Yacht Rock Thread

I’ve been discovering musicians in this so-called genre that I’ve never heard of before, and I’m amazed at how good these songs sound to me. There’s a certain sound that I really liked during the late 70s and early 80s, and I guess it would fall under the yacht rock category, but for some reason the amount of songs in this vein seemed really limited. Or maybe I’m tired of the songs I’m most familiar with. Perhaps that’s one reason I’m enjoying these songs so much–i.e., I haven’t had time to grow tired of them. What’s weird is that the songs evoke a feeling of nostalgia, although I’ve never heard them before. (Is there a plethora of good songs for every sub-genre that never made it on the radio?)

I’ll go over the first one in the first comment section.

31 thoughts on “Yacht Rock Thread

  1. You ever heard of Byrne and Barnes? Me neither. Robert Byrne has apparently done most of his work in country music, including song-writing. He also wrote the song, “Blame It on the Night,” which the Krush covered. (I don’t know much about (Brandon) Barnes.) I don’t know if this qualifies as yacht rock, but it’s far from country music. Here’s a cut from their (only?) album, Eye to Eye:

    Here’s another from the Kazu Matsui project. I guess Matsui is an instrumentalist because each track on one of his albums features different vocalists. This one is by Phillip Ingram.

    I haven’t listened to the entire ablum, Dreamwalkin’ by Eric Tagg, but I like the first two songs:

    By the way, Tagg was also the vocalist on Lee Ritenour’s “Is It You?”

    1. “Never Gonna Stop Lovin’ You”: This has your name written all over it. Not exactly my cup of tea, but I can see myself grooving to in in fifth and sixth grades. Yeah, I’ve never heard of these guys, and I don’t think I’ve heard any of the songs written by Byrne and recorded by other artists, but then I am not very country-literate. It would definitely be at home on a yacht rock playlist. It would come up, and people would ask, “What is this?” because it’s unfamiliar while sounding totally appropriate. I love when that happens, and it doesn’t happen often.

      The last time I remember this happening to me was in a theater while the closing credits rolled on Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups 2. It was REO Speedwagon’s “Live Every Moment,” which I’ve shared here. It’s now my third-favorite REO song.


      “Standing on the Outside.” Also has your name written all over it. I can hear its merits but it does little to move me. I can’t see myself being in the mood for this unless I were in someone’s back yard with a Corona in my hand and could smell burgers on the grill. He’s Keiko Matsui’s ex-husband.


      Eric Tagg: Okay, I haven’t heard any of these songs, and you can probably guess what I’m going to say, which is that this isn’t my cup of tea either, although I certainly don’t dislike it. (edit: I like the second track, “Marianne (I Was Only Joking)” a lot better than the first track). What you wouldn’t guess I would say is that when I read his name on the YouTube preview screen, I knew immediately he was related to Larry Tagg, so I looked it up. He’s Larry Tagg’s brother.

      Larry Tagg was one half of Bourgeois Tagg, who dented the top 40 right after we graduated HS with “I Don’t Mind at All,” a song I love so much I’ve purchased, over the years, other music by Brent Bourgeois solo and Larry Tagg solo (I like Tagg’s music better, but I’m a little more connected to Bourgeois’s, since he’s become a CCM musician).

      I think Reid has a bit of a black hole for charted music between 1987 and 1991, so in case this one slid under his radar:

      I just love the lines “Misery loves company, but she will never foot the bill” and “Several years ago I said goodbye to my own sanity.” Not really appropriate for the Yacht Rock playlist, but still a great song.


      “Is it You?” Ah, of course I know him. Weird. I always thought that was Rit on vocals.


      Or maybe I’m tired of the songs I’m most familiar with. Perhaps that’s one reason I’m enjoying these songs so much–i.e., I haven’t had time to grow tired of them. What’s weird is that the songs evoke a feeling of nostalgia, although I’ve never heard them before. (Is there a plethora of good songs for every sub-genre that never made it on the radio?)

      Isn’t it great when this happens?

      And yes, of course there’s a plethora of good songs for every sub-genre, songs you never heard because our listening options were so dictated by forces beyond our (and beyond the artists’) control. One music-related thing I’m most bitter about is how I was aware of so many bands I never got to hear in high school. I read articles and saw ads in music mags, but the local stations weren’t playing Metallica and the local record stores didn’t have demos you could spin before buying.

      Metallica still thrived, thank goodness, but there were a ton of other bands I would have LOVED at 15 but only kind of like now, because they came into my life too late. Keel. Kix. Saxon.

      Some bands I actually bought albums from without hearing a single song, because I was just dying from curiosity. The first R.E.M. album, for instance, and the first English-language Loudness album. I didn’t love R.E.M. right away, so I passed it along to our classmate Kristie. I did love Loudness and played it for my friends. Scott liked it, and Derek liked it enough that he purchased a few of their albums on LP.

      So yeah. One of my favorite pursuits is of music that for whatever reason slipped past my awareness, or of artists I heard of but never heard, or of the deeper cuts by artists I like. Last weekend, I took a deep dive into Jethro Tull. Conclusion: most of us pretty much know all the Tull songs we need to know, but there’s good stuff deeper in the tracks, too. Not great stuff, but good stuff.

    2. Re: “I Don’t Mind at All”

      This song actually sounds vaguely familiar.

      I think Reid has a bit of a black hole for charted music between 1987 and 1991, so in case this one slid under his radar.

      The blackhole comes after that–maybe by 1993, and the hole gets bigger and bigger as time goes on.

      I just love the lines “Misery loves company, but she will never foot the bill”…

      I like that one.

      Isn’t it great when this happens?

      Yeah, it’s cool.

      And yes, of course there’s a plethora of good songs for every sub-genre, songs you never heard because our listening options were so dictated by forces beyond our (and beyond the artists’) control.

      It’s understandable that this occurred with non-mainstream music (i.e., non radio friendly music). But yacht rock and some of this 80’s music is radio friendly. I’m getting the sense that a lot pop/rock/R&B that was popular on the mainland or Europe never reached us here in Hawai’i. I’m thinking this because comments on youtube indicate that people grew up with this music–and they mention hearing it on the radio. Also, I remember when I went to college, BET channel would have R&B music videos of songs and musicians I never heard before. To me, it was the kind of stuff that would have been popular in Hawai’i, at least with a (significant) segment of teens and twenty-somethings.

      Anyway, it’s cool that i get to hear this now. I’m still surprised at ho much I’m liking some of this stuff, though.

      One of my favorite pursuits is of music that for whatever reason slipped past my awareness, or of artists I heard of but never heard, or of the deeper cuts by artists I like.

      Music streaming sites have been so, so, good for this. When I was actively seeking out new music, particularly in jazz or non-mainstream music, I learned about new musicians/albums via magazines or online sites. But the degree to which I could actually hear the music was so limited. Music streaming sites changed all that. I have been surprised at the amount of non-mainstream music (including avant-garde music) is on apple music. (I think it’s great, but I worry that, at some point, they won’t stream this type of music.)

  2. Here’s another guy I never heard of: Finis Henderson. I’m really liking his self-titled 1983 album. I’m not sure if the music would fall under yacht rock, but I’m enjoying this. Most of this has a strong 80’s sound–closer to 1986 or 1987. For example, listen to this one:

    This sax makes me think of 1986 or 1987…Maybe Boy Meets Girl’s “Waiting for a Star to Fall.”

    What’s a bit strange is that Henderson’s voice/singing is just OK to me, at best, and the lyrics are just meh, at best, too. But I like the music. and the sound. (The bass is mixed up front, and has more interesting parts that mid to late 80’s songs.) I feel like these songs could have been popular if a better singer sang them. (Because I liked the music, I was curious who played on this. There are some good musicians on this (e.g., Jeff Porcaro on “Lovers” and “Blame it on the Night.” Steve Lukather, Abraham Laboriel, Nathan East, Al McKay, Jerry Hey and the Seawind horns,)

    Al McKay, from EWF, produced this. And you can hear that EWF sound in this cut:

    I just went through the whole album, and I pretty much like every song on this.

  3. In case we want to think about borders:

    In 2014, AllMusic’s Matt Colier identified the “key defining rules of the genre” as follows:

    • “keep it smooth, even when it grooves, with more emphasis on the melody than on the beat”
    • “keep the emotions light, even when the sentiment turns sad (as is so often the case in the world of the sensitive yacht-rocksman)”
    • “always keep it catchy, no matter how modest or deeply buried in the tracklist the tune happens to be.”

    The “exhilaration of escape” is “essential to yacht,” according to journalist and documentary filmmaker Katie Puckrik. She quoted the lyrics of Cross’s “Ride Like the Wind” (1979), “to make it to the border of Mexico,” as an example of the aspirational longing that demonstrates “the power of the genre.”

    Thwarted desire is another key element that counters the “feelgood bounce” of yacht in the same song. Puckrik identified a sub-genre, “dark yacht,” exemplified in Joni Mitchell’s “accidental yacht rock” song “The Hissing of the Summer Lawns” (1975), which described the “tarnished love” of “a woman trapped in a big house and a loveless marriage.”

    1. also:

      Yacht Rock web series co-creators Ryznar, Steve Huey, Hunter Stair, and David Lyons have attempted to apply precision to what is defined as yacht rock, and have been critical of overly expansive definitions of the term. In 2016 they invented the term “nyacht rock” to refer to songs that have sometimes been classified as yacht rock but that they felt did not fit the definition. On their podcasts Beyond Yacht Rock and Yacht or Nyacht?, they have ranked various songs as being either within or outside of the genre.

      Factors that the four list as relevant to yacht rock include:

      • High production value
      • Use of “elite” Los Angeles-based studio musicians and producers associated with yacht rock
      • Jazz and R&B influences
      • Use of electric piano
      • Complex and wry lyrics
      • Lyrics about heartbroken, foolish men, particularly involving the word “fool”
      • An upbeat rhythm called the “Doobie Bounce.”
        Ryznar and co. have argued that many artists sometimes associated with yacht rock, particularly the folk-driven soft rock of Gordon Lightfoot and the Eagles, fall outside the scope of the term as originally conceived. They have also disputed the use of the term as an umbrella for any song whose lyrics include nautical references.

      Probably a lot more restrictive than you or I would have defined it, but I love it when geeks get like this. The debate is what makes conversations like this so great.

    2. Probably a lot more restrictive than you or I would have defined it, but I love it when geeks get like this. The debate is what makes conversations like this so great.

      If you mean precisely defining a genre or category, I like doing that generally, but I had little motivation for doing so with this sub-genre.

      But seeing the definitions above has left me dissatisfied enough to motivate me to dig into this topic a bit more. I’ll try to write more later, but I’ll say a few brief things:

      In trying to define yacht rock, I’m inclined to start with the singing style and sound of the music overall. The first thought that comes to mind is 70’s soft rock. Maybe it comes from the folk-pop, singer-songwriter style–e.g., James Taylor, CSN, America, David Gates, Seals and Croft. It’s a white singing style.

      But then you take that singing style and move it away from acoustic guitar/folk, and maybe sprinkle in a more (watered down) black sound–in terms of the singing and the music (the bass and drums). And then also add more electric piano, fender rhodes and later 80’s synths. (I think the production values are slicker, giving it a more urban feel, but more like a white urban feel versus a black one.) Some of it has a jazzier sound (almost a pre-cursor to smooth jazz).

      OK, I’m rambling. I’ll try to come back and write something more coherent.

  4. Second attempt at defining yacht rock.

    Short answer: White man’s slow jam. I don’t know the official definition of slow jam, but I’ve always thought of a song that is not slow enough to slow dance to, but not fast enough to go off on the dance floor. And it’s a black sound.

    Yacht rock may be the white version of this. The vocals have a white sound–specifically a sound from the mid-70s to 1981. I haven’t really studied this, but I want to say it comes from the folk-pop guitar vocalists–like CSR, America, and others like them.

    But instead of the acoustic sound, the instrumentation is more electric–specifically electric piano, including the fender rhodes, and electric bass, which has a slightly R&B feel. The production is a lot slicker, too. And some have a jazz influence and also incorporate horns, which is consistent with other pop music from that time.

    I wish I could be more precise about the vocal quality. Guys like David Pack, Michael McDonald, Glenn Shorrock, Robbie Dupree, the lead from Player. (I fee like Michael Franks would fit into this, but I’ve never seen him listed in the genre.)

    Are there any female vocalists in this genre?

    I’d also be curious to hear yacht rock that came after the early 80s that moves away from the mid-70’s vocal sound, if there is such a thing.

    5/9/2021

    Pablo Cruise is another group I’d put in there.

      1. Ah, got it.

        I find it interesting that the musicians I’ve associated with the category lean more rock than funk, soul, or jazz, but you seem to be leaning more funk, soul, or jazz in your thinking, and the examples you give go that way. I think the definition I cited from Wikipedia also goes that way.

        Which is a slight disconnect for me, since I thought Christopher Cross was sort of the poster boy for the genre. I hear mostly rock in there.

    1. What other yacht rock musicians (e.g., Christopher Cross) did you have in mind that leaned more towards rock?

      Skimming the wikipedia definition makes me feel more skeptical about that genre–that it’s actually a substantive thing. For example, the definition included Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Also, the idea that yacht rock has lyrics that use nautical terms or references sailing makes the genre seem silly to me. I mean, if this were a key component, I would think the genre would be incredibly small. (And “Thriller” would be excluded.)

      What I tried to do above is attempt to create a coherent and meaningful definition. But now I question whether my definition is actually correct–or at least in line with the accepted definition of the category. Generally, I would just call it soft rock circa ’75-’81, or thereabouts.

      1. l would put Carly Simon’s “Coming Around Again” on the playlist. There are probably several others of her songs that would go, but I can’t think of them.

        Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsy” could go on there. Not a female artist but a female singer.

        Thematically but maybe not lyrically, Captain & Tenille’s “Do That to Me One More Time” would totally work. Also “The Way I Want to Touch You.” Also not a a female artist but a female vocalist.

        1. Including these songs would make me more confused….I may be limiting the genre to that specific male vocal sound, and perhaps that’s not a good move….Something like Simon’s “You Belong to Me” would fit better I think. The music has that mid 70’s to ’81 sound–with the electric piano. It has that night time vibe that I associate with a lot of the songs, too. Basically–find one of her songs between that time period with the qualities I mentioned–and that would fit–fit the definition I’ve been proposing, anyway. For example,

          By the way the wikipedia definition not only includes Michael Jackson’s Thriller (the entire album?), but it excludes Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. That’s two curve balls for me.

          Edit

          This song has a sound that I’m associating with yacht rock. It sounds like something I could hear Robbie Dupree signing.

      2. The thing about just calling it soft rock is that there’s a lot of stuff in that category I wouldn’t put on there. I wouldn’t put “Fire and Rain” on there because it’s a bummer of a song. Similarly “Rainy Days and Mondays.”

        I think several Carpenters songs could go on there, except they would likely be the lesser-knowns, and you don’t want too many unknowns in the mix, you know? Cruising on a yacht, you want to recognize at least 75% of the songs that come up. 85% might actually be a better ratio.

    2. You make a valid point about using soft rock label. I think the music we’re talking about, as distinguished from “Fire and Rain” utilizes more electric instrumentation–specifically, electric piano, bass, and guitar. “Fire and Rain” has a more folk, acoustic guitar sound. Compare “Fire and Rain” to something like “Her Town.”

      By the way, I’m not sure yacht rock can’t be downers. I tend to think of “Her Town” and if it’s not a downer, it’s a melancholy, forlorn song.

      Cruising on a yacht, you want to recognize at least 75% of the songs that come up. 85% might actually be a better ratio.

      I don’t really think of yacht rock as songs that one would listen to on a yacht–not in a literal way or hard rule of the genre. I tend to think this description just helps one get a general sense of music–i.e., music you envision people sailing on a yacht will listen to. Actually, I think you could call the music “yuppy rock” or “preppy rock” (and I think maybe some have done so), as I could envision this type of people enjoying music, or I associate the music with this type of people (at least from the 70s). Whether yuppies, as a group, really like this music or not, I’m not sure, but it gives one a sense of the music.

      1. Okay fine, but “Fire and Rain” is about a girlfriend dying in a plane crash. This just doesn’t go with the vibe I think yacht rock tries to establish and maintain.

  5. I think Michael Franks is a musician who belongs in this category, but I haven’t seen any of his songs on playlists. Is his music too jazzy? I’m not sure. I think his vocals are in the ballpark of yacht rock vocalists. (To me, he seems very influenced by Bob Dorough, who has very original sound/singing style.)

    Here are two examples:

    What’s weird is that I don’t really care for Franks, not the first time I heard him many years ago, and not listening to him recently. His music, a mix of pop, jazz and R&B, generally appeals to me. I think it comes down to his voice, which I don’t really care for. I don’t know what it is, but after a while, I find it hard to listen to; it’s almost annoying.

    On another note, I’ve listened to lesser known songs of Ambrosia, Player, and Pablo Cruise. I’ve done this before with Ambrosia and my recent listening reinforces my initial impression–namely, a lot of their music sounds pretty different from their hit songs. The songs pull more towards rock, making me think of the rockier Toto songs. That’s not bad, but the songs I heard didn’t really grab me.

    With Player, I listened to several of the tracks of their first album. To me, the lead singer reminded me of Glenn Shorrock of The Little River Band. I liked some of the songs and the background harmonies. Here’s an example:

    On the next track, they seem to rip off Captain and Tennille’s keyboard riff on “Love Will Keep Us Together.” It’s a decent song, though:

    With Pablo Cruise, I focused on Reflector album. I sort of feel like the music moves beyond yacht rock, but I liked some of the tunes. This one is a bit rockin, and reminded me of .38 Special for some reason:

    This one might be more in the yacht rock vein:

    This one even more so:

    (Like other songs/groups in this time period, the bass is fairly prominent–and I liked that. Same with Player’s music.)

  6. I was ready to pshaw the comparison to .38 Special but this does sound a bit like them. Weird that a San Francisco band sounds like a band I always thought of as Southern rock.

    1. I think of .38 Special as a Southern-tinged rock outfit, too.

      Actually, the opening guitar and piano riffs don’t sound like .38 Special (the similarity happens a little later), but it doesn’t remind me of another song. I can’t put my finger on it. I want to say, “Love is Like Oxygen,” but I don’t think it’s that. Do you know what I’m thinking of?

      1. I had to Google “Love is Like Oxygen.” Totally forgot about this song, and while I’m surprised this is the Sweet because it doesn’t sound like their other music I’ve heard, I’m not surprised because it sucks almost as hard. That song doesn’t remind me in the least of this one.

        “Ballroom Blitz” is in my top 5 worst (hit) rock and roll songs of all time.

        edit: Okay, I kinda like “Fox on the Run” but I much prefer Ace Frehley’s cover. 🙂

    2. With “Love It’s like Oxygen,” it’s the piano and crunchy guitars that seem similar. Maybe Jefferson Starship’s “Jane” is closer–I think that’s the song I was thinking of (again, the piano and guitar riffs). It’s not that the songs sound the same–it’s just the piano and rockin’ guitar parts.

      I’m unfamiliar with “Ballroom Blitz” and “Fox on the Run.” I’ll check them out later.

  7. Does anyone else think yacht rock (or at least some of it) has a strong summer vibe? I don’t know why, but I like listening to this style of music during the summer, especially during the summer fun program. Here’s a song that I really like, but Airplay, a group that only recorded one album.

    I think the Seawind horn section plays on this, but it sounds more like something from the Phenix horns.

    By the way, the group is compromised of two studio musicians/producers–Jay Graydon and David Foster. I started looking into Jay Graydon, and I’m liking his other stuff as well. (He also played the solo on “Peg.”)

    On a side note, I’m getting more interested in studio musicians who stepped into the foreground to make their own albums. I’m also interested in albums that seem filled with well-known studio musician (like the Finis Henderson album).

  8. Apropos of nothing, I recently found out the two members of Pages, Richard Page and Steve George went on to form Mr. Mister. I thought that was an interesting tidbit. Also, I think the drummer for Mr. Mister went on to be the drummer for King Crimson, but I could be wrong about that.

  9. Two playlist nominees for your consideration.
    The Alan Parsons Project (speaking of bands heavy with studio musicians), “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You” from I, Robot

    “Cry Like a Baby” by Bourgeois Tagg, from Yoyo, which coincidentally became available on streaming services including YouTube just a couple of weeks after we discussed them.

    Yachting seems like it’d be a total summer activity, so your summer vibe seems apt.

    1. I just Googled “yacht rock” and “i wouldn’t want to be like you” and apparently others got to it before me. It’s on a few people’s lists, darn it! I thought I was leading the way on that one!

    2. I like these two songs, and I’m adding them to my yacht rock playlist.

      Yachting seems like it’d be a total summer activity, so your summer vibe seems apt.

      I know the sailing in a yacht is a component of the definition of the label, but I tend to downplay this, particularly the criterion that the lyrics are about sailing, etc.

      Do the songs sound like something that would be good to play while on a yacht or sailing vessel? I haven’t really thought much about this, but off the top of my head, I don’t get that sense.

      A lot of the songs don’t necessarily have an obvious summer vibe–i.e., the type of music you’d play at the beach or riding in a convertible to the North Shore.

      Now, if “yacht” is supposed to be a proxy for white people (e.g., yuppies), particularly from the late 70s and early 80s, then the descriptor seems more appropriate to me.

    3. My current list is filled with mostly unfamiliar musicians, albums, and songs. Here is a sample:

      Bill Champlain–“Tonight, Tonight”
      Pages–“You Need a Hero”
      Bill LaBounty–“Livin’ It Up”
      Sun Rai–“San Francisco Street”
      Dwayne Ford–“Lovin’ and Losin’ You”
      Finis Henderson–Finis (album)
      Byrnes and Barnes–“Never Gonna Stop Lovin’ You”
      Dana Donohue–self-titled album
      Bill Wolfer–Wolf (album)
      Larsen-Feiten Band–self-titled album
      Pablo Cruise–Reflector (album)
      Player–self-titled album
      Maxus–self-titled album

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