“Easy listening“, “adult contemporary“, “elevator music“: these dirty words have been used to describe some of the songs on the following list. In their defense, these songs came out in the ‘70s, which was the height of the soft rock revolution, yet some of the songs have their roots in rock and R&B, and transcend the time period they were released in. And those songs that don’t? Oh, well. As Paul McCartney said: “Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs. And what’s wrong with that?”
If you were a child of the ‘70s, you no doubt grew up hearing these tunes slipping out your parents’ eight-track player and car radio. The songs on the list are sappy, high-drama love ballads, and for that they’re being celebrated. They also represent a simpler, more carefree time for a generation getting older and perhaps nostalgic.
If nothing else, this list is worth checking out in order to see the low-grade videos accompanying some of the songs. The musicians are captured in that awkward ‘70s stage when music video was brand new. A lot of the artists succumbed to being soft-lit and having side shots of themselves superimposed on film while they give the camera dramatic looks head on. Pay special attention to the Bob Welch video for “Sentimental Lady“. It’s downright comedic.
(Nilsson Schmilsson, 1971)
Released in 1971 off of Nilsson Schmilsson, this melodramatic heart-wrencher is actually a cover. Badfinger previously released the song in 1970, but Nilsson made it famous. The song was recycled again for a new generation in 1994 when Mariah Carey recorded it. In any case, Nilsson’s is the version that made the song a classic. His remarkable vocals and backing band, including Gary Wright (of “Dream Weaver” fame) on piano, made the song unfrogettable. Regrettably, Nilsson shied away from playing live and there is no video of him singing the song. However, the video below has some fantastic footage of the singer in his element.
(Killing Me Softly, 1973)
In 1973, “Killing Me Softly with His Song“ by Roberta Flack hit the charts and spent five weeks at number one. The song has a conflated history. Lori Lieberman originally recorded it with composers Don Gimbel and Lalo Schifrin. After Lieberman showed Gimbel a poem she wrote based on how she felt about a Don McLean song, he put her poem to music. However, the song didn’t go far until Roberta Flack heard it on a flight between Los Angeles and New York. As soon as her plane landed, she called Quincy Jones to say she wanted to record it. Lucky for us she did. Everyone from Johnny Mathis to Alison Moyet to the Fugees has since covered this touching song about a girl in love with a musician.
(A New World Record, 1976)
One of the most epic love-gone-wrong songs from the ‘70s comes from ELO. “Telephone Line“, from its 1976 album A New World Record, was the band’s biggest hit in the U.S. The song, about lost communication, begins with the sound of a telephone ringing from the caller’s point of view. When Jeff Lynne starts singing, his vocals sound as if they are coming through a telephone receiver, gradually getting more defined as the song continues. In the liner notes of A New World Record, Lynne revealed the band called an American phone number they knew nobody would be at “to just listen to it for a while“. The band then recreated the sound on a Moog for the song. The ringing sounds exactly like a regular old telephone and it’s hard to believe that it’s been created with a synthesizer. Then again, Jeff Lynne and company were capable of that sort of magic.
(Goodbye Girl, 1978)
David Gates, the lead singer of the ‘70s slow jam band Bread, recorded this weepy tune in conjunction with the film of the same name, starring Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason. Gates was approached to write the song for the film and nailed the challenge head on. In 1977, the song, later released off of his album of the same name, reached the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 15. Since then, the song has remained a shining staple in sentimental love song history.
(Blue Moves, 1976)
Written by Elton John and his writing partner Bernie Taupin, this knockout tearjerker was released on John’s 1976 Blue Moves album. The melancholy piano measure sets the mood at the beginning of the song and is followed by John pleading: “What do I got to do to make you love me?” Later he croons: “It’s sad, so sad. It’s a sad, sad situation“, which pretty much says it all. The tune is a plea for forgiveness and love in a seemingly doomed relationship. “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word“ is a prime example of John at his quiet and old-school best.