Soft Rock
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Soft Rock

Soft rock (also known as light rock[3] and adult-oriented rock[4]) is a derivative form of pop rock[5] 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 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"[6] by the Beatles and "I Love My Dog"[7] 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,[8] with both emerging as major radio formats in the US.[9] Late 1960s soft rock artists include the Bee Gees,[10] 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 U.S. 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 Barbra Streisand, Carole King, Cat Stevens, James Taylor[11] and Bread.[12][13]

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.[14]

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 of 1971.[15]

Los Angeles station KNX-FM, under program director Steve Marshall, introduced a "mellow rock" format in 1971.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18]

Denver station KIMN-FM introduced a "mellow rock" album format in 1975. "There's a Colorado music", 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."[19]

By 1977, some radio stations, notably New York's WTFM and NBC-owned WYNY, had switched to an all-soft rock format.[20] 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.[21]

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, England Dan & John Ford Coley, Paul Davis, Seals and Crofts, Eric Carmen, the Doobie Brothers, 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.[22]

A prominent counterpart of soft rock in the late 1970s and early 1980s came to be known as yacht rock;[23] 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.[24] 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.[25]


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.[26] In Los Angeles, KOST 103.5, under program director Jhani Kaye, debuted its soft adult contemporary format in November of 1982.[27] Although dance-oriented electronic pop and ballad-oriented rock dominated the 1980s, soft rock songs still enjoyed mild success from artists such as Sheena Easton, Ambrosia, Lionel Richie, Christopher Cross, Dan Hill, Leo Sayer, Air Supply, Billy Ocean,[28]Julio Iglesias and Bertie Higgins.


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]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]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Anon (n.d.). "Soft Rock". AllMusic.
  2. ^ Viglione, Joe. "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do". AllMusic. Archived from the original on October 24, 2016.
  3. ^ Alan Stephenson, David Reese, Mary Beadle, 2013, Broadcast Announcing Worktext: A Media Performance Guide p. 198.
  4. ^ Regev, Motti (2013). Pop-Rock Music: Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism in Late Modernity. John Wiley & Sons. p. 115. ISBN 0745670903.
  5. ^ "Early Pop/Rock". AllMusic.
  6. ^ "Alan W. Pollack's Notes on "Here, There, And Everywhere"".
  7. ^ Samadder, Rhik (January 31, 2017). "Dogs-Reggae-Soft-Rock-10-Top-Dog-Tracks" – via The Guardian.
  8. ^ R. B. Browne and P. Browne, eds, The Guide to United States Popular Culture (Popular Press, 2001), ISBN 0-87972-821-3, p. 687.
  9. ^ M. C. Keith, The Radio Station: Broadcast, Satellite and Internet (Focal Press, 8th edn., 2009), ISBN 0-240-81186-0, p. 14.
  10. ^ "Andy Gibb, In the Shadow of the Bee Gees".
  11. ^ J. M. Curtis, Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music and Society, 1954-1984 (Popular Press, 1987), p. 236.
  12. ^ Soft Rock. "Soft Rock : Significant Albums, Artists and Songs, Most Viewed". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013.
  13. ^ "Soft Rock - Profile of the Mellow, Romantic Soft Rock of the '70s and Early '80s". April 12, 2012. Retrieved 2013.
  14. ^ Simpson, 2011 Early 70s Radio, chap. 2 "Pillow Talk: MOR, Soft Rock, and the 'Feminization' of Hit Radio".
  15. ^ Bronson, Fred, (2003). The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits (5th ed.) New York: Billboard Books. p. 294. ISBN 9780823076772
  16. ^ Goria, Joseph. "KNX FM: The Mellow Sound. Socialradio
  17. ^ Fortenot, Robert. "Sound Familiar? 10 Famous Cameos That May Surprise You". Archived from the original on May 26, 2015. Retrieved 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."
  18. ^ P. Buckley, The Rough Guide to Rock (Rough Guides, 3rd edn., 2003), p. 378.
  19. ^ Pelton-Roby, Ruth. "Colorado's Diverse Radio Scene". Billboard, September 13, 1975, p. C-22
  20. ^ C. H. Sterling, M. C. Keith, Sounds of Change: a History of FM broadcasting in America (UNC Press, 2008), pp. 136-7.
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Journey: The band who did not stop believing". BBC News. November 12, 2010. Retrieved 2010.
  23. ^ Berlind, William (August 27, 2006). "Yacht Rock Docks in New York". The New York Observer. Archived from the original on May 18, 2011. Retrieved 2008.
  24. ^ Matos, Michaelangelo (December 7, 2005). "Talk Talk: J.D. Ryznar". Seattle Weekly. Archived from the original on April 14, 2006. Retrieved 2006.
  25. ^ Lecaro, Lina (November 19, 2016). "This Monthly Club Is a Non-Ironic Celebration of Rock's Softer Side". LA Weekly.
  26. ^ C. H. Sterling, M. C. Keith, Sounds of Change: a History of FM Broadcasting in America (UNC Press, 2008), p. 187.
  27. ^ Carney, Steve (November 14, 2007). "It's been a smooth ride for KOST radio". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2020.
  28. ^ Prato, Greg (January 21, 1950). "Billy Ocean - Music Biography, Credits and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2012.
  29. ^ Wener, Ben. "Genesis Braves the Rain at the Bowl". The Orange County Register. Digital First Media. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  30. ^ "RPM 100: Hit Tracks & Where to Find Them". RPM. June 20, 1992. Archived from the original on November 24, 2015. Retrieved 2018.
  31. ^ "Genesis Chart History - Adult Contemporary". Billboard. Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group. Retrieved 2018.
  32. ^ "VH1's 40 Most Softsational Soft-Rock Songs". Stereogum. Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved 2018.
  33. ^ "Extreme - More Than Words". Utratop. Hung Medien. Retrieved 2018.
  34. ^ "RPM 100: Hit Tracks & Where to Find Them". RPM. June 8, 1991. Archived from the original on April 2, 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  35. ^ "Extreme Chart History - Hot 100". Billboard. Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group. Retrieved 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 2018.
  38. ^ "Search the Charts [Search Result for 'Tears in Heaven']". The Irish Charts. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved 2015.
  39. ^ "Eric Clapton - Tears in Heaven (Song)". Hung Medien. Retrieved 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 2015.
  42. ^ "Tears in Heaven: Eric Clapton". Lista Przebojów Trójki (in Polish). Polskie Radio. Archived from the original on October 24, 2014. Retrieved 2015.
  43. ^ "Eric Clapton: Tears in Heaven". Archived from the original on June 26, 2013. Retrieved 2015.
  44. ^ Park, Jin-hai. "Richard Marx Mesmerizes Seoul with Velvety Romantic Songs". The Korea Times. Archived from the original on August 8, 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  45. ^ "RPM Adult Contemporary Tracks". RPM. March 7, 1994. Archived from the original on August 8, 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  46. ^ "RPM 100: Hit Tracks & Where to Find Them". RPM. March 7, 1994. Archived from the original on January 15, 2016. Retrieved 2016.
  47. ^ "Richard Marx - Now and Forever". VG-Lista. Hung Medien. Retrieved 2018.
  48. ^ "Richard Marx Chart History - Hot 100". Billboard. Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group. Retrieved 2018.
  49. ^ Editor, David Tusing, Deputy tabloid! (April 9, 2013). "Michael Learns To Rock's epic Dubai return".CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)

Further reading

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