The Songs of Pure Moods

by Blair Thornburgh

“Imagine a world where time drifts slowly, a world where music carries you away…”

So called “direct response television commercials” for CD collections like this were a staple of cable advertising for the last 20 years: sold more on overall aesthetic than on specific songs, they were usually the first step in a mail-order (remember 800-numbers?!) and had price points that invariably ended in 99 cents (except for the obviously inferior 98, or, heaven forbid, 97 cent offerings).

Pure Moods seems to have been an attempt to corner a lucrative “new age” market, targeting the kind of people who do dream of a world where unicorns prance, ‘80s-style headdresses are all the rage at weddings, and will believe “direct from Europe” and “multi-platinum” constitute a legitimate musical pedigree. The Pure Moods brand, according to Wikipedia, spans over 10 total CD compilations, including Celtic Moods, Christmas Moods, and the vaguely Paganistic Pure Moods: Celestial Celebration. But it’s the original, the purest of Pure Moods that many of us remember from seeing this ad as children during the Nickelodeon afternoon programming block (??) and can now sing all the snippets of the songs in order, even the ones that don’t have actual lyrics. And what are these songs, anyway?

The anchors of the of the whole collection are two of the most recognizable songs in the popular-New-Age canon: “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)” by Enya, whose video the Pure Moods people seemed to have ripped off entirely for their album art, and the single “Adiemus” by the eponymous … Adiemus. Enya Brennan is the well-known Irish singer and songwriter behind zillions of mystical, folk-inspired ballads that have appeared chiefly in movies whose middle words are “of the.” Adiemus (the band) is a conglomeration of musicians led by composer Karl Jenkins that produced multiple “vocalise-style albums” that mash together classical, gospel, African, and “world” music traditions to produce tracks that you recognize either from Delta Airlines commercials or from, well, Pure Moods.

One might assume that, with those two songs at the helm, the rest of Pure Moods would be in the same vein of mystically orchestral and reverb-drenched females chanting nonwords. It’s a soundtrack for a land where time drifts slowly, after all! The first chunk of the commercial tries to fool you into this, listing “Sail Away” not just once but twice in the first 30 seconds of track listing, and the visual imagery of foaming waves and darkly flickering candles suggests music for a particularly macabre day spa.

But one might also be totally wrong. Instead of a calming, empowering, classical-lite CD filled with harps and string sections, the remaining numbers are a pastiche of bizarrely named songs like “Oxygène Part IV,” a track with various layers of sputtering techno composed by Jean Michel Jarre, Guinness World Record holder for the Biggest Concert Ever (seriously). There’s the trippily titled “My Wife With Champagne Shoulders,” a strummy and meandering easy-listening track written by musician and Scientologist Mark Isham, who would later score Crash (the Oscar-winner, not the Cronenberg flick). There’s the creatively-spelled “Sadeness Pt. 1” by the “musical project” Enigma, which pits a yelping flute part and drum machine against a series of gasped French(?) words and Gregorian chant. [Ed. — The Hairpin is a fan.] The music video that the Pure Moods commercial briefly excerpts is like a fever dream of someone who’s just seen a bunch of old-school Calvin Klein ads before falling asleep watching The Name of the Rose. And then there’s “Lily Was Here,” a track created for a 1989 Dutch movie about a checkout girl, but which is probably better-known these days as the “Local on the 8s” music from the Weather Channel.

And yet the weirdest inclusions on Pure Moods are the ones that are so completely incongruous: the themes from TV shows and movies. You know what music doesn’t “set me adrift with [its] timeless pleasures”? Goddamn “Tubular Bells,” that’s what! Anything associated with exorcism would seem inappropriate for a drippy collection of songs to get your eyebrows threaded to, but, perplexingly, it makes the cut not just for the CD but for the actual commercial as well. I’m a huge fan of Angelo Badalamenti’s “Theme from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,” too, but again — not music for twirling in an open field. I guess the pulsing remix of the X-Files music or “Crockett’s Theme” from Miami Vice inspire some kind of mood, but I don’t think it’s a particularly pure one.

These days, Amazon has copies available (for the bargain price of $12.47!) and a Spotify search turns up a decent number of similar-seeming knockoffs. But neither of these avenues gets the point of Pure Moods. Pure Moods — really, the whole business of buying CDs from TV ads — is a relic from another age, an age where people 1) watched TV, 2) saw ads, and 3) paid for music. Its model of packaging and branding songs around a theme makes little sense in our single-serve, post-Pandora music world. When we can have our song choices genetically engineered to exactly what we like and don’t like (excessive vamping, anyone?), it’s harder and harder to come across things by accident. Compilations might continue to exist (consider the long tail), but you’ll probably never be treated to quirkily medicore jams like “Return to Innocence” [Ed. — Omg, not mediocre!] unless you take out your earbuds in the dentist’s waiting room.

Maybe it’s too much to say that death of Pure Moods and its kind will constitute a significant cultural loss, and maybe my soft spot for these blue-screen, 800-numbered ads is anything more than nostalgia with a dash of hipster irony. What I do know is that the Celtic-flavored, electronica-lite, pseudo-tribal tracks of Pure Moods are, in fact, the perfect songs for my way of life.

Blair Thornburgh lives in Chicago, where she tends to put Enya on at parties.

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