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In the late ’70s and early ’80s, a scene and a sound cropped up on the West Coast: polished, perfectionist studio musicians who generated sleek, jazzy, R&B-flavored music. About a quarter-century later, this sound was given a name: Yacht Rock. The inventors of the genre name weren’t thinking about boats … well, unless the song was Christopher Cross’s “Sailing.” Yacht Rock was meant to signify deluxe, yuppified, “smooth” music suitable for playing on luxury nautical craft.
Whatever you call it, this music really did command the charts at the turn of the ’80s: from Steely Dan to George Benson, Michael McDonald to Kenny Loggins, Toto to … Michael Jackson?! Believe it: Even Thriller is partially a Yacht Rock album. This month, Hit Paradebreaks down what Yacht Rock was and how it took over the charts four decades ago—from the perfectionism of “Peg,” to the bounce of “What a Fool Believes,” to the epic smoothness of “Africa.”
Chris Molanphy, a pop-chart analyst and author of Slate’s “Why Is This Song No. 1?” series, tells tales from a half-century of chart history. Through storytelling, trivia, and song snippets, Chris dissects how that song you love—or hate—dominated the airwaves, made its way to the top of the charts, and shaped your memories forever.