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Hitting the TV Jackpot: VH1’s 40 Most Softsational Soft Rock Songs

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 25, 2007

“Ted, if I ever catch you producing anything but smooth music, I’ll quit singing forever”

It was only a matter of time, I suppose. I’m just thankful that VH1 finally shed the lame “Awesomely Bad” tag for this countdown, meaning that instead of ten irritating talking heads clammering about how hilariously ridiculous! it is to use the phrase “Wang Chung” as a verb, the commentators on VH1’s 40 Most Softsastional Soft Rock Songs actually displays a great deal of reverence for its subject–guarded and slightly sarcastic reverence, but reverence nonetheless. And given the recent critical validation of the genre, thanks in no small part to the hilarious Yacht Rock shorts produced by Channel 101 a few years back (whose creator, J.D. Ryznar, and fictionalized host, Hollywood Steve, both appear as commentators on the VH1 show), clearly the stars were in allignment for the genre’s classics to receive some much-deserved canonziation.

That said, it’s still a sorty of tricky subject to handle, since a lot of the songs on this list really aren’t that good. In fact, the top three–Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” Styx’s “Babe” and Christopher Cross’s “Sailing”–are all songs that would have me reaching for the dial if they came on the radio. But I can’t really find fault with their placement on this list, since even if there is no technical dictionary definition for the term “Softsational Soft Rock,” it’s hard to imagine any way of explaining the word that didn’t use those three songs–even if there’s absolutely no question in my mind that The Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes” (#8) and Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” (#5) are infinitely superior pieces of music. Like I said, it’s tricky.

To their credit, VH1 do a pretty good job of keeping the terms consistent–even if their definition of soft rock is a little broader than I probably would’ve stretched it (once you’re into Olivia Newton-John and Roberta Flack territory, I think you can pretty much forget about the Rock part and just call it Soft Music). Every song on the list is the kind that reflexively relaxes you into such a state that you don’t even realize it when you start singing along. Even some of the songs I normally wouldn’t have the time of day for had me smiling when put in a context like this.

My one main issue with the list, outside of some petty selection grievances (“A Horse With No Name” instead of “Sister Golden Hair,” “Mandy” instead of “Weekend in New England,” and a whole list of exclusions that I’ll get to later) is that it doesn’t quite have the balls to match the Softsational sounds of today against the classics of yesteryear. The most recent song on the list is Extreme’s “More Than Words,” from 1991, but what about future Soft Rock standards like Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” Five for Fighting’s “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” or Evan and Jaron’s “Crazy for This Girl”? The legacy of smooth lives on, and I feel like it would’ve been some hot shit to have seen Dido and John Mayer rubbing elbows with Anne Murray and Cat Stevens on the list.

Of course, 40 already isn’t nearly enough songs to really give any genre its proper due, and Soft Rock is no exception–here’s another 40 songs, using the same standards and timeframe as VH1, I was miffed that they left out (bold = particularly egregious exclusion):

  1. Bryan Adams – “Heaven”
  2. Ambrosia – “How Much I Feel”
  3. The Bee Gees – “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”
  4. Lindsey Buckingham – “Trouble”
  5. Eric Carmen – “All By Myself” (only about 200000000000 times better than every Barry Manilow song)
  6. Cheap Trick – “The Flame”
  7. Climax Blues Band – “Couldn’t Get it Right”
  8. Paul Davis – “I Go Crazy”
  9. Double – “The Captain of Her Heart”
  10. The Eagles – “I Can’t Tell You Why”
  11. Walter Egan – “Magnet and Steel”
  12. England Dan & John Ford Coley – “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”
  13. The Fifth Dimension – “Last Night I Didn’t Get to Sleep At All”
  14. Foreigner – “Waiting for a Girl Like You” (or c’mon, at least “I Want to Know What Love Is”)
  15. Bruce Hornsby – “The Way It Is”
  16. Michael Jackson – “Human Nature”
  17. Bob James – “Angela”
  18. Jefferson Starship – “Miracles”
  19. KC & the Sunshine Band – “Please Don’t Go”
  20. Gordon Lightfoot – “If You Could Read My Mind”
  21. Little River Band – “Reminiscing”
  22. Maria Muldaur – “Midnight At the Oasis”
  23. Frank Mills – “Music Box Dancer”
  24. Mr. Big – “To Be With You” (having “More Than Words” and not this just feels wrong)
  25. Nilsson – “Without You”
  26. Alan Parsons Project – “Time”
  27. Player – “Baby Come Back”
  28. Gerry Rafferty – “Right Down the Line” (“Baker Street” rocks a little too hard)
  29. Roxette – “It Must’ve Been Love”
  30. Todd Rundgren – “Hello It’s Me”
  31. Joey Scarbury – “Theme from ‘Greatest American Hero'”
  32. Smokey Robinson – “Being With You”
  33. Spandau Ballet – “True”
  34. Starbuck – “Moonlight Feels Right”
  35. Steely Dan – “Hey Nineteen” (too credible? Bullshit)
  36. Al Stewart – “Time Passages”
  37. Bonnie Tyler – “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
  38. Wham! – “Careless Whisper”
  39. Wilson Philips – “Hold On”
  40. Gary Wright – “Really Want to Know You” (or “Dream Weaver” if we’re going populist)

Now with soft rock and metal taken care of, I’m just hoping VH1’ll start doing some top 40s for genres in between. Altastic Alt-Rock, anyone?

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2 Responses to “Hitting the TV Jackpot: VH1’s 40 Most Softsational Soft Rock Songs”

  1. Douglas said

    Correct-o-mundo! Your list was more credible in many respects. Thanks for the rememberance/blast from the past.

    Why is there virually no new music like this?

    Does it sound better to us because that’s what we the baby boomers were listening too?

    Time to go retro….. give me my bell bottoms and paisley shirts…… miss those disco high heels…..

    Two more for your judgement: ‘Without You’ by Nilsson or ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ by Procol Harem ……… 🙂

    They should have a Top 100 instead.

  2. Douglas said

    More…..
    Precious and Few by Climax
    Falling by Leblanc and Carr (1978)
    and maybe the ultimate…..
    McArthurs Park by Richard Harris
    Yeah, I know what you’re saying…… it’s not rock. But if you remember, it WAS on the Rock radio dial.

    Seems strange that it’s elevator music now…..
    or in a commercial. My kids hear a “new” song in a commercial and it cracks them up that I can sing along with it or play air guitar.

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