By 1961, a large enough divide had opened up between the rock and roll revolution and its pop forerunner -- a generation gap, as it would come to be known -- that Billboard magazine introduced what it called an "Easy Listening" chart to track those non-rock, traditional pop tunes that were still receiving airplay on radio stations around the country. Over the years, however, as the definition of what was "easy" on the ears became a little harder, "Easy Listening" became a term reserved for smooth, string-laden pop far outside the mainstream -- not to be confused with "beautiful music," a strictly instrumental, non-jazz form of music that took pop hits of today (and yesterday) and reduced them to quiet background music. (This is sometimes referred to as "Muzak," after the company that perfected the concept, or "elevator music," after the location to which it was most often piped in to listeners.) Meanwhile, the mainstream, having made its piece with rock somewhat, developed "soft-rock" or "lite rock" stations to handle the gentle sounds that had arisen out of the Seventies singer-songwriter movement, while "MOR" or Middle Of (the) Road music handled the slightly harder stuff.
To many, the terms are interchangeable, but "Adult Contemporary" is what Billboard now calls its former "Easy Listening" chart, and so when speaking of pure-pop oldies from 1961 to the birth of soft-rock in the early Seventies, this is the term most often used. AC as it is understood today still features the lighter side of the radio (with the very poppish, ballad-heavy stuff dubbed "Lite AC" for further clarification), but the classic sound of AC remains lush Sixties pop, often vocal-based and rooted in traditional European styles, that pretends rock and roll simply never happened. Not as exotic or kitschy as lounge, and just a bit too formal for the dentist's office.
Also Known As: Easy Listening, MOR
Alternate Spellings: AC, Lite AC
- "It's Impossible," Perry Como
- "Up, Up, And Away," The 5th Dimension
- "Together," Connie Francis
- "We'll Sing In The Sunshine," Gale Garnett
- "Honey," Bobby Goldsboro
- "Those Were The Days," Mary Hopkin
- "Release Me," Englebert Humperdinck
- "The Impossible Dream (The Quest)," Jack Jones
- "Go Away, Little Girl," Steve Lawrence
- "People," Barbra Streisand