The Story Behind The Soothing Cisco Hold Music Sampled On How To Dress Well’s “Precious Love”

Sometimes inspiration strikes you in the most unlikely places: in the car, at 3AM when you can’t sleep, and maybe even when you’re frustrated, bored, and on hold with customer service. That seems to have been the case for How To Dress Well’s Tom Krell, who samples hold music on “Precious Love,” one of the tracks off his fantastic new album “What Is This Heart?” Listening to it at first, you may not even recognize it as a sample, but you know it sounds oddly familiar — primordial, even. Something in the back of your head is gnawing away at you: Where have I heard this? Why is it vaguely annoying? Then it hits you: I’ve been waiting to this tune before.

The specific hold music that Krell chose to sample actually has an interesting backstory that came to light earlier this year after making the blog rounds following its inclusion in a segment of This American Life. The song is called “Opus No. 1″ and was recorded by Tim Carleton and Darrick Deel in 1989 on a four-track in their garage. Listen:

Like most garage recordings of generic ’80s synth, it faded into obscurity and likely never even left the confines of their home. But after Deel landed a job at Cisco in the mid-90s and was on the lookout for default hold music for their new phone system, he drudged up his old recording and made it so. It would go on to become the de facto hold music, used at call centers and small businesses everywhere. Here’s a video that Cisco made providing some more background:

It’s amazing to think how many people have heard this song and now it’s repurposed beautifully, in one of the most memorable tracks from a very memorable album. Listen to how Krell works it into his song right here.