Soft rock or lite rock was a prevalent genre in the period 1975- 1985 and originated on the West coast of the US, the sound was smooth, with a soft bassline and minimal drums, and combined elements of funk, jazz, and R&B. The piano usually carried the melody but often gave way to gentle guitar or the ubiquitous saxophone solo, the lyrics explored such themes as living the carefree life, but melancholic themes also recurred, particularly yearning or unrequited love.
Early practitioners of the genre included Seals and Croft (Summer Breeze), Steely Dan (Reelin’ In The Years), the Doobie Brothers (It Keeps You Running and What A Fool Believes), Toto (Africa and Rosanna), Hall and Oates (I Can’t Go For That), and the Australian contingent which included Air Supply ( Lost In Love and All Out of Love and The One That You Love ), Little River Band (Reminiscing and Lady ) Olivia Newton-John (Please Mister Please and Have You Never Been Mellow), the Bee Gees (How Deep Is Your Love and Too Much Heaven) and their little brother Andy Gibb (I Just Want to Be Your Everything and Shadow Dancing).
Variations of soft rock gradually emerged as FM radio stations revamped their playlists, preferring catchy tunes that were aimed at the drivetime listener and reinforced goodtime images of blood-orange sunsets, white sandy beaches, pina coladas, tequila sunrises, and chilling out, you can almost hear Bertie Higgins (Key Largo), Rupert Holmes (Escape (The Pina Colada Song)), Billy Ocean (Love Really Hurts Without You), Captain & Tennille (Do That To Me One More Time) and Bread (Sweet Surrender) – playing in the background.
Australian soft rock acts like Air Supply dominated the charts in the US from the mid-70’s to the early 80’s, selling over 15 million records, the Little River Band were even more successful with ten top 20 hits stateside and global sales of over 30 million in the same era. But the soft rock genre would come to be dismissed by many as uncool and schmaltzy and be consigned to wedding parties and theme nights, and was ultimately conflated into mainstream music trends, so that in the eighties, the radio format evolved into what came to be known as adult contemporary, a format that had less overt rock bias than its forebears.
While dance-oriented, electronic pop and ballad-oriented rock dominated the 1980’s, soft rock acts still enjoyed success, Sheena Easton, Player, Richard Marx, Lionel Richie, Phil Collins, Christopher Cross, Dan Hill, Leo Sayer, Jim Diamond, Billy Ocean, Julio Iglesias, and Bertie Higgins all had hits. Locally, soft rock songs from Gyan, Billy Field, Wa Wa Nee, 1927, and the Rockmelons, all enjoyed success, but hit songs were ephemeral, rarely spending more than four weeks at #1 on the charts in the 1980’s, by the 2000’s a #1 hit would rarely enjoy a tenure atop the charts that exceeded 2 weeks!
By the 90’s soft rock performers from the previous decade continued to chart, Phil Collins, Genesis, Richard Marx were but a few, and as the “unplugged” era dawned such artists as Eric Clapton, Mr. Big, Extreme and even Nirvana re-invented themselves as soft rock artists. Into the 90’s Australia’s Savage Garden emerged as a major global soft rock act and by the 2000’s the wheel had again turned, as music-streaming services such as Spotify, and Google search all confirmed a steady climb in the demand for soft rock songs from earlier eras. Current acts such as Pharrell Williams, Daft Punk and Mark Ronson are confessed fans of the genre and reflect its influences in their music.
Enjoy some of the best of Australia’s soft rock music from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s this week, as 4TR features Air Supply, Little River Band, Andy Gibb, Gyan, and Savage Garden.
Next week don’t miss our Special Feature, The Great Australian Radio and Record Ban of 1970, when for nine months record companies refused to supply records to radio stations unless they paid a fee, which radio stations opposed, resulting in a ban on all local original songs and all UK records. See how small independent record companies like Fable Records circumvented the ban and briefly dominated the charts, and how covers of UK hits were artfully recycled by local performers.