Soft adult contemporary: why so prevalent and popular in the 1970s?

Based on the other 1970s music threads going around, I thought it might be interesting to discuss a musical phenomenon that is firmly identified with the 1970s, even though it continues to this day: soft adult contemporary music. We’re talking about bands and performers like Bread, The Carpenters, Carly Simon, Ambrosia, America, Captain and Tenille, Barry Manilow, Air Supply, Hall and Oates, and so on.

What was it about the zeitgeist of the 1970s that caused adult contemporary music to be seen not as campy or weepy, but actually achieve widespread popularity? Who were the fans of such music? I’m guessing those that were too old to identify with the big bands and crooners that preceded rock and roll, but too old to feel an affinity for rock as the music of their generation.

There were a lot of young-ish people in the 60s who weren’t part of the “hippy” counterculture, and pretty much listened to middle-of-the road, feel-good music. As they aged into the 70s, their “soft” music aged along with them.

A rise in the number of singer-songwriters that tended to perform alone, which more often than not means more MOR music. Don’t forget that the Vietnam War was still going on, and this music was seen as a contrast to what was going on in the world.

It was just a style. The thing one has to remember is the 1970s, the entire decade was the peak of music, movie and TV usages.

For instance in terms of absolute raw numbers “Laverne & Shirley” at the end of the decade pulled in more people and a bigger share than any other program and no program has since come close to it. And they won’t. Why? Because cable came in and fractured.

In the 50s no one came close to matching “I Love Lucy” in terms of a percentage of the total viewers. Part of this reason is there were so few TV sets and TV stations in existance. In deed many parts of the country had only one or two TV stations. Conversely the total number of TV viewers is highest now, but with cable and the hundreds of channels it means no ONE particular show can pull in the same percentage.

“Laverne & Shirley” happened at a time just before cable exploded.

Soft music was just like this. In the late 70s, the number of singles sold and radio stations playing music hit its peak.

While it seems like soft music ruled in the 70s, it really didn’t anymore than disco did in the late 70s. Oh yeah it was the dominant music, but even at its height you still had artists like Glen Campbell (country) breaking into the #1 spot.

All through the 70s if you look at the Hot 100 chart you constantly see soft rock, rock, R&B, country all mixing to achieve the top positions.

Now you don’t see that, because when the Rock era ended it was taken over by R&B, which is mainstream pop music. Indeed by 2005 a new chart the “pop 100” was put into place because the “Hot 100” had become a near duplicate of the “R&B Chart.”

Mainstream music today has aligned it itself to R&B to the exclusion of others. In 2009 Billboard adjusted the “Hot 100” and discontinued the “Pop 100” when it was determained it was digital downloads that were causing the problem. Black people didn’t download music, they bought it, while white people weren’t buying it but downloading it, in a nutshell.

During the history of the Rock era which lasted from 1955 - 1999(?? -roughly) there have always been periods of local dominance that seemed to dominate. For instance “Oz-Rock” (Air Supply, Olivia Newton-John, Little River Band, Men At Work) in the early 80s, followed by the second British invasion (Sheena Easton, Culture Club,the Police, Wham!)

As you see those particular acts just stood out.

Very few acts in the 70s were able to change their style. Olivia Newton-John, Diana Ross, the Bee Gees, Paul McCartney were among those who could change from slow ballads to disco.

Others such as Helen Reddy, Donna Summer stalled. Even Elton John who totally dominated the charts, fell out of favor after 1976’s “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” and though he had a few hits, it wasn’t till 1984 with the second British invasion he came back big time with “I Guess That’s Whey The Call It The Blues.”

Another feature is the lack of singles then. Many bands just didn’t put many of them out and didn’t care. Led Zepplin, the Who for example all put out many top albums in the 70s with no real single success.

Not really, just as my older sisters listened to both Elvis and Pat Boone.

“Mainstream” radio in the 60’s and early to mid-70’s was much less segmented than it would soon become. At the radio stations where I worked in the 70’s, it wasn’t uncommon for a typical hour’s music to include Olivia Newton-John, The Rolling Stones, the Bee Gees and Glen Campbell.

In 1972, ABC TV broadcast a weekly, late night music show, In Concert, that is considered much hipper and more cutting edge than NBC’s later Midnight Special. The five acts on the premiere episode were Curtis Mayfield, Seals & Crofts, Bo Diddley, Jethro Tull and Alice Cooper.

Try to find any promoter today that would book those acts into the same venue, any show that would feature all of them, or any audience that would sit through all of them.

There were big differences in the format of AM and FM radio in the 70’s. While AM radio today might be mostly talk shows, in the 70’s AM was the mainstream music source and played adult contemporary on a constant rotation. Think about the format of most of today’s FM ‘popular’ music stations and you have a good idea of what AM ‘adult contemporary’ was like. Lots of commercials, blathering DJ’s cracking jokes, and constant rotation of the same songs. Other than 8 track tapes most people did not have music players in their car, radio was what you listened to.

Pre-MTV if you wanted widespread public exposure you tried to get on one of the many variety TV shows, and you had to play ‘safe’ music that could be watched by mom, dad, and the kids.

FM was the alternative music source and played full length LPs and rock 'n roll and other types that you wouldn’t hear outside of a concert, club, music store or private home. Few commercials and not as much mindless chatter from DJ’s.

You might be underestimating the popularity of a lot of this music with young people back then. I would say The Carpenters, Carly Simon, and Captain & Tennille if not others on your list had substantial numbers of teenaged fans. I think most people at the time considered this stuff not “adult contemporary” but regular old pop music.

You realize the “Rock Era” never really ended right? It’s still the dominant form of music both bought in stores/online and played on radio. The only reason that R&B/Rap or Country are seen as bigger genres is because Rock is often split into several different sub-genres that does not happen with R&B/Rap or Country (although the seeds of a complete R&B/Rap split are starting to appear in the charts/store shelves).

Also, the Pop 100 was never really discontinued. They don’t print it in the magazine anymore, but it’s still tracked and you can still access it online. Also, saying the Hot 100 is a double of the R&B 100 requires a pretty broad definition of R&B. So broad that you have to include Miley Cyrus, John Meyer, Taylor Swift and a whole mess of other Country acts.

What mystifies me is why every karaoke selection in Asia seems to be drawn from this group of songs and no other (except maybe soft 70s country). I wouldn’t mind going to a KTV so much if I could sing Adam Ant or ZZ Top. But no, it’s nothing but “Top of the World,” “Yesterday Once More,” and “The Night The Lights Went out in Georgia.”

Think about Chinese pop music. Cheesy love songs are still the way to go here. Adult contemporary fits right in. Chinese pop culture doesn’t have a lot of “edge” to it. Adult contemporary fits right in with the endless “wooooo aiiiii niiiiii…”

Interestingly, the John Denver obsession has a traceable origin. The story goes that back in the day, an official visited the US and was taken to a John Denver concert. He enjoyed it so much that he bought all the John Denver records he could find. He then distributed those to the state radio stations and demanded they put Denver on heavy rotation. He remains popular in China today.

Say “Sixties music” and television documentaries pull out clips of the British invasion, Motown singers, or acid rock. People forget how much middle-of-the-road music was high on the singles charts. A few #1 pop songs from Billboard’s Hot 100 chart:

1964: Louis Armstrong, Hello Dolly; The Dixie Cups, Chapel of Love; Dean Martin, Everybody Loves Somebody; Lorne Greene, Ringo; Bobby Vinton, Mr. Lonely.

1966: Sgt. Barry Sadler, Ballad of the Green Berets (4 weeks at #1); Frank Sinatra, Strangers in the Night; The Association, Cherish; The New Vaudeville Band, Winchester Cathedral (3 weeks at #1).

1967: Nancy Sinatra and Frank Sinatra, Somethin’ Stupid; The Association, Windy; Lulu, To Sir With Love.

1968: Paul Mauriat, Love Is Blue (5 weeks at #1); Bobby Goldsboro, Honey (5 weeks at #1); Herb Alpert, This Guy’s in Love With You; Hugh Masekela, Grazing in the Grass.

1969: Henry Mancini, Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet.

Whenever you see a movie about Vietnam, shots of the GIs patrolling warily across the rice paddies are always accompanied by “Paint It Black,” “All Along The Watchtower,” or “Stop, children, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down.”

Funny to think that back at base, the GIs maybe were instead chilling out listening to Dean Martin or Herb Alpert on the phonograph.

Or country music. It’s always Henrix or the Doors. Never occurs to them that the GI’s might have been listening to Marty Robbins or Merle Haggard.

Huh? That’s one of the scenes that establishes the split in the platoon in Platoon. :confused:

Chris (Charlie Sheen) goes to the bunker(?) where Sgt. Elias’ (Willem Dafoe) “guys” are smoking pot and listen to Mo-Town, Smokey Robinson’s Tracks of My Tears.

Meanwhile Sgt. Barnes’ (Tom Berenger) “guys” are in the barracks drinking beer and listening to Merle Haggard’s Okie from Muskogee!

CMC fnord!

In the 1990’s Counting Crows, Goo Goo Dolls, and various other bands that don’t sound too dissimilar to the '70s soft pop/rock were huge. They might have affected a different schtick but the music isn’t overly different.

Reading this thread reminded me of that great John Belushi scene in Animal House. Some guy is playing this song on his guitar and singing a ballad. Belushi grabs the guitar, smashes it, and hands it back to him. :wink:

I have to be in the right mood for Hall and Oates, Bread etc. I do enjoy their music. But, there’s times I gotta rock N roll too.

That reminds me of an earlier post I started about Chinese restaurant music, only I described it as “waaaaaaaahachaieeeeeeepaieahhhoooowahaieee”. :smiley:

Markxxx, great post.

This rings true for me. My kids were teens in the 70’s/early 80’s and they listened to everything, even country. They’d be just as likely to go to a Kiss or Dire Straits concert as a retro show featuring Chuck Berry or a Grand Ole Opry tour.

But when I think 70’s, I think sexual revolution, swingers, key swapping parties, and soft adult contemporary music fits in really well there. :wink:

That would be For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield.

I wonder if part of the reason for this was technological. Before 1980 a lot of home radios had knobs you dialed for another frequency. Car radios usually had several “buttons” you could program. “Cousin Brucie” Morrow talks in one of his books on how WABC 770 in its music days of the 1960s would play softer music during the day. This was for the housewives who would put the family radio on that the kids listened to last night so she could wash and fold clothes, clean, etc.