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Your Soft AC Playlist

It might be the success of stations in Miami, San Francisco, and now Seattle driving the Soft AC radio boom. But there’s clearly enthusiasm for the music itself among broadcasters as well. Even those radio programmers who suffered through the pop music doldrums of the early ‘80s and/or early ‘90s still have at least a few personal favorites that they’re looking forward to hearing on the radio again. And some probably remember those eras more charitably than I do.

When I asked Facebook friends to name a few songs they were looking forward to hearing back on the radio again on the new Soft AC stations, there were more than 500 suggestions—many of them within minutes. Some readers named dozens of songs. Your suggestions ranged from songs that had already become a regular part of the launch list for new Soft ACs to some that had never been major radio hits (or had been AC-only hits) as currents. I’ve made your suggestions, and a few of my own, the basis for this Spotify playlist. 

The new Soft ACs represent an ongoing balancing act between “older and softer” and “but not too old and soft.” One reader dismissed them as being not true soft ACs, but rather Bob- and Jack-FM-like Adult Hits stations with a few more ballads. To program or even contemplate the format is to constantly negotiate the subjectivity of personal taste. Ask readers about “songs you never want to hear again,” and “You Light Up My Life” will get mentioned quickly, but Debby Boone got votes here, too. I’m regularly derisive to “I’ve Never Been To Me” by Charlene, but reader Mark Edwards assured me his vote was non-ironic. And since one shouldn’t have to position songs as “guilty pleasures” to like them, I felt bad about even asking.

There were a lot of votes for “anything by” certain artists, with Ambrosia, Bread, and the Carpenters comprising the top three. As for individual songs, let’s start with the top 10 in reader mentions, along with the number of monitored radio spins they generated in the last week according to NielsenBDS Radio. Keep in mind that with most Mainstream AC stations currently playing Christmas music, these numbers reflect the handful of Soft ACs already in the format, as well as spins from softer leaning Classic Hits stations.

  • America, “Ventura Highway” (86 spins this week)
  • Benny Mardones, “Into The Night” (29 spins)
  • Brenda Russell, “Piano In The Dark” (12 spins)
  • Christopher Cross, “Sailing” (60 spins)
  • Dan Fogelberg, “Leader of the Band” (7 spins)
  • Double, “The Captain Of Her Heart” (22 spins)
  • Gloria Loring & Carl Anderson, “Friends And Lovers” (4 spins)
  • Grover Washington, Jr. w/Bill Withers, “Just the Two of Us” (77 spins)
  • Little River Band, “Cool Change” (15 spins)
  • Robbie Dupree, “Steal Away” (14 spins)
  • As that list indicates, the songs that readers chose fell into a number of categories:

No Longer Lost Songs: They’ve already become staples of the new stations, or they never entirely disappeared from Mainstream AC or Classic Hits. If you can listen to a station stream, you can hear them again on the radio. Some are songs that were normalized by Sirius XM Radio’s “Yacht Rock” channel. Many are by artists who remain AC presences, or lesser-known one-hit wonders with a neutral artist image (or no artist image). Here is a random sampling of titles with the names of the ROR readers who suggested them in parenthesis.

  • Boy Meets Girl, “Waiting for a Star to Fall” (Joe Rosati, Russ Oasis, Kevin Shea)
  • Daryl Hall & John Oates, “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” (Wyatt Hermann)
  • England Dan & John Ford Coley, “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” (Vinny Brown, David Juhl)
  • Extreme, “More Than Words” (Anthony Ferruto)
  • Jack Wagner, “All I Need” (Randy Adams, Rob Hartsell)
  • Kim Carnes, “Bette Davis Eyes” (Ron Fell, Paul Cavalconte)
  • Michael McDonald, “Sweet Freedom” (Jeanne Ashley, Rob Creighton, Rick Sommers)
  • Patrick Swayze, “She’s Like the Wind” (Randy Adams)
  • Peter Cetera, “Glory Of Love” (John Knox, Steve Mills)
  • Spandau Ballet, “True” (Brad Lovett, Laura Liles, Joey Carvello)

One Step Beyond: Many of the new stations see a clear difference between Ambrosia (never stars, but neutral) and, say, the Carpenters. Many stations are trying to position themselves to replace the Mainstream AC in the market, if they can fragment the incumbent enough to push them out. But readers were also eager to hear some songs that seem to be one tick softer/older/more unhip than what is already being played, even by the subjective standards of the format. These were often by “lightning rod” artists, but not always.

  • Barbra Streisand, “Love Theme From A Star Is Born (Evergreen)” (Jimi Jamm, Randy Adams)
  • Barry Manilow, “Mandy” (Vance Dillard, John Trapane)
  • Bertie Higgins, “Key Largo” (Joel Murphy, Scott Childers)
  • Carpenters, “Close To You” (Jerry Dean, Tony Florentino)
  • Dan Hill & Vonda Sheppard, “Can’t We Try” (Ian March, Jeff “JT” Stewart)
  • Frankie Valli, “My Eyes Adored You” (Bruce Cole)
  • Kenny Rogers, “Through the Years” (Walt Sabo)
  • Olivia Newton-John, “Have You Never Been Mellow” (Tony LeDonne, Paul Kriegler)
  • Paul Davis, “’65 Love Affair” (Chuck Taylor, Alton Irwin)
  • Robbie Dupree, “Hot Rod Hearts” (Dave Bradley, John Gallagher)
  • Stephen Bishop, “On And On” (Paxton Guy)

Smooth Jazz/Soft R&B: In the early ‘80s, soft R&B was a significant part of the AC format. Many of those titles became the core vocals of the Smooth Jazz library. Now, many of those titles fall in a void between Mainstream and Urban AC. But you wanted to hear:

  • Champaign, “How ‘Bout Us” (John King, Mike McDowell)
  • Debarge, “Time Will Reveal” (Ronnie Ramone)
  • George Benson, “Lady Love Me (One More Time)” (Brad Lovett, Tony Pizza)
  • Jeffrey Osborne, “On The Wings Of Love” (James Baker)
  • Oleta Adams, “Get Here” (Mike Erickson, John Symons)
  • Quincy Jones f/James Ingram, “Just Once” (James Baker, Jim Ryan, Scott Rubin)

Super ‘70s: The new stations are also tending to lean more on ‘80s songs than ‘70s titles. And yet, the ‘70s titles still feel very present among us because of satellite radio. If you have any exposure to ‘70s on 7 or soft rock channel The Bridge, you’ve probably encountered some of these in recent memory:

  • Al Stewart, “Time Passages” (Ron Yurman, Chris Duffy, John Gallagher)
  • Brothers Johnson, “Strawberry Letter 23” (Mimi Chen)
  • Chi-Lites, “Have You Seen Her” (Sam Church)
  • Chris Rea, “Fool (If You Think It’s Over)” (John King, John Stevens, Shane Michaels)
  • Dave Mason, “We Just Agree” (Lee Arnold, Dave Stewart)
  • Firefall, “Strange Way” (Ed LaComb)
  • J.D. Souther, “You’re Only Lonely” (Andy Cahn, Bob Vandergrift)
  • Little River Band, “Reminiscing” (Bill Schultz, Andrew Gordon)
  • Paul Davis, “Sweet Life” (Patti Banner, Dave Stewart)
  • Peter Frampton, “I’m In You” (Bob Weil)
  • Poco, “Heart of the Night” (Bruce Cole, Rob Roberts)
  • Seals & Crofts, “Summer Breeze” (Tom Barnes, Vinny Brown)

It Was 50 Years Ago Today (Or Thereabouts): All but a mere handful of ‘60s titles have disappeared from the radio as a result of the Classic Hits format’s evolution. Even a seemingly appropriate “eternal jukebox” title like the Beatles, “Here Comes the Sun” isn’t heard much on the new stations. Here are some others from 1971 or before that broadcasters want to hear again, many of them more likely to be the territory of Standards/MOR now:

  • Beatles, “Something” (Derek Rubinoff)
  • Dionne Warwick, “Walk On By” (Chris Molanphy)
  • Frankie Valli, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” (B.J. McCarty)
  • Herb Alpert, “This Guy’s In Love With You” (Charlie Mitchell)
  • Liz Damon’s Orient Express, “1900 Yesterday” (Bob Duckman, Randy Reeves)
  • White Plains, “My Baby Love’s Lovin’” (Laurie Sanders)

Oh Wows: Some were top 10 hits, although you would need a chart book or Wikipedia discography to prove it now. Some never made it to power. Here’s just a smattering of songs that go beyond the depth of the new stations:

  • Alan Parsons Project, “Damned If I Do” (Josh Hosler)
  • Alan Parsons Project, “Games People Play” (Eric Meier)
  • Annie Lennox, “No More ‘I Love You’s’” (Jeanne Ashley)
  • Danny Wilson, “Mary’s Prayer” (Kevin Shea, Scott Solko)
  • Expose, “I’ll Never Get Over You Getting Over Me” (Jerry Noble)
  • Gino Vannelli, “Living Inside Myself” (Garret Michaels)
  • Grayson Hugh, “Talk It Over” (Gene Knight)
  • Korgis, “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometimes” (Bob Aldrich, Jay Philpott, Paul Cavalconte)
  • Marty Balin, “Hearts” (Steve Mills, Bill Schultz, Bram Teitelman)
  • Rod Stewart, “Downtown Train” (Guy Dark)
  • Sheena Easton, “You Could Have Been With Me” (Cadillac Jack)
  • Sneaker, “More Than Just The Two Of Us” (Bob Aldrich, Steve West, Bram Teitelman)
  • Deeper Than The Night: Some readers went deeper into the land of the lost, opting for songs that hadn’t been major radio records in the first place. Got some time to explore? Try these.
  • Barenaked Ladies, “Call And Answer” (Lance Venta)
  • Bob Seger, “Living Inside My Heart” (Brian Kelly)
  • Brent Bourgeois, “Dare to Fall In Love” (Guy Tino)
  • Chris Isaak, “Can’t Do A Thing (To Stop Me)” (Brad Lovett)
  • Crowded House, “Fall At Your Feet” (Guy Tino)
  • James Taylor, “Sweet Baby James” (Guy Zapoleon)
  • Lauren Wood, “Fallen” (Ron Fell, Randy Reeves)
  • Michael Stanley Band, “Why Should Love Be This Way” (Patrick Davis)
  • Moody Blues, “For My Lady” (Greg Garwronski)
  • Paul Simon, “I’d Do It For Your Love” (James Starace)
  • Toni Braxton, “Spanish Guitar” (John Burkavage)

You can enjoy an afternoon’s worth of crowd-sourced (and lightly curated) mellowness here.

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  1. Eric Jon Magnuson says

    It didn’t sink in earlier, but one of the online-only channels on the recently launched iHeartRadio platform for Mexico is “Azul 89” (apparently based on a former format of XHM 88.9). Just now, it’s been The End Of The Innocence, into My Eyes Adored You, into Didn’t We Almost Have It All, into Just Once.

    1. Eric Jon Magnuson says

      The site’s Recently Played has been acting up, but it looks like the last several songs have included I Could Fall In Love, Last Train To London, Sister Golden Hair, Lucky (Jason Mraz/Colbie Caillat), and now Sailing.

  2. caradioguy says

    I built my own Soft AC playlist here at Spotify. As of right now it has 1643 songs from a variety of genres, all mainstream. Check it out here

  3. slimmons says

    “Dare to Fall In Love” is a great song that actually belongs in the Oh Wow category. It cracked the top 40 and went top 10 AC. To me it’s at the same level as Sneaker and Danny Wilson.

  4. says

    2019 music format trends.

    *Country becomes song based and not artist based format. Superstar artists songs are not powers. Hit songs by new artists are not. Balanced gold from upper 2000’s still palatable. 90’s test well on consultant lists,but no one plays them.

    *Hot AC need a limited gold library that accentuates the current and recurrents. This might mean a TOP 40 gold library.
    Mainstream Hip-hop and alternative style songs. i.e. SEX AND CANDY, YEAH, I WRITE SINS, NOT TRAGEDIES, RIGHT ROUND. WQAL leads the pack with this kind of library. HEY HO and USE SOMEBODY just don’t sound like HAPPIER and DELICATE.

    *AC bails on Modern AC and becomes gold-based with limited recurrent and currents or none at all. 70’s ignored by Classic Hits become staples. TINY DANCER and TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT will be back on AC radio. Charge led by KSWD Seattle and IHeart BREEZE format.

    *70’s return to Classic Hits. Not enough balance in the 80’s titles. WCBS-FM on OH WOW WEDNESDAY playing EAGLE EYE CHERRY. 90’s poking in it’s ugly head.

    *Libaries and rotations are killing TSL in paper, phone and non-rated small markets.

    *Streaming and download tracking of currents might beat out callout and air play to determine rotations.

    *90’s music still no intrusion. Only format is some Classic Rock and the gold base for Active Rock. Still the lowest percentage of music played on AC, HOT AC, CLASSIC HITS and VARIETY HITS.

  5. a5k says

    There are more semi-obscure Soft AC-level songs to be found in Attention K-Mart Shoppers, the great archive of cassette tapes from the beleaguered chain’s late 80s/early 90s era. (The collection has also spawned several inspired vaporwave tributes.) Am currently on my second listen through the whole series. Is there a place for Amy Grant, Bruce Hornsby and the love theme from “Flashdance” in this format?

  6. bossradiodj says

    “Love Changes (Everything)” by Climie Fisher from 1987. #12 Billboard AC, #23 Hot 100. Catchy AF still, and probably my favorite lost ’80s AC song.

    And the video was a blast, too:

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