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Emily Gale


Emily Gale
is a Lecturer in popular music at UC Merced. Her book project, Sentimental Songs for Sentimental People, explores intersections between American popular song and sentimentalism, specifically in 19th century sentimental ballads; the National Barn Dance radio show; the 1960s TV show Sing Along with Mitch; and 1970s soft rock. She has performed with new music ensembles, rock bands, and as a solo pianist, and she is the Director of Arts UC Merced Presents.

“Soft Rock Masculinities”
Most rock histories suggest that soft rock was little more than an aberrant blip on the historical record of a much larger and much more important phenomenon: rock (in all its non-soft varieties). Artists such as The Eagles, James Taylor, the Doobie Brothers, Paul McCartney and Wings, and Hall & Oates have all been lumped together and included as part of the genre.

During the 1970s, these artists topped the Billboard charts, successfully sold albums and toured, and were phenomenally popular. They also faced the derision of many rock critics who disparaged these bands precisely for their success, their soft approaches to rock music, and their professional approaches to music making. This paper reads soft rock against the powerful backdrop of the rock formation, showing that the hegemonic masculinity of rock informed interpretations of and narratives about soft rock.

The 1970s, according to masculinities scholars, was the decade of the “new man.” Emerging as a response to feminism and the women’s movement, the new man was sensitive, compassionate, and family focused. I theorize several distinct types of “new men” presented in 1970s soft rock. These soft rock masculinities—the platonic man, the sensitive man, the minstrel man, and the sincere pop man—illustrate intersections of race and sexuality. Through slower tempos, strumming acoustic guitars, lush string orchestrations, and romantic imagery, soft rockers offered alternative versions of masculinity. This kind of sentimentality appealed to women in the face of the misogyny, aggression, and even violence of hard rock. But it also expressed a different form of white homosociality that promoted men getting in touch with their emotions. The multiplicity of feelings expressed in 1970s soft rock—from partnership and the affective bonds of friendship to romantic love and sexuality—offered contested and competing performances of masculinity during this politically fraught decade.