This thing called Beauty Part 2: Marlin Taylor’s Love for accessible Music with “Beauty”

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In my last piece, I touched on the TV documentary that was produced by the BBC in 2009 and presented by UK Conservative Sir Roger Scruton who recently passed away…and is a great loss to the overall conservative cause. His documentary pointed how our recent art is not focused on beauty but rather on making a political if not a cultural statement of some issue in the moment. Even certain elements that might have a form of beauty or appeal to those who seek it, might still use their art and music to push Consciousness Raising. Woody Guthrie knew how to blend an element of beauty with such a raising, and his son Arlo was able to pick up where his father left off…especially when he littered, got drafted and rejected because he could not put Alice’s garbage in the proper place or at least wait until Black Friday to do so. Arlo didn’t want to go to Vietnam in the first place, and tried hard to get out. He just had to keep claim and chive on. He did himself a favor regarding the littering incident Thanksgiving Day 1965.

One such genre of music that was dominated in Arlo’s prime, that was loved more by the Silent and Greater generation but not as much by the Baby Boomers (like Arlo) and Generation X (like myself), was commonly known as Beautiful Music/Easy Listening (BM/EZ). The music for the most part (with some exceptions) is basically orchestral focused that plays arrangements of well known hits of the day. Putting it another way, its what I call the Hall of Strings sound that was popularized by the likes of Mantovani (who was more popular in Europe and mocked by younger generations here), Billy Vaughn (who could play saxophone and throw it into the hall of strings and make it work), Bert Kaempfert, James Last, Andre Kostelanetz, Ray Conniff, and Percy Faith (who’s legacy and recordings I have truly come around on). Those are just the orchestra and band leaders.

Also popular artists in the BM/EZ fold include Roger Williams and the duo of Arthur Ferrante and Louis Teicher. They were all classical trained pianists and they were ready, willing and able to play BM/EZ arrangements of popular music. In fact Williams got ran out of Drake University for playing Smoke Gets In Your Eyes in one of the practice rooms on campus. Damn those Classical snobs…I doubt you see that happen today in our age of no beauty. Rounding it up, their was a guitarist with a spice of Country in Chet Atkins. He could only helpe BM/EZ achieve its glory.

One of the biggest fans and advocates of this music and still to this day is Marlin R. Taylor. His love of BM/EZ coupled with his love of radio and being able to break into the business, helped BM/EZ become a major radio format on terrestrial radio for at least three decades. While Taylor was declared the father of BM/EZ radio, he did not actually put it on the radio. What Taylor did however was to give it a disciplined program of various artists that are compatible, smooth out any rough edges, bottle it, package it, and sell it to the general public. The station that set the standard for the format was WDVR-FM in Philadelphia.

It would become the number one rated FM station in the city within four months and Taylor’s skill set made sure that his peer group knew about a radio station that played his music…and their music too. That in spite of direct competition from other BM/EZ stations in the same market but were able to hold their own at the time in including WPBS (now Urban WUSL) and WQAL/later becoming WWSH (now Soft AC WISX). While WDVR would go through its own call letters and format changes, the station from its May 1963 sign on until September 2018 was locally owned. First by David L. Kurtz who built WDVR and later hired Taylor and Jerry Lee to manage it. Lee was later made minority owner and became majority owner after Kurtz passed. WBEB which is the current call sign of the former WDVR would be sold to radio conglomeration Entercom Communications Corporation.

During the late 1970’s/early 1980’s the BM/EZ radio format faced a challenge. Many of the artists that were commercially accessible either had retired or worse passed on, and the record companies were not interested in signing up new artists that did BM/EZ and were truly focused on Rock music and related pop and R&B styles that complemented it business wise.

BM/EZ was tagged with the term Muzak which in reality was a company that provided BM/EZ music to be played in retail and other public establishments. No different than using Xerox or Google to describe making paper copies or using internet search engines. Taylor was not found of Muzak being used as derogatory term for BM/EZ along with other derogatory terms for it including “elevator music” and “dentist office music.” Their is a ring of truth in all of them of course, meaning its close association with BM/EZ. Muzak however would embrace other genres of music to be used in retail etc, and the company itself would be folded into former rival Mood Media in 2011.

Taylor was able to look to other sources to program the BM/EZ format for radio itself. He turned to a company in the UK called Rediffusion and while they offered a nice library of BM/EZ arrangements it was not enough. Taylor and his connections would hire certain music composers and arrangers themselves in order to create the music product to play on the air. Taylor worked with John Fox and Nick Ingman out of London, while domestically Taylor’s business partner Dave Verdery had Lex De Azevedo and Pat Valentino at his disposal. Out of the four composers/arrangers, Taylor’s favorite was Fox, because according to him, Fox was able to create an BM/EZ cover with the same feeling as the version recorded by the original and/or the most popular artist. These artists and their BM/EZ arrangements would come under the Surrey House Music company. While you could not and still can’t buy their music at your typical record shop (maybe used if your lucky) you can now buy their music via their website.

So what “killed” BM/EZ or at least made the memories niched? As I stated earlier the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers as a whole were not fans of this type of music and eventually as the GenXers (especially the ones born in the mid 1960’s) became a sought out demo by radio broadcasters along with the boomers. The seeds of this were planted in January 1975 when Greater Media signed on a radio station in Philadelphia that would serve as an answer of sorts to the BM/EZ stations in the market, including the alpha dog WDVR. Its call letters were WMGK and would later adopt the moniker Magic 103 which was inspired by the station’s slogan “Magic Music.” The station itself focused on soft music, but instead of Percy Faith’s take on Bread’s Sweet Surrender you will actually hear the band’s recording of Sweet Surrender. The music sets were similar to BM/EZ, but again, it was soft music focused the original artists and not the Hall of Strings. This appealed to to the boomers, but their elders still loved those ‘dammed strings’ (lol).

Side Note; Paul Lynde as Nervous Elk in the 1979 live action ‘Road Runner styled’ movie The Villain was more distributed by the Native Americans playing their drums at night instead of string players.

I don’t think the Boomers and Xers as a whole rejected BM/EZ because of its beauty but for its lack of originality. I will talk more about that, plus how BM/EZ continue to survive in the 21st Century, and a few actual hits that BM/EZ were able to call “All Their Own” in part three of my series on Beauty.

Please visit my Facebook page DNM’s World in which this piece first appeared in.  Marlin R. Taylor’s book “Radio My Love, My Passion” is available at Amazon.com and at marlintaylor.com.

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