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The 20 greatest yacht rock songs ever, ranked

27 July 2022, 17:50

The greatest yacht rock songs ever

By Tom Eames

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We can picture it now: lounging on a swish boat as it bobs along the water, sipping cocktails and improving our tan. Oh, and it's the 1980s.

There's only one style of music that goes with this image: Yacht rock.

What is Yacht Rock?

Also known as the West Coast Sound or adult-oriented rock, it's a style of soft rock from between the late 1970s and early 1980s that featured elements of smooth soul, smooth jazz, R&B, funk, rock and disco.

  • The 40 greatest disco songs ever, ranked
  • The 10 greatest and smoothest ever sax solos, ranked

Although its name has been used in a negative way, to us it's an amazing genre that makes us feel like we're in an episode of Miami Vice wearing shoulder pads and massive sunglasses.

Here are the very best songs that could be placed in this genre:

Player - 'Baby Come Back'

black yacht rock artists

Player - Baby Come Back

Not the reggae classic of the same name, this 1977 track was Player's biggest hit.

After Player disbanded, singer Peter Beckett joined Australia's Little River Band, and he also wrote 'Twist of Fate' for Olivia Newton-John and 'After All This Time' for Kenny Rogers.

Steely Dan - 'FM'

black yacht rock artists

It's tough just choosing one Steely Dan song for this list, but we've gone for this banger.

Used as the theme tune for the 1978 movie of the same name, the song is jazz-rock track, though its lyrics took a disapproving look at the genre as a whole, which was in total contrast to the film's celebration of it. Still, sounds great guys!

Bobby Goldsboro - 'Summer (The First Time)'

black yacht rock artists

Bobby Goldsboro - Summer (The First Time)

A bit of a questionable subject matter, this ballad was about a 17-year-old boy’s first sexual experience with a 31-year-old woman at the beach.

But using a repeating piano riff, 12-string guitar, and an orchestral string arrangement, this song just screams yacht rock and all that is great about it.

Kenny Loggins - 'Heart to Heart'

black yacht rock artists

Kenny Loggins - Heart To Heart (Official Music Video)

If Michael McDonald is the king of yacht rock, then Kenny Loggins is his trusted advisor and heir to the throne.

This track was co-written with Michael, and also features him on backing vocals. The song is about how most relationships do not stand the test of time, yet some are able to do so.

Airplay - 'Nothing You Can Do About It'

black yacht rock artists

Nothin' You Can Do About It

You might not remember US band Airplay, but they did have their moment on the yacht.

Consisting of David Foster (who also co-wrote the Kenny Loggins song above), Jay Graydon and the brilliantly-named Tommy Funderburk, this tune was a cover of a Manhattan Transfer song, and was a minor hit in 1981.

Boz Scaggs - 'Lowdown'

black yacht rock artists

Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (Official Audio)

We've moved slightly into smooth jazz territory with this track, which is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

The song was co-written by David Paich, who would go on to form Toto along with the song's keyboardist David Paich, session bassist David Hungate, and drummer Jeff Porcaro.

Steve Winwood - 'Valerie'

black yacht rock artists

Steve Winwood - Valerie (Official Video)

This song is probably as far as you can get into pop rock without totally leaving the yacht rock dock.

Legendary singer-songwriter Winwood recorded this gong about a man reminiscing about a lost love he hopes to find again someday.

Eric Prydz later sampled it in 2004 for the house number one track ‘Call on Me’, and presented it to Winwood, who was so impressed he re-recorded the vocals to better fit the track.

Toto - 'Rosanna'

black yacht rock artists

Toto - Rosanna (Official HD Video)

We almost picked 'Africa' , but we reckon this tune just about pips it in the yacht rock game.

Written by David Paich, he has said that the song is based on numerous girls he had known.

As a joke, the band members initially played along with the common assumption that the song was based on actress Rosanna Arquette, who was dating Toto keyboard player Steve Porcaro at the time and coincidentally had the same name.

Chicago - 'Hard to Say I'm Sorry'

black yacht rock artists

Chicago - Hard To Say I'm Sorry (Official Music Video)

Chicago began moving away from their horn-driven soft rock sound with their early 1980s output, including this synthesizer-filled power ballad.

  • The 10 greatest Chicago songs, ranked

The album version segued into a more traditional Chicago upbeat track titled ‘Get Away’, but most radio stations at the time opted to fade out the song before it kicked in. Three members of Toto played on the track. Those guys are yacht rock kings!

Michael Jackson - 'Human Nature'

black yacht rock artists

Michael Jackson - Human Nature (Audio)

A few non-rock artists almost made this list ( George Michael 's 'Careless Whisper' and Spandau Ballet 's 'True' are almost examples, but not quite), yet a big chunk of Thriller heavily relied on the yacht rock sound.

Michael Jackson proved just how popular the genre could get with several songs on the album, but 'Human Nature' is the finest example.

The Doobie Brothers - 'What a Fool Believes'

black yacht rock artists

The Doobie Brothers - What A Fool Believes (Official Music Video)

Possibly THE ultimate yacht rock song on the rock end of the spectrum, and it's that man Michael McDonald.

Written by McDonald and Kenny Loggins, this was one of the few non-disco hits in America in the first eight months of 1979.

The song tells the story of a man who is reunited with an old love interest and attempts to rekindle a romantic relationship with her before discovering that one never really existed.

Michael Jackson once claimed he contributed at least one backing track to the original recording, but was not credited for having done so. This was later denied by the band.

Christopher Cross - 'Sailing'

black yacht rock artists

Christopher Cross - Sailing (Official Audio)

We're not putting this in here just because it's called 'Sailing', it's also one of the ultimate examples of the genre.

Christopher Cross reached number one in the US in 1980, and VH1 later named it the most "softsational soft rock" song of all time.

Don Henley - 'The Boys of Summer'

black yacht rock artists


Mike Campbell wrote the music to this track while working on Tom Petty’s Southern Accents album, but later gave it to Eagles singer Don Henley, who wrote the lyrics.

The song is about the passing of youth and entering middle age, and of a past relationship. It was covered twice in the early 2000s: as a trance track by DJ Sammy in 2002, and as a pop punk hit by The Ataris in 2003.

England Dan and John Cord Foley - 'I'd Really Love to See You Tonight'

black yacht rock artists

England Dan & John Ford Coley - I'd Really Love To See You Tonight.avi

A big hit for this duo in 1976, it showcases the very best of the sock rock/AOR/yacht rock sound that the 1970s could offer.

Dan Seals is the younger brother of Jim Seals of Seals and Crofts fame. Which leads to...

Seals & Crofts - 'Summer Breeze'

black yacht rock artists

Summer Breeze - Seals & Croft #1 Hit(1972)

Before The Isley Brothers recorded a slick cover, 'Summer Breeze' was an irresistible folk pop song by Seals & Crofts.

While mostly a folk song, its summer vibes and gorgeous melody make for a perfect yacht rock number.

Christopher Cross - 'Ride Like the Wind'

black yacht rock artists

Ride Like The Wind Promo Video 1980 Christopher Cross

If Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins are in charge of the yacht rock ship, then Christopher Cross has to be captain, right? Cabin boy? Something anyway.

The singer was arguably the biggest success story of the relatively short-lived yacht rock era, and this one still sounds incredible.

Eagles - 'I Can't Tell You Why'

black yacht rock artists

The eagles - I can't tell you why (AUDIO VINYL)

Many Eagles tunes could be classed as yacht rock, but we reckon their finest example comes from this track from their The Long Run album in 1979.

Don Henley described the song as "straight Al Green", and that Glenn Frey, an R&B fan, was responsible for the R&B feel of the song. Frey said to co-writer Timothy B Schmit: "You could sing like Smokey Robinson . Let’s not do a Richie Furay, Poco-sounding song. Let’s do an R&B song."

Gerry Rafferty - 'Baker Street'

black yacht rock artists

Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street (Official Video)

Gerry Rafferty probably didn't realise he was creating one of the greatest yacht rock songs of all time when he wrote this, but boy did he.

  • The Story of... 'Baker Street'

With the right blend of rock and pop and the use of the iconic saxophone solo, you can't not call this yacht rock at its finest.

Michael McDonald - 'Sweet Freedom'

black yacht rock artists

Michael McDonald - Sweet Freedom (1986)

If you wanted to name the king of yacht rock, you'd have to pick Michael McDonald . He could sing the phone book and it would sound silky smooth.

Possibly his greatest solo tune, it was used in the movie  Running Scared , and its music video featured actors Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines.

Hall & Oates - 'I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)'

black yacht rock artists

Daryl Hall & John Oates - I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) (Official Video)

This duo knew how to make catchy hit after catchy hit. This R&B-tinged pop tune was co-written with Sara Allen (also the influence for their song 'Sara Smile').

  • Hall and Oates' 10 best songs, ranked

John Oates has said that the song is actually about the music business. "That song is really about not being pushed around by big labels, managers, and agents and being told what to do, and being true to yourself creatively."

Not only was the song sampled in De La Soul's 'Say No Go' and Simply Red 's 'Home', but Michael Jackson also admitted that he lifted the bass line for 'Billie Jean'!

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February 25, 2024

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MUSIC MONDAY: “Yacht Soul” – What It Is, Who Made It, and Why It’s Everything You Love About Yacht Rock But Cooler (LISTEN)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson ( @lakinhutcherson )

As we sail away from summer into the (hopefully) cooler climes of autumn, a playlist filled with Yacht Soul might just be the perfect accompaniment to those post-Labor Day outdoor gatherings.

In case you’re thinking, “Sounds fun, but what exactly is ‘Yacht Soul’?,” it’s the supercool, sophisticated sibling of the “Yacht Rock” genre , a term coined fifteen years ago to describe 1970s and 1980s adult-oriented rock music infused with jazz and R&B recorded primarily in California by acts such as Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Toto, Kenny Loggins and Christopher Cross.

“Yacht Soul” heightens the soul, R&B and jazz elements of the music while dropping a dollop of funk in the mix.

The following quotes from  perhaps illuminate the distinctions best:

… Donald Cleveland says that we have Yacht Soul question entirely backwards. “ To be honest, Yacht Rock should have been called Yacht Soul from the start. Anybody with ears knows that. The only thing ‘rock’ about Yacht is the label that was on the albums as originally released, so they could be filed separately from the ‘Soul’ albums. It was just easier for the White people listening to this music with obvious soulful stylings to just keep the White ‘rock’ labeling going, even if the musicians themselves were influenced by and working from a framework of Black Soul .” Mama’s Gun lead singer Andy Platts agrees. “ Really if we’re honest, you don’t get ‘Yacht Rock’ without the evolution of Black music in the first place, from which it borrows heavily, so perhaps this just underscores the issues with appropriating and using terms like the ‘yacht’ label .”

Songs like  “Just The Two of Us” by Grover Washington, Jr. and Bill Withers , “Forget Me Nots” by Patrice Rushen , “Give Me The Night” by George Benson , “Rio De Janiero Blue” by Randy Crawford and Joe Sample and  “Golden Time of Day” by Maze  are strong examples of the style.

black yacht rock artists

Many Yacht Soul classics were produced by music legend Quincy Jones , who guided Patti Austin , James Ingram , and  Michael Jackson  through unforgettable tunes such as “The Heat of Heat,” “Ai No Corrida,” “One Hundred Ways,” “It’s The Falling In Love,” “I Can’t Help It , “  and “Human Nature .”

Artists such as Al Jarreau, Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack, Keni Burke, Brenda Russell, Earth, Wind and Fire, Chaka Khan and Sade also swim in the deep seas of Yacht Soul, which came to be known as “urban contemporary” by the late 1980s and 1990s.

I want to highlight a personal favorite from this era – Jermaine Jackson ‘s Top 20 R&B hit “You Like Me Don’t You” from his 1980 album Jermaine , written and produced by Jermaine and featuring a heart-melting harmonica solo from Stevie Wonder . The this mid-tempo cut still low key slaps. Hard.

You’ll notice some white artists in the Yacht Soul waters – many who charted as well or higher on the R&B charts than the Hot 100 with singles such as  “Georgy Porgy”  by Toto (featuring vocals by Cheryl Lynn ), “What You Won’t Do For Love” by Bobby Caldwell and “The Lowdown” by Boz Skaggs .

Yacht Soul songs have also provided ample sample material for hip hop producers from the 1990s to present day — like  Will Smith ‘s use of “Forget Me Nots” as the backbone to his 1997 hit “Men in Black” and “I Keep Forgettin” as the driving groove of 1994’s “Regulate” by Warren G . — but there’s nothing like the original jams!

We truly hope you enjoy this compilation.

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Published in Jazz/Blues/Folk , Music , Playlists , Podcasts/Audio , Pop/R&B/Dance and U.S.

  • Brenda Russell
  • Cheryl Lynn
  • Earth Wind and Fire
  • George Benson
  • James Ingram
  • Jermaine Jackson
  • Lori Lakin Hutcherson
  • Michael Jackson
  • Patti Austin
  • Quincy Jones


[…] Credit: Source link […]

“Yacht Soul” – What It Is, Who Made It, and Why It’s Everything You Love About Yacht Rock But Cooler (LISTEN) – Good Black News – JustBlaque News

[…] Source link […]

Michael Giltz

My favorite GBN mix yet. This is the perfect equivalent to a 3 or 4 CD boxed set of Yacht Soul, a compilation I didn’t even know I needed. Now if only it would come out on vinyl!


Thank u Giltz!!!

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You've heard of Yacht Rock? Now there is Yacht Soul

black yacht rock artists

Photo Credit: Greg Allen

(July 25, 2020) You’ve heard of Yacht Rock? Now there is “Yacht Soul.”

Visit just about any suburban boomer backyard summer party, and you’re likely to hear a healthy dose of “Yacht Rock.” The seemingly pejorative term was popularized in a series of parody videos more than a decade ago, and has stuck as a descripter of the smooth, California sound of the late 70s and early 80s from such artists as Christopher Cross, Toto and Michael McDonald. And it is huge with its middle-aged, mostly Caucasian demographic. The Yacht Rock playlist on Spotify has nearly 700,000 followers, and Sirius Radio dedicates an entire station to it.

More recently, there has been much talk about a similar style of R&B music that peaked about the same time, now labeled as “Yacht Soul,” and it got me wondering: Is that really a thing? For me, it began when I was invited to the Yacht Soul Facebook Group , and heard about a dedicated radio show in the UK. Paul Clifford (who himself discovered the term from a Katie Puckrick documentary ) created the Solar Radio Yacht Soul show , and he is passionate about the style of music that it represents: “ Smooth, well-crafted, super-engineered with the sprinkling of perfect musicianship. It is where soul music from the late 70s and album oriented rock collided to create a perfect blend that has stood the test of time - thanks in large part to the meticulous songwriting and producing of the era .” Clifford, with Richard Searing, compiled  a massive Yacht Soul playlist , and he believes that the most representative songs are “Turn Your Love Around” by George Benson, “After The Love Is Gone” by Earth Wind & Fire, and “Why I Came To California” by Leon Ware.

A “ highly subjectively selected niche of songs characterized by slick production, laid back grooves, and light sometimes romantic lyrics,” is how veteran music journalist A. Scott Galloway (who is less convinced that Yacht Soul is actually a separate music category) describes it. He also perceptively adds that “ Most key seems to be the factor of the songs either being by White artists that are soulful or Black artists dabbling in shades of groovy soft rock .”

black yacht rock artists

So is Yacht Soul really just rebranded Yacht Rock? Noted music lawyer (and SoulTracks contributor) Robb Patryk, says maybe not. “ The ‘soul’ often is found in the vocals, which tend to be similar to those heard on classic soul and R&B records of that same era ,” even if performed by white artists, such as Gino Vanelli. So, perhaps it is the combination of the slick production and the soulful vocal performance that makes something Yacht Soul. In other words, it is El Debarge’s singing that makes “ Someone ” Yacht Soul, while Christopher Cross’s “ Alright ” definitely isn’t. And it is the slick, pop production of Earth Wind & Fire’s  “After The Love Is Gone” that makes it a Yacht Soul exemplar, in contrast to the soulful vibe of the group’s classic ballad “Reasons.”

But our go-to soul music historian, record compilation guru Donald Cleveland, says that we have Yacht Soul question entirely backwards. “ To be honest, Yacht Rock should have been called Yacht Soul from the start. Anybody with ears knows that. The only thing ‘rock’ about Yacht is the label that was on the albums as originally released, so they could be filed separately from the ‘Soul’ albums. It was just easier for the White people listening to this music with obvious soulful stylings to just keep the White ‘rock’ labeling going, even if the musicians themselves were influenced by and working from a framework of Black Soul .” Mama’s Gun lead singer Andy Platts agrees. “ Really if we’re honest, you don’t get ‘Yacht Rock’ without the evolution of Black music in the first place, from which it borrows heavily, so perhaps this just underscores the issues with appropriating and using terms like the ‘yacht’ label .”

These are the kinds of discussions that have been swirling around social media over the past few months, as Yacht Soul groups developed. And if it feels like the debates are just so much inside baseball nonsense, Purpose Music co-CEO George Littlejohn takes a more positive view of what has been special about the Yacht Soul kerfluffel: “ I still really do not exactly know what Yacht Soul is, but I do know I am always happy to see people posting and talking about soul music intelligently. And I take great joy in seeing them uncovering rare grooves ,” citing songs like Brenda Russell’s " Hello People ," Sheree Brown’s “ Got To Get Away ,” and projects by Heat, Seawind and Donna Washington that have resurfaced in Yacht Soul musings.

Maybe that’s the key here. Love or hate the term, “Yacht Soul” has music fans talking passionately, and revisiting a series of terrific songs, many of which have been lost gems for decades – and, just as importantly, giving some long overdue shine to the artists who made them. And that right there makes it all worth it.

By Chris Rizik

Check out an episode of Paul Clifford's Yacht Soul radio show

Too Slow To Disco


Too Slow to Disco – Yacht Soul

Originals by Fleetwood Mac, Toto, The Doobie Brothers, Hall & Oates, The Beach Boys, Steely Dan a.m.m. Covered by Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Quincy Jones, Brothers Johnson a.m.m.

' title=

  • TAVARES – I Hope You’ll Be Very Unhappy Without Me (BILL LABOUNTY)
  • THE EBONYS – A Love Of Your Own (NED DOHENY)
  • LESLIE SMITH – Nothin’ You Can Do About It (AIRPLAY)
  • BILLY PAUL – Let ‘Em In (WINGS)
  • SIDE EFFECT – Georgy Porgy (TOTO)
  • QUINCY JONES – Takin’ It To The Streets (DOOBIE BROTHERS)

The Cover Versions

“Wait… keep it on that station… is this the Doobies? That backbeat – it’s on fire! Whoa… that’s Aretha! Turn it up…”

It’s perhaps an obvious metaphor for us to reach for, but the whole Too Slow to Disco project has always viewed music a bit like ocean waves. They keep crashing back, slightly different, always bringing new things to the shore.

When we started out, our mission was to bring you the very best, over-musical-yet-under-remembered tunes – beautiful songs produced at incredible expense by the undersung geniuses of the 1970s and 80s. Next we wanted to share the musical story of the insanely talented, but often criminally overlooked, women writers and performers of that era. The waves kept crashing in though, and our story then moved bang up to date with our ‘Neo’ series, bringing you the best contemporary tune-makers who share our obsession with the AOR era.

But those beautiful waves keep crashing, and our latest project takes us to another delectably under-visited stretch of the shore: an incredible group of Black artists and their soulful takes on the smooth classics of those predominantly white Westcoast AOR/Yacht Laurel Canyon Hippies. Two worlds, paying their debts and respects to each other, in a series of brilliant covers that just jump out of the speakers. Ladies and gentlemen, be very reverent for the sound of Yacht Soul.

Our sherpa up this impressive musical mountain is none other than esteemed DJ, journalist, crate digger and renowned musicologist Greg Caz. Greg’s expertise at joining the dots of pop history made him the perfect guide for this new story and wonderful collection:

GREG CAZ: „The history of Black artists covering songs primarily associated with white writers and performers is a very long one, stretching all the way back to the early 20th century. These covers generally happened for a variety of musical and commercial reasons ranging from the desire to reach more white listeners to the simple fact that the performer really liked the song in question and felt they could find something personal and unique in it for their own version. Most popular music of the pre-Rock N’ Roll era was based on songs written for plays and films and that material, known today as the Great American Songbook, constitutes a large percentage of the midcentury Jazz repertoire. Names such as Rodgers & Hammerstein, Harold Arlen, George & Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Sammy Cahn and many others are all too familiar from the credits of Jazz albums. As time went on, revolutions in the music business brought about new generations and new forms of making music and the non-performing songwriter-for-hire gradually faded into the background (even without disappearing entirely) as artists became increasingly expected to generate their own material. Even with all this, Rock and Pop artists found covering Blues and R&B songs to be a reliable source both of great material and of artistic credibility. Meanwhile, Soul and R&B artists would routinely cover current Pop-Rock songs as a way of expending their audiences and crossover potential…which brings us to the material on this latest installment of the Too Slow To Disco series.

What the tracks on this compilation all have in common is that they are songs written and/or popularized by Pop/Rock artists. In some cases the performers here are tackling these songs because they genuinely like them and find that they give them something interesting to work with. In other cases the decision to record the song in question perhaps comes from a shrewd plan to cover all the market bases. But whether the motivation was purely creative or strictly mercenary, these recordings demonstrate the folly of arbitrary genre separation and also served to introduce these artists’ fan bases to great songs they might not necessarily have gone out of their way to find.

Take the Main Ingredient’s sublime cover of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze,” for instance, one of two songs by the duo covered on 1974’s brilliant Euphrates River LP. The Isley Brothers had put their indelible stamp on S&C’s hit the previous year, and in such a definitive way that one would think no further covers were necessary. But the MI’s version more than justifies itself and actually proves as essential as the Isleys’ by virtue of Bert DeCoteaux’s gorgeous and elegant arrangement as well as Cuba Gooding’s distinctively beautiful voice. 
The Pointer Sisters entered their period of greatest sustained success with their best-known lineup of Ruth, Anita and June starting in 1978 with the heavily Yacht Rock-oriented Energy LP, their first with producer Richard Perry. Their energetic cover of Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” is one of the many standouts on an album that also saw them tackle Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, Loggins & Messina and the Doobie Brothers.

Speaking of the Doobie Brothers, their “Takin’ It To The Streets” is brilliantly covered here by Quincy Jones and friends in a version taken from Q’s Sounds…And Stuff Like That album. Vocals are handled by a pair of veteran New York session vocalists, Luther Vandross and Gwen Guthrie, who would both soon afterwards make their mark as solo performers.
Another Michael McDonald/Doobie Brothers hit that appears here is R&B stalwart Peabo Bryson’s take on “Minute By Minute” from his Paradise LP (1980). McDonald’s voice and music were well-established on urban radio formats by this time which made this big Doobies hit from the previous year, co-written with Lester Abrams of Crackin’, a natural fit for Peabo. 
Michael McDonald’s colleague Kenny Loggins is represented here by a big hit he co-wrote with MM (once again), “This Is It,” which serves as a perfect jumping-off point for Millie Jackson to deliver one of her patented saucy sermons and soulful performances. It ends up sounding as if Kenny and Mike wrote it just for her.

In the case of Greg Phillinganes’ “Lazy Nina,” Donald Fagen DID write it just for him, and getting an exclusive song from Fagen (as well as getting Michael Jackson to guest on the same 1984 album) is the kind of feat that only a true studio-session MVP like Phillinganes could possibly pull off. His was a name that seemed to appear on almost every top-selling blockbuster album of the era and the stars he worked for and with were only too happy to return the favor. On many albums with Greg Phillinganes’ name in the credits you would also usually find the names of his colleagues, the members of Toto, who played a big instrumental role in shaping Michael Jackson’s world-beating success alongside Greg. “Georgy Porgy” is a song from Toto’s 1978 debut album that immediately became a big favorite on R&B stations with its hook sung by another Toto associate, Cheryl Lynn. It has been covered and sampled many times but Fantasy Records’ Jazz-Funk male-female vocal group Side Effect were perhaps the earliest to do it as it fit their style so well.

The Brothers Johnson were also key players on the LA session scene, and part of the same Quincy Jones team as Greg Phillinganes and the Toto guys. Three of the Toto guys, in fact (Steve Porcaro, David Paich and legendary drummer Jeff Porcaro) wrote “In The Way” for Louis and George, which the Brothers recorded for 1981’s Winners, their fifth album. It combines the patented BrosJo Funk with the kind of breezy LA Yacht-Rock sound that all of the record’s participants were right at the heart of creating.

That same sound is in full flow on “Nothing You Can Do About It,” a veritable West Coast/AOR classic by two of the chief architects of that sound, David Foster and Jay Graydon. First recorded by the Manhattan Transfer in 1979, it was then recorded the following year by its writers under their Airplay project, but the version we have here is the 1982 cover by Crackin’ vocalist Leslie Smith, a true Funk veteran (previously, like many of his Crackin’ bandmates, of the L.A. Carnival) who also embodies the genuine R&B side of the West Coast/AOR ethos. He is joined by many members of Crackin’ on his solo album Heartache, which also features a soulful Ned Doheny cover. And while we’re on the subject of soulful Ned Doheny covers (are there any other kind?), Trenton, New Jersey’s The Ebonys give us a smooth and spectacular version of “A Love Of Your Own,” best known of course via the version by the Average White Band, whose Hamish Stuart co-wrote the song with Ned. Jazz-R&B veteran Dee Dee Bridgewater takes a similar approach on her 1976 cover of Hall & Oates’ “She’s Gone,” which becomes “He’s Gone” in her amazing gender-switched rendition. As with many of the tracks on this collection it was recorded in LA and the seasoned players on this version include the likes of Joe Sample, Wilton Felder, Ed Greene and Ray Parker Jr. The song itself had just become a hit three years after its initial release on Atlantic, after Daryl and John had gone on to success on RCA. This self-titled Dee Dee album is on Atlantic so her being encouraged to cover it (as well as the fact that it’s a great song for her to tackle) makes a lot of sense.

The same core group of musicians could be found on Betty Everett’s Gene and Billy Page-produced final album, 1975’s Happy Endings, on which she turns in a stunning Modern-Soul version of the Beach Boys classic “God Only Knows” which bears many of the stylistic hallmarks of the main employer of the producers and players on the record: Barry White. It would be very interesting to know if Brian Wilson heard this version and what he thought of it!
Billy Paul had been searching for another hit like “Me And Mrs. Jones” since 1972 for about five years when he released this cover of Paul McCartney and Wings’ recent hit “Let ‘Em In.” Despite his status as a Jazz Lounge singer-turned-Soul man, Billy had always been open to material from a wide variety of sources and had even covered Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” on an earlier album. So “Let ‘Em In” fit him like a glove, especially as it allowed him to add extra social significance to the song by adding the names of assorted civil rights and political leaders to the lyrics.

Like Billy Paul and many other artists featured on this collection, Tavares were also adept at adding a soulful spin to Pop material, having released their own cover of “She’s Gone” around the same time as Dee Dee Bridgewater. Their cover of AOR stalwart Bill LaBounty’s “I Hope You’ll Be Very Unhappy Without Me” is yet another shining example of how R&B-influenced the “Yacht Rock” sound, always was at its core, because, once again, it sounds like it was written just for them and sounded equally appropriate on Pop and Urban stations.
Chaka Khan’s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere” is natural and appropriate for many reasons. Both Rufus and the Buckingham-Nicks edition of the Mac rose to prominence simultaneously in the mid-70s and the two LA-based bands often seemed to be Pop-Rock/Funk/Soul mirror images of one another (I sometimes like to refer to Rufus as “Fleetwood Black”!). Chaka is known to have broad musical tastes so for her to cover a Fleetwood Mac song is simply par for the course.

The story told by all these cover versions is one of blurred lines between genres and how musical categories are often ultimately artificial constructs that melt away when either an artist is seeking for a way to expand their audience reach, or they just quite simply hear a song they really like and feel that it offers them the opportunity to stretch their creative wings, genres be damned. As we’ve seen, many of these cases of Black artists recording songs by white writers happened in a very direct and natural way, and for logical reasons. Further proof, as if further proof were even needed, of the unifying power of great music.”

Greg Caz New York City January 2021

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Too Slow To Disco

A compilation series of Late 70s Westcoast Yachtpop you can almost dance to.

Compiled by Dj Supermarkt

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Sail Away: The Oral History of ‘Yacht Rock’

By Drew Toal

This story was originally published on June 26, 2015

I n the late 1970s and early 1980s, musical artists like Kenny Loggins , Michael McDonald , Steely Dan , Toto , Hall and Oates , and dozens of others regularly popped up on each other’s records, creating a golden era of smooth-music collaboration.

And on June 26th, 2005, an internet phenomenon was born. In 12 short but memorable episodes — first via the the short-film series Channel 101 and then online — JD Ryznar, Hunter Stair, Dave Lyons, Lane Farnham and their friends redefined an era and coined a term for the sultry croonings of McDonald, Fagen, et al.: “yacht rock.”

As “Hollywood” Steve might say, these guys docked a fleet of remarkable hits. This is the story of Yacht Rock, told from stem to stern — a reimagining of a bygone soft-rock renaissance, courtesy of hipsters with fake mustaches, impeccable record collections and a love of smoothness. Long may it sail.

The Michigan Connection JD Ryznar (Director, “Michael McDonald”): I moved from Ann Arbor to L.A., and ended up making friends with all these other guys from Michigan, like “Hollywood” Steve Huey, Hunter Stair, and David Lyons. Pretty much every weekend I’d have “Chinese Thanksgiving” at my apartment — we’d eat BBQ chicken and burgers, drink beer and listen to records of what I called “yacht rock.” You know, like Michael McDonald is singing background vocals and like there’s guys on boats on the covers; it feels like you’re on a yacht listening to it. And the guys were like, oh, we know this music.

Dave Lyons (“Koko”): You know how, in the Seventies, these big bands started playing arena rock? We liked the idea of these smooth bands playing “Marina Rock.” I thought it was a better name.

“Hollywood” Steve Huey (“Hollywood Steve”): What I mostly remember is JD playing Journey records all the time. He was so into Journey that he had photocopied a photo of Steve Perry and pasted it onto his liquid soap dispenser. He wrote “Steve Perry Soap: Clean as all fuck” on it.

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Lane Farnham (editor, “Jimmy Messina”): JD and I had talked about Journey for a year before we did Yacht Rock. In the third episode, that whole “you need to fly like a pilot” bit? Those are direct lines from Steve Perry in this crazy documentary we found. He’s coked to the gills, in the Eighties, just blabbering about who knows what. We got a kick out of that stuff. 

Sail Away: The Oral History of ‘Yacht Rock’ , Page 1 of 12

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That '70s Week: Yacht Rock

David Dye, host of World Cafe.

Talia Schlanger

black yacht rock artists

Donald Fagen (left) and Walter Becker of Steely Dan. Danny Clinch/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

Donald Fagen (left) and Walter Becker of Steely Dan.

  • The Doobie Brothers, "What A Fool Believes"
  • Christopher Cross, "Sailing"
  • Sade, "Smooth Operator"
  • Nielsen/Pearson, "If You Should Sail"
  • Ned Doheny, "Get It Up For Love"
  • Iron & Wine, "Desert Babbler"
  • Young Gun Silver Fox, "You Can Feel It"

What's the best way to become the unchallenged expert on a particular genre of music? Invent it. Enter JD Ryznar, Hunter Stair, David B. Lyons and Steve Huey: coiners of the description "yacht rock," creators of a hilarious web series of the same name and now de facto captains of the genre. Broadly speaking, yacht rock is an ocean of smooth, soft-listening music made in the late '70s and early '80s by artists like Toto, Hall & Oates and Kenny Loggins — music you can sail to. But as David and Talia learn in this conversation with the arbiters of Yacht Rock , the waters are much murkier than that.

For example, according to Ryznar, "There's also a common misconception that just because it's about a boat, or the ocean, or sailing, that it's yacht rock. That is most definitely nyacht true." Thankfully, on their Beyond Yacht Rock podcast, our guests have developed a sound system of logical criteria to define what is "Yacht" and what is "Nyacht." They employ their patented "Yachtzee scale" to examine a song's "Yachtness" based on a number of factors, including its personnel (is there a Doobie Brother in there?), amount of jazz and R&B influence, geographic origin (Southern California is a plus) and lyrical obtuseness.

Listen as Ryznar and Lyons steer us towards the musical marina with a buoyant "Yacht or Nyacht" debate that includes Michael McDonald, Christopher Cross, Sade and the most serious discussion you can have about the proper soundtrack for standing shirtless on a deck wearing boat shoes and a sailor cap. Dive on in --the water's great.

Listen: JD Ryznar's Yacht Rock Primer

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The New York Times

Magazine | why is everyone always stealing black music, why is everyone always stealing black music.


Because it’s the sound of complete artistic freedom.

For centuries, black music, forged in bondage, has been the sound of complete artistic freedom. No wonder everybody is always stealing it.

By Wesley Morris AUG. 14, 2019

I’ve got a friend who’s an incurable Pandora guy, and one Saturday while we were making dinner, he found a station called Yacht Rock . “A tongue-in-cheek name for the breezy sounds of late ’70s/early ’80s soft rock” is Pandora’s definition, accompanied by an exhortation to “put on your Dockers, pull up a deck chair and relax.” With a single exception, the passengers aboard the yacht were all dudes. With two exceptions, they were all white. But as the hours passed and dozens of songs accrued, the sound gravitated toward a familiar quality that I couldn’t give language to but could practically taste: an earnest Christian yearning that would reach, for a moment, into Baptist rawness, into a known warmth. I had to laugh — not because as a category Yacht Rock is absurd, but because what I tasted in that absurdity was black.

I started putting each track under investigation. Which artists would saunter up to the racial border? And which could do their sauntering without violating it? I could hear degrees of blackness in the choir-loft certitude of Doobie Brothers-era Michael McDonald on “What a Fool Believes” ; in the rubber-band soul of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” ; in the malt-liquor misery of Ace’s “How Long” and the toy-boat wistfulness of Little River Band’s “Reminiscing.”

Then Kenny Loggins’s “This Is It” arrived and took things far beyond the line. “This Is It” was a hit in 1979 and has the requisite smoothness to keep the yacht rocking. But Loggins delivers the lyrics in a desperate stage whisper, like someone determined to make the kind of love that doesn’t wake the baby. What bowls you over is the intensity of his yearning — teary in the verses, snarling during the chorus. He sounds as if he’s baring it all yet begging to wring himself out even more.

Playing black-music detective that day, I laughed out of bafflement and embarrassment and exhilaration. It’s the conflation of pride and chagrin I’ve always felt anytime a white person inhabits blackness with gusto. It’s: You have to hand it to her . It’s: Go, white boy. Go, white boy . Go. But it’s also: Here we go again . The problem is rich. If blackness can draw all of this ornate literariness out of Steely Dan and all this psychotic origami out of Eminem; if it can make Teena Marie sing everything — “Square Biz,” “Revolution,” “Portuguese Love,” “Lovergirl” — like she knows her way around a pack of Newports; if it can turn the chorus of Carly Simon’s “You Belong to Me” into a gospel hymn; if it can animate the swagger in the sardonic vulnerabilities of Amy Winehouse ; if it can surface as unexpectedly as it does in the angelic angst of a singer as seemingly green as Ben Platt ; if it’s the reason Nu Shooz’s “I Can’t Wait” remains the whitest jam at the blackest parties, then it’s proof of how deeply it matters to the music of being alive in America, alive to America.

It’s proof, too, that American music has been fated to thrive in an elaborate tangle almost from the beginning. Americans have made a political investment in a myth of racial separateness, the idea that art forms can be either “white” or “black” in character when aspects of many are at least both. The purity that separation struggles to maintain? This country’s music is an advertisement for 400 years of the opposite: centuries of “amalgamation” and “miscegenation” as they long ago called it, of all manner of interracial collaboration conducted with dismaying ranges of consent.

“White,” “Western,” “classical” music is the overarching basis for lots of American pop songs. Chromatic-chord harmony, clean timbre of voice and instrument: These are the ingredients for some of the hugely singable harmonies of the Beatles, the Eagles, Simon and Fleetwood Mac, something choral, “pure,” largely ungrained. Black music is a completely different story. It brims with call and response, layers of syncopation and this rougher element called “noise,” unique sounds that arise from the particular hue and timbre of an instrument — Little Richard’s woos and knuckled keyboard zooms. The dusky heat of Miles Davis’s trumpeting . Patti LaBelle’s emotional police siren . DMX’s scorched-earth bark . The visceral stank of Etta James , Aretha Franklin, live-in-concert Whitney Houston and Prince on electric guitar.

But there’s something even more fundamental, too. My friend Delvyn Case, a musician who teaches at Wheaton College, explained in an email that improvisation is one of the most crucial elements in what we think of as black music: “The raising of individual creativity/expression to the highest place within the aesthetic world of a song.” Without improvisation, a listener is seduced into the composition of the song itself and not the distorting or deviating elements that noise creates. Particular to black American music is the architecture to create a means by which singers and musicians can be completely free, free in the only way that would have been possible on a plantation: through art, through music — music no one “composed” (because enslaved people were denied literacy), music born of feeling, of play, of exhaustion, of hope.

What you’re hearing in black music is a miracle of sound, an experience that can really happen only once — not just melisma, glissandi, the rasp of a sax, breakbeats or sampling but the mood or inspiration from which those moments arise. The attempt to rerecord it seems, if you think about it, like a fool’s errand. You’re not capturing the arrangement of notes, per se. You’re catching the spirit.

[Listen to an episode of the “1619” podcast with Wesley Morris and Nikole Hannah-Jones on the birth of American music.]

And the spirit travels from host to host, racially indiscriminate about where it settles, selective only about who can withstand being possessed by it. The rockin’ backwoods blues so bewitched Elvis Presley that he believed he’d been called by blackness. Chuck Berry sculpted rock ’n’ roll with uproarious guitar riffs and lascivious winks at whiteness. Mick Jagger and Robert Plant and Steve Winwood and Janis Joplin and the Beatles jumped, jived and wailed the black blues. Tina Turner wrested it all back , tripling the octane in some of their songs. Since the 1830s, the historian Ann Douglas writes in “Terrible Honesty,” her history of popular culture in the 1920s, “American entertainment, whatever the state of American society, has always been integrated, if only by theft and parody.” What we’ve been dealing with ever since is more than a catchall word like “appropriation” can approximate. The truth is more bounteous and more spiritual than that, more confused. That confusion is the DNA of the American sound.

It’s in the wink-wink costume funk of Beck’s “Midnite Vultures” from 1999, an album whose kicky nonsense deprecations circle back to the popular culture of 150 years earlier. It’s in the dead-serious, nostalgic dance-floor schmaltz of Bruno Mars . It’s in what we once called “blue-eyed soul,” a term I’ve never known what to do with, because its most convincing practitioners — the Bee-Gees, Michael McDonald, Hall & Oates, Simply Red, George Michael, Taylor Dayne, Lisa Stansfield, Adele — never winked at black people, so black people rarely batted an eyelash. Flaws and all, these are homeowners as opposed to renters. No matter what, though, a kind of gentrification tends to set in, underscoring that black people have often been rendered unnecessary to attempt blackness. Take Billboard’s Top 10 songs of 2013: It’s mostly nonblack artists strongly identified with black music, for real and for kicks: Robin Thicke, Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the dude who made “The Harlem Shake.”

Sometimes all the inexorable mixing leaves me longing for something with roots that no one can rip all the way out. This is to say that when we’re talking about black music, we’re talking about horns, drums, keyboards and guitars doing the unthinkable together. We’re also talking about what the borrowers and collaborators don’t want to or can’t lift — centuries of weight, of atrocity we’ve never sufficiently worked through, the blackness you know is beyond theft because it’s too real, too rich, too heavy to steal.

Blackness was on the move before my ancestors were legally free to be. It was on the move before my ancestors even knew what they had. It was on the move because white people were moving it. And the white person most frequently identified as its prime mover is Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a New Yorker who performed as T.D. Rice and, in acclaim, was lusted after as “Daddy” Rice, “the negro par excelle nce.” Rice was a minstrel, which by the 1830s, when his stardom was at its most refulgent, meant he painted his face with burned cork to approximate those of the enslaved black people he was imitating.

In 1830, Rice was a nobody actor in his early 20s, touring with a theater company in Cincinnati (or Louisville; historians don’t know for sure), when, the story goes, he saw a decrepit, possibly disfigured old black man singing while grooming a horse on the property of a white man whose last name was Crow. On went the light bulb. Rice took in the tune and the movements but failed, it seems, to take down the old man’s name. So in his song based on the horse groomer, he renamed him: “Weel about and turn about jus so/Ebery time I weel about, I jump Jim Crow .” And just like that, Rice had invented the fellow who would become the mascot for two centuries of legalized racism.

That night, Rice made himself up to look like the old black man — or something like him, because Rice’s get-up most likely concocted skin blacker than any actual black person’s and a gibberish dialect meant to imply black speech. Rice had turned the old man’s melody and hobbled movements into a song-and-dance routine that no white audience had ever experienced before. What they saw caused a permanent sensation. He reportedly won 20 encores.

Rice repeated the act again, night after night, for audiences so profoundly rocked that he was frequently mobbed during performances. Across the Ohio River, not an arduous distance from all that adulation, was Boone County, Ky., whose population would have been largely enslaved Africans. As they were being worked, sometimes to death, white people, desperate with anticipation, were paying to see them depicted at play.

[ To get updates on The 1619 Project, and for more on race from The New York Times, sign up f or our weekly Race/Related newsletter .]

Other performers came and conquered, particularly the Virginia Minstrels , who exploded in 1843, burned brightly then burned out after only months. In their wake, P.T. Barnum made a habit of booking other troupes for his American Museum; when he was short on performers, he blacked up himself. By the 1840s, minstrel acts were taking over concert halls, doing wildly clamored-for residencies in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

A blackface minstrel would sing, dance, play music, give speeches and cut up for white audiences, almost exclusively in the North, at least initially. Blackface was used for mock operas and political monologues (they called them stump speeches), skits, gender parodies and dances. Before the minstrel show gave it a reliable home, blackface was the entertainment between acts of conventional plays. Its stars were the Elvis, the Beatles, the ’NSync of the 19th century. The performers were beloved and so, especially, were their songs.

During minstrelsy’s heyday, white songwriters like Stephen Foster wrote the tunes that minstrels sang, tunes we continue to sing. Edwin Pearce Christy’s group the Christy Minstrels formed a band — banjo, fiddle, bone castanets, tambourine — that would lay the groundwork for American popular music, from bluegrass to Motown. Some of these instruments had come from Africa; on a plantation, the banjo’s body would have been a desiccated gourd. In “Doo-Dah!” his book on Foster’s work and life, Ken Emerson writes that the fiddle and banjo were paired for the melody, while the bones “chattered” and the tambourine “thumped and jingled a beat that is still heard ’round the world.”

But the sounds made with these instruments could be only imagined as black, because the first wave of minstrels were Northerners who’d never been meaningfully South. They played Irish melodies and used Western choral harmonies, not the proto-gospel call-and-response music that would make life on a plantation that much more bearable. Black artists were on the scene, like the pioneer bandleader Frank Johnson and the borderline-mythical Old Corn Meal , who started as a street vendor and wound up the first black man to perform, as himself, on a white New Orleans stage. His stuff was copied by George Nichols, who took up blackface after a start in plain-old clowning. Yet as often as not, blackface minstrelsy tethered black people and black life to white musical structures, like the polka, which was having a moment in 1848. The mixing was already well underway: Europe plus slavery plus the circus, times harmony, comedy and drama, equals Americana.

And the muses for so many of the songs were enslaved Americans, people the songwriters had never met, whose enslavement they rarely opposed and instead sentimentalized. Foster’s minstrel-show staple “Old Uncle Ned,” for instance, warmly if disrespectfully eulogizes the enslaved the way you might a salaried worker or an uncle:

Den lay down de shubble and de hoe, Hang up de fiddle and de bow: No more hard work for poor Old Ned — He’s gone whar de good Niggas go, No more hard work for poor Old Ned — He’s gone whar de good Niggas go.

Such an affectionate showcase for poor old (enslaved, soon-to-be-dead) Uncle Ned was as essential as “air,” in the white critic Bayard Taylor’s 1850 assessment ; songs like this were the “true expressions of the more popular side of the national character,” a force that follows “the American in all its emigrations, colonizations and conquests, as certainly as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving Day.” He’s not wrong. Minstrelsy’s peak stretched from the 1840s to the 1870s, years when the country was at its most violently and legislatively ambivalent about slavery and Negroes; years that included the Civil War and Reconstruction, the ferocious rhetorical ascent of Frederick Douglass, John Brown’s botched instigation of a black insurrection at Harpers Ferry and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Minstrelsy’s ascent also coincided with the publication, in 1852, of “Uncle Tom's Cabin,” a polarizing landmark that minstrels adapted for the stage, arguing for and, in simply remaining faithful to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, against slavery. These adaptations, known as U.T.C.s, took over the art form until the end of the Civil War. Perhaps minstrelsy’s popularity could be (generously) read as the urge to escape a reckoning. But a good time predicated upon the presentation of other humans as stupid, docile, dangerous with lust and enamored of their bondage? It was an escape into slavery’s fun house.

What blackface minstrelsy gave the country during this period was an entertainment of skill, ribaldry and polemics. But it also lent racism a stage upon which existential fear could become jubilation, contempt could become fantasy. Paradoxically, its dehumanizing bent let white audiences feel more human. They could experience loathing as desire, contempt as adoration, repulsion as lust. They could weep for overworked Uncle Ned as surely as they could ignore his lashed back or his body as it swung from a tree.

But where did this leave a black performer? If blackface was the country’s cultural juggernaut, who would pay Negroes money to perform as themselves? When they were hired, it was only in a pinch. Once, P.T. Barnum needed a replacement for John Diamond, his star white minstrel. In a New York City dance hall, Barnum found a boy, who, it was reported at the time, could outdo Diamond (and Diamond was good ). The boy, of course, was genuinely black. And his being actually black would have rendered him an outrageous blight on a white consumer’s narrow presumptions. As Thomas Low Nichols would write in his 1864 compendium, “Forty Years of American Life,” “There was not an audience in America that would not have resented, in a very energetic fashion, the insult of being asked to look at the dancing of a real negro.” So Barnum “greased the little ‘nigger’s’ face and rubbed it over with a new blacking of burned cork, painted his thick lips vermilion, put on a woolly wig over his tight curled locks and brought him out as ‘the champion nigger-dancer of the world.’ ” This child might have been William Henry Lane, whose stage name was Juba . And, as Juba, Lane was persuasive enough that Barnum could pass him off as a white person in blackface. He ceased being a real black boy in order to become Barnum’s minstrel Pinocchio.

After the Civil War, black performers had taken up minstrelsy, too, corking themselves, for both white and black audiences — with a straight face or a wink, depending on who was looking. Black troupes invented important new dances with blue-ribbon names (the buck-and-wing, the Virginia essence , the stop-time). But these were unhappy innovations. Custom obligated black performers to fulfill an audience’s expectations, expectations that white performers had established. A black minstrel was impersonating the impersonation of himself. Think, for a moment, about the talent required to pull that off. According to Henry T. Sampson’s book, “Blacks in Blackface,” there were no sets or effects, so the black blackface minstrel show was “a developer of ability because the artist was placed on his own.” How’s that for being twice as good? Yet that no-frills excellence could curdle into an entirely other, utterly degrading double consciousness, one that predates, predicts and probably informs W.E.B. DuBois’s more self-consciously dignified rendering .

American popular culture was doomed to cycles not only of questioned ownership, challenged authenticity, dubious propriety and legitimate cultural self-preservation but also to the prison of black respectability, which, with brutal irony, could itself entail a kind of appropriation. It meant comportment in a manner that seemed less black and more white. It meant the appearance of refinement and polish. It meant the cognitive dissonance of, say, Nat King Cole’s being very black and sounding — to white America, anyway, with his frictionless baritone and diction as crisp as a hospital corner — suitably white. He was perfect for radio, yet when he got a TV show of his own , it was abruptly canceled, his brown skin being too much for even the black and white of a 1955 television set. There was, perhaps, not a white audience in America, particularly in the South, that would not have resented, in a very energetic fashion, the insult of being asked to look at the majestic singing of a real Negro.

The modern conundrum of the black performer’s seeming respectable, among black people, began, in part, as a problem of white blackface minstrels’ disrespectful blackness. Frederick Douglass wrote that they were “the filthy scum of white society.” It’s that scum that’s given us pause over everybody from Bert Williams and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson to Flavor Flav and Kanye West. Is their blackness an act? Is the act under white control? Just this year, Harold E. Doley Jr., an affluent black Republican in his 70s, was quoted in The Times lamenting West and his alignment with Donald Trump as a “bad and embarrassing minstrel show” that “served to only drive black people away from the G.O.P.”

But it’s from that scum that a robust, post-minstrel black American theater sprung as a new, black audience hungered for actual, uncorked black people. Without that scum, I’m not sure we get an event as shatteringly epochal as the reign of Motown Records. Motown was a full-scale integration of Western, classical orchestral ideas (strings, horns, woodwinds) with the instincts of both the black church (rhythm sections, gospel harmonies, hand claps) and juke joint Saturday nights (rhythm sections, guitars, vigor). Pure yet “noisy.” Black men in Armani. Black women in ball gowns. Stables of black writers, producers and musicians. Backup singers solving social equations with geometric choreography. And just in time for the hegemony of the American teenager.

Even now it feels like an assault on the music made a hundred years before it. Motown specialized in love songs. But its stars, those songs and their performance of them were declarations of war on the insults of the past and present. The scratchy piccolo at the start of a Four Tops hit was, in its way, a raised fist. Respectability wasn’t a problem with Motown; respectability was its point. How radically optimistic a feat of antiminstrelsy, for it’s as glamorous a blackness as this country has ever mass-produced and devoured.

The proliferation of black music across the planet — the proliferation, in so many senses, of being black — constitutes a magnificent joke on American racism. It also confirms the attraction that someone like Rice had to that black man grooming the horse. But something about that desire warps and perverts its source, lampoons and cheapens it even in adoration. Loving black culture has never meant loving black people, too. Loving black culture risks loving the life out of it.

And yet doesn’t that attraction make sense? This is the music of a people who have survived, who not only won't stop but also can’t be stopped. Music by a people whose major innovations — jazz, funk, hip-hop — have been about progress, about the future, about getting as far away from nostalgia as time will allow, music that’s thought deeply about the allure of outer space and robotics, music whose promise and possibility, whose rawness, humor and carnality call out to everybody — to other black people, to kids in working class England and middle-class Indonesia. If freedom's ringing, who on Earth wouldn't also want to rock the bell?

In 1845, J.K. Kennard, a critic for the newspaper The Knickerbocker, hyperventilated about the blackening of America. Except he was talking about blackface minstrels doing the blackening. Nonetheless, Kennard could see things for what they were:

“Who are our true rulers? The negro poets, to be sure! Do they not set the fashion, and give laws to the public taste? Let one of them, in the swamps of Carolina, compose a new song, and it no sooner reaches the ear of a white amateur, than it is written down, amended, (that is, almost spoilt,) printed, and then put upon a course of rapid dissemination, to cease only with the utmost bounds of Anglo-Saxondom, perhaps of the world.”

What a panicked clairvoyant! The fear of black culture — or “black culture” — was more than a fear of black people themselves. It was an anxiety over white obsolescence. Kennard’s anxiety over black influence sounds as ambivalent as Lorde’s, when, all the way from her native New Zealand, she tsk-ed rap culture’s extravagance on “Royals,” her hit from 2013, while recognizing, both in the song’s hip-hop production and its appetite for a particular sort of blackness, that maybe she’s too far gone:

Every song’s like gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom Bloodstains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair

Beneath Kennard’s warnings must have lurked an awareness that his white brethren had already fallen under this spell of blackness, that nothing would stop its spread to teenage girls in 21st-century Auckland, that the men who “infest our promenades and our concert halls like a colony of beetles” (as a contemporary of Kennard’s put it) weren’t black people at all but white people just like him — beetles and, eventually, Beatles. Our first most original art form arose from our original sin, and some white people have always been worried that the primacy of black music would be a kind of karmic punishment for that sin. The work has been to free this country from paranoia’s bondage, to truly embrace the amplitude of integration. I don’t know how we’re doing.

Last spring, “Old Town Road,” a silly, drowsy ditty by the Atlanta songwriter Lil Nas X, was essentially banished from country radio. Lil Nas sounds black, as does the trap beat he’s droning over. But there’s definitely a twang to him that goes with the opening bars of faint banjo and Lil Nas’s lil’ cowboy fantasy. The song snowballed into a phenomenon . All kinds of people — cops, soldiers, dozens of dapper black promgoers — posted dances to it on YouTube and TikTok. Then a crazy thing happened. It charted — not just on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, either. In April, it showed up on both its Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and its Hot Country Songs chart. A first. And, for now at least, a last.

The gatekeepers of country radio refused to play the song ; they didn’t explain why. Then, Billboard determined that the song failed to “embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.” This doesn’t warrant translation, but let’s be thorough, anyway: The song is too black for certain white people.

But by that point it had already captured the nation’s imagination and tapped into the confused thrill of integrated culture. A black kid hadn’t really merged white music with black, he’d just taken up the American birthright of cultural synthesis. The mixing feels historical. Here, for instance, in the song’s sample of a Nine Inch Nails track is a banjo, the musical spine of the minstrel era. Perhaps Lil Nas was too American. Other artists of the genre seemed to sense this. White singers recorded pretty tributes in support, and one, Billy Ray Cyrus, performed his on a remix with Lil Nas X himself.

The newer version lays Cyrus’s casual grit alongside Lil Nas’s lackadaisical wonder. It’s been No.1 on Billboard’s all-genre Hot 100 singles chart since April, setting a record. And the bottomless glee over the whole thing makes me laugh, too — not in a surprised, yacht-rock way but as proof of what a fine mess this place is. One person's sign of progress remains another’s symbol of encroachment. Screw the history. Get off my land.

Four hundred years ago, more than 20 kidnapped Africans arrived in Virginia. They were put to work and put through hell. Twenty became millions, and some of those people found — somehow — deliverance in the power of music. Lil Nas X has descended from those millions and appears to be a believer in deliverance. The verses of his song flirt with Western kitsch, what young black internetters branded, with adorable idiosyncrasy and a deep sense of history, the “ yee-haw agenda.” But once the song reaches its chorus (“I’m gonna take my horse to the Old Town Road, and ride til I can’t no more”), I don’t hear a kid in an outfit. I hear a cry of ancestry. He’s a westward-bound refugee; he’s an Exoduster . And Cyrus is down for the ride. Musically, they both know: This land is their land.

Wesley Morris is a staff writer for the magazine, a critic at large for The New York Times and a co-host of the podcast “Still Processing.” He was awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. Source photograph of Beyoncé: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images; Holiday: Paul Hoeffler/Redferns, via Getty Images; Turner: Gai Terrell/Redferns, via Getty Images; Richards: Chris Walter/WireImage, via Getty Images; Lamar: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

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The idea of yacht rock conjures up a particular lifestyle, but beneath the surface lies a treasure trove of sophisticated hits that continue to resonate.

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Artwork: UMG

Even some of those who signed up to the subgenre subtleties of what became known as yacht rock may consider it to be a time-locked phenomenon. Certainly, its chief protagonists first cast their subtle soft-rock sophistication in the 70s and 80s, but its melodic echoes can still be heard all these decades later.

Perhaps unusually, the phrase itself was coined as a kind of lighthearted castigation of the adult-oriented rock that seemed to exude privileged opulence: of days in expensive recording studios followed by hedonistic trips on private yachts, typically around southern California. The web TV series of the mid-00s that parodied the lifestyle was even named Yacht Rock ; one of the biggest hits of a chief exponent of the sound, Christopher Cross, was, of course, “Sailing.”

The recent resurgence in the long career of another staple, Michael McDonald, is testament to the durability of a style that was, after all, grounded in musicianship and melodicism of the highest order. Nearly 40 years after he and fellow yacht rock principle Kenny Loggins co-wrote and performed the Grammy-winning “This Is It,” the pair were afforded the high praise of a collaboration with acclaimed modern-day jazz-funk bassist Thundercat, on his track “Show You The Way.” Ahead of that, McDonald’s guest appearance with Thundercat at the 2017 Coachella Festival was a viral sensation.

Best George Harrison Songs: Essential Tracks

Thundercat- Show You the Way feat. Michael McDonald @ Coachella 2017 Day 2

Setting sail

Like other subgenres that grew from an existing style, just as Americana did from country, the starting point of yacht rock is a matter of endless debate. Some hear it in the early 70s soft rock of Bread and hits such as “Guitar Man,” or in Seals & Crofts, the duo of the same period whose 1973 US Top 10 hit “Diamond Girl” and its follow-up, “We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” are pure, classy, elegantly played and harmonised yacht rock.

As the 70s progressed and album rock radio became an ever more powerful medium in the US music business, studio production grew along with the budgets to fund it. High-fidelity citadels such as Sunset Sound and Ocean Way were the industry epitome of the Los Angeles hedonism of the day, and played host to many of the artists we celebrate here. Perhaps it was the combination of financial independence and the sun-kissed surroundings that gave rise to the phenomenon, but this was music that not only sounded opulent – it made you feel somehow more urbane just by listening to it.

California singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop was another of the artists who would retrospectively become part of what we might call the yachting club. Indeed, it’s important to point out that “yacht rock” was not a term that existed at the time the music was being made. Bishop’s acclaimed 1976 debut album, Careless , was a masterclass in well-crafted pop music for those no longer hanging on the words of every chart pin-up. Its tender opening ballad, “On And On,” which peaked just outside the mainstream US Top 10 and reached No.2 on the Easy Listening chart, is a prime example.

On And On

Making waves

McDonald, for his part, might be afforded the questionable honor of the Yacht Rock theme tune with his solo hit “Sweet Freedom,” but had earlier been a key part of the unconscious movement as a member of the Doobie Brothers. The double Grammy-winning landmark “What A Fool Believes,” again written by McDonald with Loggins, stands tall in this hall of fame. Similarly, Toto, another band of master studio craftsmen whose critical and commercial stock has risen again in recent times, stood for all the principles of yacht rock with tracks such as “99” and the undying “Africa.”

Guess The Song: The 80s Quiz - Part 1

That 1982 soft-rock calling card came from the Toto IV album, which was, indeed, recorded in part at Sunset Sound and Ocean Way. But Steely Dan , one of the bands to prove that yacht rock could come from other parts of the US where the attendant lifestyle was less practical, made perhaps their biggest contribution to the subgenre after Walter Becker and Donald Fagen moved back to their native East Coast.

After their initial incarnation as a live band, Steely Dan were well established in their peerless cocoon of pristine studio production when they moved back east. That was after recording 1977’s superb Aja , the album that announced their ever-greater exploration of jazz influences. Fans and critics of the band both used the same word about them, perfectionism: some as a compliment, others as an accusation. But 1980’s equally impressive Gaucho was their yacht rock masterpiece.

Hey Nineteen

Ripple effect

In such a subjective phrase, other artists seen by some as yacht rock representatives, such as Daryl Hall & John Oates, Journey, the Eagles, or even Canada’s Gordon Lightfoot, are thought by others to be creatively or geographically inappropriate, or just too mainstream to break out of the overreaching AOR terminology.

But a significant number of other artists, whose names are less quoted today, had their finest hours during the pop landscape of the late 70s and early 80s that we’ve been visiting here. Amy Holland won a Best New Artist Grammy nomination in 1981 helped by “How Do I Survive,” written by McDonald, whose wife she became soon afterwards. Robbie Dupree, a Brooklyn boy by birth, also epitomized the style with his 1980 US hit “Steal Away.” Then, in 1982, America, the band known for their definitive harmonic rock of a decade earlier, mounted a chart return with the suitably melodic “You Can Do Magic.”

America - You Can Do Magic

The final word goes to Michael McDonald, the unwitting co-founder of the yacht rock sound. When the aforementioned mockumentary series was at the height of its popularity, he was asked if he had ever owned a yacht, and replied (perhaps disappointingly) in the negative. But, he added, “I thought Yacht Rock was hilarious. And uncannily, you know, those things always have a little bit of truth to them.

“It’s kind of like when you get a letter from a stalker who’s never met you. They somehow hit on something, and you have to admit they’re pretty intuitive.”

Listen to the Soft Rock Forever playlist for more yacht rock classics .

October 28, 2019 at 8:42 pm

if you dig this sound, you gotta check out Yachty by Nature the best yacht rock band on the West Coast. They play it all live without the backing tracks (yuck) that some bands do. They just got voted #1 Best Live Cover Band in Orange County and spreading yacht rock all over the country. Dive in!!! #yachtrock

October 28, 2019 at 8:44 pm

BTW, great article!!!!! Well written and thoughtfully addressed the idea of Nyacht Rock artists to the purists following the genre!

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Yacht-rockin’ beats … Hall and Oates in 1984.

Cruise control: how yacht rock sailed back into fashion

Smooth, well-produced, meticulously written: soft rock had a bad reputation in the DIY 80s and 90s. But today it has renewed relevance. An aficionado explains

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s I worked in the music industry, doing marketing for record labels including Sony, Universal and Interscope Geffen A&M. My love for all things smooth, granted as a birthright to all born within the Santa Cruz county lines, never waned. I was often teased for being an aficionado of the soft-rock genre by colleagues at the office and bands I toured with. It was completely uncool to admit to being a fan of glossily produced songs in the era of indie rock, grunge and riot grrrls .

These “yacht rockers” that scored my early years seemed to clash with the artists I came of age with in my teens and 20s and were consigned to kitsch silliness along with fondue sets and Jello moulds quivering with mysterious canned fruit. The indie scenes of the late 1980s and early 90s were often based on DIY, grit and limiting your personal adornment to some semi-clean Converse trainers and second-hand clothes. Bands celebrated a punk ethos where the consumer/record-buyer could also be the producer/artist, and authenticity reigned supreme. Such artists provided a glaring contrast to wondering if a possible soulmate wants to Escape (I Like Pina Coladas) (as suggested by Rupert Holmes in his single of the same name). The whole idea of “selling out” – forgetting or shucking off your humble beginnings for the glamour and glitter of big rock star money, or even enjoying success – was often publicly frowned upon (though behind the scenes, many an artist enjoyed the very lifestyles that the yachters condoned).

Undaunted by the perceived repulsion of others, I began a one-woman journey to create a comprehensive yacht collection. For work, I often traveled through the US on tours with bands. We would stop at various record stores, giving me ample opportunity to pick up discounted Andrew Gold , Robbie Dupree and Looking Glass vinyl and badges. I once got into a passionate argument with a member of Limp Bizkit who claimed to not like Hall and Oates’ Private Eyes – a masterpiece on a par with the Mona Lisa in my eyes. Maybe it came from the audio cues of those songs, taking me back to the halcyon days of my Californian youth, growing up near the sea, when the world seemed full of possibility; or perhaps it was because my contemporaries thought these groups were so horrendous – but could never really articulate why – my devotion to yacht grew over time.

The mystery of my lasting infatuation was finally solved several years ago, when I was helping a friend’s band sell merchandise at a show in the main venue in my hometown, The Catalyst. I had spent my formative years as a music fan there, eating burnt pizza and sipping flat Coke while watching gigs. There, subway sized in crisp black and white, was an autographed, framed poster of Michael McDonald – the former Doobie Brother himself – carefully backlit so as not to ruin or fade the image. Of all the countless bands and legendary artists who had played the venue – from Nirvana to Snoop Dogg – the image was the sole adornment on the walls of the cavernous club.

And that was when it hit me – why be ashamed of appreciating a carefully crafted, meticulously produced song, which, technically speaking, most tracks in the yacht category are? Expense was of no consequence, with countless dollars and hours dedicated to brass and string sections, recording and engineers. Urban legend even claims that while making their seven-song 1980 album Gaucho , Steely Dan, known for their attention to every tiny detail during the recording process, employed no less than 42 session musicians and 11 engineers. There was no Auto-Tune to bring sub-par vocals up to a listenable standard, or lip-syncing at a live performance in yacht – it was real, meticulous, and yes, often sported a fashion faux pas (too many to enumerate here). There existed an earnestness in such obsession, of wanting to get everything just right. As an artist, as a craftsmen, you wanted each track to be as perfect as it was possible to make it.

Recently, I and my fellow yacht aficionados are having the last laugh, however, as the music, bands and even facial hair of the AOR era are getting the love, adoration, respect and reverence that other genres have experienced in retrospect (see: punk, disco). The very care and attention to detail that had gone out of style is now being embraced and appreciated. A decade after Spin magazine touted the cover headline “Why Hall and Oates are the New Velvet Underground,” its presence is still strong. In 2015, Fleetwood Mac played to sold-out crowds across the globe. Pop and rock acts as divergent as Mac DeMarco , Haim , Brandon Flowers , Lana Del Rey , Stepkids and White Denim (not to mention much of the chillwave scene) all give mad props to the smooth production and timeless quality of yacht. Take that Fred Durst!

It’s not only yacht rock’s pristine sonics that remain relevant in 2016. This month marks the 37th anniversary of Supertramp’s The Logical Song, their chart-topping single. It was the lead track from Breakfast In America, their 1979 career-defining album that led the group to global success. I recently revisited the lyrics of The Logical Song and was surprised to find, after all my years of obsessive listening to the track, I had never heard it. Embedded in the jazzy sax solos and Roger Hodgson’s smoothness, there is a message of being true to yourself, your values and morals – and staying tuned in to the world around you. It is for these reasons that the song is as relevant today as it was when it first hit the airwaves. It makes the point that logic can restrict passion and creativity, turning an innocent child into a fearful, jaded adult. Hodgson contrasts the earnest naivety of youth, a place where “ … life was so wonderful / A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical” – with the adult world in which you have to “… watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical / Liberal, fanatical, criminal.”

If taken in its original context of newly minted civil and women’s rights movements, fresh memories of Vietnam as well as the Stonewall riots, Hodgson’s lyrics are cold critique and reflection, possibly damnation, as the injustices of segregation, war and inequality that could only happen “… when all the world’s asleep,” in a society that places value on the “logical, responsible, practical … Clinical, intellectual, cynical.” Supertramp’s masterpiece highlights the seriousness of not engaging seriously with critical analysis: “Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned?” As I look across the Atlantic to my native land, with a presidential race on the horizon, The Logical Song seems more important, more narrative, more harrowing than ever before.

Yacht somehow became pigeonholed as an embarrassing relic of the overkill 80s, the silly, sad relative we want to ignore when we see them in public. The tatty, trying-to-get-by aesthetic of the American and UK music economies in the late 20th century was a reflection of what many people in the audience were experiencing on a daily basis. It was hard to relate to Sailing away, Christopher Cross-style, on a gleaming boat, when you and your peers were drowning in student loans, recession and limited employment prospects. The frustrated lyrics of Pulp’s Common People and the raw urgency of any Tracy Chapman track spoke much more to the climate and to those reaching adulthood during the Clinton administration. Guess what the president’s theme song was? Yep, a cornerstone of yacht rock – Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop . But it’s obvious why Clinton chose this particular jam as his signature tune. With few exceptions, yacht rock consists of uplifting, feel good party tunes, often including a seriously smooth saxophone solo.

No wonder my parents’ generation loved it so much – they were raising kids during the Carter administration, a time filled with recession, an energy crisis and the nightly news counting down how many days the Iran hostage crisis had been going on (without the internet, mobile phones or a microwave – it is a miracle they survived at all). In the UK there were similar issues, with record unemployment, strikes and slashes in education spending. Kenny Loggins asking his audience to carpe the diem in This Is It probably offered a reprieve, and had a soothing property to my parents. Yacht was the ying to the scary world’s yang. Perhaps today , we need the respite of yacht now more than ever.

The best yacht songs have endured for decades and still sound amazing – even topical – in an uncertain world. The fact that The Catalyst – who host all kinds of hipster, metal, reggae and hip-hop acts – had one solitary picture on display, in an almost reverential manner, said it all: it’s OK, and perhaps important, to recognise and celebrate quality. These songs stick with you, like fine-tooled leather shoes, over and through time, perhaps because they were obsessed over in their inception. Like an upmarket wine, or a pricier cheese, these records just get better, more appreciated, more valuable, with time. Now let’s hope our politicians take note of yacht’s message and the voters do it Doobie Brothers style when it comes to election day: let’s Take It to the Streets – er, polls!

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Ultimate Classic Rock

Top 50 Yacht Rock Songs

Yacht rock was one of the most commercially successful genres to emerge from the '70s and yet has managed to evade concise definition since its inception. For many listeners, it boils down to a feeling or mood that cannot be found in other kinds of music: Simply put, you know it when you hear it.

Some agreed-upon elements are crucial to yacht rock. One is its fluidity, with more emphasis on a catchy, easy-feeling melody than on beat or rhythm. Another is a generally lighthearted attitude in the lyrics. Think Seals & Crofts ' "Summer Breeze," Christopher Cross ' "Ride Like the Wind" or Bill Withers ' "Just the Two of Us." Yes, as its label suggests, music that would fit perfectly being played from the deck of a luxurious boat on the high seas.

But even these roughly outlined "rules" can be flouted and still considered yacht rock. Plenty of bands that are typically deemed "nyacht" rock have made their attempts at the genre: Crosby, Stills & Nash got a bit nautical with "Southern Cross," leading with their famed tightly knit harmonies, and Fleetwood Mac also entered yacht rock territory with "Dreams" – which, although lyrically dour, offers a sense of melody in line with yacht rock.

Given its undefined parameters, the genre has become one of music's most expansive corners. From No. 1 hits to deeper-cut gems, we've compiled a list of 50 Top Yacht Rock Songs to set sail to below.

50. "Thunder Island," Jay Ferguson (1978)

Younger generations might be more apt to recognize Jay Ferguson from his score for NBC's The Office , where he also portrayed the guitarist in Kevin Malone's band Scrantonicity. But Ferguson's musical roots go back to the '60s band Spirit; he was also in a group with one of the future members of Firefall, signaling a '70s-era shift toward yacht rock and "Thunder Island." The once-ubiquitous single began its steady ascent in October 1977 before reaching the Top 10 in April of the following year. Producer Bill Szymczyk helped it get there by bringing in his buddy Joe Walsh for a soaring turn on the slide. The best showing Ferguson had after this, however, was the quickly forgotten 1979 Top 40 hit "Shakedown Cruise." (Nick DeRiso)

49. "Southern Cross," Crosby, Stills & Nash (1982)

CSN's "Southern Cross" was an example of a more literal interpretation of yacht rock, one in which leftover material was revitalized by Stephen Stills . He sped up the tempo of a song titled " Seven League Boots " originally penned by brothers Rick and Michael Curtis, then laid in new lyrics about, yes, an actual boat ride. "I rewrote a new set of words and added a different chorus, a story about a long boat trip I took after my divorce," Stills said in the liner notes  to 1991's CSN box. "It's about using the power of the universe to heal your wounds." The music video for the song, which went into heavy rotation on MTV, also prominently displayed the band members aboard a large vessel. (Allison Rapp)

48. "Jackie Blue," the Ozark Mountain Daredevils (1974)

Drummer Larry Lee only had a rough idea of what he wanted to do with "Jackie Blue," originally naming it after a bartending dope pusher. For a long time, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils' best-known single remained an instrumental with the place-keeper lyric, " Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh Jackie Blue. He was dada, and dada doo. He did this, he did that ... ." Producer Glyn Johns, who loved the track, made a key suggestion – and everything finally snapped into place: "No, no, no, mate," Johns told them. "Jackie Blue has to be a girl." They "knocked some new lyrics out in about 30 minutes," Lee said in It Shined: The Saga of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils . "[From] some drugged-out guy, we changed Jackie into a reclusive girl." She'd go all the way to No. 3. (DeRiso)

47. "Sailing," Christopher Cross (1979)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more quintessential yacht rock song than “Sailing.” The second single (and first chart-topper) off Christopher Cross’ 1979 self-titled debut offers an intoxicating combination of dreamy strings, singsong vocals and shimmering, open-tuned guitar arpeggios that pay deference to Cross’ songwriting idol, Joni Mitchell . “These tunings, like Joni used to say, they get you in this sort of trance,” Cross told Songfacts in 2013. “The chorus just sort of came out. … So I got up and wandered around the apartment just thinking, ‘Wow, that's pretty fuckin' great.’” Grammy voters agreed: “Sailing” won Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Arrangement at the 1981 awards. (Bryan Rolli)

46. "Just the Two of Us," Bill Withers and Grover Washington Jr. (1980)

A collaboration between singer Bill Withers and saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. resulted in the sleek "Just the Two of Us." When first approached with the song, Withers insisted on reworking the lyrics. "I'm a little snobbish about words," he said in 2004 . "I said, 'Yeah, if you'll let me go in and try to dress these words up a little bit.' Everybody that knows me is kind of used to me that way. I probably threw in the stuff like the crystal raindrops. The 'Just the Two of Us' thing was already written. It was trying to put a tuxedo on it." The track was completed with some peppy backing vocals and a subtle slap bass part. (Rapp)

45. "Sara Smile," Daryl Hall & John Oates (1975)

It doesn't get much smoother than "Sara Smile," Daryl Hall & John Oates ' first Top 10 hit in the U.S. The song was written for Sara Allen, Hall's longtime girlfriend, whom he had met when she was working as a flight attendant. His lead vocal, which was recorded live, is clear as a bell on top of a velvety bass line and polished backing vocals that nodded to the group's R&B influences. “It was a song that came completely out of my heart," Hall said in 2018 . "It was a postcard. It’s short and sweet and to the point." Hall and Allen stayed together for almost 30 years before breaking up in 2001. (Rapp)

44. "Rosanna," Toto (1982)

One of the most identifiable hits of 1982 was written by Toto co-founder David Paich – but wasn't about Rosanna Arquette, as some people have claimed, even though keyboardist Steve Porcaro was dating the actress at the time. The backbeat laid down by drummer Jeff Porcaro – a "half-time shuffle" similar to what John Bonham played on " Fool in the Rain " – propels the track, while vocal harmonies and emphatic brass sections add further layers. The result is an infectious and uplifting groove – yacht rock at its finest. (Corey Irwin)

43. "Diamond Girl," Seals & Crofts (1973)

Seals & Crofts were soft-rock stylists with imagination, dolling up their saccharine melodies with enough musical intrigue to survive beyond the seemingly obvious shelf life. Granted, the lyrics to “Diamond Girl,” one of the duo’s three No. 6 hits, are as sterile as a surgery-operating room, built on pseudo-romantic nothing-isms ( “Now that I’ve found you, it’s around you that I am” — what a perfectly natural phrase!). But boy, oh boy does that groove sound luxurious beaming out of a hi-fi system, with every nuance — those stacked backing vocals, that snapping piano — presented in full analog glory. (Ryan Reed)

42. "What You Won't Do for Love," Bobby Caldwell (1978)

Smooth. From the opening horn riffs and the soulful keyboard to the funk bass and the velvety vocals of Bobby Caldwell, everything about “What You Won’t Do for Love” is smooth. Released in September 1978, the track peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went on to become the biggest hit of Caldwell’s career. It was later given a second life after being sampled for rapper 2Pac's posthumously released 1998 hit single “Do for Love.” (Irwin)

41. "We Just Disagree," Dave Mason (1977)

Dave Mason's ace in the hole on the No. 12 smash "We Just Disagree" was Jim Krueger, who composed the track, shared the harmony vocal and played that lovely guitar figure. "It was a song that when he sang it to me, it was like, 'Yeah, that's the song,'" Mason told Greg Prato in 2014. "Just him and a guitar, which is usually how I judge whether I'm going to do something. If it holds up like that, I'll put the rest of the icing on it." Unfortunately, the multitalented Krueger died of pancreatic cancer at age 43. By then, Mason had disappeared from the top of the charts, never getting higher than No. 39 again. (DeRiso)

40. "Crazy Love," Poco (1978)

Rusty Young was paneling a wall when inspiration struck. He'd long toiled in the shadow of Stephen Stills , Richie Furay and Neil Young , serving in an instrumentalist role with Buffalo Springfield and then Poco . "Crazy Love" was his breakout moment, and he knew it. Rusty Young presented the song before he'd even finished the lyric, but his Poco bandmates loved the way the stopgap words harmonized. "I told the others, 'Don't worry about the ' ooh, ooh, ahhhh haaa ' part. I can find words for that," Young told the St. Louis Dispatch in 2013. "And they said, 'Don't do that. That's the way it's supposed to be.'" It was: Young's first big vocal became his group's only Top 20 hit. (DeRiso)

39. "Suspicions," Eddie Rabbitt (1979)

Eddie Rabbitt 's move from country to crossover stardom was hurtled along by "Suspicions," as a song about a cuckold's worry rose to the Top 20 on both the pop and adult-contemporary charts. Behind the scenes, there was an even clearer connection to yacht rock: Co-writer Even Stevens said Toto's David Hungate played bass on the date. As important as it was for his career, Rabbitt later admitted that he scratched out "Suspicions" in a matter of minutes, while on a lunch break in the studio on the last day of recording his fifth album at Wally Heider's Los Angeles studio. "Sometimes," Rabbitt told the Associated Press in 1985, "the words just fall out of my mouth." (DeRiso)

38. "Moonlight Feels Right," Starbuck (1976)

No sound in rock history is more yacht friendly than Bruce Blackman’s laugh: hilarious, arbitrary, smug, speckled with vocal fry, arriving just before each chorus of Starbuck’s signature tune. Why is this human being laughing? Shrug. Guess the glow of night will do that to you. Then again, this is one of the more strange hits of the '70s — soft-pop hooks frolicking among waves of marimba and synthesizers that could have been plucked from a classic prog epic. “ The eastern moon looks ready for a wet kiss ,” Blackman croons, “ to make the tide rise again .” It’s a lunar make-out session, baby. (Reed)

37. "Same Old Lang Syne," Dan Fogelberg (1981)

“Same Old Lang Syne” is a masterclass in economic storytelling, and its tragedy is in the things both protagonists leave unsaid. Dan Fogelberg weaves a devastating tale of two former lovers who run into each other at a grocery store on Christmas Eve and spend the rest of the night catching up and reminiscing. Their circumstances have changed — he’s a disillusioned professional musician, she’s stuck in an unhappy marriage — but their love for each other is still palpable if only they could overcome their fears and say it out loud. They don’t, of course, and when Fogelberg bids his high-school flame adieu, he’s left with only his bittersweet memories and gnawing sense of unfulfillment to keep him warm on that snowy (and later rainy) December night. (Rolli)

36. "Eye in the Sky," the Alan Parsons Project (1982)

Few songs strike a chord with both prog nerds and soft-rock enthusiasts, but the Alan Parsons Project's “Eye in the Sky” belongs to that exclusive club. The arrangement is all smooth contours and pillowy textures: By the time Eric Woolfson reaches the chorus, shyly emoting about romantic deception over a bed of Wurlitzer keys and palm-muted riffs, the effect is like falling slow motion down a waterfall onto a memory foam mattress. But there’s artfulness here, too, from Ian Bairnson’s seductive guitar solo to the titular phrase conjuring some kind of god-like omniscience. (Reed)

35. "Somebody's Baby," Jackson Browne (1982)

Jackson Browne 's highest-charting single, and his last Top 10 hit, was originally tucked away on the soundtrack for the 1982 teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High . That placed Browne, one of the most earnest of singer-songwriters, firmly out of his element. "It was not typical of what Jackson writes at all, that song," co-composer Danny Kortchmar told Songfacts in 2013. "But because it was for this movie, he changed his general approach and came up with this fantastic song." Still unsure of how it would fit in, Browne refused to place "Somebody's Baby" on his next proper album – something he'd later come to regret . Lawyers in Love broke a string of consecutive multiplatinum releases dating back to 1976. (DeRiso)

34. "Still the One," Orleans (1976)

Part of yacht rock’s charm is being many things but only to a small degree. Songs can be jazzy, but not experimental. Brass sections are great but don’t get too funky. And the songs should rock, but not rock . In that mold comes Orleans’ 1976 hit “Still the One.” On top of a chugging groove, frontman John Hall sings about a romance that continues to stand the test of time. This love isn’t the white-hot flame that leaves passionate lovers burned – more like a soft, medium-level heat that keeps things comfortably warm. The tune is inoffensive, catchy and fun, aka yacht-rock gold. (Irwin)

33. "New Frontier," Donald Fagen (1982)

In which an awkward young man attempts to spark a Cold War-era fling — then, hopefully, a longer, post-apocalyptic relationship — via bomb shelter bunker, chatting up a “big blond” with starlet looks and a soft spot for Dave Brubeck. Few songwriters could pull off a lyrical concept so specific, and almost no one but Donald Fagen could render it catchy. “New Frontier,” a signature solo cut from the Steely Dan maestro, builds the sleek jazz-funk of Gaucho into a more digital-sounding landscape, with Fagen stacking precise vocal harmonies over synth buzz and bent-note guitar leads. (Reed)

32. "Sail On, Sailor," the Beach Boys (1973)

The Beach Boys were reworking a new album when Van Dyke Parks handed them this updated version of an unfinished Brian Wilson song. All that was left was to hand the mic over to Blondie Chaplin for his greatest-ever Beach Boys moment. They released "Sail On, Sailor" twice, however, and this yearning groover somehow barely cracked the Top 50. Chaplin was soon out of the band, too. It's a shame. "Sail On, Sailor" remains the best example of how the Beach Boys' elemental style might have kept growing. Instead, Chaplin went on to collaborate with the Band , Gene Clark of the  Byrds  and the Rolling Stones – while the Beach Boys settled into a lengthy tenure as a jukebox band. (DeRiso)

31. "Time Passages," Al Stewart (1978)

Al Stewart followed up the first hit single of his decade-long career – 1976's "Year of the Cat" – with a more streamlined take two years later. "Time Passages" bears a similar structure to the earlier track, including a Phil Kenzie sax solo and production by Alan Parsons. While both songs' respective album and single versions coincidentally run the same time, the 1978 hit's narrative wasn't as convoluted and fit more squarely into pop radio playlists. "Time Passages" became Stewart's highest-charting single, reaching No. 7 – while "Year of the Cat" had stalled at No. 8. (Michael Gallucci)

30. "I Go Crazy," Paul Davis (1977)

Paul Davis looked like he belonged in the Allman Brothers Band , but his soft, soulful voice took him in a different direction. The slow-burning nature of his breakthrough single "I Go Crazy" was reflected in its chart performance: For years the song held the record for the most weeks spent on the chart, peaking at No. 7 during its 40-week run. Davis, who died in 2008, took five more songs into the Top 40 after 1977, but "I Go Crazy" is his masterpiece – a wistful and melancholic look back at lost love backed by spare, brokenhearted verses. (Gallucci)

29. "Biggest Part of Me," Ambrosia (1980)

Songwriter David Pack taped the original demo of this song on a reel-to-reel when everyone else was running late, finishing just in time: "I was waiting for my family to get in the car so I could go to a Fourth of July celebration in Malibu," he told the Tennessean in 2014. "I turned off my machine [and] heard the car horn honking for me." Still, Pack was worried that the hastily written first verse – which rhymed " arisin ,'" " horizon " and " realizin '" – might come off a little corny. So he followed the time-honored yacht-rock tradition of calling in Michael McDonald to sing heartfelt background vocals. Result: a Top 5 hit on both the pop and adult-contemporary charts. (DeRiso)

28. "Africa," Toto (1982)

Remove the cover versions, the nostalgia sheen and its overuse in TV and films, and you’re left with what makes “Africa” great: one of the best earworm choruses in music history. Never mind that the band is made up of white guys from Los Angeles who'd never visited the titular continent. Verses about Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti paint a picture so vivid that listeners are swept away. From the soaring vocals to the stirring synth line, every element of the song works perfectly. There’s a reason generations of music fans continue to proudly bless the rains. (Irwin)

27. "Hello It's Me," Todd Rundgren (1972)

“Hello It’s Me” is the first song Todd Rundgren ever wrote, recorded by his band Nazz and released in 1968. He quickened the tempo, spruced up the instrumentation and delivered a more urgent vocal for this 1972 solo rendition (which became a Top 5 U.S. hit), but the bones of the tune remain the same. “Hello It’s Me” is a wistful, bittersweet song about the dissolution of a relationship between two people who still very much love and respect each other a clear-eyed breakup ballad lacking the guile, cynicism and zaniness of Rundgren’s later work. “The reason those [early] songs succeeded was because of their derivative nature,” Rundgren told Guitar World in 2021. “They plugged so easily into audience expectations. They’re easily absorbed.” That may be so, but there’s still no denying the airtight hooks and melancholy beauty of “Hello It’s Me.” (Rolli)

26. "Smoke From a Distant Fire," the Sanford/Townsend Band (1977)

There are other artists who better define yacht rock - Michael McDonald, Steely Dan, Christopher Cross - but few songs rival the Sanford/Townsend Band's "Smoke From a Distant Fire" as a more representative genre track. (It was a Top 10 hit in the summer of 1977. The duo never had another charting single.) From the vaguely swinging rhythm and roaring saxophone riff to the light percussion rolls and risk-free vocals (that nod heavily to Daryl Hall and John Oates' blue-eyed soul), "Smoke" may be the most definitive yacht rock song ever recorded. We may even go as far as to say it's ground zero. (Gallucci)

25. "Dream Weaver," Gary Wright (1975)

Unlike many other songs on our list, “Dream Weaver” lacks lush instrumentation. Aside from Gary Wright’s vocals and keyboard parts, the only added layer is the drumming of Jim Keltner. But while the track may not have guitars, bass or horns, it certainly has plenty of vibes. Inspired by the writings of Paramahansa Yogananda – which Wright was turned on to by George Harrison – “Dream Weaver” boasts a celestial aura that helped the song peak at No. 2 in 1976. (Irwin)

24. "Reminiscing," Little River Band (1978)

The third time was the charm with Little River Band 's highest-charting single in the U.S. Guitarist Graeham Goble wrote "Reminiscing" for singer Glenn Shorrock with a certain keyboardist in mind. Unfortunately, they weren't able to schedule a session with Peter Jones, who'd played an important role in Little River Band's first-ever charting U.S. single, 1976's "It's a Long Way There ." They tried it anyway but didn't care for the track. They tried again, with the same results. "The band was losing interest in the song," Goble later told Chuck Miller . "Just before the album was finished, Peter Jones came back into town, [and] the band and I had an argument because I wanted to give 'Reminiscing' a third chance." This time they nailed it. (DeRiso)

23. "Heart Hotels," Dan Fogelberg (1979)

Ironically enough, this song about debilitating loneliness arrived on an album in which Dan Fogelberg played almost all of the instruments himself. A key concession to the outside world became the most distinctive musical element on "Heart Hotels," as well-known saxophonist Tom Scott took a turn on the Lyricon – a pre-MIDI electronic wind instrument invented just a few years earlier. As for the meaning of sad songs like these, the late Fogelberg once said : "I feel experiences deeply, and I have an outlet, a place where I can translate those feelings. A lot of people go to psychoanalysts. I write songs." (DeRiso)

22. "Year of the Cat," Al Stewart (1976)

Just about every instrument imaginable can be heard in Al Stewart's "Year of the Cat." What begins with an elegant piano intro winds its way through a string section and a sultry sax solo, then to a passionate few moments with a Spanish acoustic guitar. The sax solo, often a hallmark of yacht-rock songs, was not Stewart's idea. Producer Alan Parsons suggested it at the last minute, and Stewart thought it was the "worst idea I'd ever heard. I said, 'Alan, there aren’t any saxophones in folk-rock. Folk-rock is about guitars. Sax is a jazz instrument,'" Stewart said in 2021 . Multiple lengthy instrumental segments bring the song to nearly seven minutes, yet each seems to blend into the next like a carefully arranged orchestra. (Rapp)

21. "How Long," Ace (1974)

How long does it take to top the charts? For the Paul Carrack-fronted Ace: 45 years . "I wrote the lyric on the bus going to my future mother-in-law's," he later told Gary James . "I wrote it on the back of that bus ticket. That's my excuse for there only being one verse." Ace released "How Long" in 1975, reaching No. 3, then Carrack moved on to stints with Squeeze and Mike and the Mechanics . Finally, in 2020, "How Long" rose two spots higher, hitting No. 1 on Billboard's rock digital song sales chart after being featured in an Amazon Prime advertisement titled "Binge Cheat." (DeRiso)

20. "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)," Looking Glass (1972)

Like "Summer Breeze" (found later in our list of Top 50 Yacht Rock Songs), Looking Glass' tale of an alluring barmaid in a busy harbor town pre-dates the classic yacht-rock era. Consider acts like Seals & Crofts and these one-hit wonders pioneers of the genre. Ironically, the effortless-sounding "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" was quite difficult to complete. "We recorded 'Brandy' two or three different times with various producers before we got it right," Looking Glass' principal songwriter Elliot Lurie told the Tennessean in 2016. The chart-topping results became so popular so fast, however, that Barry Manilow had to change the title of a new song he was working on to " Mandy ." (DeRiso)

19. "I Can't Tell You Why," Eagles (1979)

Timothy B. Schmit joined just in time to watch the  Eagles disintegrate. But things couldn't have started in a better place for the former Poco member. He arrived with the makings of his first showcase moment with the group, an unfinished scrap that would become the No. 8 hit "I Can't Tell You Why." For a moment, often-contentious band members rallied around the outsider. Don Henley and Glenn Frey both made key contributions, as Eagles completed the initial song on what would become 1979's The Long Run . Schmit felt like he had a reason to be optimistic. Instead, Eagles released the LP and then promptly split up. (DeRiso)

18. "Sentimental Lady," Bob Welch (1977)

Bob Welch  first recorded "Sentimental Lady" in 1972 as a member of Fleetwood Mac . Five years later, after separating from a band that had gone on to way bigger things , Welch revisited one of his best songs and got two former bandmates who appeared on the original version – Mick Fleetwood and Christine McVie – to help out (new Mac member Lindsey Buckingham also makes an appearance). This is the better version, warmer and more inviting, and it reached the Top 10. (Gallucci)

17. "So Into You," Atlanta Rhythm Section (1976)

Atlanta Rhythm Section is often wrongly categorized as a Southern rock band, simply because of their roots in Doraville, Ga. Songs like the seductively layered "So Into You" illustrate how little they had in common with the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd . As renowned Muscle Shoals sessions ace David Hood once said, they're more like the " Steely Dan of the South ." Unfortunately, time hasn't been kind to the group. Two of this best-charting single's writers have since died , while keyboardist Dean Daughtry retired in 2019 as Atlanta Rhythm Section's last constant member. (DeRiso)

16. "Dreams," Fleetwood Mac (1977)

Stevie Nicks was trying to channel the heartbreak she endured after separating from Lindsey Buckingham into a song, but couldn't concentrate among the bustle of Fleetwood Mac's sessions for Rumours . "I was kind of wandering around the studio," she later told Yahoo! , "looking for somewhere I could curl up with my Fender Rhodes and my lyrics and a little cassette tape recorder." That's when she ran into a studio assistant who led her to a quieter, previously unseen area at Sausalito's Record Plant. The circular space was surrounded by keyboards and recording equipment, with a half-moon bed in black-and-red velvet to one side. She settled in, completing "Dreams" in less than half an hour, but not before asking the helpful aide one pressing question: "I said, 'What is this?' And he said, 'This is Sly Stone 's studio.'" (DeRiso)

15. "Minute by Minute," the Doobie Brothers (1978)

Michael McDonald was so unsure of this album that he nervously previewed it for a friend. "I mean, all the tunes have merit, but I don't know if they hang together as a record," McDonald later told UCR. "He looked at me and he said, 'This is a piece of shit.'" Record buyers disagreed, making Minute by Minute the Doobie Brothers' first chart-topping multiplatinum release. Such was the mania surrounding this satiny-smooth LP that the No. 14 hit title track lost out on song-of-the-year honors at the Grammys to "What a Fool Believes" (found later in our list of Top 50 Yacht Rock Songs) by the Doobie Brothers. (DeRiso)

14. "Lonely Boy," Andrew Gold (1976)

Andrew Gold’s only Top 10 U.S. hit is a story of parental neglect and simmering resentment, but those pitch-black details are easy to miss when couched inside such a deliciously upbeat melody. Gold chronicles the childhood of the titular lonely boy over a propulsive, syncopated piano figure, detailing the betrayal he felt when his parents presented him with a sister two years his junior. When he turns 18, the lonely boy ships off to college and leaves his family behind, while his sister gets married and has a son of her own — oblivious to the fact that she’s repeating the mistakes of her parents. Gold insisted “Lonely Boy” wasn’t autobiographical, despite the details in the song matching up with his own life. In any case, you can’t help but wonder what kind of imagination produces such dark, compelling fiction. (Rolli)

13. "Baby Come Back," Player (1977)

Liverpool native Peter Beckett moved to the States, originally to join a forgotten act called Skyband. By the time he regrouped to found Player with American J.C. Crowley, Beckett's wife had returned to England. Turns out Crowley was going through a breakup, too, and the Beckett-sung "Baby Come Back" was born. "So it was a genuine song, a genuine lyric – and I think that comes across in the song," Beckett said in The Yacht Rock Book . "That's why it was so popular." The demo earned Player a hastily signed record deal, meaning Beckett and Crowley had to assemble a band even as "Baby Come Back" rose to No. 1. Their debut album was released before Player had ever appeared in concert. (DeRiso)

12. "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight," England Dan & John Ford Coley (1976)

There aren't too many songs with choruses as big as the one England Dan & John Ford Coley pump into the key lines of their first Top 40 single. Getting there is half the fun: The conversational verses – " Hello, yeah, it's been a while / Not much, how 'bout you? / I'm not sure why I called / I guess I really just wanted to talk to you " – build into the superpowered come-on line " I'm not talking 'bout moving in ...  ." Their yacht-rock pedigree is strong: Dan Seals' older brother is Seals & Croft's Jim Seals. (Gallucci)

11. "Hey Nineteen," Steely Dan (1980)

At least on the surface, “Hey Nineteen” is one of Steely Dan’s least ambiguous songs: An over-the-hill guy makes one of history’s most cringe-worthy, creepiest pick-up attempts, reminiscing about his glory days in a fraternity and lamenting that his would-be companion doesn’t know who Aretha Franklin is. (The bridge is a bit tougher to crack. Is anyone sharing that “fine Colombian”?) But the words didn’t propel this Gaucho classic into Billboard's Top 10. Instead, that credit goes to the groove, anchored by Walter Becker ’s gently gliding bass guitar, Donald Fagen’s velvety electric piano and a chorus smoother than top-shelf Cuervo Gold. (Reed)

10. "Rich Girl," Daryl Hall & John Oates (1976)

It’s one of the most economical pop songs ever written: two A sections, two B sections (the second one extended), a fade-out vocal vamp. In and out. Wham, bam, boom. Perhaps that's why it’s easy to savor “Rich Girl” 12 times in a row during your morning commute, why hearing it just once on the radio is almost maddening. This blue-eyed-soul single, the duo’s first No. 1 hit, lashes out at a supposedly entitled heir to a fast-food chain. (The original lyric was the less-catchy “rich guy ”; that one change may have earned them millions.) But there’s nothing bitter about that groove, built on Hall’s electric piano stabs and staccato vocal hook. (Reed)

9. "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," Elvin Bishop (1975)

Elvin Bishop made his biggest pop-chart splash with "Fooled Around and Fell In Love," permanently changing the first line of his bio from a  former member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band to a solo star in his own right. There was only one problem: "The natural assumption was that it was Elvin Bishop who was singing,” singer  Mickey Thomas told the Tahoe Daily Tribune in 2007. Thomas later found even greater chart success with Starship alongside Donny Baldwin, who also played drums on Bishop's breakthrough single. "A lot of peers found out about me through that, and ultimately I did get credit for it," Thomas added. "It opened a lot of doors for me." (DeRiso)

8. "Baker Street," Gerry Rafferty (1978)

Gerry Rafferty already had a taste of success when his band Stealers Wheel hit the Top 10 with the Dylanesque "Stuck in the Middle With You" in 1973. His first solo album after the group's split, City to City , made it to No. 1 in 1978, thanks in great part to its hit single "Baker Street" (which spent six frustrating weeks at No. 2). The iconic saxophone riff by Raphael Ravenscroft gets much of the attention, but this single triumphs on many other levels. For six, mood-setting minutes Rafferty winds his way down "Baker Street" with a hopefulness rooted in eternal restlessness. (Gallucci)

7. "Dirty Work," Steely Dan (1972)

In just about three minutes, Steely Dan tells a soap-opera tale of an affair between a married woman and a man who is well aware he's being played but is too hopelessly hooked to end things. " When you need a bit of lovin' 'cause your man is out of town / That's the time you get me runnin' and you know I'll be around ," singer David Palmer sings in a surprisingly delicate tenor. A saxophone and flugelhorn part weeps underneath his lines. By the time the song is over, we can't help but feel sorry for the narrator who is, ostensibly, just as much part of the problem as he could be the solution. Not all yacht rock songs have happy endings. (Rapp)

6. "Ride Like the Wind," Christopher Cross (1979)

“Ride Like the Wind” is ostensibly a song about a tough-as-nails outlaw racing for the border of Mexico under cover of night, but there’s nothing remotely dangerous about Christopher Cross’ lithe tenor or the peppy piano riffs and horns propelling the tune. Those contradictions aren’t a detriment. This is cinematic, high-gloss pop-rock at its finest, bursting at the seams with hooks and elevated by Michael McDonald’s silky backing vocals. Cross nods to his Texas roots with a fiery guitar solo, blending hard rock and pop in a way that countless artists would replicate in the next decade. (Rolli)

5. "Summer Breeze," Seals & Crofts (1972)

Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were childhood friends in Texas, but the mellow grandeur of "Summer Breeze" makes it clear that they always belonged in '70s-era Southern California. "We operate on a different level," Seals once said , sounding like nothing if not a Laurel Canyon native. "We try to create images, impressions and trains of thought in the minds of our listeners." This song's fluttering curtains, welcoming domesticity and sweet jasmine certainly meet that standard. For some reason, however, they released this gem in August 1972 – as the season faded into fall. Perhaps that's why "Summer Breeze" somehow never got past No. 6 on the pop chart. (DeRiso)

4. "Lowdown," Boz Scaggs (1976)

As you throw on your shades and rev the motor, the only thing hotter than the afternoon sun is David Hungate’s sweet slap-bass blasting from the tape deck. “This is the good life,” you say to no one in particular, casually tipping your baseball cap to the bikini-clad crew on the boat zooming by. Then you press “play” again. What else but Boz Scaggs ’ silky “Lowdown” could soundtrack such a moment in paradise? Everything about this tune, which cruised to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, is equally idyllic: Jeff Porcaro’s metronomic hi-hat pattern, David Paich’s jazzy keyboard vamp, the cool-guy croon of Scaggs — flexing about gossip and “schoolboy game.” You crack open another cold one — why not? And, well, you press play once more. (Reed)

3. "Lido Shuffle," Boz Scaggs (1976)

Scaggs' storied career began as a sideman with Steve Miller  and already included a scorching duet with Duane Allman . Co-writer David Paich would earn Grammy-winning stardom with songs like "Africa." Yet they resorted to theft when it came to this No. 11 smash. Well, in a manner of speaking: "'Lido' was a song that I'd been banging around, and I kind of stole – well, I didn't steal anything. I just took the idea of the shuffle," Scaggs told Songfacts in 2013. "There was a song that Fats Domino did called 'The Fat Man ' that had a kind of driving shuffle beat that I used to play on the piano, and I just started kind of singing along with it. Then I showed it to Paich, and he helped me fill it out." Then Paich took this track's bassist and drummer with him to form Toto. (DeRiso)

2. "Peg," Steely Dan (1977)

"Peg" is blessed with several yacht-rock hallmarks: a spot on Steely Dan's most Steely Dan-like album, Aja , an impeccable airtightness that falls somewhere between soft-pop and jazz and yacht rock's stalwart captain, Michael McDonald, at the helm. (He may be a mere backing singer here, but his one-note chorus chirps take the song to another level.) Like most Steely Dan tracks, this track's meaning is both cynical and impenetrable, and its legacy has only grown over the years – from hip-hop samples to faithful cover versions. (Gallucci)

1. "What a Fool Believes," the Doobie Brothers (1978)

Michael McDonald not only steered the Doobie Brothers in a new direction when he joined in 1975, but he also made them a commercial powerhouse with the 1978 album Minute by Minute . McDonald co-wrote "What a Fool Believes" – a No. 1 single; the album topped the chart, too – with Kenny Loggins and sang lead, effectively launching a genre in the process. The song's style was copied for the next couple of years (most shamelessly in Robbie Dupree's 1980 Top 10 "Steal Away"), and McDonald became the bearded face of yacht rock. (Gallucci)

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Gallery Credit: UCR Staff

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The Best Black Rock Bands

Steve Jackson

A list of the best Black rock bands including a few afro-punk and Black alternative bands. While Black rock musicians and afro-punks might only be a minority within the United States, remember that in other regions such as South America and Africa, they're the majority. The real irony though of Black rock is that rock itself is derived from rock 'n' roll, which in turn was derived from African American jazz and blues. One could argue then that Black rock forms a direct line back to rock's true origins. The African American rock bands on this list are some of the best out there - in any genre.

What is the best Black rock band? What are the names of some Black rock bands? This list mostly contains famous Black rock bands, if you have a favorite that isn't listed, add them and vote up your favorites!

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix

Revolutionizing the electric guitar with unparalleled virtuosity and innovative techniques, this legendary musician became synonymous with psychedelic rock, transcending racial barriers, and propelling the genre into the mainstream. From jaw-dropping solos to mind-bending feedback manipulation, his talents continuously blurred the lines between technicality and creativity, leaving an indelible mark on both pop culture and the music world. Despite a tragically short career, his distinctive sound and unforgettable stage presence have immortalized him as one of the most iconic rock artists of all time.

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Exuding sexuality and mystique, this enigmatic singer-songwriter captivated audiences with a dynamic blend of funk, R&B, and rock that transcended norms and defied categorization. A consummate musician, he played multiple instruments with dazzling proficiency, while his stunning vocal range and magnetic stage presence enraptured fans across the globe. With a prolific and diverse discography that cemented his status as a pop culture icon, his untimely death left an unfillable void in the musical landscape.

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Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry

Commonly referred to as the "father of rock and roll," this trailblazing guitarist popularized rhythm and blues in the 1950s, wielding power chords and melodic solos that laid the groundwork for future generations. Beloved for his duck walk and swaggering charisma, his infectious tunes and poetic lyrics chronicled American life and youth culture like never before. As an influential figure whose innovations helped shape the course of modern music, his impact on the evolution of rock remains unparalleled.

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  • # 29 of 205 on The Greatest Rock Songwriters Of All Time

Sly & the Family Stone

Sly & the Family Stone

Pioneering a funk-rock fusion that blended elements of psychedelic rock, soul, and rhythm and blues, this racially diverse ensemble broke barriers both musically and socially. Led by a visionary frontman who crafted a sound that was groovy, political, and unmistakably original, the group's innovative arrangements and genre-defying style paved the way for future generations of artists. With tremendous influence on the evolution of popular music, their afro-centric vibrations continue to resonate.

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  • # 123 of 246 on The Greatest American Rock Bands
  • # 43 of 147 on The 100+ Best R&B Artists Of All Time, Ranked

Living Colour

Living Colour

Fusing hard rock with an eclectic mix of genres, this groundbreaking quartet challenged racial stereotypes and shattered expectations within the predominantly white 1980s rock scene. Showcasing virtuosic musicianship and thought-provoking lyrics, their powerful sound tackled issues like racism, gentrification, and political corruption. With a dedicated following and multiple awards under their belt, they remain a testimony to the limitless possibilities of rock music.

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Blending the mind-altering sounds of psychedelic rock with heavy funk grooves, this eccentric collective broke new ground through intricate guitar interplay, and outlandish outfits that pushed the limits of convention. Fronted by the enigmatic George Clinton, their genre-defying tunes mixed social commentary with tongue-in-cheek humor, giving birth to a unique sound that would eventually be branded as P-Funk. Leaving an indelible mark on the development of music, their influence can still be heard across various contemporary genres.

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Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder

A multi-instrumentalist prodigy with a voice that belies his age, this blind sensation wowed the world with his extraordinary musical talents and socially conscious songwriting. His immense creativity and ambition exploded during the 1970s, as he delved into funk, soul, and rock, paving the way for future African-American musicians to make their mark. Despite numerous awards and accolades, it's his impact on contemporary music and unyielding relevance that truly solidifies his place among the pantheon of rock artists.

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Little Richard

Little Richard

No stranger to controversy, this flamboyant piano prodigy pushed boundaries with a wild onstage persona and a soulful fusion of gospel, R&B, and rock. His electrifying performances, unparalleled showmanship, and groundbreaking songs laid the foundation for rock and roll, inspiring countless artists who followed in his footsteps. Though he faced significant roadblocks due to both race and sexuality, his indomitable spirit and influential contributions stand testament to his status as a rock legend.

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Bad Brains

Combining the raw intensity of punk with the rhythmic complexity of reggae, this innovative outfit wielded a ferocious sound that made them an influential force within the burgeoning hardcore scene. Distinguished by their breakneck tempos, intricate musicianship, and politically charged lyrics, these trailblazers demonstrated that rock music could, indeed, be both thought-provoking and moshpit-inducing. Despite numerous lineup changes and a career mired in controversy, their impact reverberates through generations of punk, metal, and alternative bands alike.

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  • # 683 of 867 on The 250+ Greatest Rock Bands Of All Time, Ranked
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Thin Lizzy

Fronted by the charismatic and fiercely talented Phil Lynott, this Irish outfit pioneered the "twin guitar" sound that would become a defining characteristic of hard rock. Marrying tough, bluesy riffs with folk-infused ballads, their music showcased Lynott's poetic storytelling and a distinctively evocative approach that set them apart from their contemporaries. Though often overlooked in the annals of rock history, their influence can be heard across multiple generations of musicians who've cited them as an inspiration.

  • # 538 of 1,152 on The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time
  • # 98 of 273 on The Greatest Live Bands of All Time
  • # 109 of 867 on The 250+ Greatest Rock Bands Of All Time, Ranked

The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers

Spanning multiple decades and genres, this family band's musical journey saw them evolve from gospel and doo-wop roots to a dynamic and innovative rock-infused R&B sound. With Ernie Isley's guitar wizardry as a driving force, they crafted a slew of groundbreaking tunes that have since become staples in the lexicon of popular music. Having weathered numerous lineup changes and withstanding the test of time, their indelible mark on the industry is unquestionable.

  • # 748 of 1,152 on The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time
  • # 11 of 147 on The 100+ Best R&B Artists Of All Time, Ranked
  • # 142 of 246 on The Greatest American Rock Bands

Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz

A multitalented performer who deftly maneuvers between various instruments, this enigmatic artist's signature blend of retro-inspired rock and soulful funk has earned him widespread acclaim and a string of chart-topping hits. Flaunting an unmistakable style - both sonically and aesthetically - his music harkens back to classic rock's golden era while simultaneously pushing the envelope with contemporary themes and sensibilities. As an unyielding force in pop culture for over three decades, his enduring appeal is proof that sometimes, the old ways are best.

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Bob Marley & The Wailers

Bob Marley & The Wailers

No list would be complete without mentioning the late, great, reggae icon and his band, whose music transcended both genre and race, uniting people across the globe. Combining elements of rock, soul, and ska, their infectious tunes and stirring lyrics touched on themes of love, spirituality, and the struggle for freedom, creating a unique sound that has since become synonymous with the singer's name. Ingrained in popular culture and cemented as a symbol of rebellion and resistance, their legacy lives on through countless covers, adaptations, and tributes.

The Temptations

The Temptations

Ushering in a new era of soulful, harmonious vocals and nigh-impeccable choreography, this legendary Motown ensemble's infectious tunes and impeccable stage presence struck a chord with audiences and critics alike. While initially gravitating towards R&B, their experimentation with psychedelic rock and funk would expand their sound and pave the way for new avenues within the genre. With numerous chart-topping hits and a legacy spanning over half a century, their contributions to the world of music are undeniable.

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  • # 7 of 147 on The 100+ Best R&B Artists Of All Time, Ranked

Tina Turner

Tina Turner

Nicknamed "The Queen of Rock 'n' Roll," this powerhouse vocalist boasts a career spanning five decades, during which she has overcome adversity and defied the odds to become one of the greatest live performers in history. Blending raw R&B sensibilities with electrifying stage presence and dance-worthy grooves, her boundary-shattering sound and infectious energy have inspired generations of musicians. With numerous awards and accolades under her belt, her influence on popular culture is undeniable, and her indomitable spirit continues to captivate audiences worldwide.

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Boldly shattering racial stereotypes in the 1980s, this eclectic ensemble tackled a dizzying array of genres - from punk and ska to funk and metal - crafting a sound as diverse as their influences. Led by the charismatic Angelo Moore, their incessant energy and theatrical stage presence created a palpable sense of urgency that resonated with fans and critics alike. Though commercial success proved elusive, their innovative output and unflinching attitude have earned them a dedicated following and left an indelible mark on alternative rock.

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Band of Gypsys

Band of Gypsys

Formed in tumultuous times, this short-lived power trio showcased a different side to the incendiary talents of a certain legendary guitarist, as he delved into heavier, more experimental territory. Joined by bass virtuoso Billy Cox and drum maestro Buddy Miles, the group's mind-bending jams pushed the limits of musical expression while engaging in deeply personal, socially conscious themes. Though their time together was fleeting, their unique sound would go on to inspire legions of progressive and experimental rock artists for years to come.


This proto-punk trio's propulsive sound and intense energy were ahead of their time, blazing trails with distorted riffs and socio-political lyrics that would later become hallmarks of punk rock. Despite disbanding before releasing an album, their groundbreaking material was rediscovered years later, garnering a cult following and cementing their place as punk-rock pioneers. Their innovative, barrier-breaking sound continues to influence the genre and inspire musicians today.

Bo Diddley

Neither rhythm nor blues is quite the same without this titan of rock 'n' roll, whose iconic "Bo Diddley beat" and innovative guitar techniques laid the groundwork for future generations. A true original, his songs were a thrilling blend of African rhythms, call-and-response chants, and bluesy guitar licks that made him a trailblazer within the rock canon. Often imitated but never replicated, his enduring impact on popular music is irrefutable.

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John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker

Laying down some of the most influential guitar riffs and mournful vocals in history, this prolific blues pioneer opened doors for African-American musicians and helped popularize the genre. Armed with a stripped-down, minimalist approach that placed emphasis on raw emotion, his hypnotic grooves and brooding lyrics captivated audiences around the world. As one of the most influential and widely covered artists in blues history, his lasting impact on rock and roll is nothing short of monumental.

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Ike & Tina Turner

Ike & Tina Turner

This formidable husband-wife duo's raw vocal prowess, powerful stage presence, and boundary-shattering blend of R&B, soul, and rock earned them international acclaim and a dedicated fan base. Despite a tumultuous relationship, their undeniable chemistry and dynamic performances went on to influence generations of musicians. As one of the most memorable partnerships in music history, their enduring impact on the world of rock is indisputable.

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TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio

Defying genre conventions and pushing creative boundaries, this versatile act's fusion of indie rock, electronica, and soulful melodies has consistently garnered critical acclaim and a devoted fanbase. With a penchant for challenging societal norms and tackling themes of love, loss, and political unrest, their thought-provoking lyrics and innovative sound continue to make them stand out from the pack. As pioneers in modern alternative rock, their commitment to exploration and experimentation remains unwavering.

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Unapologetically fusing together elements of funk, rock, R&B, reggae, and jazz, this genre-bending ensemble crafted a politically charged sound as diverse as the members themselves. Known for their extended jams and infectious grooves, the group's experimental approach and cross-cultural appeal made them one of the first multi-ethnic bands to achieve widespread commercial success. With numerous hits to their name and a legacy that continues to inspire, their contributions to popular culture are undeniable.

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Pioneers of alternative metal with a career spanning three decades, this aggressive outfit's explosive sound and high-energy performances have solidified their place within the heavy rock pantheon. Unafraid to tackle complex emotional themes and embodying a relentless work ethic, their consistently powerful output and unwavering commitment to their craft have earned them legions of fans and critical praise alike. As one of the standout acts in modern rock, their influence and dedication to pushing the envelope are undeniable.

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Public Enemy

Public Enemy

Arguably the most politically charged group in hip-hop history, this seminal outfit pushed sonic boundaries with their explosive fusion of rock, punk, and rap, crafting a sound that was both incendiary and infectious. Led by the iconic Chuck D and the irrepressible Flavor Flav, their groundbreaking output tackled issues of race, class, and social injustice, inspiring a generation of socially conscious musicians. As fearless innovators in both music and activism, their far-reaching impact on popular culture remains undeniable.

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Otis Redding

Otis Redding

One of the most iconic voices in soul music, this legendary singer-songwriter's emotive performances and heartfelt lyrics resonated with audiences worldwide and left an indelible mark on the industry. His powerful croon, infused with a gospel and blues-driven sensibility, transcended racial barriers and helped pave the way for future generations of soul and rock artists alike. Despite a short life tragically cut short, his influential sound and timeless songs continue to captivate fans old and new.

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Body Count

Formed by rapper and actor Ice-T, this controversial and provocative outfit melded the raw aggression of punk, the technicality of metal, and the lyrical force of hip-hop, creating a sound that was both groundbreaking and incendiary. Known for their explosive live shows and willingness to tackle contentious political issues, their unflinching commitment to artistic integrity and social commentary has earned them a dedicated fanbase and a place within the upper echelons of modern rock. As trailblazers in the fusion of disparate genres, their influence on popular culture is indisputable.

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Miles Davis

Miles Davis

A master of reinvention, this jazz legend's foray into rock via electric fusion in the late 1960s and early '70s pushed the boundaries of both genres and solidified his place as a musical visionary. Though primarily known for his groundbreaking trumpet skills, his experimental approach and willingness to embrace new sounds influenced countless rock musicians and helped shape the evolution of music. With a staggering discography and a lasting impact on popular culture, his contributions to the world of rock are unequivocal.

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Introducing southern hip-hop to the masses with their genre-defying fusion of funk, soul, and psychedelic rock, this innovative duo became one of the most influential and critically acclaimed acts of the 1990s and 2000s. Boasting a distinctive sound, daring visuals, and boundary-breaking approach to both music and fashion, they've transcended hip-hop's limitations and left an inimitable impact on popular culture. As fearless pioneers in blending disparate musical styles, their influence reverberates through multiple genres, including rock.

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Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes

This multi-talented singer-songwriter, producer, and musician played a crucial role in shaping the sound of Southern soul, helping birth the influential Stax Records sound and paving the way for a new generation of funk and R&B artists. His unmistakable baritone voice and penchant for extended orchestral arrangements blurred the lines between soul, rock, and funk, resulting in a unique and innovative sound that would reverberate through popular culture. As a Grammy and Academy award-winning composer, his contributions to the world of music are incontestable.

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  • Bands/Musicians

The greatest rock bands and artists in every conceivable sub-genre, ranked.

The Greatest Rock Bands in History

Indie Rock Bands

A Brief History of Yacht Rock

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  • May 9, 2022

Although yacht rock has been around for a while, it wasn’t until the late 1970s that the term was coined. This genre of music is characterized by its laid-back and mellow sound, making it the perfect choice for a relaxing day on the water.

Some of the most famous yacht rock artists include Hall and Oates, Steely Dan, and Michael McDonald. Their music is often described as smooth and sophisticated, and it has become the soundtrack of choice for many yachts and boaters around the world.

If you’re looking for some mellow tunes to relax to, be sure to check out some of the best yacht rock songs out there. You won’t be disappointed!

The Golden Age of Yacht Rock 

The 1970s were a golden age for yacht rock. This breezy, mellow style of music was perfect for cruising down the coast in a luxury yacht. Some of the biggest names in yacht rock were Hall & Oates, Steely Dan, and the Doobie Brothers.

These artists produced a number of hits that are still popular today. Songs like “Rich Girl,” “Reelin’ In the Years,” and “Black Water” are all classic yacht rock tunes.

What made yacht rock so special? It was a combination of elements that came together to create a unique sound. The music was mellow and relaxing, with a smooth groove that was perfect for cruising. The lyrics were often about love and relationships, and the singers had a smooth, laid-back style.

Yacht rock was also distinguished by its production values. The songs were typically recorded with high-quality studio equipment, and the artists often used session musicians to get that perfect sound.

The 1970s were a golden age for yacht rock, and these artists produced some of the most memorable music of the era. If you’re looking for a relaxing, mellow soundtrack for your next cruise, be sure to check out some yacht rock classics.

What is the future of yacht rock?

There is no clear answer, but it is safe to say that yacht rock will continue to evolve. Some newer artists who are incorporating yacht rock elements into their music include Michael Nau, Humble Pie, and The Allah-Las.

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Genre: yacht rock

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Yacht rock is a smooth and polished music genre that emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It features a blend of soft rock, jazz, and R&B with a focus on harmonies, catchy melodies, and laid-back rhythms. The genre is often associated with the luxurious lifestyle of yacht owners and the coastal cities of California. The songs typically have themes of love, relationships, and nostalgia.

  • Artists List

Most popular yacht rock artists


Popular yacht rock Songs


The Doobie Brothers


Daryl Hall & John Oates


Kenny Loggins


Robert Palmer


Rick Springfield


Top New yacht rock Songs of 2023


Barry Manilow


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Most popular albums in genre

Yacht rock music by decade.

Explore yacht rock history by listening to songs from every decade. Click on the decade to view songs.

List of yacht rock artists

Here is a list of yacht rock artists on Spotify, ranked based on popularity, who exemplifies the yacht rock genre. You can find out what yacht rock genre sounds like where you can preview artists or sort them the way you want, just click the headers to sort.

yacht rock playlist created by Chosic

Enjoy this playlist of popular yacht rock music. We made this playlist using an algorithm created by our team.

Similar Genres to

Discover more related genres to genre. This list is ordered by similarity from left to right.

Backyard Road Trips

black yacht rock artists

Modern Yacht To Settle The Soul

Once I found my new infatuation with, dare I say it, yacht rock , it was only time before I needed to branch out into this genre further. Combining my brainpower with that of Mike Landolfi, we forged ahead in creating a modern yacht rock sound. As an homage to the Christian rock alternative compilation of the 90s Seltzer: Modern Rock To Settle the Soul here’s our mixtape, “Modern Yacht to Settle the Soul.”

black yacht rock artists

For yacht rock purists any track not actually recorded in the prime boating years of the late 70s to the early 80s is not actual yacht rock. Here at Backyard Road Trips, we eschew labels, diversifying our audio portfolio with a 21st-century take on the timeless yacht rock. 

A Word of Warning

black yacht rock artists

It was interesting for me to compile this mix. I tend to swing toward music with less glitz and polish than yacht rock. Give me something a little more heartfelt and raw or rocking. Also as a musician with indie or singer/songwriter tendencies, the idea of sometimes overblown or at least slick production was at the opposite end of the spectrum than my DIY ethic . 

black yacht rock artists

It was a bit easier for me to previously enjoy the artists in this list since many of them have indie-rock connotations such as My Morning Jacket, the Black Keys, and Bon Iver. Other artists including Ryan Adams and Jason Isbell may stretch the genre a bit but the two selected songs fit the bill. When it boils down to it though, all of these tracks would still sound great on a boat or when you’re simply imagining that you are on a boat. 

Also of note, there is no Zac Brown Band, Jack Johnson, Sublime, or any other band or singer because, although they may evoke the ocean, or drinking in a cabana or under the sun, they are not yacht. Yacht rock is smooth. All of the tracks on this mixtape, although varying in sound, all contain that smooth sound. 

A Modern Yacht Rundown

black yacht rock artists

The War on Drugs has been deemed the yacht rock of the 21st century by critics. I can’t disagree. Their newest album I Don’t Live Here Anymore is one of my favorites of 2021. The title track is super catchy and ultimate yacht. There better be a dance floor on the yacht when Chromeo is playing. Phoenix is very catchy too, melding retro 80s with the yacht rock. Grizzly Bear summons the yacht heyday. Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories literally sounds like it was recorded during this time period. I’d have included “Fragments of Time,” but it was used on the last yacht rock playlist.

black yacht rock artists

Thundercat channels the sound with help from two of the industry’s heavyweights, Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins! The Fruit Bats hit a high falsetto on this extremely catchy number. John Mayer’s latest is totally retro. From the turquoise album cover and the font to the title “Sob Rock” and the “Nice Price” sticker found on the cover, this is an intentional nod to a bygone era. The Killers’ Brandon Flowers also has an 80s vibe with “Lonely Town”. Bon Iver’s “Beth/Rest” is keyboard-heavy.

black yacht rock artists

My Morning Jacket’s newer material edges on yacht rock territory in such tracks as “Compound Fracture” from The Waterfall . Lord Huron comes in next with a poignant song. Hiss Golden Messenger is the Laurel Canyon side of yacht rock. Weezer’s “Island in the Sun” is the most well-known of these tracks and has a fun summery vibe. The Black Keys may seem too rollicking for yacht rock but to me can still swing on the boat. 

Yacht Rock Revue is literally a yacht rock band from today. They were the side project of an indie band, Y-O-U. Now they write original songs in this polished genre. Many Metronomy songs could fit but this totally has the right vibe the whole way through. Ivy’s mellow meanderings take us to the “Edge of the Ocean.” Ryan Adams’ Taylor Swift cover album, 1989 , has a sheen to it. One of the most smooth is his take on “Wildest Dreams.” Pond’s “America’s Cup” will pass by many yachts on the sailing journey. 

black yacht rock artists

Phosphorescent adds to the mix with “Song for Zula.” Local Natives electrify the yacht rock sound. The Heartless Bastards keep the groove going. Strand of Oaks contemplates the ocean even though they’re “Somewhere in Chicago”. Finally, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit take us home where Americana meets a yacht rock vibe. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed the trip on the boat as much as we did! For more yacht rock, check out the Very Merry Yacht Rock Christmas and the Ultimate Yacht Rock Playlist .

Modern Yacht to Settle the Soul   – (this link takes you to the mixtape… I mean playlist)

black yacht rock artists

  • The War on Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore
  • Chromeo – Come Alive
  • Phoenix – Trying to Be Cool
  • Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks
  • Daft Punk – The Game of Love
  • Thundercat (with Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins) – Show You the Way
  • Fruit Bats – Gold Past Life
  • John Mayer – Last Train Home
  • Brandon Flowers – Lonely Town
  • Bon Iver – Beth/Rest
  • My Morning Jacket – Compound Fracture
  • Lord Huron – Ends of the Earth
  • Hiss Golden Messenger – Sanctuary
  • Weezer – Island in the Sun
  • The Black Keys – Gold on the Ceiling
  • Yacht Rock Revue – Step
  • Metronomy/Biig Piig – 405
  • Ivy – Edge of the Ocean
  • Ryan Adams – Wildest Dreams
  • Pond – America’s Cup
  • Phosphorescent – Song for Zula
  • Local Natives – Dark Days
  • Heartless Bastards – How Low
  • Strand of Oaks – Somewhere in Chicago
  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Dreamsicle

Black artists being overlooked in rock industry

Sloan Salinas on February 23, 2024 in Entertainment

black yacht rock artists

African American culture and musicians have always been at the forefront of musical progress. In fact, nearly every genre traces its origins back to the ingenuity of Black musicians. Such talent, however, remains largely unacknowledged by those outside communities of color, primarily due to the institutionalized racism and discrimination that has been rampant within the music industry since the very beginning. 

Even in today’s seemingly inclusive society, many Black musicians face predatory recording contracts, hostile work environments and significantly fewer opportunities for success in the music industry than their white counterparts. 

Bias against Black musicians is not hard to spot, either. Consider the Grammy Awards, which, year after year, pigeonhole artists of color into particular genres like “Progressive R&B” (formerly known as “Urban Contemporary” before being changed due to controversy), regardless of whether their music would objectively fit better into another genre like pop. 

Black artists have historically been discouraged from venturing into larger, white-dominated styles of music. Genres such as R&B pose the highest likelihood of success for non-white artists. This trend dates back to the 1940s when “Billboard” coined the term as a replacement for the problematic genre title of “race music.” Industry executives believed that genre was only for African American listeners.

This systemic restriction of musicians of color to a limited assortment of genres leads to a significant underrepresentation in others. Even for the few artists who attempt to make names for themselves as Black artists in predominantly white genres, they often do not get the recognition they deserve. This happens often in rock. 

Like most other music genres, rock music’s foundations stand on the contributions of the Black community. Still, the industry fails to give the same praise to Black artists as they give their white counterparts.

One could say that “rock and roll” was born in the 1950s when popular disc jockey Alan Freed used the title to describe a music style that blended elements of various genres, including rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel and country. Freed was one of the first white DJs to play music by Black musicians on a radio station that had a white audience. 

While the term may have originated with Freed, the characteristics that made the genre unique were all derived from the artistry of Black musicians. 

Rhythm and blues, arguably the most significant component of rock and roll, was also, at its core, an amalgamation of African American culture and musical stylings. The genre began taking shape around the 1920s, when large African American communities were moving from the rural areas of the South to larger cities like Chicago, Harlem and Los Angeles.

Though the pioneering artists behind rock and roll music included names like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, people frequently associate the genre more with white musicians such as Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and Buddy Holly, all of whom received influence from the Black musicians who came before them. 

Over the years, rock music has expanded dramatically, branching into different subgenres and gaining more popularity than in the 1950s. Despite their cruciality to the genre’s birth, overshadowing occurred quickly for African American artists. Today, though, numerous Black musicians on the alternative scene are working to build a following while simultaneously fighting against industry stereotypes. Listed below are some of these musicians. 

Joshua Roberts and Joe H orsham –  Magnolia Park

Magnolia Park is a five-part alternative rock band from Orlando, Fla., made up of Joshua Roberts (vocals), Tristan Torres (guitar), Freddie Criales (guitar), Vincent Ernst (keyboard) and Joe Horsham (drums). The group curates their sound by infusing their music with elements of the emo, nu-metal, pop-punk and hardcore subgenres, with dashes of hip-hop. The resulting instrumentals combine with Roberts’ standout vocals to create a sound unique to Magnolia Park. 

Promoting their music through social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, the band writes about important topics that the members themselves can personally relate to, such as mental health struggles and, as part of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) community, experiences with police brutality or discrimination based on their race or ethnicities. Roberts often talks about his experiences within the music industry and receives comments about how, as a Black man, there are specific genres that he should “stick to.” 

On the band’s website, a quote from Torres, one of the band’s founding members, reads, “Our goal when we’re together is to make sure the next generation doesn’t have to face as much racial backlash for being a rock band. In the industry, people look at us a certain way and try to impose things on us — and we want to make sure the next generation of rock bands don’t have to go through what we’ve been through.”

Kele Okereke – Bloc Party

London-based indie rock band Bloc Party was first formed in 1999, making them veterans of the alternative music world. Currently, the band’s official lineup includes Kele Okereke (lead vocals and rhythm guitar), Russell Lissack (lead guitar) and Louise Bartle (drums). In 2023, they brought on Harry Deacon (bass) as a touring member. 

Critics have categorized Bloc Party within sub genres ranging from post-Britpop to art-punk. Blending impressive guitar riffs with open and raw lyrics, the group has the versatility and skill to move between the laid-back, nostalgic feeling of indie soft rock and the racing sound of 90s punk. Some compare their sound to bands like Joy Division, The Pixies, Radiohead and Depeche Mode. No matter what style they have embraced, the band has found success, whether embracing the emo scene of the early 2000s or returning to alternative rock stylings with their newest release, “The High Life EP.”

Throughout their discography, the band has touched on relevant issues such as personal traumas, queer relationships and experiences with racism. While they may not be as popular as they were during emo’s heyday, many emerging Black artists like Willow Smith, Genesis Owusu and KennyHoopla cite Okereke and Bloc Party as a significant influence, having felt inspired by seeing a successful musician who looked like them. 

Cullen Moore – Sleep Theory

The newest of the bands on this list, Sleep Theory began as a solo project by retired Army veteran Cullen Moore and became a duo when he met Paolo Vergara, a bassist who had moved to the United States from the Philippines several years prior (2016). Between 2019 and 2023, the two musicians found two more band members, brothers Daniel and Ben Pruitt (guitar and drums). 

The goal of Sleep Theory was to find a way to create a hard rock group that incorporated elements of R&B, hip-hop and a little bit of pop. The group saw nearly instant success when they posted a TikTok with a clip of their debut single, “Another Way,” and the views and likes poured in. In September 2023, they released their first EP, “Paper Hearts,” a collection of songs that showcase just how unique the band’s multi-genre sound is. 

Emphasizing lyrical vulnerability and vocal experimentation, Sleep Theory quickly rose in the ranks of rock and metal, opening in amphitheaters on their first-ever tour. Though Moore is the principal vocalist — his powerful vocals communicate their music’s emotional intensity — every band member sings, contributing harmonies and backing vocals to the songs. Spurred by such overwhelming success, Sleep Theory has plans to continue working on new music for 2024. 

Edith Victoria and Téa  Campbell – Meet Me @ the Altar

Not only are rock and its various subgenres incredibly white-dominated, but they are also incredibly male-dominated. But Meet Me @ the Altar challenges that narrative; women of color comprise the three-piece pop punk band. 

When Téa Campbell (guitar/bass) found Ada Juarez’s drum covers on YouTube in 2015, the two quickly decided to start a band despite living in  different states. They hosted online auditions for a vocalist and eventually welcomed Atlanta-native Edith Victoria into the band in 2017. All three young women recognized that they had not grown up seeing artists who looked like them in the music they loved, so they decided to be those artists for others, no matter what it took. 

During an interview with “Popsugar,” Campbell said, “We always knew that there was no one in the scene who looks like us. There’s no one doing the type of music that we’re doing that isn’t a straight white guy. That’s all that there was. But we always felt very comfortable with taking on that role, because we knew that we would want to have it. And we were super comfortable with being that for other people.”

The band utilizes grungy, early 2000s instrumentals and Victoria’s cheerfully feminine vocals to revive the sounds of MySpace pop punk from the eyes of BIPOC women in the LGBTQ+ community. 

Through their music, they address topics like struggling with self-esteem, hateful comments online and allowing yourself to feel the bad and not just the good. Though they have met significant pushback, from aggressive comments on social media to opening for all-white, male bands who clearly did not want them there, the women of MM@tA are persistent and determined to carve a place for themselves in the genre that they love, even if it does not always love them back. 

Magnolia Park, Bloc Party, Sleep Theory and Meet Me @ the Altar are all tackling different areas of rock music and, in doing so, are helping to ensure that Black musicians and musicians of color get the recognition they should have received from the beginning,inspiring a new generation of BIPOC kids. 

However, it is essential to note that this list was barely the tip of the iceberg of Black artists and artists of color beginning to make waves in rock music. 

Take the time to look into those artists and similar artists in other genres not listed, in which people of color do not see the representation or praise that white musicians do. Who knows, your new favorite artist could be one song away.

Few Kentuckians will perform at 2024 Louder than Life. Meet the rock bands from bluegrass state

black yacht rock artists

Louisville is getting ready to rock with the return of Louder than Life , North America’s largest rock festival. The four-day outdoor event is scheduled for Sept. 26-29 at the Highland Festival Grounds at the Kentucky Exposition Center, celebrating its 10th year.

The festival announced its 2024 line-up on Wednesday, featuring nearly 150 artists such as Slayer , Mötley Crüe , Slipknot , Judas Priest , Five Finger Death Punch , Falling in Reverse and so many more. Yet, of the countless musical acts, very few hail from the state of Kentucky. It is known as the bluegrass state, after all.

Additional artists will be announced later, but of the ones on the current list, the majority of bands come from places like New York, California, Texas and Massachusetts, with two groups performing in their home state.

When is Louder than Life 2024?

According to the Louder than Life website , this year, the four-day festival will be held Sept. 26-29.

Where is Louder than Life 2024?

The music festival will be at the Highland Festival Grounds at the  Kentucky Exposition Center , 937 Phillips Lane in Louisville.  

What headliners are performing at Louder than Life 2024?

Headliners for the festival include Slayer, Mötley Crüe, Slipknot and Korn. For a full list of artists, visit the article below from the Courier Journal.

Louder Than Life 2024 lineup: Who's performing at the rock music festival?

What Kentucky bands will be at Louder than Life 2024?

According to the 2024 artist list, Black Stone Cherry and Tantric are Kentucky-based bands taking the stage at this year’s Louder than Life Festival.

Who is Black Stone Cherry?

Originally from Edmonton, Black Stone Cherry formed in 2001 and has reshaped the image of Southern rock, according to the Louder than Life website. The band has released eight albums and has shared the stage with artists like Nickelback, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses.

On Spotify, top songs for the band include “Blame It on the Boom Boom,” “White Trash Millionaire,” “Again,” “Stay” and “Can’t You See.”

Who is Tantric?

According to the Louder than Life website, Tantric is a post-grunge American rock band originally from Louisville. The band was founded in 1999 by Hugo Ferriera and they have since released seven studio albums.

The band included Ferriera, Jaron Gulino, Sebastian LaBar and Ian Corabi. On Spotify, top songs from the group include “Breakdown,” “Down And Out,” “Astounded,” “Coming Undone” and “The Chain.”

How to buy 2024 Louder than Life tickets

For more information on ticket prices and how to purchase them, visit the link below.

Louder than Life 2024: How to get tickets

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State Of The Union

MSNBC Guest: White People Stole All Music From Black People

An MSNBC guest claimed that white people had stolen every form of music except classical from black people.

The Daily Show correspondent Dulce Sloan argued in response to criticism of Beyoncé making a country album that if white people disliked cultural appropriation, they shouldn’t have created rock, jazz, blues, country or pop as they were all stolen from black people.

Sloan said , “If white people hated cultural appropriation, then they shouldn’t have created music.”

“Because every form of music in America was stolen from black people: rock’n’roll, jazz, blues, country, pop music. So if you have a problem with cultural appropriation — y’all created classical music, y’all could have stuck with that,” she continued.

“Roll the piano into this concert,” joked the comedian.

Critics argued that this ignores positive contributions of white people enjoying black music and how the music industry, not all white people, exploited black artists.

John McEuen of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band added, “Country music wasn’t called that yet, but it was music of the country. It was a combination of the Irish; the recently freed slaves, bringing the banjo into the world; the Spanish effects of the vaqueros down in Texas; the Germans bringing over the ‘oom-pah’ of polka music, all converging.”

Despite backlash, Beyoncé’s country single topped the Billboard country chart, making her the first black woman to do so.

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  1. Ahoy! Match these Yacht Rock bands to their smooth soft-rock hits

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    Consisting of David Foster (who also co-wrote the Kenny Loggins song above), Jay Graydon and the brilliantly-named Tommy Funderburk, this tune was a cover of a Manhattan Transfer song, and was a minor hit in 1981. Boz Scaggs - 'Lowdown'

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