Soft rock (or lite rock) is a development of pop rock. Originating in the early 1970s in southern California, the style smoothed over the edges of singer-songwriter and pop, relying on simple, melodic songs with big, lush productions. Soft rock dominated radio throughout the 1970s and eventually metamorphosed into the synthesized music of adult contemporary in the 1980s.
The nostalgia term "yacht rock" appeared in the 2000s as a catch-all term for songs that were "soft" and reminiscent of the 1970s.
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Hard rock had been established as a mainstream genre by 1968. From the end of the 1960s, it became common to divide mainstream rock music into soft and hard rock, with both emerging as major radio formats in the US. 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. Also, some of these stations even played softer songs by Elvis Presley, Linda Ronstadt, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Billy Joel, and other rock-based artists.
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.
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. By 1977, some radio stations, notably New York's WTFM and NBC-owned WYNY, had switched to an all-soft rock format.
In the mid-to-late 1970s, prominent soft rock acts included Billy Joel, Elton John, Chicago, Toto, Boz Scaggs, the Alessi Brothers, Michael McDonald, England Dan & John Ford Coley, Paul Davis, Air Supply, Seals and Crofts, Captain & Tennille, The Hollies, America, and Fleetwood Mac. By the 1980s, tastes had changed and radio formats reflected this change, including musical artists such as Journey. A prominent counterpart of soft rock in the late 1970s and early 1980s came to be known as yacht rock.
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. Although dance-oriented, electronic pop and ballad-oriented rock dominated the 1980s, soft rock songs still enjoyed mild success thanks to Sheena Easton, Amy Grant,Lionel Richie, Christopher Cross, Dan Hill, Leo Sayer, Billy Ocean,Julio Iglesias and Bertie Higgins. No song spent more than six weeks at #1 on this chart during the 1980s, with nine songs accomplishing that feat. Two of these were by Lionel Richie, "You Are" in 1983 and "Hello" in 1984, which also reached #1 on the Hot 100.
Soft rock continued into the 1990s, with artists from previous decades still releasing new music such as Dan Hill, who had a #7 Adult Contemporary chart hit with "I Fall All Over Again", and Air Supply with their #35 hit "Goodbye". Phil Collins had a worldwide hit with "I Wish It Would Rain Down" (U.S. #3, UK #7) and a Top 5 hit with "Do You Remember" (U.S. #4). As a member of Genesis, the band would have an international hit in 1992 with "Hold on My Heart" (CAN #1, U.S. AC #1). Extreme had a worldwide hit with "More Than Words", topping the charts in various countries. Richard Marx had international success with the songs "Hazard" (U.S. #9, UK #3, AUS #1) and "Now and Forever" (U.S. #7, AC #1). Eric Clapton's 1992 hit single "Tears in Heaven" topped the charts in many countries worldwide. Rod Stewart's 1993 version of "Have I Told You Lately" was a Top 5 hit in both the U.S. and UK, and topped the Canadian and U.S. AC charts. New bands and artists such as Michael Learns to Rock gained huge success in Southeast Asia, scoring many hits there, particularly in Indonesia and the Philippines. Australian band Southern Sons enjoyed success in their homeland with the soft rock songs "Hold Me in Your Arms" (AUS #9) and "You Were There" (AUS #6). The Williams Brothers scored a chart hit in 1992 with "Can't Cry Hard Enough" and Martin Page had success with "In the House of Stone and Light" (U.S. #14, AC #1).