Ch. 07: Soft Rock of the ’70s


If the singer/songwriters of the ’70s were the intimate antithesis of the huge stage productions of the art rock, hard rock and heavy metal bands, then the soft rock artists were their musical opposites.

The tradition of studio produced soft rock dates back to the teen idols of the late fifties when Ricky Nelson, Paul Anka, and the Everly Brothers were carving a pop rock following among teens. The rise of the girl groups, the Beach Boys, the British Invasion, Motown, soul, and psychedelic artists in the ‘60s defined rock with more blues or beat oriented sounds.

Neil Diamond, 1976

The soft rock artists, who appeared in the ’70s, built a pop chart sound which de-emphasized the beat, used more traditional instrumentation, soft vocals with thickly harmonized backup singers and sophisticated studio techniques. Most of the artists blurred the lines between rock music and pop music and therefore, could logically be discussed in both fields.

Seals and Crofts, a singing duo of the early ’70s, had Top 25 songs with “We May Never Pass This Way Again,” “Diamond Girl,” “Hummingbird,” and “Summer Breeze.” English-born, Australian-raised singer Olivia Newton-John merged soft pop with elements of country in songs like “Let Me Be There,” “Have You Ever Been Mellow,” and “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” Her 1978 duet with John Travolta “You’re the One That I Want” from their movie version of the musical Grease was just one of her #1 hits.

Other soft rock artists of the ’70s include Captain and Tennille (“Muskrat Love,” “Do That To Me One More Time,” and “Love Will Keep Us Together”) who sold over 23 million records in the last few years of the decade. Neil Diamond (“Sweet Caroline,” “Love On the Rocks,” “Hello Again” and “Song Sung Blue” among a long list) began his career as a Brill Building songwriter, then broke out in the late ‘60s and into the ’70s and amassed 35 Top 40 singles, 18 platinum albums for over 92 million total albums sold worldwide.

Neil Diamond, “Cracklin’ Rosie”, 1970

Barry Manilow, 2008

Barry Manilow, trained at the prestigious Julliard School of Music, arranged for television shows, wrote jingles for Dr. Pepper, State Farm Insurance and Band-Aids (he only sang on the famous McDonald’s “You Deserve a Break Today” commercials) and played in a cabaret before recording and hitting the charts in the mid-’70s. His songs “Mandy,” “Could It Be Magic,” “Copacabana,” and “I Write the Songs” (which was actually written by Beach Boy replacement Bruce Johnston) propelled his name into the top of the pop/soft rock charts. He has received an Emmy (for television), a Grammy (for recordings) and a Tony (for stage work). His records have sold over 90 million copies in 25 years.

The Carpenters, 1974

No artist, however, defined the soft rock sound of the ’70s more successfully than the brother-sister team of The Carpenters. With keyboards, backup vocals and arranging by brother Richard, drummer and lead singer Karen Carpenter was the queen of the ’70s soft rock romantic sound.

Although instrumentally and vocally, the duo leaned towards a pop, and frequently, a jazz voicing, Karen’s subtle back-beat on the drums, the firm bass and occasional syncopation on the piano all move in the rock direction. Many of songs arranged by Richard and others move towards a firmer, more pronounced (relatively speaking) rock style on the bridge sections before returning to the softer pop sound at the beginning.

Possessing one of the most versatile female voices in soft rock, Karen Carpenter fronted repeated hits on the charts in the first five years of the 70s. “Close to You,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “For All We Know,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Superstar,” “Yesterday Once More,” and “Top of the World” all occupied one of the Top Three slots on the charts.

During the early 70s the duo won three Grammys (were nominated for 12 total), appeared at the White House, hosted five ABC television specials as well as their own variety series on NBC, and toured the world several times. Failing health and depression, triggered by anorexia nervosa, caused Karen to pull back from tours and recording by the end of the 70s. In 1983, she died at the age of 32 of cardiac arrest brought on by her eating disorder.

In the years since Karen’s death, her praise has been noted by such diverse artists as Madonna (who counts Karen as one of her influences), Shania Twain (who called Karen her favorite singer), and Alice Cooper (who listens to Carpenter songs to relax).

While the categorization of their style is often debated, what is universally agreed is that Karen Carpenter possessed one of the finest voices of the 1970s, rock, pop, folk or jazz.

As with most musical styles, soft rock was not a specific, narrowly defined sound, rather a broad spectrum of sounds that approached the goal, in this case the creation of a romantic, pop-oriented song, with varying types of instrumentation, rhythmic intensities and vocal packages. In the 1970s, the broad definition for this musical amalgam was called “soft rock.”

The Carpenters – “A Song For You” 1972

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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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