Sometime between ring-a-ding-ding and hunk-a hunk-a burning love, America slipped into something more comfortable, and Bob Thompson was there to help.
Mr. Thompson was one of the foremost composers and arrangers of what came to be known as "Space Age bachelor pad" music -- tunes that allowed hi-fi buffs to turn the lights low, mix the perfect martini and show off their tweeters and woofers. With cascading strings, upbeat rhythms and -- as in his piece "Mmm Nice!" -- breathy female singers, Mr. Thompson's music set a mood, but was more than mood music.
"There was a crispness, a sonic clarity, a sophistication and a wryness," said Irwin Chusid, a record producer and New Jersey-based radio personality who in Mr. Thompson's later years was his manager and publisher. "There was humor -- not in the comical sense but as musical wit."
Mr. Thompson, 88, who also wrote and arranged radio and TV commercials, died May 21 in a Los Angeles nursing home, family members said. He had Alzheimer's disease.
In the late 1950s, he signed with RCA Victor to create such albums as "On the Rocks," with a cover featuring a bikini-clad model lolling in a giant cocktail glass. They were designed to appeal to swinging young guys who wanted to test their stereos and, if they were lucky, their testosterone.
The liner notes on Mr. Thompson's 1959 "Just for Kicks" could have been penned by Hugh Hefner himself:
"Picture a moonlight swim without the encumbrance of superfluous apparel; an impromptu plane flight to Las Vegas or Miami; a cha-cha contest at a lease-breaking party; an all-night discussion of philosophy while sobering up on cafe espresso. These are some of the things which imaginative people do 'just for kicks'!"
The music -- also called Space Age pop -- was often a spin on old jazz standards, equipping them with hip choral sounds and ping-ponging stereo effects. Mr. Thompson's 1960 album, "The Sound of Speed," was a tribute to fast living, with orchestral riffs inspired by jet engines, race cars and, in one cut, "A Streetcar Named Irving."
"Thompson was a seminal figure, a major inventor of this kind of music," said Koop Kooper, creator of "Cocktail Nation," an Australia-based podcast and radio show that highlights lounge music.
"You have to remember that the bachelor coming to the forefront of American culture was a new thing," Mr. Kooper said.
"It used to be that people went off to college, met their sweethearts and got married. With the advent of Playboy, a bunch of guys realized there was a whole other lifestyle out there."
The bachelors' new music was racy without being raw.
Born Aug. 22, 1924, in San Jose, Calif., Robert Lamar Thompson grew up in rural Auburn, Calif., a town his parents thought healthier for a boy with asthma. He started learning piano at 10, teaching himself at a fairground on one he found under a tarp.
Mr. Thompson studied music for a year at the University of California, Berkeley, but later said he learned more at KGO, a San Francisco radio station where he worked his way up from pageboy to arranger for the house orchestra. He tried composing during a brief stint in Paris but, looking for steadier work, headed back to California and wound up playing at a piano bar in Los Angeles.obituaries - nation - music