What Is Easy Listening Music?

Oldies Songs and Styles

Henry Mancini performing
Henry Mancini is one of the most famous Easy Listening composers.


David Redfern / Staff / Getty Images

A genre of music whose very title was a reaction to rock, "Easy Listening" was nothing more or less than postwar pop removed of any blues or jazz influences whatsoever; a defiantly European brand of music, it kept the orchestral nature of Fifties pop but concentrated almost entirely on melody and arrangement. As a consequence, most of the style's big names were conductors, composers, arrangers, or instrumental showmen—Mantovani, Mancini, Liberace. Some vocalists, like Andy Williams and the later Perry Como, became stars of the style, but most vocalists had migrated to the more radio-friendly Adult Contemporary genre by the time rock had completely conquered radio in the late Sixties. This also meant that easy listening was essentially an album-sales format, relying on film soundtracks and versions of pop standards to survive.

Differences Between Easy Listening and Similar Genres

The style is often confused with "exotica," a brand of album-centered instrumental pop that featured more bizarre arrangements, and, as the title implies, based in a Western approximation of more exotic native music, usually that of South America, Africa, or the Caribbean Islands. By contrast, Easy Listening was strictly European in nature; traditional Italian, German, French and Polish songs often featured prominently. It's sometimes referred to as "elevator music," but this actually does a disservice to easy listening, since such canned music often came produced and recorded as cheaply as possible. The "Great American Songbook" genre of postwar pop is also often confused with Easy Listening, but one grew naturally from the other; as the Greatest Generation grew older in suburbia, the brash and jazzy swing of pop naturally gave way to something just as melodic but decidedly less rhythmic. Easy Listening was almost entirely about great sweeping washes of melody.

Most Successful Era for Easy Listening

The genre had its biggest successes in the Sixties and early Seventies, when "mature adults" not weaned on rock searched for more familiar fare; by the late 1970s, the convergence of folk-rock, country-rock, and singer-songwriter music had produced the "soft rock" format, which was just rhythmic and rock-like (yet airbrushed) enough to win over a new generation of easy listeners. Which killed the original format dead, although "easy listening" and "beautiful music" stations took some time to die off completely, moving from FM back to the less sonically demanding band of AM before disappearing entirely.

Easy Listening is also sometimes referred to as Adult Contemporary and Elevator Music.

Examples of Easy Listening

  1. "Moon River," Henry Mancini
  2. "Theme From A Summer Place," Percy Faith
  3. "Somewhere, My Love (Lara's Theme)," Ray Conniff
  4. "Midnight Cowboy," John Barry
  5. "This Guy's In Love With You," Herb Alpert
  6. "Wonderland By Night," Bert Kaempfert
  7. "The Look Of Love," Sergio Mendes
  8. "Unchained Melody," Les Baxter
  9. "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing," Mantovani
  10. "Exodus," Ferrante and Teicher