Lounge music is a type of easy listening music popular in the 1950s and 1960s. It may be meant to evoke in the listeners the feeling of being in a place, usually with a tranquil theme, such as a jungle, an island paradise or outer space. The range of lounge music encompasses beautiful music–influenced instrumentals, modern electronica (with chillout, and downtempo influences), while remaining thematically focused on its retro-space-age cultural elements. The earliest type of lounge music appeared during the 1920s and 1930s, and was known as light music. In the 21st century, the term lounge music may also be used to describe the types of music played in hotels (the lounge, the bar), casinos, supermarkets, several restaurants, and piano bars.
Exotica, space age pop, and some forms of easy listening music popular during the 1950s and 1960s are now broadly termed lounge. The term lounge does not appear in textual documentation of the period, such as Billboard magazine or long playing album covers, but has been retrospectively applied.
While rock and roll was generally influenced by blues and country, lounge music was derived from jazz and other musical elements borrowed from traditions around the world. Exotica from such artists as Les Baxter, Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman sold millions of records during its heyday. It combined music that was popular outside the USA, such as various Latin genres (e.g., Bossa nova, Cha-Cha-Cha, Mambo as in Cal Tjader's fine Latin jazz efforts), Polynesian, French, etc. into a relaxed, palatable sound. Such music could have some instruments exaggerated (e.g., a Polynesian song might have an exotic percussion arrangement using bongos, and vocalists imitating wild animals). Many of these recordings were portrayed as originating in exotic foreign lands, but in truth were recorded in Hollywood recording studios by veteran session musicians. Another genre, space age pop, mimicked space age sound effects of the time and reflected the public interest in space exploration. With the advent of stereophonic technology, artists such as Esquivel used spatial audio techniques to full effect, creating whooshing sounds with his orchestra.
Allmusic describes lounge as less "adventurous" than exotica or space age pop, but not as "watered-down" as Muzak. "Instead, it occupied the middle ground, appealing to fans of traditional pop as well as space age pop."
A good deal of lounge music was pure instrumental (i.e., no main vocal part, although there could be minor vocal parts). Sometimes, this music would be theme music from movies or TV shows, although such music could be produced independently from other entertainment productions. These instrumentals could be produced with an orchestral arrangement, or from an arrangement of instruments very similar to that found in jazz, or even rock and roll such as the Hammond Organ or electric guitar.
"Swinging" music of the era is also considered "lounge" and consisted of a schmaltzy continuation of the swing jazz era of the 1930s and 1940s, but with more of an emphasis on the vocalist. The legendary Rat Pack of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr., along with similar artists such as Bobby Darin, Jackie Gleason, Wayne Newton, Louis Prima, Sonny King, and Sam Butera are notable examples. The music of Burt Bacharach was soon featured as part of many lounge singers' repertoires. Such artists performed mainly at featured lounges in Las Vegas casinos. Documented pioneers of the Las Vegas lounge scene, the Mary Kaye Trio were first on the scene in the early 50's.
Lounge singers have a lengthy history stretching back to the decades of the early twentieth century. The somewhat derisive term lounge lizard was coined then, and less well known lounge singers have often been ridiculed as dinosaurs of past eras and parodied for their smarmy delivery of standards. In any event, these lounge singers, perhaps performing in a hotel or cocktail bar, are usually accompanied by one or two other musicians, and they favor cover songs composed by others, especially pop standards, many deriving from the days of Tin Pan Alley.
Many well-known performers got their start as lounge singers and musicians. Although he claims not to have worked for very long, Billy Joel worked as a lounge musician and penned the song "Piano Man" about his experience. Not all lounge singers, however, sing lounge music.
Lounge emerged in the late 1980s as a label of endearment by younger fans whose parents had listened to such music in the 1960s. It has enjoyed resurgences in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, led initially by iconic figures such as Buster Poindexter and Jaymz Bee. In Japan, producer Yasuharu Konishi became popular for his work with Pizzicato Five, and is often considered "the Godfather of Shibuya-kei," a genre mostly derived from 1960s lounge music.
In the early 1990s the lounge revival was in full swing and included such groups as Combustible Edison, Love Jones, The Cocktails, Pink Martini, the High Llamas, Don Tiki, and Nightcaps. Alternative band Stereolab demonstrated the influence of lounge with releases like their 1993 EP Space Age Bachelor Pad Music and their 1997 album Dots and Loops, and in 1996 Capitol Records began issuing the Ultra-Lounge series of lounge music albums. The lounge style was starkly in contrast to the grunge music that dominated the period. These groups wore suits and played music inspired by earlier works of Antônio Carlos Jobim, Juan García Esquivel, Louis Prima and many others.
In the 2000s Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine has added to this resurgence by covering (usually profane) hit songs of other genres (primarily metal and hip hop) in the style of a lounge singer. In 2004, the Parisian band, Nouvelle Vague, released a self-titled album in which they covered songs from the '80s post-punk and new wave genres in the style of Bossa Nova. Other artists have taken lounge music to new heights by recombining rock with pop, such as Jon Brion, The Bird and the Bee, Triangle Sun, Pink Martini, the Buddha-Lounge series, and the surrounding regulars of Café Largo. The movie The Rise and Fall of Black Velvet Flag (2003) is a documentary about three older punk rockers who created a lounge-punk band.
In the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers, most of the members of the band were reduced to performing as "Murph and the Magictones" (headlining at a Holiday Inn) after bandleader Jake Blues went to prison. When the band takes a break to speak with Jake and his brother Elwood, Murph switches on a Muzak version of "Just the Way You Are," performed by Billy Joel, a former lounge musician himself. Later, when Jake and Elwood are in an elevator, Jobim's "The Girl from Ipanema" is heard on Muzak.
The 1989 film The Fabulous Baker Boys starred Jeff Bridges, Beau Bridges, and Michelle Pfeiffer as a successful lounge act.
The film Swingers was set during the mid-1990s lounge and swing revival in Los Angeles, and featured legendary performers like Dean Martin, Louis Jordan and Tony Bennett, as well as modern lounge acts like Love Jones, Joey Altruda and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
The soundtrack of the 1994 anthology film Four Rooms consists of lounge music.
Andy Kaufman created a character called Tony Clifton. A parody of show biz entitlement and excess, Clifton is untalented, lazy (often not bothering to remember the words to the songs), and abusive to his audiences. Bill Murray also portrayed a particularly bad lounge singer on Saturday Night Live, Nick The Lounge Singer, best known for providing his own lyrics to the John Williams theme from Star Wars and performing an over-the-top version of the Morris Albert hit "Feelings". Later, Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer portrayed a goofy married duo of lounge-style musicians, but in unlikely venues such as high school dances. Part of the humor derived from the incongruous application of their "nerdy" and outdated style to performances of current pop-music hits. British comedians Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones appeared as a cheesy keyboard and bass duo during the end credits of one series of their long-running sketch show. Richard Cheese and The Lounge Kittens specialize in playing lounge-style arrangements of recent popular rock, metal and hip hop songs, sung in a croony traditional swing vocal style, contrasting an elegant jazz treatment of the music with often profane and ribald lyrics to create a humorous dissonance.