lounge singers and retro-TV themes is convenient for describing the sequence of these repackaged releases but fails to chart the complexity of factors leading up to the revival.


The 1994 release of Space Age Bachelor Pad Music, a retrospective of the space age pop music of Juan García Esquivel was indicative that in the United States at least a significant number of music lovers had already developed a taste for esoteric, exotica flavoured sounds. Volume 1 of Re/Search's Incredibly Strange Music compilation released the previous year to complement their book of the same name provides further evidence that a growing band of people were busily exploring one particularly rich layer of strata of the musical rockface that had been ignored for many years.


At the peak of the revival in 1998 American Steve Knopper compiled an overview of lounge music called Musichound: The Essential Album Guide to Martini Music and Easy Listening. A cursory skim through this weighty tome reveals a raft of artists who were writing and performing music in a lounge style from the late 80s onwards.


Threads on knowledgeable music forums like Soulstrut, Waxidermy and VG+ have given us starting points for researching into the Roots of the 90s Easy Listening Revival and as differing pictures have emerged we'll present chapters on European and US roots separately.

Ultra Lounge Vol.12Espresso EspressoHistory Of Space Age Pop Vol. 2Electronic ToysThe Sound SpectrumThe Beat The Shake and the LoungeThe Sound GalleryMo'Plen BacharachSound BoxIn Kraut Vol 2 Sueno LibreroUltra Lounge Vol. 15


Library Music


In the late 80s and early 90s crate-diggers had already discovered library music. By the mid-90s a small but dedicated group of them  were purchasing whole collections as large media companies were discarding their bulky vinyl libraries and replacing them with Cds.


This was the first time a switch from an older format to a newer one had released new music into the public domain for collectors to fetish over. Lurking amidst the orchestral strings, soundtrack stings, drama and light entertainment tracks on these library records which were initially intended only for use in radio and televison lay a wealth of groovy 60s sounds, sultry bossa beats, funky spy themes and some truly sublime easy listening


On one level these were all completely fresh sounds for DJs to blend in alongside established songs but paradoxically they could have been sounds subliminally absorbed from the incidental music of radio shows, television programmes and films watched during childhood.


Break hunters were all over them like a rash. Some of the lps were also highly desirable to soundtrack collectors already familiar with the names of composers from officially released soundtracks. Jonny Trunk whose Trunk Records released the first commercially available library compilation entitled The Super Sounds of Bosworth shares anecdotes about soundtrack and library record collecting in the late 80s and early 90s in an interview to appear here later this year.

Ultra-Lounge Mo'Plen 4000Eh PaisanoTake It OffMusic For A Bachelor's DenThis Is EasyCocktail MixIn Kraut Vol.3Easy TempoUltra-LoungeThis Is EasySounds Easy


An Easy Gift for the Majors


The majority of these easy listening releases came out on cd only and a large number of them were from major record labels. With huge but latent back catalogues of exotica and orchestral themes from the 50s and 60s they spied the resurging interest and moved fast to exploit it.


The easy revival triggered a reissuing frenzy surpassing that of the 60s and 70s when labels like Polydor, Decca and Philips had last dressed up their older recordings in fancy new sleeves. (Articles on the Circle Of Sound, Mercury Super Stereo and Decca Sounds can be found on this site).


In the 90s they were repackaging a similar product using 50s imagery and terminology which would have killed potential sales in the 70s. Bachelor dens, cocktails, tiki bars were officially hip for the masses again.


The music industry thrives on genres cycling back into fashion and with 90s consumers discarding lps to build new Cd collections, repackaging old music they already owned onto a new and desirable format was a particularly lucrative double whammy for established major labels.


Capitol dived in head first in 1997 with the carefully planned and beautifully packaged Ultra-Lounge series and there was a willing predominantly male audience ready and waiting for these pointedly retro-styled releases.




Pop BoutiqueGet Easy! Volume 4Ultra-LoungeElectronic ToysPop Shopping Vol. 2House Of LoungecoreEssential Easy Listening CollectionCapitol Sings BroadwayUltra_loungeMusic To Watch Girls By


The £50 Bachelor Man


Easy listening genres like Space Age Pop and Exotica arrived gift-wrapped with typography, design motifs and styles of instant appeal to £50 men; 20 to 30-something working males with disposable income to spend on the latest videos or Cds every week.


Titles like Bachelor Pad Royale, Strip Tease Classics and Music For The Jet Set were irresistable when matched to the colourful mash up of retro-styles; 50s cocktail music and tiki-bars, 60s Mod and Bondesque spy imagery, 70s psychedelia. 


Artists could dismiss the sleeve designs as historically incoherent but the look of these compilations were a potent pot pourri to extract money from the wallets of single and married hipster bachelors everywhere.


The Swing and Rat Pack revival helped to make entertainers in sharp suits cool again and whilst later exponents of easy like Andy Williams and Jack Jones had meandered towards polo-neck jumpers and flared trousers in the 70s they rarely succumbed to the sartorial inelegance of jeans and T-shirts.


Easy arrived with its own look. In 90s Europe by total contrast, the Jilted Generation a few years younger than the easy listening demographic were dressing down and dancing a lot faster, their beloved Rave flyers, tickets and magazines hand-drawn, collaged, spray painted and then photoshopped from a completely different set of influences.


Music For The Jet SetIn-Flight EntertainmentSt Pauli AffairsInstrumentalEasy TempoMo'Plen 1000Bachelor In ParadiseUltra LoungeJackpotMore Music To Watch Girls ByUltra-LoungeLatin Rhythms


This is Easy?


One key to the initial success of easy listening in the 90s is that it wasn't just one genre and appreciating it didn't involve too many arguments over defining it.


On many easy compilations 70s TV themes are placed alongside newly discovered library tracksfilm themes with Mod Hammond workouts;  Tijuana Brass with Ray Coniff choruses and Bacharach medleys with Percy Faith instrumentals.  This newly-built bachelor pad paradise was no place for genre purists.


90s easy listening excluded practically any music from the 80s and defiantly ignored anything that sounded like rock, reggae, grunge, New Wave, disco, house or Hip Hop. It embraced Latin rhythms, orchestral themes, 60s Mod songs, groovier freakbeat, lanquid elevator music, Muzak and exotica.


To devotees who stayed with it beyond the Mike Flowers Pops cocktail version of Wonderwall in 95 and the Austin Powers movies, international communication via early user groups like the Exotica mailing list on the World Wide Web gradually shifted interest away from the performers and the look and onto the composers, producers and session players who shaped the sounds and the labels which released them.


UK record collectors raised on Hip Hop and crate digging found common ground in their pursuit of funky breaks on easy listening records.

Up On The RocksLounge LegendsSoho Lounge HeatLeading MenHi-Fi Daze Cocktail NightsHistory of Space Age PopMambo Mania The Kings and QueensCocktail LoungeMondo ExoticaSchwabing AffairsEasy Listening ClassicsThe Sound Gallery


Post 2000: Easy Listening and Music Forums


The advent of web sites and music forums in the late 90s created new platforms for sharing musical discoveries, a habit that gradually began to replace the practice of gleaning information from music magazines or like-minded collectors in record shops and at record fairs.


Discussion about easy listening songs, artists and composers played a major part in the growth of the original UK-based Vinyl Vulture forum and fuelled many threads on a variety of other boards.  


Although trainspotting came late to easy listening the obssessive scouring of sleeve notes and labels for minutiae on-line and en masse extended its shelf life well into the 21st century.



Ian Townsend

March 2013



Grateful thanks to members of the Soul Strut, Waxidermy and VG+ / Vinyl Vulture music forums for assisting in the formation of future articles.


We’ll be crediting individuals by their board or real names in every article pending permission from the individuals themselves.


Elevator Musicbasic principles of soundItalian Bossa Beat PartyLift Off! With Apollo Sound

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