I remember the first time I heard a hard rock song set to Muzak. I was sitting in the lobby of the world headquarters of Honeywell, waiting for my ride circa 1991, and noticed a tune piping through that was at once familiar and foreign.
Speaking of foreign, in those days most of the working land mines scattered across the globe (outside the US, of course) were manufactured by Honeywell, a fact I came across in a New Yorker story around the same time I heard this song.
Right before I went to work there, Honeywell divested itself of the division that manufactured the ubiquitous land mines. And I worked for the thermostat division— Honeywell has made as many or more thermostats than landmines, especially that round one. But every day on the way through the building I walked by a door that had the word “materiel” on it.
That same fall a story in Esquire magazine insisted that “Stairway to Heaven“ — then celebrating its 20th anniversary — would never work for Muzak because the song “called too much attention to itself.” I took this prediction as Gospel, of course, because Esquire always printed the truth, right?
Back at Honeywell world headquarters, I was tickled when I realized the Muzak I heard was Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes’ “Journey to the Center of the Mind.”
It would happen again a few years later. when, while grocery shopping, I heard a song I instantly recognized but could not place. This time it was Heart’s “Straight On,” another song I never would have picked for Muzak.
As for “Stairway to Heaven,” Esquire was wrong. On Muzak the song retained the name, but it did not remain the same.
Ed Legge (@freebirdyeller) is a life-long musician, long-time journalist and sometime corporate dweeb who’s writing a book about originating rock ‘n’ roll’s most absurd tradition.