Hall & Oates "Rich Girl"
Wait, did they just say "bitch girl"? That was the raging controversy on the school bus anytime this song came on the radio, which was often. While "Sara Smile" is a great track, this is REALLY the soft rock jam that put Hall & Oates on the map.
Of course, H2O would have a helluva run of hits in the '80s, but it's this song that evokes that innocent era of the '70s when the radio was all most of us had.
Little River Band "Lady"
In 1978, Australian acts were still quite the novelty in the US, but few even realized that Little River Band were from a different country as their sound was so decidedly American, allowing them to fit seamlessly into Top 40 radio playlists with previous hits "Help Is On The Way" and "Happy Anniversary". With each new album, it seemed, the band was putting the pieces together that would ultimately lead to the monster hits "Reminiscing" and "Lady" that would make Sleeper Catcher their first Top 20 album.
Manfred Mann's Earth Band "Blinded By The Light"
Manfred Mann first came to prominence in the 60's with such hits as "The Mighty Quinn", but by 1976, he was a man on a mission. The band he had formed in 1971, Manfred Mann's Earth Band", had released six albums - five of which had failed to break the Top 100 in America - and were still looking for their first hit. With an unlikely cover of a Bruce Springsteen song, the band soon found themselves at #1 on the singles charts. The single would also hit the Top 10 in five other countries and help the band sell over three million copies of their seventh album, The Roaring Silence.
If every one-hit wonder could be this good...
For bands such as Manfred Mann and Little River Band, success in the US had taken a few albums, but Pilot shot right into the Top 5 in the US with their first single, "Magic". The Scottish band's 1974 debut album had been produced by Alan Parsons. Sadly, their initial success would be short-lived and the core of the band would eventually go on to join the Alan Parsons Project by 1978.
Bob Welch "Sentimental Lady"
Ask most people who Bob Welch and you'll get mostly blank stares, but play them this song and you'll see most folks smile and say "I love that song! Who does it?" Bob Welch does. In fact, he had quite the string of memorable '70s hits - "Ebony Eyes", "Precious Love" and "Hot Love, Cold World" - but damn if most people can remember who did them. Many people don't realize that Welch has recorded a version of "Sentimental Lady" while still a member of Fleetwood Mac. The song had appeared on their Bare Trees album, but the single failed to chart.
Oddly enough, while he had left the band prior to Lindsey Buckingham joining, Buckingham would produce the re-recorded version. with he and Christine McVie singing the backing harmonies.
John Waite "Missing You"
While Waite had hit the charts multiple times with The Babys, after a handful of ambitious albums, the band still found themselves an opening act for the likes of Journey. When keyboardist Jonathan Cain was recruited by Journey to replace Gregg Rolie, Waite took it as a sign and went solo. His first album, Ignition, had been a barrel-house rocker that featured the sorely underrated "Change", but on his next effort, Waite made sure to deliver the goods. The album's first single was a little song called "Missing You" that went to #1 and forever put Waite on the map.
Since then, his records have become sadly inconsistent and uninspired, but this song remains a testament to perseverance and determination, not to mention being one of the better kiss-offs ever set to music.
Sinead O'Connor "Nothing Compares 2 U"
Have you seen a pic of this gal lately? Sadly, she's got more tatoos on her chest than a member of the Hell's Angels. Back in 1989, though, she was still a mostly unknown entity covering a Prince song on her second record, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. Her first album, The Lion And The Cobra and songs such as "Mandinka" and "I Want Your Hands (On Me)" had brought much success on the underground and dance scenes, but it was her riveting vocal turn on Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" that made her a household name, even before the infamous Saturday Night Live performance.
Listening to the song now, there is a raw innocence to the performance that is oddly charming, as if staring into a time capsule of a time when strength and vulnerability could be found in the same voice.
Air Supply "All Out Of Love"
The door that fellow Australians Little River Band had knocked down gave Air Supply the opening they needed to storm the American pop charts in 1980 with three Top 10 hits, "Lost In Love", "Every Woman In The World" and arguably their best-known track "All Out Of Love".
Air Supply was the face of '80s pop until new wave swept in around 1982 and washed many of the soft rock giants from the playing field.
Christopher Cross "Sailing"
If you had ears in 1979, then you heard a whole lot of Christopher Cross that year as his debut album not only sold over five million copies, but also had a stranglehold on radio playlists across the country. He would also go on to beat out Pink Floyd for the Grammy for Album of The Year.
While "Ride Like The Wind" and "Never Be The Same" were big hits, "Sailing" was the only single to hit #1 and take home three Grammy awards of its own.
Toto had made quite the splash with their first album, which included the hit "Hold The Line", but their second and third albums had come and gone with little fanfare. Would they be relegated to forgotten one-hit wonders or could they pull a rabbit out of their hat on their fourth album?
Of course, we all know the answer to that question, as the smash hit "Rosanna" was the first of many such rabbits to be pulled from the mega-platinum IV album. Considering the amount of airplay the song received and the fact that it won a Grammy for Record Of The year in 1983, the song itself only made it to #2 thanks to Joan Jett's "I Love Rock & Roll" being #1 for seven straight weeks. Toto would hit #1 in 1983 with "Africa".
The Police "Every Breath You Take"
1983 was the year that The Police went from being the little band that could to being Sting & The Hired Players, as Sting had finally gained complete artistic control of the band on what was to be their final studio album, Synchronicty. It's hard to argue with the results, though, as the album showed Sting's songwriting to be advancing beyond the faux-reggae sound that had initially put the band on the map. "Every Breath You Take", for example, was a classic soft pop song that any band would have been proud to call their own. For The Police, it launched their popularity into the stratosphere and they would spend the summer playing to sold-out stadium crowds all across North America.
Phil Collins "In The Air Tonight"
Sometimes limitations are great motivation. Depressed by the break-up of his first marriage, Collins holed up in his home studio and set out to exorcise some of the anger that he felt. Without a band to back him up, he relied upon a simple drum machine pattern and sparse, atmospheric instrumentation to create the ominously dark mood of the song. A live drum track would be the icing on the cake. The song would become a huge smash almost instantaneously upon its release, gaining heavy radio and MTV airplay and appearing in numerous TV shows and movies, such as "Miami Vice", "Risky Business", and "The Hangover", to name just a few.
By the time U2 had released the film and accompanying soundtrack Rattle & Hum in 1989, the general consensus was that we'd all had about as much of U2 as we could stand for awhile. The band themselves had emerged from the success of 1987's Joshua Tree with a desire to distance themselves from a sound that they'd plundered for all its worth. Rattle & Hum was a portrait of a band finding solace in American roots music because their own music bored them. So, what was the band to do for their next studio album? Bono and The Edge had been enamored by techno and set out to make a futuristic record, but neither Adam Clayton or Larry Mullen Jr. shared their enthusiasm. It was a spontaneous jam session that quickly yielded the song "One" and gave the band the energy and ambition to complete Achtung Baby.
The song stands as almost a polar opposite to the rest of that album and, truth be told, it would not have sounded out of place on The Joshua Tree, or Rattle & Hum for that matter. In hindsight, it was the bridge the band needed to bring their fans with them into the '90s.
R.E.M. "Everybody Hurts"
This song has always sounded like the other bookend to U2's "One", as R.E.M. had enjoyed a similar upward trajectory through the '80s as U2. Both bands seemed to hit a sort of commercial and artistic ceiling at the tail end of that decade and fans and non-fans alike were curious to see in which direction each band would go. For U2, it was the future. For R.E.M., it was the past. "Everybody Hurts" is more "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" than anything they'd done prior, showing a great love of classic pop songwriting. Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones was responsible for the lush orchestral arrangement.
Evanescence "My Immortal"
It was hard tom come up with a lot of modern-day soft rock jams worthy of inclusion next to the great songs mentioned above, but "My Immortal" stands as one of the more ambitious - and successful - soft rock jams of the last decade. The song, which was almost entirely written by guitarist Ben Moody, provides a great showcase for Amy Lee's vocals to soar without having to fight for sonic space against the full-on sonic assault of a full-band arrangement.
Stevie Nicks with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around"
It shouldn't have worked as well as it did, since Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty come from two different worlds, but Nicks had long been obsessive in her love of the band and had asked them on many occasions to write a song for her. Hilariously, Petty had agreed to let her have the song "Insider", but chose to keep it for himself after the track was recorded. As a consolation prize of sorts, he gave her "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around", which would go on to become a big enough hit that it outsold any single from Petty's Hard Promises album (which included "Insider").
Kim Carnes "Bette Davis Eyes"
Having bounced from one label and musical style to another since 1971, Carnes hit upon a winning combination when she covered the Jackie DeShannon/Donna Weiss song "Bette Davis Eyes". The decidedly modern arrangement, combined with her raspy vocal style, resulted in a song that would spend nine weeks at #1 in the US. It would also hit #1 in eight other countries. Bette Davis was so thrilled by the song's success that she would later thank Carnes, Weiss and DeShannon for making her a part of modern culture.
Tears For Fears "Everybody Wants To Rule The World"
Up until this song came out, the popular consensus was that synth pop acts like Tears For Fears just didn't have the goods in the songwriting department and were using synths and other electronic studio bells & whistles as a crutch. "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" puts all such criticism to rest and reveals TFF to be a band with some actual chops. After all, TFF was a six-piece band that boasted some real musical talent.
Of course, it was the last song recorded for the hit album, Songs From The Big Chair and the shuffle beat upon which the song was built was quite a foreign thing to the band at the time. Roland Orzabal; admits to stealing the drum beat from the Simple Minds' "Waterfront" which was being recorded in the next studio.
Don Henley "Boys of Summer"
We could have mentioned any number of Eagles songs on this list, but ultimately felt that Henley's solo gem "Boys of Summer" was one of the most visually evocative songs to come from the Eagles camp. There are few songs that better encapsulate the feeling of yet another summer coming to an end before any of the promises it once held can come true. That such depth can be found in the sighting of "a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac" is a testament to Henley's lyrical prowess. He doesn't so much tell stories as give you fragments with which to build your own.
Joan Osborne "One Of Us"
If Joan Osborne doesn't send Eric Bazilian (best known as a member of Hooters and the writer of this song) a Christmas card every year, she darn well should. Producer Rick Chertoff hired him to play some guitar on Joan's first album, Relish, but Eric went one step further and brought in the song that would ultimately take Joan's career to the next level.
Without it, Relish would have been a hit-less hodge-podge showcasing the singer's immense talents, but lacking identity. "One Of Us", of course, gave Osborne a public identity that neither she nor Bazilian were able to replicate and, as a result, her popularity was short-lived.
Still, this song remains as poignant and undeniable as ever, offering a sentiment that is both touching and thought-provoking.