Soft rockSoft rock (or light rock) is a derivative form of pop rock 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, 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.
Mid- to late 1960sSofter 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" by the Beatles and "I Love My Dog" 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, with both emerging as major radio formats in the US. Late 1960s soft rock artists include the Bee Gees, 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 1970sBy 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 and Bread.
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.
The soft rock album Tapestry by Carole King, released in February 1971, became one of the best-selling albums of all time.
Los Angeles station KNX-FM, under program director Steve Marshall, introduced a "mellow rock" format in 1971.
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.
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."
By 1977, some radio stations, notably New York's WTFM and NBC-owned WYNY, had switched to an all-soft rock format. 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.
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, Air Supply, Seals and Crofts, 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.
A prominent counterpart of soft rock in the late 1970s and early 1980s came to be known as yacht rock; 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. 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.