04 April 2006

The Timeout Instrumental

At the end of the hour on Top 40 radio, just before the news, the last record would end, the deejay would talk for a bit, and then he would fade in an instrumental track that had been playing in the background. The instrumental would be cued up so that it finished right on the pips (the electronic countdown to the hour). This practice was common in the 60s, but it seems to have faded out during the 70s.

I asked radio historian Wayne Mac and former 2GB panel operator Gregg Sinclair if there was a name for it and they said, yes, it was called timing out, and the tracks were fillers or timeouts.

In my mind, these works have always formed an unofficial, unnamed sub-genre of the pop instrumental. Radio people in the 60s could identify it immediately, just by choosing something that sounded okay in between a bunch of hit records and the news.

I'm calling this musical sub-genre the Timeout Instrumental, just so it has a name.*

The Timeout Instrumental might have been something by Herb Alpert (right): maybe Bittersweet Samba or Up Cherry Street or Mexican Shuffle. It probably wouldn't be the latest Shadows hit, but it could be one of their B-sides or an EP track, something like The Miracle. You might have heard some album tracks, often by middle-of-the-road orchestras. I'm sure Dalilia, that space-age classic by Roger Roger & his Champs-Elysées Orchestra, would have been used: it was a favourite as background music on Australian radio and TV.**

As examples of likely Timeout Instrumental artists, Gregg Sinclair gives The Baja Marimba Band (associates of Herb Alpert), Bill Justis and Floyd Cramer. Raymond Lefèvre's Soul Coaxing is one track he recalls.

There was some skill in timing out: if the timeout track was 3 minutes long, it had to start playing, faded down, three minutes before the pips, while the last record was still playing. Gregg Sinclair writes:
The art of ‘timing out’ was made all the more interesting by the fact that most of the tracks supplied weren’t timed! Believe it or not, any panel operator worth his salt could look at a track and determine how long it ran. After a few years of experience, I could look at an album track and say: “that’s about a 2’45” job”! However, I always preferred to time them if I had the chance. Usually, I’d get in early and go through the ‘music log’ - radio talk for the playlist – and time the appropriate tracks prior to going on air.
There was a feeling in radio that using instrumental filler in this way sounded sloppy or out of date, so from the late 60s it was replaced by playing regular vocal hits up to the news.

For me, though, it lives on. Sometimes when I hear an old instrumental track I haven't heard before - maybe something by
Cyril Stapleton or Sounds Incorporated - I find myself waiting for the pips, and I know I've stumbled on another Timeout Instrumental.

[For more on Timeout Instrumentals, see follow-up posts
here and here.]

*As a genre, Timeout Instrumental is similar to Northern Soul in that (1) it is applied retrospectively and (2) works are included not strictly for being of one musical style. See also Bizarro Shadows World Down Under, which is applied retrospectively and is partly defined by geography rather than style.

**Timeout Instrumental intersects with what is now known as Space Age Pop (another retrospective genre).
For more on Dalilia, see Only in Oz (9).


John G said...

Paul Mauriat's "Love Is Blue" was a very good one - often played in the late 60s when it was a hit - in its own right had a good "fade" at the end

ChrisWoznitza said...

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