The Ron Kane Files

Writing About Music

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Easy Hits

2-28-08 “Easy Hits”

Recently, I generated a 10CD boxed set of “Easy Hits” – easy listening cover versions of ‘hit songs’ from the 60’s & 70’s (mostly). I grew up around this kind of material, so when it got a certain ‘vogue’ in the late 90’s, I was already well-versed in it. Indeed, I have my dad’s record collection. He passed away in 1989.

In the first 8 CD volumes, there are 220 songs. Only three songs appear three times: “Daydream” – originally recorded by The Lovin’ Spoonful; “Shaft” (Isaac Hayes) and “Venus”, the venerable hit by the Dutch group Shocking Blue. There are a lot of songs that appear twice, however. Lots.

Probably the most perverse ‘easy hit’ cover version is Doc Severinsen playing “In The Court of The Crimson King” (!). I am also fond of Maynard Ferguson tackling Jethro Tull’s “Living In The Past”. Still haven’t found any ‘easy listening’ Yes songs, folks.

The big laugh-getter on these volumes is invariably the clarinet-lead version of Black Sabbath “Paranoid” by Rolf Kuhn. Most people who hear it can’t believe it was ever even attempted as a ‘cover version’, much less a jazzy big-band style cover version.

There is even a book about music of this nature – it’s called “Elevator Music” – a decent read, it has a lot of info about ‘muzak’, the piped-in music usually found in elevators and dentist’s offices. In this book, they claim that the ultimate unthinkable ‘easy hit’ is Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”. I had no trouble with the version by Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band. I once saw Michael Viner’s name on a Gary Owens LP (“Put Your Head On My Finger”). Same guy?

Do you find this kind of thing amusing? Dreary orchestras tackling endless Beatles and Rolling Stones songs? How about those special LP’s that concentrate on one artist’s songs only? The Fantabulous Strings Play The Great Hits of Sonny & Cher” and “Andre Kostenaletz Plays Chicago!” etc.

Of course, the mood is elevated by the presence of the Moog synthesizer on many tracks – look on almost any Hugo Montenegro LP of the early 70’s – and there it is. The most obnoxious one I can remember is a cover version of Nilsson’s “Me & My Arrow” with lots of ‘gnome laughing’ – after all, it’s a Quad LP.

The best thing about these LP’s is that most are $1 or less, when encountered in savvy record stores or yard sales / thrift stores etc. And some of them are packaged very attractively, with lovely late 60’s / early 70’s ‘cheesecake’ photos. There should be a whole gallery of LP covers with snappy dressers on the front – indeed, there are coffee table books on the subject!

So, let’s thank the arrangers, orchestras and general public for demanding such special entertainment, once upon a time. My dad loved these kind of records, and he had a ton of ‘em…which I now have.


Blogger Brian Ware said...

Do you find this kind of thing amusing?

I actually enjoy this kind of thing in small doses as well. You've sent me the occasional easy hits sampler in the past and what's fun to me is finding the unexpectedly cool moment. One song that comes to mind is a version of "Spinning Wheel" by 101 Strings. Not only does it begin with a really smokin' fuzz drenched guitar solo, but the drumming is far more kick ass than I would ever imagine. Towards the end the strings and drums are run through a flanger effect which really raised my eyebrows. Fun stuff!!

3:08 AM  
Blogger Ron Kane said...


You nailed it on the head. I just re-mastered all of this stuff - almost 280 songs over 10 volumes - and the 101 Strings "Spinning Wheel" is the highlight of the series. Unexpectedly cool. Nothing else comes close.

What I like to do with these volumes, is put them on in the background, and wait for someone else to notice that it isn't "typical dentists office muzak".

- Ron

7:04 AM  

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