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Middle of the road (MOR) music is a commercial radio format (rather than a musical genre) which encompasses several styles. MOR music is broadly popular music, but not technically avant-garde; generally, it is strongly melodic and often features vocal harmony technique and orchestral arrangements. During the 1960s and the 1970s, the Beautiful Music radio stations were “MOR radio”, while its contemporary analogues are the Smooth Jazz and the Soft AC formats.

Conceived as a format that would include music of almost universal appeal due to its pool of broadly popular performers and its gently inoffensive sentimentality, it is often the format of choice for doctors' offices, waiting rooms, department stores, and other public and semi-public places of business. The combination of the music's largely unchallenging, decorous quality and its association with being piped in to places one is compelled to remain has drawn the format its detractors. The MOR format has largely replaced what was once referred to as elevator music, or Muzak — anonymous, instrumental versions of such popular but mild tunes in blander arrangements designed to lull the listener. Yet, ironically, the stigma of being unwelcome background music has transferred to the MOR genre if only because of its similar usage.

The middle of the road music category usually includes these genres:

As an AM radio format in North America, MOR’s heyday was the 1960s and the 1970s. The 50,000-watt AM radio stations WLWmarker in Cincinnati, Ohio, WJRmarker in Detroit, Michigan, WNEWmarker in New York City, New York, WCCOmarker in Minneapolis, Minnesota, KMPC in Los Angeles, California, and CFRBmarker in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, were known as "full-service MOR" stations with scheduled programming other than the MOR music. In that time, as the listener demographic groups aged, and popular music emigrated to FM radio, MOR stations competed with adult contemporary FM stations and AM stations broadcasting the Music of Your Life and adult standards formats, most eliminated music and transmitted only news and talk programs; some continued to play MOR music until the early 1990s. Currently, the MOR style of sound is in the catalogue of the modern adult standards music format.

Contemporary usage

The term "middle of the road" is used pejoratively by genre-specific music aficionados to describe musicians who avoid "edgy" (innovative) material, and who calibrate their musical appeal to blandness — the lowest common denominator of commercial, popular musical taste. For example, in writing about Mariah Carey, critic Sasha Frere-Jones characterised her music as "appeal[ing] to people who don’t, otherwise, listen to Pop. These are people who probably also like Andrea Bocelli and Céline Dion, singers who avoid the sexual tug of the blues, and the glorious noises of rock and hip-hop, in favor of tremulous expressions of chaste emotion". Artists such as Westlife (pop) and Train (rock) are considered middle-of-the-road musicians.

Moreover, MOR also pejoratively describes a musical band’s creative and commercial progress — from the innovative path to the tried-and-true-pop-catalogue path. For example, Pitchfork’s review of Duran Duran’s Rio said: "The band peppered the 80s with a number of hot singles (most of which can be found on the unstoppable side A of Rio) before departing for MOR country." The lyrics to the song "Hit Factory" (by Godley and Creme, in the record album L) include the phrase: "MOR is safe. MOR is here. MOR is you."; nonetheless, middle of the road music currently has a following among people fifty years and older, and is found under the rubric of adult standards and nostalgia radio.

See also


  1. Frere-Jones, Sasha. "On Top". New Yorker, 3 April 2006, pp. 76-77.
  2. Christmas in Popworld, Wembley Arena, London | | Guardian Unlimited Arts
  3. Train - Train : She's On Fire - Track Reviews - NME.COM
  4. Top 100 Albums of the 1980s. Pitchfork.

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