Yacht Rock

By Adam Rust | July 17, 2020

By: Adam Rust

Summer is finally here and many of us find ourselves at a pool, on the lake or doing some kind of activity outdoors these days. As a lifelong music fan, these activities often are associated with a soundtrack, whether it is the radio or my own personal collection. On many occasions, we often don’t get to select the music we listen to, especially if we are in someone else’s vehicle. I became amused earlier this month when I took a trip on a friend’s boat and our entire excursion was dominated by one musical genre – yacht rock. I have been familiar with this term for several years, although it seems like it is a fairly new term to some people.

What is yacht rock? Many describe this type of music as cheesy, easy-listening soft rock that one would hear in the lobby of a dentist office or while in line to check out at CVS. Also known as the West Coast sound or adult-oriented rock, these songs typically were released in the late 1970s and early 1980s and featured elements of soul, smooth jazz, R&B, funk and disco. Although the term has been used by some people in a negative way, to many it is a genre that brings a certain sense of nostalgia. I once attended a wedding where the band at the reception played nothing but yacht rock. At that moment, I realized that this is more than a gimmick for some people. Sirius/XM radio even has its own yacht rock station. Although I don’t choose to put on this type of music typically, I do respect several artists associated with this world. Regardless, after debating the topic with friends and family, I decided to put together my own Top Ten list of yacht rock songs. Some are guilty pleasures while others deserve credit for true musicianship. I welcome any competing opinions and feel free to convey those via email. In the meantime, here they are:

10. “All Night Long” – Lionel Richie – Who can avoid this song while out in public? It seems to be played everywhere you go. It has elements of reggae and funk and even has Spanish lyrics. If any song can bring people to the conga line at a wedding reception, this song by Lionel is it.

9. “The Boys of Summer” – Don Henley – This song is about the passing of youth and entering middle age. It was written by long-time Eagles member Don Henley and is a fan favorite in any karaoke bar.

8. “I Keep Forgettin” (Every Time You’re Near) – Micheal McDonald – Michael McDonald certainly had yacht rock prowess in the 1980s and does not seem to have slowed down. He would later indirectly launch yacht rap when Warren G sampled this one for his song “Regulate” in the early 1990s.

7. “Summer Breeze” – Seals and Crofts – This one is a critical piece of the yacht rock foundation. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number 13 of the Best Summer Songs of All Time. This song came from the Seals and Croft album of the same name and is the oldest song on this list.

6. “Africa” – Toto – I would venture to guess that most people know some (or all) of the lyrics to this song, whether they want to or not. Either way, it is essential for any yacht rock playlist.

5. “Escape (The Pina Colada Song) – Rupert Holmes – This Number 1 hit from the 1970s focuses on the tale of a couple using the personal ads to rekindle their romance. The music video includes the artist wearing a windbreaker tucked into khaki pants, so he was ready for the 80s before they even arrived.

4. “Steal Away” – Robbie Dupree – This one-hit-wonder includes twangy guitars and even a sitar sound but found its way into the top 10 of the charts during the late 1980s. It sounds like it could have been released by Michael McDonald and has secured its place in any yacht rock playlist worth having.

3. “Hey Nineteen” – Steely Dan – It is almost too difficult to select only one Steely Dan song, but it must be done to allow room for these other musical gems. Released in 1980, this song will be played on classic rock stations until the end of time. It is sure to be in the heavy rotation through the speakers of every boat owned by the baby boomer generation.

2. “You Make My Dreams (Come True)” – Hall and Oates – This song has been featured in countless movies over the years as well as several commercials. Like many of these on the list, the average person is going to know the lyrics, even if they hate the song. This one debuted in 1981 and is sure to get the party started at any event.

1. “What a Fool Believes” – The Doobie Brothers – This is possibly the ultimate yacht rock song and is sung by the king of the genre, Michael McDonald. The song was written by McDonald and Kenny Loggins, who also dominated the airwaves in the 1980s. The song tells the story of a man who is reunited with an old love interest and attempts to rekindle the relationship before discovering that one never really existed. At one point, Michael Jackson had claimed he contributed at least one backing track to the original recording but was not credited for having done so. This was later denied by the band.

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