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 “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins. 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 of Yacht Rock popularity. However songs from early 70’s (Known as the California Sound) are also included in the umbrella of Yacht Rock genre. Although the Beach Boys might be considered a part of this genre, most of their hits were outside of the Yacht Rock time period and they are not considered a core group within Yacht Rock.

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, America, Chicago, Doobie Brothers, Eagles, Hall and Oates, Fleetwood Mac, 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 19—Steely Dan
  • What a Fool Believes—Doobie Brothers
  • Kiss on my List—Hall and Oates
  • Rosanna—Toto
  • This is It—Kenny Loggins

 

  • Biggest Part of Me—Ambrosia
  • I Keep Forgettin’—Michael McDonald
  • Key Largo—Bertie Higgins
  • Magic—Olivia Newton-John
  • Dance With Me—Orleans

 

  • Whatcha Gonna Do—Pablo Cruise
  • Baby Come Back—Player
  • Lotta Love—Nicolette Larson
  • Reminiscing—Little River Band
  • Human Nature—Michael Jackson

 

  • Call on Me—Chicago
  • Don’t Stop—Fleetwood Mac
  • True—Spandau Ballet
  • Thunder Island—Jay Ferguson
  • Moonlight Feels Right—Starbuck
  • Rock the Boat—Hues Corporation

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 how long will it be before the Doobie Brothers get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

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.

Another 70’s song that hurts my ears is the insipid “Muskrat Love” by Captain and Tennille (a horrid song in my humble opinion).

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
  • One of These Nights—Eagles
  • Ventura Highway—America
  • Lowdown—Boz Scaggs
  • So Into You—Atlanta Rhythm Section

 

  • Superstar—Carpenters
  • Couldn’t Get It Right—Climax Blues Band
  • Go Your Own Way—Fleetwood Mac
  • 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
  • The Logical Song–Supertramp
  • Make It With You–Bread
  • 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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Music, Retro Rock

Is Rock Music Dead?

The Who, “Long Live Rock” Single Record Cover.

Rock is dead, they say, Long live rock. Long live rock, I need it every night. Long live rock, come on and join the line. Long live rock, be it dead or alive.

-Pete Townshend, “Long Live Rock”

The notion that “Rock is dead” has been around for a long time. In fact, Pete Townshend wrote the song “Long Live Rock” 47 years ago as a rebuttal to those in the early 70’s who were proclaiming that rock music was dead.

The Who wasn’t the only artist to speak about the subject of rock being dead. Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” proclaims, “Just take those old records off the shelf, I’ll sit and listen to them by myself, today’s music ain’t got the same soul, I like that old time Rock and Roll.”

The next year Neil Young’s “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” had the following lyrics: “Rock and Roll is here to stay, it’s better to burn out than to fade away, Rock and Roll can never die, there’s more to the picture than meets the eye.”

During the 80’s, Huey Lewis and the News song “The Heart of Rock and Roll” states “They say the heart of Rock and Roll is still beating and from what I’ve seen I believe ‘em, now the old boy may be barely breathing but the heart of Rock and Roll is still beating.”

If you have been reading the New York Times, Billboard, Rolling Stone or the Los Angeles Times recently, you may have seen their headlines and concluded that rock music is dead and buried for good. Is this actually true?

Just last week while I was on vacation in Maine, I was reading Digital Music News and that publication posed the question, “So is Rock n’ Roll dead, dying, or something in-between?” So what is the state of Rock music?

According to Spotify, Hip Hop is the number one music genre followed by Pop, Latino and EDM. Nielsen Music reports that R&B/Hip Hop was the biggest genre of music during 2017 with “24.5% of all music consumed.” Billboard states that 7 of the top 10 selling albums last year were in the R&B/Hip Hop category. Rock music sales continue to spiral downward compared to the other top music genres here in 2018.

So you may ask yourself: If rock is dead or on life support, what about U2 selling out concert venues all across America this summer? Other classic Rock acts such as Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Journey, and Dave Matthews Band are also touring this summer and filling outdoor concert stadiums on a regular basis. Is Rock really dead?

I have a theory about all of the doomsday writers that place Rock music as either dead or on its last leg and never to return as a force in the music industry ever again: For the most part, writers in 2018 say “Rock music is dead” because their definition of the genre is actually based on a “Classic Rock” model.

In these writers’ eyes, the traditional classic rock group consists of four white males, two members playing guitars, one playing the bass and the final member being a drummer. Since there are few of these types of groups either forming and/or playing the “classic Rock” sound during this decade, these writers categorically proclaim that “Rock is dead” as their definition of Rock music does not exist in today’s music scene.

So I ask again: Is Rock music actually dead? When I view rock music in 2018, I see a different picture. Rock music today is broad, varied and has a wide range of different styles within the genre. Besides the traditional classic Rock sound, there are many other forms of Rock being played regularly here in America:

Blues rock, country rock, dance rock, electronic rock, folk rock, industrial rock, jazz fusion, heavy metal, alternative rock, modern rock, pop rock, power pop, rap rock, reggae rock, art rock, punk rock, new wave, progressive rock, indie rock, glam rock, psychedelic rock, grunge, etc.

The make up of Rock group members is also much different now than the old “classic Rock” model of the 60’s and 70’s. Instead of four white men model, I now see diversity with Rock bands. Women are now leaders of many Rock bands and minorities have also become important leaders with Rock groups that have been formed this century. Rock music is not dead, it is just different than the classic Rock model from the 60’s and 70’s.

Today’s Rock music is diverse and to get a feel for the most popular artists and bands trending, here are the number one songs so far during 2018 from the Billboard Triple A (Adult Album Alternative) Rock radio stations chart:

“No Roots” Alice Merton, “Pain” The War On Drugs, “Live in the Moment” Portugal. The Man, “You Worry Me” Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, “Severed” The Decemberists, “Lottery” Jade Bird, “Bad Bad News” Leon Bridges and “Hunger” Florence and the Machine.

The Spectrum, channel 28 on SiriusXM, is a station that plays both classic Rock and today’s current Rock and is classified as a Triple A station. In addition to songs I listed above from the Billboard Triple A chart, The Spectrum is currently playing the following in their hot rotation:

“Such a Simple Thing” Ray LaMontagne, “Life To Fix” The Record Company, “Good Kisser” Lake Street Dive, “Lash Out” Alice Merton, “Bad Luck” Neko Case, “Beyond” Leon Bridges, “Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin)” Dave Matthews Band, “Saturday Sun” Vance Joy, “Colors” Beck, “High Horse” Kacey Musgraves, “Four Out of Five” Arctic Monkeys, “Wait By the River” Lord Huron and “Vertigo” U2 (Live from the Apollo).

Those who say Rock is dead obviously haven’t listened to the music played on Triple A Rock stations or The Spectrum SiriusXM radio. With the wide range of Rock being played on radio stations across America this summer, I am going to list my top 4 Rock songs for the summer of 2018:

4. “Hunger” – Florence + the Machine

Currently the number 1 song on the Billboard Triple A Rock chart, here is a statement about the song’s lyrics from front woman Florence Welch published by Pitchfork.com: “This song is about the ways we look for love in things that are perhaps not love, and how attempts to feel less alone can sometimes isolate us more. I guess I made myself more vulnerable in this song to encourage connection, because perhaps a lot more of us feel this way than we are able to admit. Sometimes when you can’t say it, you can sing it.”

3. “No Roots” – Alice Merton

A former 2018 number one song on the Billboard Triple A Rock Chart, Merton is a new star on the rise. She recently explained to Rolling Stone how the lyrics to “No Roots” came to be: “The actual idea behind the song, for me, was very depressing,” says Merton, who now splits her time between Germany and England. “I was realizing that I didn’t have a home. I didn’t really feel at home in one place.” “I wanted the song to be very freeing and have this cool and fun rhythm,” she explains. “Solo, it’s very melancholic and emotional, but when I play it with my band it’s uplifting. It shows the two sides of having no roots.”

2. “Good Kisser” – Lake Street Dive

Lead singer Rachel Price conveys multiple emotions on this breakup song. On one hand she is forlorn and melancholic while at the same time being facetious with a tongue-in-cheek delivery as she tells her former lover, “If you’re gonna them everything, tell ‘em I’m a good kisser.” Bass player Bridget Kearney does an outstanding job and Price’s vocal range is excellent on the best breakup song during the summer of 2018.

1. “High Horse” – Kacey Musgraves

The country singer-songwriter and two-time Grammy Award winner has shifted gears on her newest album “Golden Hour” and recorded a pop-rock tune that actually has a Bee Gees type disco beat. The character in the “High Horse” lyrics is arrogant and has an exaggerated sense of their own importance. Musgraves uses imagery of cowboys and horses and declares in the bridge of the song, “Darling, you take the high horse and I’ll take the high road,

If you’re too good for us, you’ll be good riding solo.” As with her many other astutely written songs, the lyrics are sharp-witted and thoughtful on this latest Musgraves tune.

So there you have my current four favorite Rock songs for the summer of 2018. Obviously, your favorite Rock songs may be completely different from my tunes. I would love to read your thoughts in the comment section of my blog.

So I ask the question one last time: Is Rock music dead? My answer: Absolutely not!

Rock music has continuously changed since the genre was started in the 50’s. Change happened in 1964 during Beatlemania and the British Invasion. During the 70’s, Classic Rock was king and then gradually faded as other forms of Rock became prominent. Every decade brings constant changes with Rock music.

Will Rock music ever be the top selling genre of music again? Who knows what type of music will be popular five years from now. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ famous quote, “The only thing that is constant is change” applies to the subject of this blog: Everything changes and so will Rock music. Rock music isn’t dead, it is alive and well. Rock on!

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Music, Retro Rock

1978: The Greatest Year In Music?

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1978 albums I bought at Speakertree Record Shop in Lynchburg, VA.

When I first saw the title of an NPR article, “40 Years Later: Was 1978 The Greatest Year In Music?” I immediately thought that the writers of this commentary about music from 1978 were absolutely absurd. To even consider the possibility that 1978 was among the greatest years in modern music history sounded utterly ridiculous to this fellow.

As a student at James Madison University and having lived through the 1978 music scene, disco ruled as the most popular genre of music that year. Disco songs spent 30 out of the 52 weeks at the number 1 position of the Billboard Hot 100 during that year. Bees Gees, Andy Gibb, Bee Gees, Donna Summer (and did I mention Bee Gees?) all dominated popular music in America. Even the Rolling Stones hit number 1 with a disco record “Miss You” during 1978 for crying out loud!

For many music fans, the disco era was a low point in the recording industry and it was amazing that NPR (or anyone else) considered 1978 to be the greatest year in music. So I started thinking: Let me investigate the music released in 1978. Maybe I was missing something?

So I submit to you that there were actually some great albums and singles released during 1978. As the NPR article stated, “Kate Bush, The Cars, Devo, Dire Straits, The B-52’s, The Police, Buzzcocks and Van Halen released their debut albums” 40 years ago. Disco may have been king in 1978 but new rock artists emerged during this year.

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Speakertree Record Shop in Lynchburg, VA

So I have come up with a listing of worthy top albums and singles from 1978. There are no ranking with my lists and music is listed in a random order. Many of the singles I am listing were not big Top 40 hits but are significant songs by these artists (and much better than the all of the disco songs that were hits during 1978).

“This Year’s Model” album by Elvis Costello and the Attractions: One of the most critically acclaimed albums from 1978 features the single “Pump it Up” which has one of the best rhythm sections from the 70’s and helped to bring Costello into the forefront of the new wave genre of music.

“More Songs About Building and Foods” album by Talking Heads: Released during the fall of 1978, the band’s cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” became the first Top 30 hit for the group. Also in early 1978, a song from the Talking Heads ‘77 debut album entitled “Psycho Killer” was released as a single. This signature debut hit has one of the best bass lines in rock history.

“Outlandos d’Amour” album by The Police: The debut album by the rock trio mixes reggae, punk and rock that many considered “new wave” and has the memorable single “Roxanne.” Also on the album are “Can’t Stand Losing You” and “So Lonely” that helped to define the music output by the English band.

“Easter” album by Patti Smith Group: One of the leaders of the punk rock movement, the “Easter” album became her most successful with religious imagery from the Christian faith. Smith’s song “Because the Night”, that was co-written by Bruce Springsteen, was the biggest hit single during her career.

“Darkness on the Edge of Town” album by Bruce Springsteen: Since I mentioned Springsteen above, this is the appropriate place to mention that the 1978 album was the follow up to the landmark signature album “Born To Run” from 1975. The Boss delivers three of his best songs ever on this album: “The Promised Land,” “Badlands” and “Prove It All Night.”

“The Last Waltz” album by The Band: Although The Band’s last concert was on Thanksgiving Day 1976, the soundtrack for “The Last Waltz” was not released until 1978. Joining The Band for this historic concert were Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, The Staple Singers and a few other artists. In my humble opinion, the best overall rock album released during 1978.

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Stardust by Wille Nelson, a record I purchased at Speakertree Record Shop in Lynchburg, VA

 “Stardust” album by Willie Nelson: The “Outlaw Country” music artist switched gears in 1978 and recorded an album of early 20th century American pop standards by famous composers such as Irving Berlin and George Gershwin. Nelson had lots of music variety with different genres on the album: jazz, pop, folk and country. Interpretations of “Georgia on My Mind”, “Blue Skies” and “Stardust” provided Nelson with new respect in the eyes of fans across multiple categories of music.

In the singles only category, there are 4 songs I want to highlight from 1978 that are memorable but were not hits in America: “I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones, “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush, “Rock Lobster” by The B-52’s and “Surrender” by Cheap Trick. All four of those songs are more substantial than just about all of the top 10 disco hits that charted on the Billboard Hot 100 during 1978.

Although I do not agree with NPR and their hypothesis that 1978 was the greatest year for music, I also can’t totally dismiss the entire year as musically wasted. I do submit that 1978 had many albums and individual single songs that merit consideration as some of the best music to be released during the late 70’s. 1978 is not the greatest year in music history but it does have some excellent tunes that stand the test of time.

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Retro Rock

Retro Rock

Friday night provided an interesting event for me as I attended a retro rock concert featuring Styx, Foreigner and Don Felder.  It was a surreal happening as the mostly baby boomer crowd seemed to enjoy all aspects of this retrograde concert.  I would guess that 50 would be the medium age of those who attended this blast from the past.

First up for the night was Don Felder and his band.  Felder was a member of the Eagles, started his set with “Already Gone” and then played other Eagles’ classics such as “One of These Nights”, “Those Shoes” and “Witchy Woman.”  For his last song, Felder invited Styx member Tommy Shaw to sing and play guitar for “Hotel California.”  Shaw and Felder’s guitar playing for the instrumental ending of “Hotel California” was superb.  After the completion of Felder’s set, I wondered why the Eagles and Felder couldn’t patch up their differences and play as a unified band once again?  I guess I can always dream.

Next up was Styx.  Of the three groups, Styx put on the best show and provided good entertainment along with sounding tight with their music and vocals. My favorite song of the night was “Renegade.”  Tommy Shaw and James Young are the only 2 original members of Styx still with the band but the other newer members compliment Shaw and Young in a positive way.  The one thing that is missing from Styx is original member Dennis De Young.  Apparently Shaw and De Young had a “falling out” and De Young will not have anything to do with Styx. It is a shame because Styx did not play any of their biggest hits  (“Best of Times”, “Babe” or Mr. Roboto”) during the concert because they are Dennis De Young’s songs.  It sure would be nice if Shaw and De Young could “bury the hatchet” and unite together again in Styx.  I guess I can always dream.

Last to hit the stage was Foreigner.  I am going to say right up front that this band misses Lou Gramm, the former lead vocalist for Foreigner.  The current lead vocalist has a nice voice but is no Lou Gramm.  Mick Jones is the only original member still with the band and he only played on the last four songs at the end of their set.  It felt like I was watching a Foreigner “tribute” band.  The highlights of their set included “Juke Box Hero”, the saxophone playing in “Urgent” and “I Want To Know What Love Is”, which featured a local choir to sing the chorus.  I sure do wish that Gramm and Jones could get back together for a Foreigner reunion tour.  I guess I can always dream.

My final observations on the crowd:   At a 1980 Styx concert, the smell of pot would have been in the air.  In 2014, the crowd gets high drinking 9 dollar cans of beer and all smoking is banned.

At a 1980 Foreigner concert, girls sat on their boyfriend’s shoulders dancing to the music.  In 2014,  drunk women dance by themselves, with horrible form, oblivious to anyone around, how bad they look……..and they just keep on dancing.

At a Don Felder/Eagles concert in 1980, people would use bic lighters to try and entice an encore performance.  In 2014, people  use their smart phone light to encourage an encore.

Old rockers don’t die, just just fade away.

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