For anyone that has worked in retail, there is one thing that is a constant (okay, there are a lot of things that are constants) and that applies to everyone (well except those of us who have had the displeasure of spending any time working in a Target) and that is overhead music.
For those who are there to do their usual shopping, they probably don’t even notice that the music exists, it’s just background noise in much the same way that squeaky wheels and crying babies are to them. But for those of us who find themselves trapped within the four walls of the store for hours at a time, the music becomes more than background noise, it becomes the soundtrack to our lives.
When I worked in shoes all those years, the songs we heard had to be on some sort of tape loop, because we had heard the same songs over and over and over again, some of them I swear we heard 7 or 8 times a day. Now, to some, listening to music at work would be a good thing. They could be right, provided that you had some say as to the type of music or the volume of the music or the variety of music. Predictably however, this was never going to be the case.
A number of those songs still stick out to this day, songs that I remember hearing while I picked up shoes and put them back in size and color order on their respective shelves. Ironically, one of those songs is one of my favorite songs to this day and that is saying something considering how many times I heard this song in an average week, at least 40-50 times. That song is ‘Brandy’ by Looking Glass. I mean what is not to love about this song? We hear over and over again how this woman is a good woman and she is popular with the sailors in the port town but she is in the end dumped for a body of water. So is it a love song? A break up song? Something with a deeper meaning that can only be deduced after 1000 or more listens? Probably all of the above.
Another song that I remain partial to, even to this day which found itself into the daily set list and into our ears for years and years was ‘Lucille’ by Kenny Rogers. Why someone in an office somewhere thought that people shopping inside a Kmart wanted to hear the tale of how a woman left her husband with four hungry children and the crops in the field is beyond me. Does hearing the pain and heartbreak of a man who lost his wife and his world, really make you want to buy sheets or get your paint mixed? Not me it doesn’t, but maybe someone somewhere felt just that way when they heard the song.
And then there were songs that we hated, songs that just made you want to punch something when you heard them come on; ‘House Full of Reasons’ by Jude Cole is one of those songs. For those that don’t know, it’s a song about a man who cannot find a way to move on from the loss of his love (what is it about love and the loss of it or the absence of it that retailers think makes good shopping music?) You want to get an Icee and a pretzel while taking a break from the deals you got at the last blue light special and what better music to chill out to than songs about lost love and heartbreak? I’m surprised that no one ever decided to play a mix of Hank Williams and classic country tear-jerkers to eager shoppers.
And speaking of tear jerkers there is one song that comes to mind, one which joined the list of songs too often heard, and that would be ‘The Most Beautiful Girl’ by Charlie Rich. Now this is a tear-jerker if there ever was one. The singer is asking if you saw his crying girlfriend who walked out on him because of his behavior. He learned his lessons but it’s too late and he wants those who might stumble upon her to tell her that he is sorry and that he needs his baby. Okay, there is so much wrong with this song: so he broke her heart, she finally had enough and left crying, we get that part, and we also get the part where he realizes the mess that he made and regrets it, but that part that asks complete strangers that have no idea who the singer is let alone his jilted lover, to find a crying woman and tell her for him that he needs his baby, is too much. Who is going to do that and why would they even think that it would be a good idea? And once again, why are the only songs that seem to be played over and over again have to be about heartbreak?
While on the theme of lost love, I give you ‘Best Friend’s Girl’ by The Cars. The point of the song is simple, he sees this beautiful girl walking down the street with his best friend, which is all well and good, not a problem, until you realize that she used to be the singer’s girlfriend, which opens up the door for a whole world of problems. So he admires her beauty and how she walks and talks but cant do anything because she is dating his best friend and that is a line that he is unwilling to cross to get her back.
The last of the heartbreak songs is also my favorite one of the bunch. Once again we are blessed with another song by Kenny Rogers; this time it’s ‘Ruby’. For those who may have forgotten, Ruby is a song about a man who came back from the war and is in a wheelchair and is not the man he used to be. He watches his wife put on make up and dress up to go into town. The singer pleads with her to not take her love to town and at one point says that if he could get his gun, that he’d put her in the ground. Sounds like appropriate music for shoppers to hear; about how a woman is cheating on her wounded war veteran husband and how if he could he would kill her. To think that someone thought this is what people needed to hear is beyond me.
One last song, that was played to death at my current place of employment, needs no introduction or explanation. I give you ‘It’s all About the Bass’ by Megan Traynor. There are no amount of words that could ever hope to be written to explain why we needed to hear this song to the point of nausea, and the edited version at that; if you are going to choose this type of song to bombard your customers with, at least have the courage to play the real version and not the watered down safe version.
Retail, there is so much more to it than stocking shelves and ringing up customers.
Cover image courtesy of Polycart via Flickr