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10 Seventies Soft Rock Songs for the Summer
Posted on July 31, 2017
by Tim P
Originally, the plan was to write a blog about songs with the word “Summer” in the title, but while trying to decide which version of “Summer Breeze” (Seals and Crofts or The Isley Brothers) to include, I started thinking about how much I love Soft Rock. Sure, it gets a bad rap for being wimpy and safe, but it reminds me of driving around listening to WOHO or CKLW in my mom’s car, back before I got old and everything hurt.
Jim Seals and Darrell Crofts grew up in Texas, but their big hit just smacks of California (which, to be fair, is where they wrote it). Released in August of 1972, it was a substantial hit, reaching #6 on the pop charts. With a sublime melody and soaring harmonies, this song IS summer. Plus, how many top ten songs have used a toy piano as instrumentation? Covered by tons of different performers, The Isley Brothers version is incredible, very different from the original, but utterly genius!
2. “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” by England Dan And John Ford Coley
Dan Seals followed his brother Jim to California in 1971, bringing his buddy John Coley along, and a few years later they recorded a song that was an even bigger hit than “Summer Breeze.” An ode to calling up an ex to just hang out, (no big deal … whatever … we could watch TV or something.), the chorus is insanely catchy. Probably my favorite Soft Rock song. It sums up the Seventies beautifully.
Growing up an Army brat, Dewey Bunnell’s family traveled a lot. Apparently, while driving down the highway in California with them, he saw a sign for the town of Ventura. And, for some reason, remembered it years later while trying to come up with a new song in 1972. And what a song! It was a tough choice between this, “Sister Golden Hair,” and “A Horse With No Name.” This wins simply by how many syllables they put into the word “know,” even though it sounds a lot like Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.
Yet another delemma – do I pick, “Baker Street” or “Right Down The Line.” “Baker Street” wins simply because I loooooooved it in 1978, rushing out to buy the 45 as fast as I could. As much as I enjoy punk, rap, and metal, I grew up a pop guy and this song is one of the reasons why (I also loved disco, but that’s another list). It all boils down to that saxophone break by Raphael Ravenscroft, session man extraordinaire, who was apparently paid scale for one of the most famous musical lines in history. It just soars above the song! Rafferty was a very talented performer who doesn’t get enough credit, in my opinion.
Although sounding like a quintessential California soft rock band, Looking Glass actually hailed from New Jersey. They had a few hits (my favorite being “Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne”), but the biggest was “Brandy.” Telling the tale of a fetching bar maid, longed for by the sailor/customers of the tavern, who only have eyes for a fellow married *sigh* to the sea. If only she’d been born an ocean! After lead singer and songwriter Elliot Lurie left for a solo career, the remaining members formed the hard rock group Starz, who put out a few decent albums.
I was totally going to write about “It Never Rains In Southern California” by Albert Hammond (which is such a good song!),when, on my way in to work, the Sirius Yacht Rock channel played “Escape.” Maybe it was the melody or maybe it was the fifty times Holmes called his girlfriend his “lady,” but I decided to put this in here instead. A clever tale of a long suffering couple rediscovering each other, it’s playful and sweet at the same time. I especially like how disappointed the “lady” sounds when she says “Oh, it’s you.” Holmes went on to become a playwright of some renown, winning multiple Tony awards. He also wrote “Timothy for the Buoys,” which people sing to me and then stand there grinning like I haven’t heard it a million times. So maybe I should have put Albert Hammond in here.
When I started writing this edition of the blog, I knew that I wanted to include a song that never got popular, either from lack of promotion by the record label or general disinterest from the general public. It was tough to decide which song to use, so I just flipped a coin a couple of times and the decision was made – “Pinball” it is! It really is a beautiful song. Released in England in 1974, it went Top 40 there but fizzled here, so it wasn’t a song that I grew up with. I heard it on a compilation called Zigzag: 20 Junkshop Soft Rock Singles and fell in love with it instantly. Protheroe didn’t really have any more hits. He started acting and has done small roles in a lot of things and also does video game voices. The other two songs I was torn between were “I Want Some More” by former Zombies lead singer Colin Blunstone, and “Wherewithal” by Clifford T. Ward. Both are amazing songs, they just lost the flip.
Al Stewart is one of those performers who’ve put out a lot of albums and they’re all pretty consistently great. My favorite, on the whole, is Modern Times, but I think his best song is “Year Of The Cat” (followed by “Night Of The 4th Of May” off of the album Orange. What a riff!) I prefer the album version over the single version simply because it’s longer and has room to breathe and build. Telling a tale of a tourist in an unnamed country who becomes enraptured with a local woman and misses his bus (but doesn’t seem to care all that much), the song keeps adding more instruments as it builds towards its conclusion. The lyrics are pretty decent too. That line about Peter Lorre contemplating a crime gets me every time. I still remember talking about this song for about two hours with my friend Jimmy Danger at a friend’s wedding reception.
Ahhh, The Carpenters. For all of their strengths as musicians (Karen was a heck of a drummer) and the songwriters they chose to work with (first and foremost being Paul Williams), it all really comes down to that voice, doesn’t it? Just like the guitar in this song, Karen Carpenter’s voice was so sweet and clear (and incredibly sad, in retrospect). Written by Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett and originally recorded by Delaney And Bonnie, the song tells the story of a groupie pining for her favorite musician. The original version is mournful, but the longing and loneliness in Carpenter’s voice makes this version almost heartbreaking. It was tough to pick between this and “Top Of The World,” which is waaaay more upbeat, but there’s something about a sad song that’ll win me over every time.
Bonus track, a soft rock song for the winter! Also, it came out in 1980, but oh well. “Same Old Lang Syne” tells the story of a famous musician named Dan Fogelberg running into an ex-girlfriend at a grocery store on Christmas Eve. They catch up and wind up having a few drinks in her car (which would not sail in this day and age!). The conversation turns rather melancholy and when she leaves, the snow turns into rain. Apparently based on a real incident, the lyrics are pretty great, capturing the difficulty of finding things to say if you haven’t seen someone for a while, and then the honesty after you’ve lost some inhibition. Really spot on. Fogelberg had quite a few soft rock classics but, sadly, no one really talks about his music these days.