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Putting The 'K' In Muzak: Years Of Kmart Background Music, Archived On Tape


Attention, NPR shoppers - we have a special today in the Kmart nostalgia department.


MCEVERS: Back in 1989, Mark Davis started working at his local Kmart in Naperville, Ill., and this is what he heard on the store's loudspeakers all day.


MCEVERS: But rather than try to shake this memory forever, Davis actually collected those soundtracks - four years of cassette tapes filled with Kmart in-store muzak and announcements. Mark Davis recently uploaded his horde to, and he joins me now. Welcome to the show.

MARK DAVIS: Thank you so much. Glad to be here.

MCEVERS: And can you just tell us, where did these tapes come from?

DAVIS: OK. So it was my first job, and I was working for Kmart. And I was on the sales floor. And these songs rotated, like, every hour or two. And so you're working a lot of eight hour shifts and weekends. You get to know these songs. You actually get to like the songs to a certain extent.

So I had access to the service desk when I had first started. And I went behind to take a look at the sound system 'cause I'm a technical guy and wanted to see how it worked. And I noticed that it was November, and there was an October tape sitting there. So I decided to take it as kind of a memento to my first month working at Kmart. I continued this collection every month.

MCEVERS: OK. So we should be clear. You were a teenager at the time. And you did say that you started to like some of these songs. Can you please tell me how that's possible?


DAVIS: Well, it's not so much that I would want to make a mix and dub one of these in. But the fact, is if you hear any song out there by any artist long enough, you do kind of like it. Maybe you get sick of it, but you do kind of like it. And you can appreciate it no matter how much you may not like it initially.


MCEVERS: So now when you listen to these, I mean, what goes through your head? Do they make you remember certain things from being a 16 year old at Kmart?

DAVIS: Yeah, it does. I think, personally, music evokes an emotional side of your brain, and it can bring you back to earlier times. And that's true for these songs and working at Kmart in that time period because I had a lot of friends I met. We had a lot of good times, and I loved the job. Just like if I listen to songs from when I was in college or songs from when my first kids were born - that type of thing - you recall, and you can kind of transplant yourself back to that. So it does bring me back to simpler times, and those were simpler times.


MCEVERS: That's Mark Davis, who has collected and uploaded four years of Kmart in-store muzak. Thank you so much.

DAVIS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.