Kenny Loggins and Stevie Nicks, "Whenever I Call You Friend" (Columbia; 1978).
Commodores, "Easy" (Motown; 1977).
Climax Blues Band, "I Love You" (Warner Bros.; 1981).
Captain & Tennille, "Love Will Keep Us Together" (A&M; 1975).
Hall & Oates, "Sara Smile" (RCA; 1976).
Doobie Brothers, "What a Fool Believes" (Warner Bros.; 1979).
Bread, "Everything I Own" (Elektra; 1972).
Ambrosia, "Biggest Part of Me" (Warner Bros.; 1980).
Dr. Hook, "Sharing the Night Together" (Capitol; 1978).
Bob Welch, "Sentimental Lady" (Capitol; 1977).
Robert John, "Sad Eyes" (EMI America; 1979).
Little River Band, "Lady" (Harvest; 1979).
Dolly Parton, "Here You Come Again" (RCA, 1977).
Michael Johnson, "Bluer Than Blue" (EMI America, 1978).
Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes, "Don't Fall in Love With a Dreamer" (United Artists; 1980).
Seals and Crofts, "Summer Breeze" (Warner Bros.; 1972).
England Dan and John Ford Coley, "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight" (Big Tree; 1976).
Air Supply, "All Out of Love" (Arista; 1980).
Michael Martin Murphy, "Wildfire" (Epic; 1975).
Henry Gross, "Shannon" (Lifesong; 1976).
Paul McCartney, "Maybe I'm Amazed" (Capitol; 1970).
VALBERT: Beginning roughly in the early '70s, when the Beatles' breakup reshuffled the pop deck, until about 1982, when MTV's new romantic pinups hunted unphotogenic, bearded ex-hippies to extinction, soft rock holds the singular achievement of being the first music to guide rock's original audience into young adulthood. Fondue party boomers embraced the genre's McCartney-esque melodic flair ("Sentimental Lady"), Beach Boys harmonies ("Shannon"), country flourishes ("Wildfire")—and just enough backbeat to scare away the Engelbert Humperdinck crowd.
Equal parts Me Decade casual ("Sharing the Night Together") and unabashedly romantic ("Everything I Own"), the lyrics' focus on love and relationships gently promised the reassurance of creature comforts—an ideal that, while not always attainable, still seemed realistic even in the aftermath of the failed limitless optimism of the '60s.
Soft rock's enduring appeal may lie in its most-maligned attributes. At times overly earnest, syrupy, and even bombastic (hello, Air Supply), soft rock continues to resonate with the postmillennial yearning for quiet sincerity and a search for love that artists from Death Cab for Cutie to Sufjan Stevens build their careers on. At its best, soft rock is a three-minute daydream that's both escapist and forward-looking. As Ambrosia put it, "Make a wish, baby/And our love will make it come true."
AUBREY: Soft rock is a very personal subject for me. To say that it means a lot would be an understatement. I grew up listening to the hits of these smooth geniuses. My mom really loves a story song. When I was a kid riding in the backseat of our wood-paneled station wagon, it always amazed me how David Gates' broken-hearted tale "Everything I Own" could bring her to tears every time. As I got older, she felt comfortable enough to tell me what England Dan and John Ford Coley were really asking for. "Stay at home and watch TV," my ass!
I maintain the very strong belief that these songs are all true stories, written and lived by their artists. Which is why, to this day, I am still waiting for Wildfire to come home.
Valbert and Aubrey Smart host Soft 2, featuring Braden Blake, Leisure Suits, Robb Benson, Electro Kitty, Crown Aruba, Josh Parks, the Withholders, and more, at the Sunset Tavern at 8 p.m. Fri., Feb. 10. $5.