Various Artists

History of Space Age Pop, Vol. 1: Melodies and Mischief

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"Space age pop" wasn't called by that name during its heyday; it's a label that was dreamed up in the 1990s, when this sort of experimental easy listening music, which was in vogue in the '50s and early '60s, had a mini-revival among collectors and pop culture historians. These 16 tracks, all taken from the vaults of RCA, date from the early days of the LP format, when many easy listening albums were aimed at the market of adults who had recently bought their first hi-fi equipment. Accordingly, the records often featured innovative (for the time) stereophonic effects, organ timbres, elaborate orchestration, and ersatz big-band/cool jazz/lounge music designed both to soothe and to utilize the full range of recorded sound. The hybrids that resulted were not just imaginative in the kitschiest fashion, but sometimes downright bizarre, as cornball melodies and vocals collided head-on with idiot savant-like quirkiness. There are actually a few big artists here (Henry Mancini, Perez Prado, Esquivel), but the bulk of these names are long forgotten. Is it fun? Certainly. Is it important? Not really. Does it stand up to repeated listenings? Not unless you're a nut for this stuff, in which case it's one of the top (and few) compilations available. Highlight: Sir Julian's zany, bouncing arrangement of "Caravan" for organ, featuring some of densest, most explosive clusters of tones that could be squeezed from the instrument.

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