Yacht Me On the Water

Yacht Rock? What the daylights is Yacht Rock?

Chances are you’ve heard it, and maybe even liked it. Yacht Rock is a music subgroup (yes, another) that focuses on the soft rock/jazz fusion/easy listening sound that was found on FM stations from around 1975 to 1984. It’s the kind of music you might expect to hear on a yacht as you cruise around the southern California coast, music that often evokes themes of sailing, or escape to somewhere else – songs like Rupert Holmes’s Escape (The Pina Colada Song) or Christopher Cross’s Sailing.

Yacht Rock, of course, can trace its roots back to The Beach Boys and surf rock, but more directly is the result of J.D. Ryznar’s comedy web series Yacht Rock, which ran in L.A. back in 2005. The show imagined the lives of the real yacht rock stars as a group of friends hanging out and writing music as they lounged around Marina del Rey, and it brought back all the music. Yacht rock emphasizes the Southern California sound, and almost all of the musicians were working from California (the exception being Hall and Oates, who stayed in Philadelphia).

Like anything subject to opinion, there’s always an argument to be made if something belongs in a category or not (and there’s “Classic” yacht rock and “Newer” yacht rock, which expands the genre). Myself, I don’t see Foreigner (too heavy) or Billy Joel (too pop) as part of that scene, but they are included under “newer.” Certainly, many artists have at least one song that could be included. Generally speaking, yacht rock is defined by:

  • Strong production and direction
  • Electronic piano
  • Breezy, light lyrics
  • Light emotions – she left you, but that’s okay
  • Emphasis on melody over beat
  • Catchy tunes
  • Too often full of syrupy sincerity
  • Upbeat rhythm (sometimes termed “The Doobie Bounce”)

Often the song is about a heartbroken man, and the words fool or foolish are thrown around (The Doobie’s What a Fool Believes, Steve Perry’s Foolish Hearts, Elvin Bishop’s Fooled Around and Fell in Love). Many of the songs are about sailing (Chris Cross’s Sailing, Crosby Stills and Nash’s Southern Cross) or the thrill of an escape (Little River Band’s Cool Change, Robbie Dupree’s Steal Away, Toto’s Africa).

You can say various resurgences in music are caused by films (Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody hit the charts four times, twice from the films Wayne’s World and the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody) or television (Kate Bush), or sometimes social media drives a song (Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up), or Baby Boomer (and now Gen X) nostalgia, but the swelling of yacht rock popularity since 2015 (both IHeart Radio and Sirius XM have Yacht Rock stations, and Amazon Alexa will also tune in) is often attributed to a desire to escape from the negativity and stresses of the last several years. Yacht rock is calm and upbeat, evoking a sunny carefree day of lounging on a yacht gently swaying on the water, a fresh breeze ruffling your hair, not a care to be had. Your girl left you? Your job went sour? Your town on quarantine? Don’t let it get you down. Come on, we can steal away and find something better.

Yacht Rock is the highlighted music feature for July. Check out songs by these and other soft rock/jazz musicians:

The Nobel Dylan

If you’re under thirty, you might ask, “Who’s Bob Dylan?”

If you’re over thirty, you might ask, “Bob Dylan’s still alive?”

Yes, Dylan’s still alive, though he’s 80 now, and a lot wealthier for having sold his entire recorded catalog to Sony music, a deal worth between $150 and $200 million

That’s a lot of social security.

Dylan, most widely known for folk and folk-rock music, has a career spanning more than 60 years. With more than 500 songs under his belt – many of them covers sung by other artists and movie soundtracks – he ranks in the top 30 most successful musicians of all time (The Beatles being number one, and Michael Jackson being number two). You may recognize not only Blowin’ in the Wind (a top hit for Peter, Paul, and Mary as well), but Quinn the Eskimo (made a hit by Manfred Mann), Too Much of Nothing (another Peter, Paul, and Mary hit), and Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, which became a major hit for Eric Clapton – all written by Dylan.  In addition, he was a founding member of the Traveling Wilburys, a short-lived group (1988-91) composed of the royal powerhouse of Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne. 

Dylan with Rubin Carter, a free man

Dylan, following in the social justice footsteps of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, wrote the ballad Hurricane in 1975, based on the arrest of boxer Rubin Carter for a 1966 murder he didn’t commit and who was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. Dylan played several concerts to raise money for his defense. Carter was found to have been unfairly tried in 1985, and released. In 1999, a movie version of his story was released, with Denzel Washington playing Carter.

If that’s not enough of a resume, Dylan is the only American songwriter to be awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 – yeah, that Nobel Prize – for “creating new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”  He’s only the second songwriter to ever be awarded the prize, the first going to the prolific Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, who wrote more than 2000 songs – back in 1913.

Dylan on his own can be hard on the uninitiated. His voice is nasally and sometimes whiny, and the socially conscious ballad style of the 1930’s and 40’s isn’t in a resurgence as it was in the 60’s, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen. Dylan has a wide variety of songs and styles, and if you don’t like him singing it, look for someone else performing the song (Joan Baez does several, but she can also be nasally and whiny. Her song Diamonds and Rust is allegedly about Dylan.). With a resume like that, there’s a lot to like.

Try these biographies on Dylan, too!

The Double Life of Bob Dylan
Chronicles
Down the Highway
Bob Dylan in America

The Long and Short of It

Music and its forms have always been in a state of flux. While operas often dragged for hours, recording them, when the means became available, was a different problem. When temperamental wax cylinders gave way to 78 rpm shellac discs, you had 5 minutes of music before you ran out of groove and had to turn it over.  Post-WWII, when brittle shellac gave way to more forgiving vinyl, record speed dropped to 33 rounds per minute, allowing up to 22 minutes per side on a 12” “long-playing” record (or LP, for short.). When the 45 rpm single – cheaper to produce, cheaper to purchase – became standard, music averaged 3-5 minutes a side.

If you wanted to get airplay on a radio, music had to be submitted on a 45, thus most popular songs were limited to around 3 minutes in length (Hence Billy Joel’s line from The Entertainer: “If you’re gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit, so they cut it down to 3:05”). Albums could play for as long as 20 minutes a song on each side. Jump up to CD, and you can now go to 100 minutes. Streaming? The only limit is your tolerance.

So what’s the long and short of it? What are the longest and shortest songs on the road to success? The 50’s and 60’s, with the advent of transistor radios to make music portable, saw an explosion of short catchy tunes, meaning more could be crammed onto the radio, which meant more airtime, more commercials, and thus more money all around. Elvis consistently comes in under two minutes (Let Me be Your Teddy Bear1:43, Are You Lonesome Tonight, 1:25) as do the early Beatles ( From Me to You, 1:56, Please Please Me, 1:59), Summer Time Blues by Eddie Cochrane (1:58), and Hit the Road, Jack by Ray Charles (1:58).  

Albums play around more – If you’ve got 18 minutes of music, but can squeeze one more short track in, you fill it. Styx’s legendary Paradise Theater album has 3 blink-and-they’re-over tracks (AD 1928, 1:07, State Street Sadie – a flash at 33 seconds, and AD 1958, 1:06). Pink Floyd, who loves to drag out a tune, logs in at 1:25 with Pigs on the Wing, a beautiful melody on the Animals album. Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s legendary Welcome to the Pleasuredome album clocks in two blips – Snatch of Fury, at 36 seconds, and The World is my Oyster, which is 1:02, perhaps 45 seconds longer than the track needs to be. 

 

But just how long can you carry a tune? Well, outside of perhaps an opera or symphony (Beethoven’s 9th is about 70 minutes long). American Pie takes up both sides of a 45 at 8 minutes 32 seconds, and Hey Jude clocks in at 7:11, perhaps the longest singles on 45s. But when you hit albums and their longer tracks, if you count all nine parts of Pink Floyd’s ethereal “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” from the album Wish You Were Here, it totals 26:01, the longest segment being over 13 minutes. You could add Rush’s 2112, at 20:33, Yes’s Close to the Edge at 18:30, or the legendary In a Gadda da Vida by Iron Butterfly at 17:05 – three songs that can carry you clear across the state.  Meatloaf’s I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) made it to Number One on the Charts with a time of more than 12 minutes, so length does not affect popularity at all. 

With the pandemic, streaming of music and even live concerts has increased in popularity. While the current trend is to make shorter songs for the attention-short listener, it will be interesting to see in the next five years or so if, freed from the limits of physical media, musicians will increase the length of their songs or not. Genres are losing their hold as streaming crosses boundaries (ie, Jimmy Buffett gets mixed with a lot of country), 24-bit audio capacity has lead to quieter music (less digital noise on soft tracks and streaming services even out loud tracks anyway), music labels are losing importance as musicians self-release songs, and songs are even breaking up their ages-old format and frequently starting with the chorus instead of a verse. We might cringe at the pace of the changes, but in the end, for the musicophile, it’s a wonderful time for variety and a widening range of music.

Rock of Ages

As Neil Young said, “Rock and roll will never die.” 

Here we are, 66 years later, and he may just be right (well, if you don’t count Mozart and the Old Masters who chalk up hits centuries later, like Herb Alpert’s A Fifth of Beethoven). Maybe because they’re cool, maybe it was just Covid isolation, but a number of “classic” rockers have put out new albums, some of which are rather good, no matter what style of music you like. Not bad for a group of people of whom the youngest is 71. I’ve never been a huge fan of Neil Young’s solo work – he’s twangy, he’s whiney, he’s slow and drawling despite unspeakable talent, but his new album Young Shakespeare got me. Sure, the songs are old classics, but the acoustic guitar on this live album is absolutely exquisite. Even if you don’t particularly care for him, give this a listen just for the guitar music. I listened to the album three times in a row. And he’s not even in my top 50 musicians.

Alice Cooper is another rocker I never got into. His first album was in 1969; I was 4, and it would be many years before I caught on to rock. Now he’s back with Detroit Stories, his 21st solo album.  Some of the album is classic metal work, while some of it is bluesy. I found Our Love Will Change the World to be delightfully commercial, and Wonderful World to be both seductive and ironic. Hanging on By a Thread is a direct acknowledgement that not everyone was able to deal with quarantine isolation, and not to give up. The album feels uneven because of the variety of styles presented, but age is no factor here and Cooper’s still got it. There’s a song here for everyone.

Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook, Vol. 1, is interesting because of its strangeness, in the way listening to Ironhorse play bluegrass Led Zeppelin is strange – good, but strange. Barry Gibb, the only surviving Gibb brother, sings many of their classic disco-era hits with top country singers, in a pleasant country-pop manner – such as Dolly Parton singing Words, and Alison Krauss singing Too Much Heaven. The effect is some nice easy-listening music, not too country and certainly not disco, with the benefit of the lyrics being suddenly understandable. Even if you don’t like country, this is something that should be easy for you to like. 

Paul McCartney released McCartney II in 1980. Now, 40 years later, he releases McCartney III. For someone with hits in five different decades (yeah, Elvis did that, but he was dead for two of them), it’s not likely he’s going to fail with this one. My favorite is Kiss of Venus, but check out the amazing blues guitar work on Long Tailed Winter Bird. This is classic McCartney unleashed, rock, blues, jazz, Beatles, and orchestration, sometimes all at once. Seize the Day sounds like classic late-60’s Beatles. He’s 79 years old and still plucking away like a master. You might not like all the tracks, but the album is worthy.

Badfinger: No Matter What: Revisiting the Hits is probably the weakest of this group. You might not immediately remember the name, but you’ve certainly heard their music, even if it was only the Brady Bunch doing a cover of Day After Day on their first album. One of the problems is most of the band is dead. Like Greenfields, having a different singer do a cover of one of Badfinger’s past hits isn’t a problem, but more like Alice Cooper, it’s the strange mix of styles that kind of sinks the album. Some sound deliberately tinny, 60’s British mono throwbacks. Some sound ethereal and Pink Floyd-ish. Some, because you know the song so well, just don’t sound right, as happens when – well, when someone remakes a favorite song in a very different style. Sometimes it’s done very right, such as The Art of McCartney (If you doubt Cooper’s talent, check out his Eleanor Rigby). This time, the greatness just doesn’t come together.

Peter Frampton hits his 50th year as a solo artist this year (he’s been in bands since the age of 12). His newest release is an instrumental cover album entitled Frampton Forgets the Words, an easy way to release old material. Imagine you’re at a massive outdoor concert – a rock festival somewhere, and you’re walking around the grassy fields picking your way through people, and there’s some really awesome band on stage playing a 50-minute instrumental improv and it’s just a groovy background soundtrack to your life. That’s exactly what this album is. Nothing sticks out, it’s just the perfect background music for your life, somewhat familiar and comforting without you really knowing why. 

If you know the artists, give these a try. If you don’t know the artists, give them a try anyway. You might just find you missed something good.

A Playlist of Inspiration and Hope

Bill, our Head of Adult Services, has put together an online playlist of uplifting songs.

Music unites, inspires and comforts us. Songs express strength, joy and sadness. They are a common thread through our culture and our lives. Music unites us across the country. It ties us together whether we live in Connecticut, Florida or California – and these songs resonate across generations and offer hope in our troubled time.

This song list is dominated by Boomer Generation songs (alas, what can I say? I’m a Boomer) – but they are timeless inspirational tunes that speak to everyone.

Song Sequence

(click on the artists’ names to see more titles by them in our physical collection):

  1. Lean On Me – Bill Withers
  2. In Times Like These – Mavis Staples
  3. The Weight – Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr & others
  4. Bridge Over Troubled Water– Simon & Garfunkel
  5. You’ve Got a Friend – Carole King
  6. Make You Feel My Love – Adele
  7. Secret of Life – James Taylor
  8. If You Want to Sing Out – Cat Stevens
  9. Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles
  10. Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole

***

Lean On Me (Lyrics)

In Times Like These

The Weight

Bridge Over Troubled Water (Lyrics)

You’ve Got a Friend  (Live at Farm Aid 1985)

Make You Feel My Love

Secret of Life

If You Want to Sing Out

Here Comes the Sun (2019 Mix)

Somewhere Over the Rainbow