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.