Tag Archives: soft rock

Soft Rock: Adventures with the ‘Mellow Mafia’

Carole King

Carole King

By Lucie M. Winborne

Easygoing…upbeat…romantic… With its emphasis on melody and harmonies, acoustic instruments and synthesizers, and relationship- focused lyrics, the formula for Seventies “soft rock” is as easy to identify as it is easy on the ears.   An offspring of the singer-songwriter movement combining elements of folk, country and blues, the genre had its heyday in the mid-to-late seventies with artists such as America (“A Horse With No Name”), Jackson Browne (“Doctor My Eyes”), and Carole King (“I Feel the Earth Move”).

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James+Taylor

James Taylor.

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Usually associated with a sunny, gentle tone, an interesting feature of the genre is the darkness underlying some of its most mellifluous melodies, which sometimes reflected the troubled personality of the song’s creator.  James Taylor’s struggles with drugs and alcohol sharply belied the image of a sensitive, brooding artist on the cover of Sweet Baby James.  The soaring alto sax solo paired with Gerry Rafferty’s distinctive vocals still renders “Baker Street” irresistible 35 years after its release, despite the bleak lyrics which proved sadly autobiographical.

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gerry rafferty

Gerry Rafferty.

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As everyone knows, what the masses love, critics just as often hate.  Taylor, Browne, and Crosby, Stills and Nash so effectively represented the tame side of seventies rock that musicians who helped them create their signature sound found themselves tarred with the same “wimpy” brush.  As legendary session guitarist Danny Kortchmar told Rolling Stone, “We were the ‘Mellow Mafia.’ “

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america 2

America.

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Certainly the genre had its share of tunes regarded then and now as genuine embarrassments.  Remember Paul Anka’s “Having My Baby”?  Or the Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight”?  Yet the wild success of Taylor and King’s 2010 “Troubadour Reunion” tour, the plethora of radio stations still devoted to sounds of the seventies, seem to ensure that listeners who like their music with a side of meaningful sensitivity will find enjoyment for a long time to come.

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Harry Chapin.

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joni mitchell

Joni Mitchell.

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elton1

Elton John.

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bread

Bread.

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The Eagles.

The Eagles.

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Jackson Browne.

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Don McLean.

Don McLean.

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Crosby, Stills and Nash.

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ambrosia

Ambrosia.

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james-taylor-carole-king

James Taylor and Carole King perform during their 2010 “Troubadour Reunion” tour.

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Filed under Rock n Roll, The Seventies