Finding music on television used to be easy (there was a channel that played these short movies called “music videos”). Nowadays, the best you can hope for are ambitious warblers getting mocked by “producers,” the odd bit of indie rock in a cell phone commercial, and, if you stay up late, that dinosaur known as the music-compilation infomercial. Each month, intrepid insomniac Gabriel Boylan will watch the paid programming so you don’t have to, and listen to the mammoth compendiums they offer to remind you that sometimes the best music can’t be downloaded–it has to be mailed.
Air Supply could sell me anything. Those honeyed voices–that slightest bit of gravel in their plaintive yelps of devotion, desperation, and re-devotion to devotion–add up to me forking over a lot of cash. Listen up, car makers, midseason-replacement programmers, and dishwasher-detergent brokers: These guys cause me to lose control, spend irresponsibly, and do it all for love. That’s why I was so delighted to see two of its members shilling for the Time-Life Classic Soft Rock collection that I immediately took out my credit card, picked up my phone, and prepared my forehead for a GoldenPalace.com tattoo.
Actually, my first call was not the 800 number, but a friend who, like me, loves soft rock and loves Yacht Rock, and who, unlike me, had dropped $150 on the Classic Soft Rock set weeks before. (I swiftly borrowed the collection and haven’t taken his calls since.)
But before we get to the music, let us take a moment to discuss the excellent infomercial for Classic Soft Rock (11 discs in all, though there are versions of the set that include as many as 19). Both the four-minute and half-hour versions use Air Supply to devastatingly good effect, and portray the sublime power of genuine soft-rock legends and their simpering, one-hit-blunder contemporaries.
The brothers Russell–OK, they’re not brothers; one is from England and one from Australia, but Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock do share a name, and that’s weird, right?–present an erstwhile reunion, Graham strapping on the acoustic (who knew he was a lefty?!) for stellar, albeit clipped renditions of “Lost In Love,” “All Out Of Love,” and “Even The Nights Are Better”. They praise their genre of choice with clichés aplenty, and their delivery is charmingly awkward as they recline in a vanilla-tastic living room over as relaxing-looking a carafe of lemonade as ever I have seen. There is also some sort of co-host whose useless presence (or perhaps whose, er, female presence) seems to make the Russells even less comfortable. Graham talks up the relaxing places soft rock takes him to, like “the beach” and “a house on the lake.”
Oh sorry, I drifted off just thinking of taking a “break from the hectic pace of everyday life.”
While VH1′s Softsational Talking Head Barf-A-Thon tried its best to ruin the genre forever with a complete overdose of irony, people out there remain hungry for mellow jams and breezy ballads. Just ask some of the many satisfied “customers” whose testimonials feature heavily in the half-hour version of the infomercial. For the record, I don’t believe that any of these glassy-eyed testifiers are not paid actors, but their vaguely thrilled and somewhat shocked reactions to these lost hits being unearthed feels at least unforced. (I would have been more like, “Firefall might be the best band of the ’70s. Put that in your pipe, you fascist record geek motherfucker.”)
And so on to the tunes. They’re all here in delightful soft focus, like a class reunion on Quaaludes (“So you went to prison? That’s beautiful, man…”), and for the first half of nearly all the discs, you’ll be listening in bliss, reclining in the easy chair of familiar ooze (Air Supply, Christopher Cross, Gino Vanelli) or thrilling to the comfort of slightly forgotten mellow gold (Robert John, Paul Davis, and other men with two first names). But after the pleasant frontloading of hits, something dreadful … no, something sacrilegious happens near the end of each CD. We enter the ’90s.
Now, we’re all familiar with the evolving face of soft-rock radio, the unfortunate tracks that Teri Garr thinks are the best antidote to your boring workday, apparently to the agreement of lots of lame-ass cubicle jockeys who think the Rembrandts make actual music. So cheeseball ’90s cuts–Joshua Kadison’s “Jessie,” Wilson Phillips’ “Release Me,” and the killer triple shot of Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything For Love,” Bryan Adams’ “Please Forgive Me,” and that song by Extreme–are drizzled into this collection like Caesar dressing left in the sun for ten years. What this means for the listener: About a third of this compilation will make you violently ill.
But that’s almost made up for by the infomercial, with Russell and Russell’s mind-blowing chatter about the magical time when you could turn on the radio and hear nothing but soft rock (I guess their radio had a disco / bloated arena rock / black people blocker). Then there’s the 66% ratio of awesome soft rock that makes up the physical collection, not to mention page after page of useless soft rock data (who is this “Elton John” fellow anyways?), and great soft rock photos in the liner notes. Long story short, it comes highly recommended. You will never want for another soft rock comp, even though there are shortcomings (only one Fleetwood Mac song? Crappy short version of “I’m Not In Love”? “Kokomo”?!? One fucking Firefall track?!?).
Anyways, Time-Life should think about doing a soft-rock video collection, if only because it’s taking me too long to find all this stuff on YouTube. Imagine a full four-minute dose of Gino Vanelli’s hair! Oh wait! Oh right! YES!
Infomercial: Five out of five K-Tel logos.
CDs: Two and a half out of five K-Tel logos.
TOTAL SCORE: Seven and a half K-Tel logos (out of ten)
Classic Soft Rock [timelife.com]