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Attention K-Mart Shoppers: Piped Music Collection on the Internet Archive (archive.org)
274 points by shervinafshar on Dec 1, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 91 comments

Fun that some of the messages in-between the songs are for things like security being called to go to a particular zone of the store. I remember hearing those as a kid and wondering who got busted, never thinking that the announcement might be as fake as the security cameras.

It isn't always fake. I used to work in a retail chain store (I won't say its name, but it ends with "xx" and starts with "TJ") and we were trained to use certain codes on the PA when we needed security to come deal with a situation. The difference, I think, is that these real alerts were coded so as not to be understood by the customers.

"All warfare is based on deception."

- Sun Tzu, 5th century BC

You just blew my mind. It was very convincing hearing these as a kid.

As a kid? Kroger stores regularly play these loudspeaker "Security check, zone blue" announcements to this day in certain stores about the country.

Captain Pedantic checking in to remind our viewers that at a quick glance this does not appear to be Muzak (EDIT: no, that is definitely not Muzak), but rather ambient music played in K-Mart stores. Muzak is a specific brand of ambient music, which appears to suffer the same fate as Kleenex and Xerox:


That page is worth a read, if only for the means of distribution used over the years. But do I ever digress...

Thank you Captain Pedantic. HN threads won't be the same without nitpicking and pedantry. I think by "ambient" you mean piped music, elevator music, Muzak(tm). Because Eno ain't no elevator music.

>Because Eno ain't no elevator music.

In keeping with the pedantic nitpicking, I think Eno might actually disagree and say that his music could be elevator music. In the liner notes[0] for 'Ambient 1: Music for Airports', he writes that "Ambient Music must be able to accomodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting."

But, speaking for myself, I wouldn't relegate Eno's music to the elevator. :)


Touché. Eno could be elevator music then.

Pedant's point: Eno's music could be played in an elevator. Eno is not elevator music.

What elevators are you guys getting on that have music?

Rene Magritte duck typing


Please follow the site guidelines: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html. Note the very last one.

HN has been "becoming like Reddit" since before it was HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13852

Completely off topic: Music for Airports is a great album.

It's funny. My favorite band, Devo, released Muzak mixes of their songs several times in the 80s. However, you would never hear such a thing piped in a store in 2020. Plain vanilla "Whip It" though? Absolutely.

Said another way, Eno (and Devo and many others) are essentially the Muzak of the modern day.

Devo was a bunch of brilliant, genre-defying creatives. In my point of view they have been as influential as Kraftwerk, but don't get as much love and respect.

Eric Satie invented the form, composing music to leave the theatre to. He's said to have got very angry when people refused to leave.

At some point I feel like society deserves a vote. Sorry, you have claimed copyright & intellectual property, but we are just going to go to duckduckgo.com and google for whatever we're looking for. Your insistence that this (google, noun) is your word has failed; we all know it, why deny it.

Whatever the owners of "Muzak" wanted, whatever they thought of it: the dog is out of the yard. It's free. Your claim may be legal, but it is, by all accounts, incorrect and false. This word has a meaning now, this passive easy listening background vibe, humming nothings, it embodies something more real than what the owner intended. It's falsity & a lie that we let law & property dictate to us the terms by which we think. It's said that a rose would smell just as sweet by any other name. Well, society knows these roses, far better than whomever came up with the name. Let us not let the first-comers shape & dictate to us our usages.

(Velcro, I am coming for you. Your hegemony over this idea is coming to an end! We will not fall back to "hook and loop" forever, like animals! We all know we need a word. That you own it? Bah! Poppycock! The resistance of your lawyers does not cow me, does not frighten us!)

Which, I suppose, is why they have rebranded to “Mood Media”, and no longer use the word Muzak. As you might have seen if you read the article.

This post is currently underwater & doesn't deserve to be. I don't fully entirely agree with the shortness. But: upvoting. :)

Having read a little further now, I would say though, whatever the company brands itself as today does not strongly imply that they are permitting "muzak" to be a free term. Smart move to decouple yourself some, especially from a term that is synonymous with bland indistinct elevator music or on hold music, and it's probably hopefully all good these days, but there's still plenty of room for this company to perhaps be trying to push trademarks or harass other folk who use the word "muzak".

I believe most of the large retailers play from the Hitlist or Hot FM playlists. http://muzakwpn.muzak.com/

I worked at a restaurant that did have it and they appeared to be magnificent 16 track tapes (or whatever the alpha male of the 8-track family was). They looked like they could fit a full LP.

The YouTuber "techmoan" has done a few videos on the hardware that ran various background music systems, and one that stands out is the 3M Cantata, which had some massive tape cartridges https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WQbJ0VFrFQ

There are also systems with smaller cartridges https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_5DPvPiUMY

Stacks of vinyl records https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kCHx3_vu9M

And standard cassette tapes running at a lower speed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OV2EhEd46BY

Oh man. Exurban wastelands of Nowhere, America. Endless fluorescent popcorn ceilings and despair. Is there another word for nostalgia, where instead of missing something you remember fondly, you are grateful to have escaped from something that seemed to drain your soul? I remember these places having an almost Dementor-like effect on me long before I was old enough to be a coastal elite or a classist or an architecture snob or whatever.

This made me both chuckle and cringe a bit. Well put.

The word you're looking for... My spouse suggested something related to trauma or PTSD. Then I saw "flashback" suggested.[0]


Wonderful take. Thanks for sharing.

FINALLY! I've been wanting to remix these kind of songs into hiphop songs for a long time. This is such a weird victory for music producers. These are a gold mine for hip hop sampling.

This is my exact intention as well. I've got the tracks open in my editor and just let it play until something catches my attention.

Have you found a way to download or torrent them all?

No but I imagine you could write a simple script to parse the links and download them en mass. No idea if archive inhibits such a thing though.

Vaporwave producers as well

There is a fun niche on YouTube that’s similar to this. It’s called mallsoft or mallwave and is a subgenre of the vaporwave genre.



You can also find good Mallsoft playlists on Spotify


Late to the party on this one but I wanted to leave this note for posterity. Turns out that there's an interesting business story and a timely death tied-in here too.

I got curious because some of the tapes bear the name of an audio production company in Greenville, OH, a few miles down the road from my hometown. The booming male voice on the recordings also sounded familiar to me, too. I'm fairly certain I heard him on the local radio station that my father played over the PA in our family grocery store when I was growing up.

I did some searching and learned that back on November 30, the gentleman who founded the audio company, and who acted as the "voice of K-Mart", died.

It looks like he was involved in ventures that persist today. His company EchoSat[1] (which I'd heard of with some past involvement in the convenience store / retail petroleum industry) recently merged with an IT security firm to become "ControlScan".

Quoting the obituary[2]:

He started Tower Sound and Communications while in Greenville to pursue a venture that would eventually spearhead "in store" broadcasting for companies such as Kmart (he became the voice of Kmart) and Jamesway which evolved into another corporation in KY called EchoSat that would use satellite technology in helping with multiple stores for POS processing and security.

There's an interview with Lee Rutherford in 2011.[3] He absolutely still has that "radio voice".

[1] https://www.dandb.com/businessdirectory/towercommunicationsg...

[2] https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/dailyadvocate/obituary.asp...

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQqoQL3pkyI

In case anyone is looking, here is a Christmas tape to get you in the mood. It even includes the ads!


What I find kinda strange in American Culture (as an American) is that the rest of the pop music tapes are pretty much just period music that no modern kid would recognize.

The Christmas tape is a 100% known landscape. We let hits die but Christmas music is eternal.

One could argue that the whole point of traditions like Christmas is to have comforting, repeated experiences like listening to the same music each year, something to ground your mortality in timeless rituals that started before you were born and (you hope) will continue after you die.

That said, there is lots of Christmas pop that doesn't make it into the canon. I have no recollection at all of the first song on the Christmas tape, and i was around then (and going to K-Mart with my mom).

I think it's a combination of copyright and licensing.

The pop music they use on these tapes are cheap to license --- they weren't even popular when they were contemporary. They were just generic cheap music.

For Christmas, there is a set of Christmas music that just gets played every year and is licensed in blocks that are fairly cheap. That's why you hear a lot of "traditional standards" and not much else.

I'm not sure on the accuracy of that XKCD graph. Last Christmas by Wham! is noticeably missing (released in 1984). Also All I Want for Christmas is You, released in 1994.

K-Mart’s only Black Friday Instagram post was a picture of an end-cap featuring Spider-Man, Frozen and BABY YODA masks. https://twitter.com/unangst/status/1332526873130229760?s=21

I was just thinking about this a few days ago and even made a note to go look them up on archive.org. I think someone shared this a few years ago and it got picked up by buzzfeed (or whatever).

When I worked retail we had this but it was a mini-cd system that looked like a GameCube. My boss was a little bit forced into investing in it because a customer was furious that a P!nk song on the radio had the word "ass" or "hell" in the lyrics. The shuffle on that thing was horrible, sometimes the same song would come up twice and most evenings we just kept it off.

Not every radio plays Clean version/radio edit of pop songs?

Another popular background music system was sold by Seeburg (the jukebox manufacturer). You bought a Seeburg 1000 Background Music System and then subscribed to a service that mailed you double-sided vinyl records that were stacked into the unit and played back continuously. Records were mailed back at the end of a period.


There's a streaming website for you to enjoy during your workday: https://seeburg1000.com/

I've acquired a lot of 60's and 70's easy listening music from thrift stores. Bert Kampfert, Ray Conniff, Jackie Gleason, etc. I figure it's coming from estate sales.

Walter, you can't really do it anymore, but I used to get answering machine tapes from The Bins and would drive around portland listening to peoples old "voice mail"

I found my 20 year old answering machine in the basement a while back, and it was fun listening to the ancient messages on the tape.

Jackie Gleason? A side of him I never heard of. Or this is a different Jackie Gleason?

Jackie Gleason arranged and produced a number of easy listening albums. Yes, the How Sweet It Is guy! This one is my favorite:


but really, all of his work is good. You're in for a treat if you've never heard his music before.

P.S. The CD sounds wrong, I suspect some monkey business went on in the remastering studio. Get the vinyl version. Besides, these tunes just sound better with the needle drop, rumble and crackle of the old vinyl.

well, there's the alternate history version where he dreamt of space travel and helped launch mankind's quest to go to the moon. at least according to Futurama. so why not easy listening as well?

henry mancini, burt bacharach, piero piccioni, herb alpert (lol), ...

Why the lol for Alpert? (I have all of Alpert's records!)

I love Herb Alpert, but the 'Whipped Cream and other delight' vinyl in thrift stores is a running jokes among specific vinyl collector.

I do love Herb Alpert self composed songs too like you smile, the song begins and fox hunt.

Read this article, and the comments for even more fun (the person who made the album cover even commented there!) https://dangerousminds.net/comments/every_crate_diggers_nigh...

From the cite: "everybody’s parents had the fucking thing"

I guess I'm slightly different. My dad had "Herb Alpert's 9th" and I loved that album. Of course, his copy was ruined by the time I inherited it, and I trolled store after store for years looking for it. Finally, I found a mint copy still in the shrink wrap in the back for a couple bucks.

I had my prize!

Of course, collecting these things isn't fun anymore because anything you want is just a click away.

I discovered Herb Alpert through YouTube recommendation this year when I was curating my Easy Listening Mix playlist [0], and damn it, Herb Alpert has all these slick songs! I used to listen to vaporwave in the past, I wonder why Herb Alpert isn't vaporwave material already.


Thanks! Enjoying your list. Check out Mantovani and Percy Faith, too.

I just checked them out, and they are awesome! Thanks for your recommendation!

I remember when this remix first dropped on Soundcloud https://soundcloud.com/2mello/kmart-october-1989

Bless 2mello. Such an awesome dude. Proud to have had him on my stage several times at MAGFest.

I was going to say, this is a sampling goldmine.

Vaporwave artists are going to have a great time with this.

They already have :)

I keep thinking this is a distilled piece of Americana, a cultural artifact, of a time, & place. But I'm not sure it's really distinctly American. The term feels insufficent.

Just a heads up for any 1974 shoppers: there's no smoking on the sales floor. You have to be over by the cafe.

Wow, the S.S. Kresge Christmas Background Music. Pure gold.

I can almost remember following my mom through the K-Mart aisles...

I can think of few experiences more surreal than listening to in-store music from the very week I was born.

Not just Muzak - Music! I like the Kmart August 1992 Generic, and listening to that now as I code!

Kmart Week Of 02.02.1992. I'm surprised at how much I like it, and how much I hated this back then. ha im old now.

One nice thing about getting older is not worrying about whether the music you like is cool or not.

But do you feel comfortable listening to Britney Spears and Katy Perry in public?

Brittany who?



Thanks, I realised I didn't really know what Muzak was either. I thought it meant inoffensive instrumental version of pop songs.

previous discussion in 2015 was flagged https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10369105

Just a story: My friends and I built a beer-loan agency for a burning-man event. We had people fill out forms to get a beer loan, told them their credit was too low, sent them on a quest, then gave them a beer on return.

This music is what we used for our fully fabricated waiting-room office. At one point a guy with a legal degree from Yale came to question our paper-work, and proceeded to litigate from the bar down the road we'd sold our failing business to.

Jesus. White collar types have ruined BM. That sounds insufferable.

Yeah that sounds like some good fun. I'd love to do that! What are you on about?

It was a blast. Between my partner and I, we've got about 30 burns below our belts and have led two different 3-story burnable structures centered on community, play, and curiosity. Doing a comedy piece was new territory, but a lot of work went into making the most guady, out-of-place, consumerist looking strip-mall pawn shop we could. So much detail, and all of it just a bit off. It took people off guard, which for the older burners was a very welcome change, and for the newer ones it just seemed to confuse them.

My favorite memory was two satanist girls who were on a lot of acid and who knows what else absolutely losing their shit. I think, in the end, we were all laughing at how depressing poorly regulated capitalism can be sometimes. I still laugh whenever I see pay-day loan stores.

You really shouldn't judge what you don't understand. I don't want to go into details, suffice to say: whatever you're imagining, it's completely mistaken.

More like innovated fun in the desert!

I love how absolutely esoterically random this is.

i spent a bunch of time sampling this back when it came out in 2015


This is lovely. Thank you.

Dan Bell would love this.

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