Soft rock

Last updated

Soft rock (also known as light rock [4] and adult-oriented rock [5] ) is a derivative form of pop rock [6] that originated in the late 1960s in the U.S. region of Southern California and in the United Kingdom. The style smoothed over the edges of singer-songwriter and pop rock, [1] relying on simple, melodic songs with big, lush productions. Soft rock was prevalent on the radio throughout the 1970s and eventually metamorphosed into a form of the synthesized music of adult contemporary in the 1980s. [1]



Mid- to late 1960s

Softer sounds in rock music could be heard in mid-1960s songs, such as "A Summer Song" by Chad & Jeremy (1964) and "Here, There and Everywhere" [7] by the Beatles and "I Love My Dog" [8] by Cat Stevens, both from 1966.

By 1968, hard rock had been established as a mainstream genre. From the end of the 1960s, it became common to divide mainstream rock music into soft and hard rock, [9] with both emerging as major radio formats in the US. [10] Late 1960s soft rock artists include the Bee Gees, [11] whose song "I Started a Joke" was a number one single in several countries; Neil Diamond with the 1969 hit "Sweet Caroline", the Hollies with their US and UK top 10 hit "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother", and Elton John with his popular song "Skyline Pigeon".

Early 1970s

By the early 1970s, softer songs by the Carpenters, Anne Murray, John Denver, Barry Manilow, and even Barbra Streisand began to be played more often on "top 40" radio and others were added to the mix on many adult contemporary stations.

Major artists of that time included Bread, [12] [13] Carly Simon, Carole King, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, [14] Lobo and Gilbert O'Sullivan who achieved number-one hit singles between 1970–1972 with "Nothing Rhymed", "Alone Again (Naturally)" and "Clair".

The Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts became more similar again toward the end of the 1960s and into the early and mid-1970s when the texture of much of the music played on top 40 radio once more began to soften. The adult contemporary format began evolving into the sound that later defined it, with rock-oriented acts as Chicago, the Eagles and Elton John becoming associated with the format. The Carpenters' hit version of "(They Long to Be) Close to You" was released in the summer of 1970, followed by Bread's "Make It with You", both early examples of a softer sound that was coming to dominate the charts. [15]

The soft rock album Tapestry by Carole King, released in February 1971, became one of the best-selling albums of all time. The lead double-sided single from the album, "It's Too Late"/"I Feel the Earth Move", spent five weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 beginning in mid-June 1971. [16]

Los Angeles station KNX-FM, under program director Steve Marshall, introduced a "mellow rock" format in 1971. [17]

Albert Hammond scored a major hit single with "It Never Rains in Southern California" in 1972, which went top 10 in at least six countries including Canada and the U.S. at numbers 2 and 5, respectively.

In the spring of 1972, Neil Young scored his only number-one single with "Heart of Gold", from the album Harvest . Topping the charts in both the U.S. and Canada, this soft rock ballad featured backing vocals from Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor, heard near the end of the song. [18]

In 1973, Paul McCartney and Wings had a U.S. number one with "My Love", which also reached No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary charts of both the U.S. and Canada.

Mid- to late 1970s

Soft rock reached its commercial peak in the mid-to-late 1970s with acts such as Toto, England Dan & John Ford Coley, Air Supply, Seals and Crofts, America and the reformed Fleetwood Mac, whose Rumours (1977) was the best-selling album of the decade. [19]

Denver station KIMN-FM introduced a "mellow rock" album format in 1975. Program director Scott Kenyon told Billboard magazine, "Michael Murphey's 'Wildfire' is a perfect example; it feels like Colorado, you can tell it came from this part of the country. There's a sound of the Rockies... the best description is mellow rock. Take that kind of music and make it into a Colorado sounding station." [20]

By 1977, some radio stations, notably New York's WTFM and NBC-owned WYNY, had switched to an all-soft rock format. [21] Chicago's WBBM-FM adopted a soft rock/album rock hybrid format in 1977 and was known as "Soft Rock 96" presenting the "Mellow sound of Chicago". Five years later, they would flip to a "Hot Hits" top 40 format. [22]

In the mid- to late 1970s, prominent soft rock acts included Billy Joel, Elton John, Jefferson Starship, Chicago, Toto, Boz Scaggs, the Alessi Brothers, Michael McDonald, Paul Davis, Eric Carmen, the Doobie Brothers, the Alan Parsons Project, Captain & Tennille, the Hollies, and Dr. Hook.

By the 1980s, tastes had changed and radio formats reflected this change, including musical artists such as Journey. [23]

A prominent counterpart of soft rock in the late 1970s and early 1980s came to be known as yacht rock; [24] its name coined in 2005 by the makers of the online video series Yacht Rock . Originating from California's session musicians, yacht rock only partially overlapped with soft rock; it could include soft to mid-level (but rarely ever purely hard) rock. [25] Much of the "West Coast sound" of yacht rock bore similarity to some of the East Coast soft rockers of the era such as Rupert Holmes and Hall & Oates, leading to the conflation. [26]


In the early 1980s, the radio format evolved into what came to be known as "adult contemporary" or "adult album alternative", a format that has less overt rock bias than its forebear radio categorization. [27] In Los Angeles, KOST 103.5, under program director Jhani Kaye, debuted its soft adult contemporary format in November 1982. [28] Soft rock songs still enjoyed success from artists such as Sheena Easton, Ambrosia, Lionel Richie, Christopher Cross, Dan Hill, Gino Vannelli, Leo Sayer, Air Supply, Julio Iglesias and Bertie Higgins.

Chris Norman, former lead singer of the band Smokie, scored several hits between 1986–1988 in Europe, particularly in Germany, including "Some Hearts Are Diamonds", "Broken Heroes" and "Midnight Lady", the latter reaching number one in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.


Soft rock persisted in the 1990s, with artists from previous decades continuing to release new music, such as Genesis, whose 1992 soft rock single "Hold on My Heart" [29] topped the Canadian singles chart and Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. [30] [31] Extreme's 1991 single "More Than Words" [32] was internationally successful, topping the national singles charts in at least five countries, including Canada and the United States. [33] [34] [35] Mr. Big's 1992 single "To Be with You" was a number one hit in at least twelve countries. Eric Clapton's 1992 single "Tears in Heaven" [36] was also successful, topping the national singles charts in Canada, [37] Ireland, [38] New Zealand, [39] and six other countries. [40] [41] [42] [43] Richard Marx's 1994 single "Now and Forever" [44] topped the Canadian adult contemporary chart [45] and peaked in the top ten of the national singles charts in that country, [46] Norway, [47] and the United States. [48] New bands and artists emerged such as the Danish group Michael Learns to Rock, who saw massive popularity in Asia, with many singles becoming commercially successful in the continent, [49] and Australian band Southern Sons, who enjoyed success on the ARIA Charts with three top 10 singles. [50]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Layla</span> Song written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon

"Layla" is a song written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon, originally recorded by Derek and the Dominos, as the thirteenth track from their only studio album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970). Its contrasting movements were composed separately by Clapton and Gordon. The piano part has also been controversially credited to Rita Coolidge, Gordon's girlfriend at the time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">I'll Be There for You (The Rembrandts song)</span> 1995 single by The Rembrandts, theme song of the television sitcom "Friends"

"I'll Be There for You" is a song by American pop rock duo the Rembrandts. The song was written by David Crane, Marta Kauffman, Michael Skloff, and Allee Willis as the main theme song to the NBC sitcom Friends, which was broadcast from 1994 to 2004. American rock band R.E.M. were originally asked to allow one of their songs to be used for the Friends theme, but they turned the opportunity down. "I'll Be There for You" was subsequently written and Warner Bros. Television selected the only available band on Warner Bros. Records to record it: the Rembrandts. In 1995, after a Nashville radio station brought the song to mainstream popularity, Rembrandts members Danny Wilde and Phil Sōlem expanded the theme song with two new verses and included this version on their third studio album, L.P. (1995).

<i>Unplugged</i> (Eric Clapton album) 1992 live album by Eric Clapton

Unplugged is a 1992 live album by Eric Clapton, recorded at Bray Studios, England in front of an audience for the MTV Unplugged television series. It includes a version of the successful 1992 single "Tears in Heaven" and an acoustic version of "Layla". The album itself won three Grammy awards at the 35th Annual Grammy Awards in 1993 and became the bestselling live album of all time, and Clapton's bestselling album, selling 26 million copies worldwide.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">My Favorite Mistake</span> 1998 single by Sheryl Crow

"My Favorite Mistake" is the first single from Sheryl Crow's third studio album, The Globe Sessions (1998), released on August 31, 1998, through A&M Records. Crow wrote the song about a relationship with a man who proves to be unfaithful and is widely believed to have been written about Eric Clapton. Released in 1998, the single peaked at number 20 on the US Billboard Hot 100, becoming Crow's fifth top-20 single in the United States, while reaching number two in Canada and giving Crow her seventh top-five hit there. In the United Kingdom, it reached number nine, becoming her last top-10 single in Britain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Air That I Breathe</span> 1972 song written by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood

"The Air That I Breathe" is a ballad written by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood, initially recorded by Albert Hammond on his 1972 album It Never Rains in Southern California. It was a major hit for the Hollies in early 1974, reaching number two in the UK Singles Chart.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tears in Heaven</span> 1992 single by Eric Clapton

"Tears in Heaven" is a song by Eric Clapton and Will Jennings, written about the death of Clapton's four-year-old son, Conor. It appeared on the 1991 Rush film soundtrack. In January 1992, Clapton performed the song in front of an audience at Bray Studios, Berkshire, England for MTV Unplugged, with the recording appearing on his Unplugged album.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wonderful Tonight</span> 1977 single by Eric Clapton

"Wonderful Tonight" is a ballad written by Eric Clapton. It was included on Clapton's 1977 album Slowhand. Clapton wrote the song about Pattie Boyd. The female vocal harmonies on the song are provided by Marcella Detroit and Yvonne Elliman.

The Adult Contemporary chart is published weekly by Billboard magazine and lists the most popular songs on adult contemporary radio stations in the United States. The chart is compiled based on airplay data submitted to Billboard by stations that are members of the Adult Contemporary radio panel. The chart debuted in Billboard magazine on July 17, 1961. Over the years, the chart has gone under a series of name changes, being called Easy Listening(1961–1962; 1965–1979), Middle-Road Singles(1962–1964), Pop-Standard Singles(1964–1965), Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks(1979–1982) and Adult Contemporary(1983–present).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scar Tissue</span> 1999 single by Red Hot Chili Peppers

"Scar Tissue" is the first single from American rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers' seventh studio album, Californication (1999). Released on May 25, 1999, the song spent a then-record 16 consecutive weeks atop the US Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart as well as 10 weeks atop the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and it reached number nine on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also successful in Iceland, New Zealand, and Canada, reaching numbers one, three, and four, respectively. In the United Kingdom, it charted at number 15 on the UK Singles Chart.

Angel of the Morning 1967 song written by Chip Taylor

"Angel of the Morning" is a popular song written by Chip Taylor, originally recorded by Evie Sands, but first charting by Merrilee Rush. The song has been covered by many artists including P. P. Arnold, Connie Eaton, Mary Mason, Guys 'n' Dolls, Melba Montgomery, Olivia Newton-John, Bettye Swann and, most recognizably, by Juice Newton.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">How Am I Supposed to Live Without You</span> 1982 song written by Doug James and Michael Bolton

"How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" is a song written in 1982 by Doug James and Michael Bolton. The ballad has been recorded by many artists around the world, in several languages, most notably Bolton himself, becoming something of a modern pop standard. Instrumental versions of the song have been recorded featuring variously the piano, guitar, saxophone, pan flute, steel drum, and music box.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Change the World</span> 1996 song by Wynonna Judd

"Change the World" is a song written by Tommy Sims, Gordon Kennedy, and Wayne Kirkpatrick and recorded by country music artist Wynonna Judd. A cover version was recorded by English singer Eric Clapton for the soundtrack of the 1996 film Phenomenon. The track was produced by R&B record producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and was first released on Judd's album Revelations.

My Fathers Eyes (song) 1998 single by Eric Clapton

"My Father's Eyes" is a song written and performed by Eric Clapton and produced by Clapton and Simon Climie. It was released as a single in 1998 and was featured on the album Pilgrim. The song reached the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart, peaking at number 16, which remains his last Top 40 hit in said country as of 2022 and spent five weeks at number two on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary chart. It became a major hit in Canada, where it peaked at number two, and it reached the top 20 in Austria, Iceland, and Norway. It also won a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">It's Probably Me</span> 1992 single by Sting and Eric Clapton

"It's Probably Me" is a song that was originally released in 1992 as an all-star collaboration by Sting featuring Eric Clapton, Michael Kamen, and David Sanborn. Released from the soundtrack to the action comedy film Lethal Weapon 3 in June 1992, the song reached number 20 on the US Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart and number 12 on Canada's RPM Top Singles chart. It was more successful in Europe, peaking at number one in Italy, number four in France and number six in the Netherlands.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lay Down Sally</span> 1977 single by Eric Clapton

"Lay Down Sally" is a song performed by Eric Clapton, and written by Clapton, Marcella Detroit, and George Terry. It appeared on his November 1977 album Slowhand, and reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Give Me One Reason</span> 1995 single by Tracy Chapman

"Give Me One Reason" is a song written and performed by American singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman. It was included on her fourth studio album, New Beginning (1995), and was released as a single in various territories between November 1995 and March 1997. The song is Chapman's biggest US hit to date, reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100. It is also her biggest hit in Australia, where it reached number three as well, and it topped the charts of Canada and Iceland. Elsewhere, the song reached number 16 in New Zealand, but it underperformed in the United Kingdom, peaking at number 95 in March 1997.

Adult contemporary music (AC) is a form of radio-played popular music, ranging from 1960s vocal and 1970s soft rock music to predominantly ballad-heavy music of the present day, with varying degrees of easy listening, pop, soul, R&B, quiet storm and rock influence. Adult contemporary is generally a continuation of the easy listening and soft rock style that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s with some adjustments that reflect the evolution of pop/rock music.

I Aint Gonna Stand for It

"I Ain't Gonna Stand for It" is the second single from Stevie Wonder's 1980 album, Hotter Than July. It reached number four on the Billboard R&B singles chart and number 11 on the Hot 100. It also hit number 10 on the UK Singles Chart. The song is famous for Wonder's imitation of a seasoned country-and-western crooner and his inspiring drumming. Charlie and Ronnie Wilson of The Gap Band provide backing vocals on the song. It was covered by Eric Clapton in 2001.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blue Eyes Blue</span> 1999 single by Eric Clapton

"Blue Eyes Blue" is a pop song written by American songwriter Diane Warren. The tune was written for the 1999 soundtrack of Runaway Bride. The British rock musician Eric Clapton recorded the song for the soundtrack and released his performance of the song as a single on July 20, 1999, for Reprise Records.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Promises (Eric Clapton song)</span> 1978 single by Eric Clapton

"Promises" is a single released by the British rock musician Eric Clapton in September 1978. It is part of his studio album Backless.


  1. 1 2 3 Anon (n.d.). "Soft Rock". AllMusic .
  2. Stanley 2013, p. 179.
  3. Viglione, Joe. "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do". AllMusic . Archived from the original on October 24, 2016.
  4. Alan Stephenson, David Reese, Mary Beadle, 2013, Broadcast Announcing Worktext: A Media Performance Guide p. 198.
  5. Regev, Motti (2013). Pop-Rock Music: Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism in Late Modernity. John Wiley & Sons. p. 115. ISBN   978-0745670904.
  6. "Early Pop/Rock". AllMusic .
  7. "Alan W. Pollack's Notes on "Here, There, And Everywhere"".
  8. Samadder, Rhik (January 31, 2017). "Dogs-Reggae-Soft-Rock-10-Top-Dog-Tracks". The Guardian .
  9. R. B. Browne and P. Browne, eds, The Guide to United States Popular Culture (Popular Press, 2001), ISBN   0-87972-821-3, p. 687.
  10. M. C. Keith, The Radio Station: Broadcast, Satellite and Internet (Focal Press, 8th edn., 2009), ISBN   0-240-81186-0, p. 14.
  11. "Andy Gibb, In the Shadow of the Bee Gees". March 5, 2011.
  12. Soft Rock. "Soft Rock : Significant Albums, Artists and Songs, Most Viewed". AllMusic. Retrieved January 9, 2013.
  13. "Soft Rock – Profile of the Mellow, Romantic Soft Rock of the '70s and Early '80s". April 12, 2012. Retrieved January 9, 2013.
  14. J. M. Curtis, Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music and Society, 1954–1984 (Popular Press, 1987), p. 236.
  15. Simpson, 2011 Early 70s Radio, chap. 2 "Pillow Talk: MOR, Soft Rock, and the 'Feminization' of Hit Radio".
  16. Bronson, Fred, (2003). The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits (5th ed.) New York: Billboard Books. p. 294. ISBN   9780823076772
  17. "KNX FM 93.1". Retrieved September 5, 2020.
  18. Fortenot, Robert. "Sound Familiar? 10 Famous Cameos That May Surprise You". Archived from the original on May 26, 2015. Retrieved May 31, 2020. #8 Neil Young's "Heart of Gold". "Musicians of the Los Angeles scene -- this time in the mellow '70s, when soft rock was king and El Lay was its epicenter."
  19. P. Buckley, The Rough Guide to Rock (Rough Guides, 3rd edn., 2003), p. 378.
  20. Pelton-Roby, Ruth (September 13, 1975). ""Colorado's Diverse Radio Scene"". Billboard. p. C-22.
  21. C. H. Sterling, M. C. Keith, Sounds of Change: a History of FM broadcasting in America (UNC Press, 2008), pp. 136–7.
  22. "B96 History Summarized - CLASSICB96 Wiki".
  23. "Journey: The band who did not stop believing". November 12, 2010. Retrieved December 6, 2010.
  24. Berlind, William (August 27, 2006). "Yacht Rock Docks in New York". The New York Observer. Archived from the original on May 18, 2011. Retrieved July 29, 2008.
  25. Matos, Michaelangelo (December 7, 2005). "Talk Talk: J.D. Ryznar". Seattle Weekly . Archived from the original on April 14, 2006. Retrieved October 9, 2006.
  26. Lecaro, Lina (November 19, 2016). "This Monthly Club Is a Non-Ironic Celebration of Rock's Softer Side". LA Weekly .
  27. C. H. Sterling, M. C. Keith, Sounds of Change: a History of FM Broadcasting in America (UNC Press, 2008), p. 187.
  28. Carney, Steve (November 14, 2007). "It's been a smooth ride for KOST radio". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  29. Wener, Ben (October 13, 2007). "Genesis Braves the Rain at the Bowl". The Orange County Register . Digital First Media. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  30. "RPM 100: Hit Tracks & Where to Find Them". RPM . June 20, 1992. Archived from the original on November 24, 2015. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  31. "Genesis Chart History – Adult Contemporary". Billboard . Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group . Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  32. "VH1's 40 Most Softsational Soft-Rock Songs". Stereogum . Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group. May 31, 2007. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  33. "Extreme – More Than Words". Utratop. Hung Medien. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  34. "RPM 100: Hit Tracks & Where to Find Them". RPM. June 8, 1991. Archived from the original on April 2, 2018. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  35. "Extreme Chart History – Hot 100". Billboard. Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group. Archived from the original on August 8, 2018. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  36. Smith, Chris (2006). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Rock History: From Arenas to the Underground, 1974–1980. Greenwood Press. p. 102. ISBN   0-313-32937-0.
  37. "RPM 100: Hit Tracks & Where to Find Them". RPM. April 11, 1992. Archived from the original on September 1, 2018. Retrieved September 1, 2018.
  38. "Search the Charts [Search Result for 'Tears in Heaven']". The Irish Charts . Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved November 12, 2015.
  39. "Eric Clapton – Tears in Heaven (Song)". . Hung Medien. Retrieved November 12, 2015.
  40. Gonçalves, Madalena (May 25, 1992). "Novas paradas de singles 25 de Maio de 1992" [New May 25, 1992 Single Charts]. Folha de S.Paulo (in Portuguese). Luiz Frias. This week's sales topper is 'Tears in Heaven' by Eric Clapton. With Platinum sales in only one week, the single went up to the top slot, where it will probably stay for the next couple of weeks.
  41. "Vinsældalisti íslands" [Iceland's popularity list]. DV (in Icelandic). Reykjavík, Iceland. March 27, 1992. Archived from the original on August 17, 2016. Retrieved November 12, 2015.
  42. "Tears in Heaven: Eric Clapton". Lista Przebojów Trójki (in Polish). Polskie Radio. Archived from the original on October 24, 2014. Retrieved November 12, 2015.
  43. "Eric Clapton: Tears in Heaven". Archived from the original on June 26, 2013. Retrieved November 12, 2015.
  44. Park, Jin-hai (June 26, 2016). "Richard Marx Mesmerizes Seoul with Velvety Romantic Songs". The Korea Times . Archived from the original on August 8, 2018. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  45. "RPM Adult Contemporary Tracks". RPM. March 7, 1994. Archived from the original on August 8, 2018. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  46. "RPM 100: Hit Tracks & Where to Find Them". RPM. March 7, 1994. Archived from the original on January 15, 2016. Retrieved January 15, 2016.
  47. "Richard Marx – Now and Forever". VG-Lista. Hung Medien. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  48. "Richard Marx Chart History – Hot 100". Billboard. Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  49. David Tusing (April 9, 2013). "Michael Learns To Rock's epic Dubai return".
  50. Leeson, Josh (December 22, 2017). "Golden return of Price". Newcastle Herald .


Further reading