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What the Hell is Yacht Rock?

Smooth never goes out of style.

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Back in the late 70s, there was a smooth and sultry sound pouring out of Southern California. Artists like Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald were all over the airways, and it seemed like every other week, there was a new hit. Like all gilded eras, it wasn't sustainable, and within a decade, Hall and Oates, Toto, and the rest's popularity dried up. Their time in the spotlight was over.

Flash forward to 2005: JD Ryznar, a Michiganite with Hollywood aspirations moved to L.A., and made friends with a number of like-minded music fans, including "Hollywood" Steve Huey, Hunter Stair, and David Lyons. Bonding over their love of retro soft rock, the group eventually created a show/web series called Yacht Rock, inadvertently coining the term that would define a generation captain's hat-wearing musicians. The show poked fun at all the major stars from that late 70s era, while simultaneously educating its viewers on the finer points of the genre. Here's a clip:

Following the show's success, Ryznar and his friends have "kept the fire alive" with their podcast Beyond Yacht Rock, and continue to be the leading voices of the yacht rock movement. At some point along the way, other disc jockeys got the memo and throwback stations started cropping up all over the place. Whether it's playing on the Yacht Rock Show on 89.1 FM (in NYC), or Sirius XM's Yacht Rock station, this music clearly still resonates with people.

While a lot of this music can be found on various oldies stations around the country, it wasn't until Yacht Rock (the series) came out that the genre's parameters were codified. In fact, the show actually has a scale called Yachtski, in which they determine how well a song fits the genre. Apparently, according to the chart, "What a Fool Believes" by The Doobie Brothers is the purest iteration of yacht rock ever released. Give it a listen. Can you handle the smoothness?

Following the success of these programs, and the slow but steady growth of yacht rock's fanbase, bands are popping up all over the place, trying to capitalize on this retro music trend. Cover artists like Yacht Rock Revue are so big now, that they play at relatively large venues. Yacht Rock Revue is headlining the Playstation Theater in a few weeks, and is probably the most solid evidence that this musical movement is more than just a fad. Still, they're only playing covers, coasting on old standards.

There are other bands, like Foxygen who are playing tunes that are so heavily influenced by that 70s sound, that it's made folks wonder if we're in the middle of a yacht rock revival. The music ushers in that familiar feeling of sipping cool rum drinks in the middle of the summer, and not needing to take life so seriously. It serves as proof of the cyclical nature of most music trends and how the good stuff always seems to stick around.

While Foxygen is an indie juggernaut, the genre of yacht rock hasn't been relegated to one-off pop singles by major artists. There are plenty of new bands popping up that are solely focused on capturing that bright, synth-y sound. One example is Bad Business, a new group out of New York that's trying redefine the yacht rock game. They aren't a tribute band. They're actively trying to add to the repertoire, and, in their own words, are at "the vanguard of modern yacht rock, pioneering the lost art of smooth music."

With an eclectic fanbase and plenty of emerging artists, this niche–and sort of goofy–genre of music is beginning to look like a bit like a trend. All of a sudden, retro is cool, down is up, and I've started wearing unbuttoned Hawaiian T-shirts everywhere. Sure, yacht rock sort of sounds like the music your parents were listening to back when they were still single, and that may seem lame, but according to reports, millennials have way less sex than Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. If that isn't a good enough reason to start basking in the dulcet tones of Steely Dan and Christopher Cross, I don't know what is.

If you get caught between the moon and New York City....


Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found on PopDust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. Website: https://matthewdclibanoff.journoportfolio.com/ Twitter: @mattclibanoff


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