Retro Rock

This Is It: Yacht Rock

Camden Harbor, Maine (June 2018)

“This is it, make no mistake where you are, this is it, the waiting is over”: These lyrics are to the chorus of the song “This Is It” by Kenny Loggins and is one of the biggest Yacht Rock songs of all time. Make no mistake, the waiting is over: You are now reading a blog message about Yacht Rock.

The term Yacht Rock might seem innocuous but for much of the music world, just the mention of this musical genre sometimes brings ridicule and mockery to those willing to admit they actually like Yacht Rock.

The most famous line in the Coasters song “Charlie Brown” is, “Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me.” That statement could also be applied about Yacht Rock: Why’s everybody always pickin’ on the genre of music known as Yacht Rock? Publicly frowned upon and scorned by many, Yacht rock is like Rodney Dangerfield: It gets no respect.

So what is Yacht Rock? This genre of music is loosely defined as “soft rock” that incorporates music influenced by smooth jazz, R&B, soul, pop and funk and regularly features instruments such as saxophones, acoustic guitars and electric pianos.

Most songs range from slow to mid tempos but some tunes have fast tempos and are not “soft rock” at all. Two examples of this type of Yacht Rock song: “Hold the Line” from Toto and “Takin’ It To The Streets” by the Doobie Brothers. Most all Yacht Rock songs feature high quality studio productions, clean vocals and catchy melodies.

The years from 1975 through 1985 are considered the main era for Yacht Rock popularity.

Although many of the songs in the Yacht Rock category have to do with sailing, yachts, ships, bodies of water or other things associated with nautical activities, the subject matters of Yacht Rock are wide open and may touch on a variety of topics with their lyrics.

The term Yacht Rock was created by J.D. Ryznar as he made an online ten-part video series in 2005 called “Yacht Rock.” In this series, yacht owners off the coast of California set sail listening to smooth soft rock music with artists like Michael McDonald, Pablo Cruise, Kenny Loggins, Steely Dan, Toto and Christopher Cross.

During the past 3 years, Yacht Rock radio has been a staple during the summer months on SiriusXM. In addition to the artists I mentioned above, here are some of the other core artists associated with Yacht Rock: Ambrosia, Doobie Brothers, Little River Band, Gerry Rafferty, Al Stewart, Boz Scaggs and 10cc.

Matt Colier from the online music guide AllMusic says there are three defining rules of Yacht Rock:

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

You may asking: What are some of the most popular songs in the Yacht Rock genre?

The absolutely number 1 and quintessential greatest Yacht Rock song ever made is “Sailing” by Christopher Cross.

Some of the other top Yacht Rock songs include:

  • Hey Nineteen—Steely Dan
  • What a Fool Believes—Doobie Brothers
  • Kiss on my List—Hall and Oates
  • Rosanna—Toto
  • This is It—Kenny Loggins
  • Deacon Blues–Steely Dan
  • Mornin’–Al Jarreau
  • Biggest Part of Me—Ambrosia
  • I Keep Forgettin’—Michael McDonald
  • Key Largo—Bertie Higgins
  • Magic—Olivia Newton-John
  • Dance With Me—Orleans
  • Is It You–Lee Ritenour
  • Baker Street–Gerry Rafferty

  • Whatcha Gonna Do—Pablo Cruise
  • Baby Come Back—Player
  • Lotta Love—Nicolette Larson
  • Reminiscing—Little River Band
  • Human Nature—Michael Jackson
  • What You Won’t Do For Love–Bobby Caldwell
  • Sweet Freedom–Michael McDonald
  • Call on Me—Chicago
  • You Make Loving Fun–Fleetwood Mac
  • Running With the Night–Lionel Richie
  • Thunder Island—Jay Ferguson
  • Year of the Cat–Al Stewart
  • FM–Steely Dan
  • Cool Night–Paul Davis

Now that you know what Yacht Rock is all about, I will go back to my original opening thoughts on this genre of music: Why does Yacht Rock have a bad reputation? Are people really ashamed to admit that they enjoy Yacht Rock?

I am confident that the lack of respect for Yacht Rock is one of the main reasons that the band Chicago did not actually get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until 2016. The same can be said for Hall and Oates not becoming a member until 2015 and the Doobie Brothers waiting 25 years before being inducted in the Rock Hall class of 2020.

A good example of prejudice against Yacht Rock songs is “Africa” by Toto. Even though the band won a Grammy for the song in 1983 and it has become the Internet’s most favorite song (with 250 million views on YouTube) during this decade, music gurus still continue to pan one of the most ironic Yacht Rock songs of all time.

The same can be said for Yacht Rock songs from Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers and Chicago.   According to those who dislike Yacht Rock, Steely Dan songs “Reelin’ in the Years” and “Do It Again” are far superior to “Peg”, “Hey Nineteen” or “Deacon Blues?” Is that right?

So why do music critics despise Yacht Rock anyway? Why do these individuals hate Yacht Rock music and continually down play its place in rock music history?

I personally think these so-called rock critics that loathe Yacht Rock are full of bologna. The musicianship on most Yacht Rock songs are excellent and have wonderful sound production associated with each record. How these “critics” do not respect the Yacht Rock genre is beyond me.

To be fair, there are some songs in the Yacht Rock genre that are just not very good. The most glaring example of this is Rupert Holmes’ tune, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” which is ranked as one of the worst songs of 70’s by Rolling Stone magazine.

While there are some fairly wretched Yacht Rock songs, most of the music played in that genre has quality and is actually quite good. In fact, some songs of Yacht Rock are excellent. Let me share with you 20 of my favorite Yacht Rock songs without any ranking and in a totally random order.

As you will notice with my listing, I have 20 separate artists: That means that I believe there are 20 different musical groups and performers that have made superb Yacht Rock music over the years.

  • Saturday in the Park–Chicago
  • Ride Captain Ride—Blues Image
  • Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)—Looking Glass
  • Right Down the Line—Gerry Rafferty
  • Summer Breeze—Seals and Croft
  • Peg—Steely Dan
  • I Can’t Tell You Why–Eagles
  • September–Earth Wind & Fire
  • Lowdown—Boz Scaggs
  • So Into You—Atlanta Rhythm Section
  • Love is the Answer–England Dan & John Ford Coley
  • Couldn’t Get It Right—Climax Blues Band
  • Yah Mo Be There–James Ingram & Michael McDonald
  • Steppin’ Out—Joe Jackson
  • Whenever I Call You Friend—Kenny Loggins & Stevie Nicks
  • Ride Like the Wind—Christopher Cross
  • South City Midnight Lady—Doobie Brothers
  • Route 101–Herb Alpert
  • Cool Change–Little River Band
  • Time Passages—Al Stewart

If you were compiling your 20 favorite Yacht rock songs, your listing would be different than mine. I maintain that much of the music that is in the Yacht Rock category is quality material and musically just as good as those who perform other sub categories in rock music. Maybe Yacht Rock musicians are even better musically than other rock genres of music?

Obviously I will never be able to change what some people think about Yacht Rock. However, I do believe that if anyone reads my blog message with an open mind, they would come to view the Yacht Rock genre of music in a different light. Those folks might actually admit that they enjoy certain Yacht Rock songs?

What are your thoughts about Yacht Rock? I would love to read your comments: the good, the bad or the ugly on your opinion of Yacht Rock and its place in modern music history. Please let your voice be heard on the subject of Yacht Rock. Rock on!

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23 thoughts on “This Is It: Yacht Rock

  1. Kaye Ferrell says:

    Never heard of Yacht Rock, but if you have one or have access to one – Rock on, I say (and so does DW!)…

  2. Vicky Zimmerman says:

    I would not think of some of these songs being yacht rock but when I think about just because of the time they came out maybe Fleetwood Mac surprises me to be in the mix and Eagles is a little surprise i am not afraid to admit………I am a yacht rock groupie from this list.

  3. David Hardie says:

    Discovered Yacht Rock two years ago by randomly surfing Sirius Radio. The top 20 are excellent selections. Honorable mention are Jojo by Boz Scaggs but he is represented by Lowdown, Cool Breeze Little Feet,
    And one of Lobo’s songs. Yacht Rock- the best thing to happen since you named your boat after your ex wife.

  4. Scott DeLong says:

    Good post! I never heard of Yacht Rock, but that is actually a good name for the genre. There are some exceptionally great songs on this list with my favorites being: Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl), Go Your Own Way, Saturday in the Park, & Couldn’t Get it Right. I can’t fathom holding anything against Toto’s Africa, as you mentioned some do. Rock on, Dave!

  5. David Randall Hardie says:

    Favorite Yacht Rock Songs
    Saturday In the Park
    Moonlight Feels Right
    Dancing In The Moonlight
    Ventura Highway plus many others

  6. Laurie Russell says:

    Love Yacht Rock and many of the artists and songs you mentioned, however until Sirius radio I was unfamiliar with this genre of music but not unfamiliar with the music. Great blog. Thoroughly enjoyed it!

  7. Dave, here are my comments:

    1. I wouldn’t consider myself a BIG fan of “Yacht Rock”, but I certainly enjoy certain songs within its canon.

    2. Would you consider CSN (or at least their 80s material) to be Yacht Rock?

    3. Have you heard weezer’s covers of Toto songs ‘Rosanna’ and ‘Africa’? One of my favorite bands from when I was a teenager did a pretty good job with them IMO.

  8. Steve: I absolutely think “Wasted on the Way” and “Southern Cross” from Crosby Stills and Nash are in the Yacht Rock genre.

    Just this past Sunday I actually heard Weezer’s cover of “Africa” on a local Triple A rock station on my way to Kroger. A solid cover version.

  9. P.A. Fariss says:

    I listen to Yacht Rock all the time. Its my go to station when i want to relax & listen to the music I grew up with. Brings back memories from back in the day! I think whatever music you grew up listening to will always hold a special place in your heart. 💚💜💛

  10. Mark Skelton says:

    Thanks Dave, for covering Yacht Rock in your blog. It is one of my favorite genres. I have my favorites, as with any genre, however, I “enjoy” them all. Of the songs you listed, these are my favorites:
    Hey 19—Steely Dan
    Call on Me—Chicago
    Cool Change–Little River Band
    Saturday in the Park–Chicago
    Summer Breeze—Seals and Croft
    Peg—Steely Dan
    Ventura Highway—America
    Go Your Own Way—Fleetwood Mac

  11. Jordan says:

    Yacht rock does seem to be a scornful label but after reading your blog and recognizing a lot of songs that I’ll hum along with rather than change the station, I guess that makes me a yacht rocker. Just need to find a yacht.

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  13. Susan says:

    I absolutely LOVE Yacht Rock Radio on XM and can’t wait each year for it to return! It reminds me of happier times.

  14. Jamie Winterbotham says:

    I love Yacht Rock! I’m just shocked the Doobie Brothers haven’t made it into the Hall of Fame!!!!

  15. Jamie Winterbotham says:

    I’m still loving the Yacht Rock station. Had to chuckle the other day when I heard then say “the music you were really listening to in the 70’s when you were telling friends
    you were listening to Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin”

    • Jamie: Yesterday, I was traveling down I-81 listening to Yacht Rock radio and heard the promo that you quoted a couple of weeks ago as a comment: “the music you were really listening to in the 70’s when you were telling friends you were listening to Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin.” I laughed out loud at the Yacht Rock DJ and thought of you. It was a wonderful moment during a mundane trip on my way back to Roanoke.

  16. Steve says:

    Dave, as I noted on your most recent entry, I recently discovered “Easy 99.1” in Boston. It is very much a Yacht Rock station. I have worked it into my morning commute. Check out 99.1 out of Boston!

  17. So I’m a little old now but when I was growing up in the 1970s-early 1980s, these songs were just known as “music” haha. It’s what you heard on radio stations every day. These artists were incredibly popular and had huge top-40 hits. I also feel like the term Yacht Rock obliterates a large diversity of music styles. The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and Steely Dan, for example, had some pretty rockin’ music which I wouldn’t put in the same category as artists like Christopher Cross or Air Supply.

    By the time I graduated from HS in 1985, much of the “lite rock” music of the 1970s was definitely considered lame. However, plenty of my friends in college still listened to tapes of the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, as well as what had become known by then as classic rock, like Crosby Stills and Nash.

    Not every young person in the 1980s was a fan of hair metal or punk. Far from it!

    Many of these songs stand the test of time and I think we will come around to respect them like we now respect the jazz standards that my grandmother loved in her day.

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  19. Enjoyed your post today Dave. Always enjoy hearing everyone’s take on Yacht Rock. I present a weekly two hour show from the UK and our market has to tweak some of the hardcore Yacht Rock for the UK audience, but not too much. It’s great to be able to introduce my audience to new acts that they may not have heard of. I try to avoid the yacht /nyacht arguments if I can and create a show that has strong elements for the purists and some different angles for the newbies.

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