Yacht rock (originally known as the West Coast Sound or adult-oriented rock) is a broad music style and aesthetic identified with soft rock. It was one of the commercially successful genres of its era, existing between the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Drawing on sources such as smooth soul, smooth jazz, R&B, funk, and disco, common stylistic traits include high-quality production, clean vocals, and a focus on light, catchy melodies. Its name, coined in 2005 by the makers of the online video series Yacht Rock, was derived from its association with the popular Southern Californian leisure activity of sailing.
|Other names||West Coast Sound|
|Stylistic origins||Soft rock|
|Cultural origins||Mid-1970s – early 1980s|
The term "yacht rock" did not exist while the genre was active, from about 1975 to 1984. Originally regarded as "adult-oriented rock" (or "West Coast Sound") it became known as yacht rock in 2005, when the term was coined in J. D. Ryznar et al's online video series of the same name. Understood as a pejorative term, "yacht rock" referred, in part, to a stereotypical yuppie yacht owner enjoying smooth music while sailing. Many "yacht rockers" included nautical references in their lyrics, videos, and album artwork; exemplified by Christopher Cross' anthemic track, "Sailing" (1979). Long mocked for "its saccharine sincerity and garish fashion", the original stigma attached to the music has lessened since about 2015.
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-film maker Katie Puckrik. She quoted the lyrics of Cross' "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".
According to Mara Schwartz Kuge, who worked in the LA music industry for two decades, "Soft rock was a genre of very popular pop music from the '70s and early '80s, characterized by soft, mostly acoustic guitars and slow-to-mid tempos ... most people have generalized the term to mean anything kind of soft-and-'70s-ish, including artists like Rupert Holmes. Not all yacht rock is soft, either: Toto's 'Hold the Line' and Kenny Loggins' 'Footloose' are both very yacht rock but not soft rock."
Comprehensively defining yacht rock remains difficult, despite agreement that its central elements are "aspirational but not luxurious, jaunty but lonely, pained but polished". Journalist Jack Seale stated that, as in other "micro-genres", certain albums of artists who are accepted as proponents are "arbitrarily ruled in or out". For example, Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1982) is accepted as yacht rock, but Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (1977) is not.
Yacht Rock creatorsEdit
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 classified been 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.
The socio-political and economic changes that contributed to the emergence of the genre have recently been described by journalists like Steven Orlofsky, and by documentary-film maker Katie Puckrik. Orlofsky said some AC musicians such as Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan and Supertramp were well-respected by critics and listeners. Yacht rock was art "untouched by the outside world." By contrast to what followed, this "was probably the last major era of pop music wholly separated from the politics of its day." Yacht rock represented an "introspective individualism" that emerged after the death of the "mass-movement idealism" of the 1960s. Its "reassuringly vague escapism" was boosted by the rise of FM radio which brought together two consequences of gender emancipation: women who controlled household spending and men who "felt freer to convey their emotions in song".
From a musical perspective the roots of yacht rock can be traced to the music of the Beach Boys, whose aesthetic was the first to be "scavenged" by acts like Rupert Holmes, according to Jacobin's Dan O'Sullivan. Captain & Tennille, who were members of the Beach Boys' live band, won "yacht rock's first Best Record Grammy" in 1975, for "Love Will Keep Us Together". O'Sullivan also cites the Beach Boys' recording of "Sloop John B" (1966) as the origin of yacht rock's predilection for the "sailors and beachgoers" aesthetic that was "lifted by everyone, from Christopher Cross to Eric Carmen, from 'Buffalo Springfield' folksters like Jim Messina to 'Philly Sound' rockers like Hall & Oates."
Recent positive reappraisals of the genre have appeared in The Guardian, The Week, and on BBC Four, which broadcast Puckrik's two-part documentary, I Can Go for That: The Smooth World of Yacht Rock, in June 2019. (That documentary is named after the 1981 Hall & Oates song "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)").
Twenty-first century musicians have formed cover bands centered on the yacht rock idea, such as Yacht Rock Revue, which has done national tours. The band hosts an annual Yacht Rock Revival concert where they invite members of the original bands that they cover to join them on stage for a few songs, including Walter Egan, Robbie Dupree, Peter Beckett (Player), Bobby Kimball (former lead singer of Toto), Jeff Carlisi (.38 Special), Bill Champlin (Chicago), and Denny Laine (Wings).
Orlofsky has argued that the genre's resurgence is partly due to its function as an antidote to the negativity of the Trump era in the USA. Just as in its original context, when yacht rock created "the perfect soundtrack for listeners trying to ignore Watergate and Vietnam", it now again represents "a defiant, fingers-planted-firmly-within-ears disregard of any and all political unrest."
Yacht rock-inspired musicEdit
Elements of yacht rock have been adopted by new acts such as Vampire Weekend, Foxygen, and Carly Rae Jepsen. The Vaporwave genre of electronic music, which began in the 2010s, appropriated the "nautical iconography" of yacht rock.
The band Sugar Ray's 2019 album Little Yachty is a conscious homage to yacht rock; it includes a cover of the 1979 Rupert Holmes song "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)", which lead singer Mark McGrath has called "the torch bearer of all things yacht rock".
List of artistsEdit
- 10cc 
- Air Supply
- Stephen Bishop
- Eric Carmen
- Christopher Cross
- Ned Doheny
- The Doobie Brothers
- Robbie Dupree
- England Dan & John Ford Coley  
- Eagles ±
- Donald Fagen ±
- Fleetwood Mac ±
- Jay Graydon
- Hall & Oates ±
- Don Henley ±
- Amy Holland
- Rupert Holmes
- Freddie Hubbard
- Al Jarreau
- Nicolette Larson
- Little River Band
- Kenny Loggins
- Michael McDonald
- Pablo Cruise
- Robert Palmer
- Carole Bayer Sager
- Seals & Crofts
- Sanford Townsend Band
- Boz Scaggs
- Loggins & Messina 
- John Sebastian
- Steely Dan ±
- Gino Vannelli
- Steve Winwood ±
- ± Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee (all together or as part of the band)
- Hinkes-Jones, Llewellyn (15 July 2010). "Downtempo Pop: When Good Music Gets a Bad Name". The Atlantic.
- Orlofsky, Steven (2019-06-15). "In defense of yacht rock". theweek.com. Retrieved 2019-06-16.
- Cross, Christopher (February 22, 2014). "Hall & Oates Are Genuine Rock Stars in My Book". The Huffington Post.
- That '70s Week: Yacht Rock. NPR World Cafe, March 15, 2017.
- Bray, Elisa (June 5, 2014). "From Haim to Chromeo: The new wave of Yacht-rockers". Independent.
- "AllMusic Loves Yacht Rock". AllMusic. June 25, 2014.
- Berlind, William (2006-08-27). "Yacht Rock Docks in New York". The New York Observer. Archived from the original on 2011-05-18. Retrieved 2008-07-29.
- Kamp, Jon (October 11, 2015). "Can You Sail to It? Then It Must Be 'Yacht Rock'". The Wall Street Journal.
- Crumsho, Michael (2006-01-09). "Finally, a name for that music: "Yacht Rock"". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2008-07-29.
- Toal, Drew (June 26, 2015). "Sail Away: The Oral History of 'Yacht Rock'". Rolling Stone.
- Ryznar's webs series "followed fictionalized versions of the stars" and "gently poked fun at the crooners", according to Orlofsky.
- "AllMusic Loves Yacht Rock". AllMusic. June 25, 2014.
- Puckrik, Katie (2019-06-11). "I can go for that: five essential yacht rock classics". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-06-16.
- Lecaro, Lina (November 19, 2016). "This Monthly Club Is a Non-Ironic Celebration of Rock's Softer Side". LA Weekly.
- Seale, Jack (2019-06-14). "I Can Go for That: The Smooth World of Yacht Rock review – lushly comforting". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-06-16.
- Nyacht Rock. Beyond Yacht Rock, March 18, 2016.
- NeahkahnieGold (September 11, 2018). "What Even Is Yacht Rock Anyway?". Discogs blog.
- Matos, Michaelangelo (2005-12-07). "Talk Talk: J.D. Ryznar". Seattle Weekly. Archived from the original on 2006-04-14. Retrieved 2006-10-09.
- Spence D.; Brian Linder (2006-05-30). "Top 10 Yacht Rock Songs Of All Time". IGN. Retrieved 2006-10-09.
- O'Sullivan, Dan (September 4, 2012). ""California Über Alles": The Empire Yachts Back". Jacobin.
- Bickerdike, Jennifer Otter (2016-04-20). "Cruise control: how yacht rock sailed back into fashion". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-06-16.
- "BBC Four - I Can Go For That: The Smooth World of Yacht Rock". BBC. Retrieved 2019-06-16.
- "How Yacht Rock Ended Up on Sirius XM". Wall Street Journal Speakeasy blog. October 12, 2015.
- Murdock, Deroy. "Yacht Rock Revue Sails Into Gramercy Park". Townhall. Retrieved 2018-10-10.
- "The accidental success of Yacht Rock Revue - Atlanta Magazine". Atlanta Magazine. 2015-08-20. Retrieved 2018-10-10.
- Baltin, Steve (July 23, 2019). "Sugar Ray Frontman Mark McGrath's Guide To Yacht Rock". Forbes.
- "Top 100 Songs of Yacht Rock". Williamsonsource.com.
- Yacht Rock - Various Artists|AllMusic
- Aarons, Wendy (October 10, 2016). "The Perfect Yacht Rock Song for Every Occasion". McSweeney's.
- Rock, Rob Hughes2014-08-22T10:00:00 233Z Classic. "Hello Sailor: The Hipsterisation of Yacht Rock". Classic Rock Magazine. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
- Criblez, David J. (July 15, 2015). "'Yacht rock,' '70s and '80s soft rock, coming to NYCB Theatre at Westbury". Newsday.
- Top 10 Yacht Rock Songs Of All Time-IGN
- Yacht Rock by Various artists on Amazon Music
- Our Favorite Yacht Rock. Beyond Yacht Rock, January 15, 2017.
- "17 of the greatest yacht rock songs of all time". smoothradio.com.
- Tonkin, Andrew. (July 12, 2018). 8-Trackin’ (Yacht Rockin’ Pt. 1): Boating Party (Pablo Cruise & Sea Level, 1977). .
- "Book Takes You on the Smooth Sailin' Seas of Yacht Rock". houstonpress.com.
- Top 10 Yacht Rock Songs Of All Time-IGN-Page 2
- Malcolm, Timothy (2016-10-17). "When Was Peak Yacht?" YachtRock.com.
- Yacht or Nyacht – list of bonafide yacht rock songs as evaluated by the creators of Yacht Rock. Songs rated 50 and above are Yacht Rock, songs rated 49.99 and below are nyacht.