Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Frank Mills
Music Box Dancer b/w The Poet and I


Released 1978 on Polydor
Reviewed by Lawrence, 31/05/2015ce


Sometimes musical genius comes from unusual places. Often from genres considered mundane or innocuous. Take for example what was often called Easy Listening music. It has had a bad rap, being equated with the company Muzak which is (or was back then until they changed to a pop format) just background music for functional purposes mostly. Also people think James Last or Lawrence Welk, although I still have fond memories of the latter's TV show in my childhood when me and my sister would watch it pretending to be adults.

But back in the '40s and '50s, up until Rn'R became the big thing, Mantovani, Les Baxter, Martin Denny, Esquivel et al were considered contemporary music for a sophisticated elite (pretty much...) Even later in the 60s there were some interesting trends such as Space Age Bachelor Pad music and some combos trying out some of the more rock-oriented pop songs done in the Easy Listening stylee.

But in 1978 such music was considered unfashionable for the most part. The famed "Middle of the Road" format (ie 'Soft Rock') filled up the gap for those not really interested in the Easy Listening stations of the time (which was Muzak-style canned-music mostly.) And Brian Eno started his 'Ambient' series which was a much different approach to background music than Mantovani. Although also Throbbing Gristle, in their attempts to be as un-hip as possible, embraced Martin Denny's and Les Baxter's South Seas-based Lounge works, even doing their own homage to Denny's album covers...

So onto Frank Mills, a sunny-faced Canadian keyboardist originally from a group called the Bells who had a hit in their home country with the song "Stay A While". He later went solo and originally recorded "Music Box Dancer" in 1974. He would try to circulate his music to various Canadian radio stations but because of him being an Easy Listening artist it was a bit futile, until a few years later he sent one station a promo single featuring "Music Box Dancer" as a b-side to a much more antiquated-style of old-timey instrumental "The Poet and I". That station didn't care for the a-side much, but then discovered the b-side to be much more upbeat, enough that they first played it after a news broadcast and got alot of feedback from listeners.

So for those who are much younger than me and might not have heard the song, well music is hard to describe with words but just imagine a really nice piano ditty with a driving rock beat and you get the picture. It became a hit just for being an uplifting nice song that could cheer anybody up (it did the first time I heard it on the radio when I was 12!) and just about rockin' enough that even yr typical Ramones fan would dig it.

So there it is, my most guilty pleasure as it must be for many who remember this excellent single. Of course a one-hit wonder pretty much but I'm sure Mr. Mills doesn't lose sleep over it. He's probably just happy making other people happy, at least for a little more than three minutes...


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