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by Wendy Lee Nentwig

August 10, 2012

Senior Year, 1980: Easy Listening

by Wendy Lee Nentwig  |  August 10, 2012

It was a time of transition in the music world. Disco was taking its last gasping breaths and rock was reemerging, while new wave and punk continued rising to the surface. And there, in midst of all the turmoil, seemingly oblivious to the world around it, was easy listening. (Also known as "soft rock" or "adult contemporary," but a genre by any other name would smell as cheesy.)

It's hard to defend a musical style with the main goal of being inoffensive, and it's true that some music fans didn't like it simply because so many others did. No matter what the critics thought, though, easy listening definitely had broad appeal. Maybe it had to do with the simple lyrics, and the shiny-haired girls and guys who served them up with a smile.

Acts like Leo Sayer, Christopher Cross and Ambrosia had a sound perfectly suited to easy listening, while other artists -- from Michael Jackson to KC & The Sunshine Band -- merely dabbled in the genre. Others took it in different directions, from Rupert Holmes' campy "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" and Dan Fogelberg's hippy-tinged "Longer" to Carly Simon's "Jesse" and ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All." They all shared one trait, though: It was almost impossible not to sing along.

There was something about 1980 that was uniquely welcoming to easy listening. Can you imagine Olivia Newton-John's Xanadu phase happening at any other time? And while Kenny Rogers and Barbra Streisand have had long, successful, genre-spanning careers, they couldn't have found more appreciative audiences than easy listening fans.

The class of 1980 had proms filled with similarly mellow tunes, but today the genre has been relegated to oldies stations and Muzak selections. I may be labeled uncool for admitting to this guilty pleasure, but before you judge too harshly, see if you don't find yourself humming along the next time you're in an elevator or at a department store. Better yet, just give in and listen to our Senior Year, 1980: Easy Listening playlist.

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