Sunday, October 09, 2011

R.I.P.: Roger Williams (1924-2011)

During the heyday of Easy Listening radio, Roger Williams -- who passed away Saturday at age 87 -- was positively inescapable.

That's not to say, of course, that he wasn't highly visible (and ubiquitously audible) elsewhere -- atop record charts, on TV variety shows, in concert halls throughout the world, etc. But if you're of a certain age, you can't help but be reminded when you hear his name of a time (roughly speaking, from the mid 1960s to the late '80s) when all you had to do to temporarily escape from workaday stress, or simply find a pleasant soundtrack for office work, long commutes or dreary household chores, was turn the dial or punch a button to hear stations like "Bayou Radio" WBYU in New Orleans or Houston's KYND ("Kind 92"), where the playlist was limited to the likes of AndrĂ© Kostelanetz, 101 Strings, Ferrante & Teicher -- and, yes, Roger Williams.

I must confess that even as my musical tastes evolved from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to Bruce Springsteen and The Police, I frequently returned to Easy Listening stations -- when I was alone, naturally, and not in the company of friends who'd make predictably derisive comments about "elevator music" -- more often than not in search of instrumental versions of popular movie themes. I seldom had to wait very long to hear a selection from some soundtrack because, as I recall, the '60s and '70s were a golden age for movie themes that were recorded by literally dozens of Easy Listening artists. Indeed, even themes from movies that hardly anyone had ever seen -- like the themes from Pieces of Dreams and The Picasso Summer -- remained fixtures for decades on Easy Listening playlists.

Roger Williams recorded an abundance of movie music, scoring hits with themes from such diverse films as Born Free, Somewhere in Time, Summer of '42, The Godfather, The Rose, Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, Dr. Zhivago -- "Laura's Theme," my late father's all-time fave -- and on and on and on. You don't often hear music like that on commercial broadcast radio these days. But, trust me, if you heard it then, you remember it still. Ever better, it remans readily available on CDs and downloads -- and at places like this. And this.

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