We continue our return to the music of 50 years agoâ¦.
Before music, now called soft-rock, had a title, the radio format that played stuff like The Carpenters, Herb Alpert, and Olivia Newton-John was called MOR. It meant Middle of The Roadâ¦ and even though some of the artists who populated those radio playlists were also played on the so-called Top 40 or rock stations, that didn’t mean they were rockers. The example is bread. The LA-based band were one of the most popular “soft-rock” groups of the early ’70s and they released their 3rd studio LP “Manna” in 1971.
The group was led by David Gates and James Griffin. Gates was a boy from Tulsa who met Leon Russell in the 1950s and headed to LA to seek his fortune. Griffin wrote songs with Robb Royer who played several instruments. The original band, which had a number 1 hit in 1970 with “Make It With You”, didn’t have an ordinary drummer until they added Mike Botts. Royer left the band in 1971 and was replaced by LA crackpot Larry Knechtel.
Gates and Griffin were both good pop singers and Gates was a solid arranger of these tracksâ¦ a lot were light but sometimes they broke the saccarine nature of the genre with tunes like âLet Your Love Goâ which broke into the Top 30. and had a bit of an edge … and “Take Comfort” rocking a bit … but the production is so clean that, like the Carpenters, any edge is blunt to keep it from getting too “heavy”.
The LP also has the monster hit “If” which cracked the Top 5 and is only really interesting for the shimmering guitar effect which somewhat offsets its greeting card feelings.
Most of the other tracks are pedestrian pop songs, although a few sound like they could easily have appeared on future Dan Fogelberg records.
The group enjoyed a series of successes until 1974 when Griffin, annoyed that his songs were ignored for singles, left the group. They will come together for a short and successful reunion in 1976.
Gates was a talented guy and his songs were very pretty. That was enough to make it a staple of MOR in the early 70s and earn them a solid life.