Paul Fitzpatrick: London, May 2022
A common ice-breaker in the 70s was… “what kind of music are you into?”
Typical responses would be – Rock, Punk, Reggae, Soul, Prog, Glam, etc, but you’d rarely hear anyone reply…. ‘Smooth, light and catchy’.
However, if you were into the Doobie’s (Michael McDonald era), The Eagles, Hall & Oates or Christopher Cross in the late 70s then ‘smooth, light and catchy’ was fundamentally what you were buying into.
It was a sound that was initially classified as ‘Soft Rock’ or ‘Adult Orientated Rock’…. not a description you’d want to crow about.
Fast forward 30 years and the very same sound was revived, repackaged and re-christened as ‘Yacht Rock’ (YR) by a bunch of guys who set up a comedy web-series that both lampooned and paid homage to the genre.
‘Yacht Rock’ the web-series, is set in LA’s Marina del Rey and fictionalises the life’s of 70s musicians like Michael McDonald, Hall & Oates, The Eagles and Steely Dan as they hang out, bicker and make music.
The show quickly attained cult status, with John Oates crediting it for rekindling interest in Hall & Oates as well as introducing a younger fanbase to the band.
If you haven’t seen it, it’s fun and well worth a catch-up on YouTube. It’s an easy watch with each episode lasting about 5 minutes.
The golden-era of Yacht Rock fell between 1976 to 1984 and whilst it’s a tricky genre to define, the music can be characterised as smooth and melodic, typically combining elements of jazz, soul, and rock….. the perfect music to listen to whilst you chill out on a yacht basking in the Californian sunshine… quaffing a few margaritas.
In terms of identifying the archetypal Yacht Rock sound, the following factors commonly apply…
High production values.
The inclusion of elite studio musicians and producers.
Lyrics about heartbroken foolish men, with bonus points if the word ‘fool’ is featured.
An upbeat rhythm driven by the electric piano, nicknamed the ‘Doobie Bounce’.
A perfect example of a Yacht Rock classic that ticks all the boxes is the Doobie Brothers… ‘What A Fool Believes’.
Following the web-series, the interest in Yacht Rock escalated and what started life as a parody developed into a bona fide genre, initiating documentaries, books, compilation albums, radio channels, playlists, live events, tribute bands and podcasts.
Initially an American phenomenon, Yacht Rock tribute bands and events are pretty widespread now and the inherent humour inspired by the web-series lives on, with bands like….. ‘Hot Dads in Tight Jeans’ and ‘Yachty by Nature’
Whilst the tribute-band scene flourishes in bars and smaller venues the appetite from the masses for the original acts is still very much alive.
Guys like Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers and Hall & Oates, are still selling out stadiums and larger venues whilst rolling out their 70s Yacht Rock hits.
It’s a tribute to its longevity and quality that the Yacht Rock sound is still actively being produced today, with new bands like ‘Young Gun Silver Fox’, and established artists, like Thundercat, who recently cut a track with Michael McDonald & Kenny Loggins on vocals.
Ironically, for a genre that started out as a bit of fun, Yacht Rock can be taken a bit too seriously by some YR aficionados who like to go into great detail about why certain bands or songs attain Yacht Rock status whilst others don’t.
In answer to this, and with typical humour, a bunch of yacht rockers set up a website called Yacht or Nyacht? To help the uninitiated identify what’s yacht and what’s not!
Truth be told, Yacht Rock escapes exact definition, and it’s hardly an exact science. For many listeners, it comes down to a feeling or a mood that can’t be found in other types of music
Simply put…. you’ll know a YR track when you hear it, but at least when anyone asks you what type of music you’re into you, you can now find a better way of saying ‘Smooth, light and catchy’.
I had fun collating a short Spotify playlist of some of my favourite Yacht Rock classics, (although a couple may be on the Nyacht list!) link below….
Bonus points for anyone who can identify how many tracks Michael McDonald features on?