It’s Winter of 1977-78.
Young Ozmoe loved to listen to the radio.
Everything from the singles from Saturday Night Fever, to Queen’s We Are Are The Champions.
But it always came to a screeching halt with the start of a soppy, soggy song.
A pianist lackadaisically played what sounded like a knockoff of Cat Stevens’ Morning Has Broken, before came these lyrics:
“You ask me if I love you
And I choke on my reply
I’d rather hurt you, honestly
Than mislead you with a lie …”
Preadolescent Ozmoe rolled his eyes. “How corny can you get?!”
It got worse with the chorus:
“And sometimes when we touch
The honesty’s too much
And I have to close my eyes and hide
I want to hold you till I die
Till we both break down and cry
I want to hold you ’til the fear in me subsides.”
“Are you kidding me?!” thought Ozmoe.
He’d heard mushy ballads from males like Barry Manilow before.
But nothing so needy and emotional as this.
By the time it ended, the singer sounded like he was yelling the last word into a canyon for an echo:
“Yuck!” Young Ozmoe concluded.
Sometimes When We Touch by Dan Hill was huge.
The million-seller peaked at number 3 for two weeks in March 1978, kept from the top only by Love Is Thicker Than Water by Andy Gibb and Night Fever by the Bee Gees.
Clearly, somebody liked it.
And that song now serves as part of a title for a documentary about soft rock, a genre for which I have mixed feelings at best.
Yet to my surprise, I really liked it.
I think you will too.
- Dan, Toni and the Rest:
As you’d expect, the first part focuses on its reign, the second its ruin and the third its resurrection.
The “reign” is correct in associating soft rock’s ascension in part to the mellow singer-songwriter trend of the early 1970s such as Carole King. However, they somehow overlooked the first group to flourish in the genre:
Bread (Make It with You…)
… and many more hits.
The filmmakers recover from that oversight by covering the Carpenters, (of course,) plus pinpointing a key development in soft rock history.
Two songs by established rockers topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1973, and were so easygoing that anyone’s grandparents back then probably listened to them without any problem.
The first was Paul McCartney’s My Love …
… Followed by The Rolling Stones’ Angie.
From there, the gold rush was on.
In the documentary, we get new interviews with most key figures in the movement still around, with the very noticeable exception of Barry Manilow. The most affecting ones are from Toni Tennille of the Captain and Tennille … and, yes, Dan Hill.
Toni is frank – often painfully so – about her marriage to the Captain (real name Daryl Dragon), and how it was frustrating and unfulfilling despite their public image otherwise. She happily sang Love Will Keep Us Together and more with the Captain backing her on piano…
… but the reality was that Toni was wed to a man who was just as uncommunicative and remote with her in private, as was his public persona.
Strangely, I felt empathetic for both of them.
Then there’s Dan Hill:
It’s not too surprising to learn that the earnestness of his lyrics for “Sometimes When We Touch” grew out of his love for a woman. But the full story involves much more than that, which he explains in a well-stated manner. I had new respect for him after hearing his tale.
- The Decline and Rebirth:
The show on the genre’s “ruin” is quite on the mark. Soft rock flourished on the pop singles chart after the demise of disco in 1979, but its fortunes slipped two years later in the wake of two events.
The first was the presidency of Ronald Reagan, whose demeanor some in the media interpreted as a retort to the “sensitive male” image often project by male soft rock singers.
The genre was categorized by some in the press as “wimp rock,” a phrase that definitely made it seem out of step with the rise of such macho movie stars as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The second was the advent of MTV, a cable channel showcasing the harder rock sound in its presentation of videos while shunning lighter fare.
Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock of Air Supply complain about being banned from MTV followed by the channel’s former president claiming that wasn’t the case.
Take it from someone who was there – MTV didn’t play Air Supply.
- A Resurrection:
As they lost their top position on the charts, many of the soft rock acts disbanded. Members went into different areas of music or left the industry throughout the 1980s. They all felt that they were history by the start of the 1990s.
But the third episode on “resurrection” delineates how they found themselves somehow returning to prominence – largely from an unexpected source.
Rap artists began to sample much of the soft rock they heard as children to use as backing in their hits…
… starting in 1994 with Warren G’s Regulate doing such with Michael McDonald’s I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near).
This section also does an excellent job of summing up how and why “yacht rock” became a term associated with the genre.
There’s much more to this miniseries than this overview can contain, of course. All I’ll add is that the archival footage is excellent, particularly the pre-MTV era when video appearances could be scarce. The interviewees are well chosen too.
Having said that, a lot of the music still isn’t my cup of tea. Too often soft rock is more the former and not enough of the latter, and the excerpts here bear out my contention.
Oh, and in case you were wondering:
Was his version as histrionic as Dan Hill’s?
Don’t ask me.Though I have more respect for the song from the documentary…
…that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to listen to it again.