What makes a great hold music song?
— catchy melody
— lyrics you don’t quite know but can fake your way through
— lyrics that don’t quite make sense either
— something that could be performed by artists as varied as an 80s punk band or Perry Como.
— a song that doesn’t quite annoy you but isn’t really very good either
Of course anything by Glen Campbell is good, as well as most of the Coldplay catalog. Believe it or not, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana could be an excellent hold music song, especially if it were covered by, say, Nancy Griffith. Or, since we’re in that mode of thinking, how about the 80s punk classic “Don’t Wanna Know If You Are Lonely” by Husker Du… except it’s covered by Jack Johnson.
You know what else works great on hold? Just about anything by either Dean Martin or Celine Dion.
Keep in mind here, I’m not praising this music for its musical qualities. I’m praising it for its ability to distract you from the annoyance of being put on hold. If you’re on hold and some hold music is playing and you aren’t singing along but instead are getting increasingly peeved, the hold music has failed. Good hold music keeps you from entering the state of peevishment. Which is a word I just made up.
And, having spent considerable time on hold in my frequently misbegotten life, I’ve come up with four songs that really are the best.
And then I thought: what else would I like to hear while I’m on hold? For that section, I’ve added three non-songs. They are speeches from movies that you will always enjoy listening to as you are stuck in hold purgatory.
Four Hold Music Classics
1. “The Girl From Ipanema”. You’ve just called your insurance company about why they rejected a claim you made for the poweful anti-depressant meds your psychiatrist prescribed, and they put you on hold to check. The darkness is gathering over your life, bleak thoughts of nothingness and despair fill you as you sit and wait… suddenly, on the hold music: “Tall and tan and young and lovely the girl from Ipanema goes walking…” And there you are, not quite so aggravated, not quite so willing to question your entire existence. It’s a lovely day in Rio and the girl from Ipanema has just walked by, my friend. Things are gonna be okay, even if that prescription is going to cost you $1,600 a month out of pocket.
2. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head.” Burt Bacharach and Hal David are one of the great song-writing duos of all time. And I have often said these words to myself while waiting for the electric company to approve an extension on my bill: “Raindrops keep fallin’ in my head, but that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turnin’ red. Cryin’s not for me…” The woman from PG & E then comes back on the line and before she can say anything, you say to her: “Look, regardless of what your decision is, I just want you to know that these blues they send to meet me won’t defeat me.” There’s a long, uncomfortable pause and then she says: Okay, well, we can give you one more extension but then you have to pay the bill in full. Thanks so much, you say, and remember, ma’am: you’re never gonna stop the rain by complainin’ because you’re free. She hangs up, but you’re happy because your refrigerator is going to work for another month!
3. “What’s It All About, Alfie?” Another hold music classic from Bacharach and David. You’ve called your agent, and she’s “on the line with another client, could you hold?” Sure, you say, because what else are you, an unemployed writer, going to say? You’re wondering if the network liked your pilot script and are a bundle of nerves until these questions are posed by Dionne Warwick: “Is it just for the moment we live? What’s it all about, when you sort it out, Alfie?’ You know what? you say to yourself, Dionne Warwick makes a good point. It doesn’t really matter if this project is picked up and you suddenly are rich. No. It’s cool if they say no because they hate my writing because, really, what’s it all about? Nothing, frankly. It’s just TV.
4. “If Ever I Should Leave You” from the Broadway musical, “Camelot.” You’ve got a quick question for your lawyer about the divorce but he’s just finishing up a conference call with a couple who are preparing a pre-nup so you’re on hold. And then you hear these words being sung: “I’ve seen you in autumn when fall nips the air/I know you in autumn and I must be there.” Oh, no, not in springtime, you start belting away, summer, winter or fall… the lawyer comes on the line. Look, you say, I’ve decided she can have all the good car and the house.
The Three Non-Songs That Should Be Part of Hold Music Rotations.
What else would I like to hear while I’m on hold? For this section, I’ve added three non-songs. They are speeches from movies that I would always enjoy listening to as I am stuck in hold purgatory.
1. “I’m A God” speech by Bill Murray from “Groundhog Day.” You know that scene late in the movie, not far from the start of the third act, where Bill Murray’s character has hit the peak of frustration over the endless loop his life has become in Punxatawny, PA, and starts to tell Andie MacDowell’s character about all the people in the diner and then tells her about herself (“You like boats, but not the ocean…”)? Could somebody play that when I’m on hold so I could listen to that instead yet another rendition of “God Didn’t Make Little Green Apples”? Please?
2. “Was It Over When the Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor?” In 1994, the Cleveland Indians fell behind 2-0 in the American League Championship Series on the road to the Seattle Mariners. With the series coming to Cleveland, the Indians management played this speech from “Animal House” to the crowd at Jacobs Field in Cleveland prior to the national anthem to get the crowd pumped up. In it, John Belushi tries to motivate his defeated fraternity brothers. Let’s face facts, here. If you’re on hold, it’s not because you’re awaiting good news. You’re probably feeling a bit blue and tense and overwhelmed. You need some Bluto, my friend. What is called for here is that a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.
3. “You Were Born to Be Hockey Players, Every One of You.” Probably the greatest locker room speech of all time — and the best part is that it actually happened. Just before the US-USSR hockey game in the 1980 Olympics, the US coach Herb Brooks (played here by Kurt Russell doing a perfect St. Paul accent), tells his players they have a shot against the greatest hockey team in the world. I could listen to this over and over while I’m on hold with my bank as I ask them to reconsider the overdraft charges they stuck me with.