Oh boy. This time I’ve really outdone myself. This mix is global, people. Huge. 34 tracks huge. Over 2 hours huge. This is my s***. This is what I do, mofos! What I spent all Saturday afternoon and evening preparing is just for you, my PDD babies—a supreme mix of yacht rock music.
If you’re asking yourself, “Joel, just what the skippy is yacht rock?”, then perhaps you should dust off that refresh button on your Internets. Yacht rock, of course, refers to the type of music made by mostly southern Californian musicians in the ’70s and early-’80s. The term itself was created long after the style of music had disappeared—the hilarious channel101.com online series Yacht Rock invented and popularized the term in 2005.
Yacht Rock is absolutely essential viewing for any music lover. It’s been around for a while, so I won’t go in to just how awesome every episode really is, but each of the 11 episodes tells the stories behind how classic yacht rock songs were written. We’re talking about songs such as the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes,” Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright” and Steely Dan’s “FM.” The usually centers on the comic escapades of Michael McDonald (played by JD Ryznar), Kenny Loggins (played by Hunter Stair) and a whole cast of other musicians. One of the great things about the show is how it wraps its absurd plots around real facts and stories about the music, like how Toto wrote “Human Nature” for Michael Jackson’s Thriller or how Dr. Dre sampled Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’” for Warren G’s “Regulators.”
Wikipedia says about yacht rock as a musical style:
In the musical sense, yacht rock refers to the highly polished brand of soft rock that emanated from Southern California during the late 1970s and early 1980s. In part, the term relates to the stereotype of the yuppie yacht owner, enjoying champagne and smooth music while out for a sail. Additionally, since sailing was a popular leisure activity in Southern California, many “yacht rockers” made nautical references in their lyrics, videos, and album artwork, particularly the anthemic track “Sailing” by Christopher Cross …
… In developing the show Yacht Rock, creator J. D. Ryznar commented that the term was intended to describe the “more elite studio artists” of the period, such as Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins. David B. Lyons, who co-produced the show and played Koko Goldstein, noted that a friend of his devised the term “marina rock” in college to describe a more “working-class” group of artists that didn’t achieve the same high profile, such as Seals and Crofts, Rupert Holmes, and Looking Glass. However, despite the show’s intentions, music journalists have begun using the term yacht rock to describe all of the similar-sounding music of the period, including bands such as Ambrosia, 10cc, Pablo Cruise, Firefall, England Dan & John Ford Coley, Orleans, Ace, and Player.
It should be noted that Yacht Rock often featured artists who weren’t from California, such as Hall & Oates, Jimmy Buffett and Jethro Tull. This mix takes into consideration the more macroscopic use of the term that has evolved in the years since the show debuted. Most of the artists here would be considered yacht rockers, but I’ve also mixed in ones who weren’t from southern California and didn’t have any personal connections with the core yacht rockers. But they operated in the yacht rock period (’70s and early ’80s) and made music whose sound was deeply connected with yacht rockers—they were studio slick and intentionally cut the rough edges out of their music.
So in that spirit, here’s hoping my mix helps take the edge off your day. Just sit back, grab a Bartles & James, and imagine you’re jus’ kickin’ back and sailin’ down the shore …
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01. The Doobie Brothers — “Takin’ It to the Streets” Could you possibly find a less convincing band to “take it to the streets”? Yes, the Doobies are perhaps the quintessential yacht rock band, and counted among their ranks two key players in the yacht rock scene—vocalist/keyboardist Michael McDonald and guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter.
McDonald had previously made a name for himself as a studio musician singing key backup parts on Steely Dan songs, and Baxter was a member of Steely Dan until that band became essentially a studio act. “Takin’ It to the Streets” was written and sung by McDonald.
02. Kenny Loggins — “This Is It” Nice soulful performance by Loggins. This song plays a key role in the Yacht Rock series, and features backup vocals by Michael McDonald.
03. Climax Blues Band — “Couldn’t Get It Right” Not yacht rockers by pedigree (they’re from England) but they sure could lay down a smooth jam.
04. Todd Rundgren — “Hello It’s Me” It could be argued that Rundgren was a bit of a yacht rocker. He worked and lived in LA frequently, and certainly made some smooth records between his experimental outings, this being one of his biggest.
05. Carole King — “So Far Away” Although she was a New Yorker, Carole King definitely lay the groundwork for smooth ’70s rock with her über-popular 1971 album Tapestry. This song is definitely one of my favorites from it.
06. The Beach Boys — “Sail on Sailor” Certainly the first yacht rock band in spirit, the Beach Boys released this sailing related song in their erratic (but often brilliant) ’70s period.
07. Looking Glass — “Brandy, You’re a Fine Girl” This record is from the early ’70s a little before the yacht rock period, and Looking Glass is from New Jersey, but “Brandy” is without question musically and lyrically a yacht rock tune. The first?
08. Andy Gibb & the Bee Gees — “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” The Bee Gees certainly gave Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins a run for their money in pioneering smooth music. I like to imagine that the revolutionary smoothness of the Doobie Brothers Minute By Minute was a direct response to the Bee Gees’ ever more smooth late-’70s records.
09. Boz Scaggs — “Lido Shuffle” Former Steve Miller Band guitarist Boz Scaggs got fellow yacht rockers soon to become Toto to play on this record.
10. Robbie Dupree — “Steal Away” The keyboard riff is obviously lifted from the Doobies’ yacht rock classic, “What a Fool Believes,” but damn if that isn’t a sweet riff.
11. Christopher Cross — “Ride Like the Wind” One of Cross’ more tolerable songs. Features Michael McDonald on backup vocals.
12. Steely Dan — “F.M.” Supposedly written for the obscure comedy film of the same title, but, if Yacht Rock is to be believed, it was written as the result of a feud between the Dan and the Eagles.
13. Gerry Rafferty — “Baker Street” Rafferty was a founding member of Stealers Wheel, known for its one hit “Stuck in the Middle,” before going solo. He’s Scottish, but his two biggest hits, “Baker Street” and “Right Down the Line” bear the unmistakable mark of yacht rock smoothness.
14. 10cc — “I’m Not In Love” 10cc have been recently given the yacht rock tag by some, which makes sense given the band’s slick pop records. But, like Steely Dan, though people who like to ride around yachts and sip champagne probably would listen to the group’s music, the sardonic members of 10cc probably scoff at those types.
15. James Ingram and Michael McDonald — “Ya Mo B There” The ultimate evolution of yacht rock in the ’80s.
16. Toto — “Africa” Bragging about going to exotic locales is one of the staples of yacht rock, so Toto’s claims in “Africa” about “I’ve got some range down in Africa” definitely fit the mold. Members of Toto played on Steely Dan and Seals & Crofts albums before forming.
17. Styx — “Babe” Styx were from Chicago, but between faux-Yes prog rock, hard rockin’ working man tunes and hilarious rock operas about androids they wrote a few yacht rock ballads. “Babe” is the tune that Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force would probably play if he wanted to get tender with a lady.
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18. James Taylor — “Your Smiling Face” James Taylor was a secret yacht rocker in the ’70s, as he moved to California and polished his sound from a simpler, folkier style to a slick pop/rock one. “Your Smiling Face” actually has some sweet intertwining guitar riffs in it (played with a minimal amount of gain, of course!).
19. The Doobie Brothers — “What a Fool Believes” Perhaps the definitive yacht rock tune, and that may be because it was written by Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins.
20. Joni Mitchell — “Car on a Hill” Joni Mitchell, like James Taylor, was a secret yacht rocker, at least on her most rock-oriented album (from which this song is culled), Court and Spark.
21. Steely Dan — “Hey Nineteen” I’m a huge fan of Steely Dan, and my favorite album of theirs is Aja, which broke records for slickness in rock music all across the boards, but even I admit they got too smooth for Aja’s follow-up, Gaucho. The album is just kind of boring, outside of this golden track. “Hey Nineteen” has some great yacht rock lyrics about older men trying to date 19-year-old girls. “The Cuervo Gold / the fine Colombian / Make tonight a wonderful thing”—now that’s the yacht rock life!
22. Little River Band — “Reminiscing” Even the Australians got into the yacht rock groove.
23. Fleetwood Mac — “Over My Head” The Mac became adopted yacht rockers when Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined in 1975 and the band relocated from London to L.A. Christine McVie wrote the band’s most yacht rockin’ tunes, and “Over My Head” is one of my favorites.
24. Electric Light Orchestra — “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” Jeff Lynne’s overly lush and slick production and arrangements qualify ELO as honorary yacht rockers. A song about a sweet talkin’ woman (a harpy?) gives bonus points.
25. 10cc — “The Things We Do For Love” A tender, McCartney-esque love song that wins because it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
26. Hall & Oates — “When the Morning Comes” H&O experimented with some folkier styles before they finally solidified their blue-eyed soul approach—”When the Morning Comes” is my favorite of their earlier tracks. The Yacht Rock guys brilliantly positioned the duo as wildly egotistical villains in the show.
27. The Eagles — “Lyin’ Eyes” I don’t like the Eagles very much, but “Lyin’ Eyes” is a yacht rock tune about the excesses of the debauched Californian life.
28. America — “Sister Golden Hair” Can you believe these mediocre puds had seven albums produced by George Martin? I do dig this song though. America count as yacht rock because they worked with fellow yacht rockers such as Christopher Cross, Jeff Porcaro and Carl Wilson.
29. Andrew Gold — “Thank You For Being a Friend” Yep, it’s the Golden Girls theme song! Before it became the theme song, though, it was a hit for yacht rocker Andrew Gold. Surely only the greatest of friendships could inspire immortal lines such as “If you threw a party / invited everyone you knew / you would see the biggest gift would be from me / and the card attached would say ‘thank you for being a friend’”.
30. Michael McDonald — “I Keep Forgetting (Every Time You’re Near” The lead sample in Warren G’s “Regulators” and the basis for one of the best yacht rock episodes.
31. Michael Jackson — “Human Nature” My favorite episode of Yacht Rock involves the writing of this song by Toto’s Steve Porcaro.
32. Stevie Nicks — “Leather and Lace” Stevie Nicks was a Californian with plenty of yacht rock connections, and she could lay down a smooth groove when she needed to.
33. Eric Carmen — “Boats Against the Current” Although he and his band the Raspberries were from Cleveland, Eric Carmen lived in L.A. for much of his solo recording career. This song’s central image of boats set against the current is definitely yacht rock material, and fellow yacht rockers Bruce Johnston and Andrew Gold play on it as well.
34. Loggins & Messina — “Sailin’ the Wind” Loggins & Messina prepare for our mix to sail into the sunset …