S1: This podcast contains explicit language.
S2: Welcome to Hit Parade, a podcast of pop chart history from Slate magazine about the hits from coast to coast. I’m Chris Melaniphy, chart analyst, pop critic and writer of Slate’s Why Is This Song No. One series on today’s show? Forty years ago at the 1980 Grammy Awards, the night’s big winners taking home for gramophones were a band originally formed 10 years earlier in San Jose, California, that had transformed themselves into pop stars. Their name, Doobie Brothers, was taken from the slang word for marijuana. But by 1980, their music sounded more like a child. Rosanne. That week in late February 1980 that the Doobies swept the Grammys, Billboard’s Hot 100 was awash in similarly sleek, jazzy, ultra smooth music from Doobies friend Kenny Loggins. Are you going to wait for your marriage to the equally smooth band of session players, Toto? To up all night to the debut of a new, easy listening singer songwriter, Christopher Cross. And I’ve got a long way to go. With all of this music by white performers on the charts owed something to the sound of contemporary black music, but even the R and B performers of the day, previously known for funk and disco hits, were also shifting into smoother, sultry sounds suitable for a cocktail lounge. Oh, it’s so hot. They’ve got a result. Got to run. Oh. What you didn’t hear in any of these early 1980 hits were lyrics about beaches or pina coladas or nautical references. It’s important to note this lack of seafaring imagery when you consider the name that got attached to all of this music. A full quarter century later, 1976 to 1980, for the radio airwaves were dominated by really smooth music, also known as Geography’s Yacht Rock. And the name Yacht Rock is a 21st century concoction coined by a foursome of L.A. based actors and writers at the dawn of the YouTube era. Conceived for a deliberately cheap looking online TV series, Yacht Rock caught on like wildfire, finally giving a name to a mini genre from the late 70s and early 80s that had generated a slew of West Coast based studio bred smashes. Yacht rock just seemed to fit. We keep hearing in the decade and a half since this name took off, it’s become the retro pop genre that ate everything. It seems like all of 70s and 80s soft rock and jazzy R and B has been dubbed Yacht Rock, whether the term fits.
S3: Or doesn’t wish Dad away again and Magomedov.
S2: We will try to provide some clarity around what yacht rock actually is or was intended to be, because many artists who weren’t from the scene recorded music that evoked Yantra.
S2: Or melded those smooth stylings with other genres, taking the sound to multiple radio formats, turn your lover. The yacht trend even spawned improbable hits that now live on in the global pop imagination. And today on a hit parade, we will dissect the folk etymology of this retroactively invented genre. Yacht Rock may be a slippery, overused term, but the music was dominant on the charts at the turn of the 80s. And sometimes the hits really did sound like they belonged on a boat sailing.
S5: Take me away.
S2: And that’s where your hit parade marches today, the week ending August 30th, 1980, when sailing by Christopher Cross reached number one on Billboard’s Hot 100, affirming that America had reached peak smooth. In that moment, just after disco and just before MTV, studio bred performers like Christopher Cross, Toto, Michael McDonald, Steely Dan and their army of sleek producers inside men were kings of the charts. So pour yourself a cocktail and join us in the Cantina Lounge for a friendly debate.
S5: What was the.
S6: So when you saw that this month’s hit parade episode was going to be about yacht rock, even before you hit play, you probably thought we were going to be talking about songs like this, if you like, come getting caught in the game.
S2: Except this Rupert Holmes chart topper, a number one hit in 1979, is not yacht rock, if you’d like. Make it nine. Maybe you were picturing this. Somerby makes me feel. I love this SEALs and Crofts on a number six hit in 1972, except it’s not yacht rock even.
S6: But surely this is.
S2: I love this Gerry Rafferty song, let’s leave Baker Street on for a moment, but yeah, even this 1978 number two hit by Scotsman Rafferty with that sultry sax, it’s not Yambuk. Mind you, all of these songs do appear on your rock playlists, on the radio and on Spotify, and they are played live by Kichi, touring bands like the Yacht Rock Revue who come on stage in Captain’s Hats and Hawaiian shirts.
S6: These songs are all certainly soft rock, but strictly speaking, they are not what the inventors of Yacht Rock meant when they invented the term. Wait, someone invented yacht rock. How did that happen and why did it catch on? Before we talk about the music, we have to talk about how Yacht Rock was started by some moonlighting actors and writers in Los Angeles. Really, it was kind of a lark.
S2: In the early aughts, JD Risner, a writer and actor who’d relocated from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Los Angeles, would have friends over to his apartment to eat barbecue and listen to old records. Risner had recently gone through a Steely Dan phase, and he was becoming obsessed with late 70s and early 80s studio driven soft rock. I thought, I like your. When the old. Quote, We listen to what I called yacht rock reson are later told Rolling Stone, 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 unfordable come back.
S7: You see it? Oh, it’s your favorite part.
S2: About what Risner and his buddies noticed was that these late 70s and early 80s hits had musicians in common, not just artists famous in their own right, like Michael McDonald singing backup for Steely Dan. There were session players like drummer Steve Gadd or guitarist Jay Grady. Vocalists like Bill Champlin, Richard Page and Patti Austin is. Producers like David Foster, Michael Omarion, or even a legendarily smooth Quincy Jones, give me the. And even whole groups essentially built out of L.A. session musicians like Toto, whose members met while playing backup behind Boz Scaggs and Steely Dan. Around this same time in the early 2000s, while JADI Prisoners Gang was getting into this music, a monthly short film contest called Channel 101 had taken off in Los Angeles, visitors to an L.A. bar would watch five minute videos. This was years before YouTube quippy concepts for TV shows with goofy titles like Laser Phat.
S6: And they would vote on whether to cancel the shows or renew them for more episodes. In 2005, Risner and his buddies, Hunter, Stehr and Lane Farnam hit upon the idea of turning Jade’s yacht rock concept into a Channel 101 show. Coco No. Don’t start so beautiful.
S8: So smooth. I heard the same song in my childhood Dreams.
S6: Played by a man in the front, you must take that the yacht rock video series was an instant Channel 101 smash, firing up the L.A. crowd and renewed for a near record 10 episodes over the next year. The hilarious show was shot intentionally, cheaply, and it told fanciful stories centered around a California marina run by one Coco Goldstein, a fictional record industry mogul in a captain’s hat played by Dave Lyons. But the scripts satirized actual music history as when, for example, Kenny Loggins, played by Hunter Stehr, really did help. Michael McDonald, played by J.D. Reznor, write a hit for the Doobie Brothers.
S1: You’re a sentimental fool, Kenny. You think you can come right back here from long ago and recreate your friendship just by mustering a smile and telling some nostalgic tales? That’s what a fool believes, Kenny. That’s what that’s what a fool believes there.
S2: And then I think that the show was snarky but ultimately affectionate toward the era of so-called smooth music.
S6: Risner told Reuters that Yacht Rock was, quote, making fun of the songwriting process. But the music is generally treated pretty lovingly, unquote. The series also had the stamp of musical expertise, thanks to the participation of actual all music dotcom critic Steve Huie, nicknamed Hollywood Steve.
S1: Oh, hi, I’m Hollywood, Steve. You caught me bases and lampshades the back alley songwriting duo in 1978 went down as the day lost his innocence.
S2: What no one expected, neither Hollywood Steve nor co creators Reznor, Stehr and Lyons was Yacht Rock’s afterlife.
S6: The 2005 show happened to launch the same year as YouTube, and their Channel 101 videos went viral. The foursome were invited to other cities screening yacht rock episodes to rabid crowds in San Francisco, Chicago, Austin and New York over the next five years.
S2: They even shot a couple of additional star studded yacht rock episodes with cameos from the likes of Jason Lee, Drew Carey and Wyatt Cenac. Would not seem kind of shitty, Jimmy Buffett would resign or stare lions and Huie also didn’t anticipate was that their musical brain child would also have a long afterlife longer even than the mini TV series.
S6: In essence, the show invented a genre that was hiding in plain sight but never previously had a name as they devised it. Yacht Rock was smooth music, played largely by a network of L.A. bands and session musicians between the years 1976 and 1984, with instrumental complexity and sounds that evoked jazz and RB.
S2: Of course, what made yacht rock go viral in the first place was the goofiness and meme ability of the concept. The yacht was meant to be a metaphor about the high end quality of the music. But on the Internet, folks took the nautical idea literally, even though Risner had named the music for playing while on a boat, not about the boat or say. Even if we limit the concept to what the yacht rock framers intended. One thing is absolutely true. This music was commercially very successful. It was the right music at the right time. So to understand why Yacht Rock did as well as it did on the charts, we have to go back before 1976. The fact is there was West Coast music played primarily by session musicians long before the operation. That, of course, is the Beach Boys, and this is not the last time you will hear me say these words in this episode. This song is not yacht rock, but I’m playing The Beach Boys 1967 number one classic Good Vibrations to make a point. Brian Wilson’s three and a half minute masterpiece was mostly not played by his fellow Beach Boys. Beyond the vocals by the Wilson brothers and Mike Love, the instruments on Good Vibrations were largely by session musicians, namely the legendary team of L.A. professionals known as The Wrecking Crew, from bassist Carole Kaye to guitarist Al Kacie to keyboardist Alja Laurie to drummer Hal Blaine. This is a theme to keep in mind when we get to the genesis of what became yacht rock.
S6: S musicians not beholden to any one frontline act, spreading polished California vibes across a wave of pop hits. In the case of The Wrecking Crew, that included everything from I Got You Babe to Up, Up and Away to California Dreamin Wrecking Crew. Drummer Hal Blaine in particular, was a journeyman who played on generations of pop hits.
S2: That includes this smash about eight years later, which connects the 60s era of Southern California pop to another wave of sunny hits me babe. Whenever some sweet that’s the Captain and Tennille with Love will keep us together. A number one smash in June and July of 1975, Billboard’s top hit of that year and America’s top song, The Week My Sister was Born. Happy belated birthday, Catherine. Anyway, though it predated Yacht Rock, this Proteau yacht Smash had many hallmarks that would later mark the genre. Love Will Keep US Together was written by transplanted East Coasters, Brill Building songwriters Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, who had moved to L.A. while Hal Blaine guests on the track. Most of the instruments were played by Tony Tenille and Darryl Dragon, a.k.a. the captain who performed on stage in a seafaring hat. What was I just saying about nautical themes? Dragon and Tennille made their bones in the early 70s as keyboardists for the Beach Boys, and their breakthrough smash featured a slaphappy keyboard sound. The yacht rock founders would later call the Dubea in Dallas. We will be there to share. Now, this distinguished love will keep us together from other mid 70s soft rock, which was even mellower. Indeed, several UK acts were approximating the sound of yacht rock before the scene began to coalesce. Most prominently, soulful British band Ace took their R and B leaning. How long to number three in America? In 1974.
S9: The been going on.
S2: As for actual R and B combos, the arrangements on chart topping black albums were growing ever more sophisticated. By 75 and 76, Earth, Wind and Fire closed their LP Gratitude, a number one album in early 76 with the now classic Can’t Hide Love, a plush soul ballad by L.A. songwriter Skip Scav. Cat had six months after CWF Smash LP topped the chart, Jazz and R and B guitarist George Benson was at number one with Berezan, an LP whose many Grammys included an award for its engineering and whose title track practically codified 70s lowish. All of these tracks, Bensons, Berezan, IWD, can’t hide love ases how long serve as antecedence for the Polish direction West Coast derived pop was heading in the mid 70s, but in the dictionary of music, the word polished may as well be defined by one indefatigably smooth group. The route of the yacht rock family tree. Steely Dan were officially a duo, keyboardist and vocalist Donald Fagen and bassist guitarist Walter Becker, but that belied the army of professional players who joined the duo on Steely Dan’s immaculately produced LP’s, perhaps too immaculate. In the liner notes of one album, Becker and Fagen actually apologized for the sound quality of the LP’s noise reduction system, which 70s rock fans found hilarious. Since Steely Dan albums all sounded like they were recorded in our laboratories, Clean Room or the world’s tiniest jazz club. Though nominally a rock group, Steely Dan leaned heavily on the jazz musicianship that Fagan and Becker, both New York area natives transplanted to the West Coast, preferred to rock era pop music. In fact, Steely Dan’s 1974 top five hit Rikki Don’t Lose That Number was built off of a piano hook Feighan borrowed from jazz legend Horace Silver. When you get home. By the mid 70s, Steely Dan, named after a dildo in William S. Burroughs beat generation novel Naked Lunch, had stopped touring entirely to focus on studio LPs. Fagan and Beckers albums showcased a who’s who of late session musicians and performers from other groups, including future Toto members Jeff Porcaro and David Page, Pocho Singer and future EGL, Timothy B. Schmit and guitarist Jeff Skunk Baxter, who would eventually leave Steely Dan to join the Doobie Brothers. Another future doobie, who broke through with the duo, was the uniquely Burri baritone Michael McDonald, who began singing prominently on the dam’s 1975 album, Katie The Folk Will. I Steely Dan’s impeccable recordings set a template for what yacht rock became yuppie music before yuppies had a name. Fagan and Becker worked alongside other California contemporaries, but set themselves apart from the folk singer or country tinged music of groups like the Steve Miller Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band or the Eagles. In fact, on one song on 1976 as the Royal Scam LP, Steely Dan sardonically poked fun at the Eagles, not the. By the way, the Eagles good naturedly turned that diss right back on Bekker and Feighan just six months later on their Hotel California album. If you’ve ever wondered why on that, Eagles albums deathless title track, Don Henley calls those knives in the song Steely. That was an in-joke step with this feeling nice, but they just kill the beast. The Eagles represented a different kind of California rock, far removed from the elements that formed Yacht Rock.
S6: The yacht aesthetic was much closer to Jazzy Blue-Eyed soul performers like Boz Scaggs, whose smash LP Silk Degrees featured many of the same session players from Steely Dan’s albums and got you into this mess in 1976.
S2: SILC degrees lead single The Fluttery, Danceable, but not quite disco. Low-down was a number three hit co-written by Skags and future Toto member David Piech your. Then there were the West Coast acts who shifted sounds as the 70s progressed, moving away from folk or country rock influences toward smoother stylings. Perhaps the best before and after example is the aforementioned Doobie Brothers, who, as I noted earlier, were formed in San Jose, but for the first half of the 70s could have been mistaken for Southern Rock. In their early years, the Doobies were fronted by guitarist vocalists Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons, both were also songwriters and each man had a twang in his voice and his songs. Johnston wrote and sang The Doobies first top 10 hit The Chugging Boogie, Rock Jam, Long Train Runnin a number eight hit in 1973. And Simmons wrote and sang lead on the group’s first hot 100 chart topper, the spooky Southern Gothic tale Black Water, a number one in early 1971, people said. No decisive moves, keep on shouting, keep all these hits, make the Doobie Brothers evolution in the second half of the decade all the more remarkable you can divide their 70s discography into before and after periods. And the B.S. ad moment is demarcated by the arrival of a bearded vocal messiah. Michael McDonald took this message to the road you will find in. Fresh off his prominent backing vocals on Steely Dan’s Katie Lide album, McDonald joined the Doobies in 1975. Not long after guitarist Jeff Skunk Baxter also joined the group from Steely Dan. McDonald was brought in at first to cover vocals for the ailing Tom Johnston, who had health issues that prevented him from touring with the band. But by the 1976 LP taken it to the streets, McDonald was rapidly emerging as the group’s most successful songwriter. McDonald penned the album’s only Top 40 hits, including the title track of Taking It to the Streets, a number 13 hit in the summer of 76, and a foreshadowing of the sleek R and B direction. McDonald would soon take the bait. Just as the Doobies went on a sonic journey across the 70s, so too did a future friend and collaborator of Michael McDonald’s, a Washington born California raised singer songwriter named Kenneth Clark Loggins. Kenny Loggins broke in the early 70s in a partnership with Jim Messina, a former member of the Buffalo Springfield and Pocho, who was originally only supposed to produce Kenny and wound up sitting in for his entire album as a duo, Loggins and Messina went on to score a string of gold and platinum albums between 1972 and 77, all sporting a country or folk rock tinged ambient sound. It’s all bigger than that at all. Like. You can think of this chapter of Logan’s career as the rough equivalent of the Doobie Brothers Tom Johnston years, because in 1977, when Loggins finally broke away from Masina excuse me, Masina for a solo career, his sound became slicker and big.
S10: And in this.
S2: Well, while I believe in love, the lead single from Kenny Loggins solo debut, Celebrate Me Home, was only a minor hit, peaking at number 66 on the Hot 100 in 1977. It gave notice that Kenny had gone full late 70s California with more overt, jazzy R and B overtones. Loggins made that even more explicit the following year on a duet with Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks that climbed all the way to number five on the Hot 100 whenever I called you friend.
S4: We have never seen that in.
S2: But if by 77, both Loggins and the Doobies were signaling that West Coast Rock was top for his future, a totemic album by the yacht Rock Progenitors, which came out later that year, all but announced that the scene had fully arrived. And it’s set the bar high, extra clean, extra jazzy. I can’t cry anymore. Asia spelled A.J., a Steely Dan’s sixth album was a landmark in perfectionist California studio pop. It was Steely Dan’s most successful and fastest selling album ever, reaching its Billboard album chart peak of number three in just two weeks and eventually going double platinum from the opening bars of Black Cow. The album was a sonic watershed, both technologically Walter Becker and Donald Fagen had finally attained the reference quality audio file sound they’ve long been working toward. And musically, critics noted that it was impossible to categorize Aeger as either entirely rock or entirely jazz. It was cool music made by a pair of agoraphobic misfits that died behind the wheel. They got. I want to play when they go on the album, Single Desk and Blues, a number 19 hit, Feighan and Bekker literally wrote a song for Losers. It’s autobiographical lyrics reflected their youthful suburban dreams of becoming jazz musicians. But the album’s biggest hit and its most fussed over track was Haeg, a sprightly pop record that peaked at number 11 and became essential to the sound of late 70s West Coast Rock. Come back.
S7: We’ll come back to. You see it, oh, it’s your baby.
S2: In a 1999 episode of the British documentary series, Classic albums, Feighan, Becker and a roster of their Aeger musicians revealed all of the labor that went into Peg. This included the array of guitarists who tried playing it seemingly laidback guitar solo before session, veteran Jay Grayden finally pulled it off. This just and I think is infamous among studio players and that we hired a couple of guitar players, you know, to play the soloing. And it wasn’t quite what we were looking for until we got through three or four, five, six, six, seven, seven and eight players, or how Michael McDonald, Steely Dan’s now established backup singer, drove himself crazy, perfecting Pegg’s multitracked chorus, vocal and moving.
S1: Back to you, Peg, doesn’t sound like much of a part, but the harmonies were so close that that was a real learning experience for me to sing a chord, you know, part by part with myself and how the song, indeed, the entire album would be replayed by different sets of session musicians each day until Becker and Fagen found the sound they liked. Was it like they played musical chairs with the guys in the band? They played musical bands. Whole band would go in. A whole incredible other band would come in.
S2: The genre that would come to be known as Yacht Rock had begun to take shape years earlier. But Steely Dan’s Asia, an album loved and loathed in equal measure by generations of rock fans, must be regarded as the era’s benchmark. It set a standard to which other late 70s and early 80s West Coast R and B and jazz inflected rock aspired. Perhaps it made sense then that some of the musicians who were playing with Steely Dan would form a band of their own. The members of Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro keyboardists David Page and Steve Porcaro, Jeff’s brother, guitarist Steve Lukather and bassist David Hungerford were already L-A session veterans by the time they began recording as a unit in 1977. Most of them had bonded during the making of Boz Scaggs album Silk Degrees, on which David Page co-wrote all of the big hit songs. In fact, this song, Miss Sun, one of Toto’s first recordings, was a track they ultimately gave away to Skags. He wound up scoring a hit with it three years later. From the jump, Toto had the plush sound of Yadi West Coast rock down to a science. But when they finally released a debut album in 1978, Toto fused this Slick’s sound with the pomp of album oriented rock and scored a hit out of the box by. Hold the line codified a variation on the West Coast template, it was smooth music that rocked it reached number five on the Hot 100 in the early weeks of 1979. And Toto’s self-titled debut LP reached the top 10 on the album chart and went platinum a month later. It would eventually go double platinum.
S6: Never a critics band, Toto, we’re often tagged with the derisive moniker corporate rock alongside the likes of Styx, Boston, Kansas and even Jurnee. But what Toto actually had more in common with was the emerging wave of polished L.A. bands that were issuing yacht style music in the wake of Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers and taking over Top 40 radio. Some of these bands, like The Doobies, had undergone a musical transformation. For example, back in 1975, the L.A. band Ambrosia, led by singer guitarist David Pack, scored a top 20 hit, the spacy holding on to yesterday that bordered on prog rock.
S2: By 1978, however, Ambrosia had fully transformed themselves into pillowy purveyors of polished pop and scoring bigger hits in the process, their super Yadi how much I feel reach number three on the Hot 100 in November 1978. Maybe the same went for San Francisco band Pablo Cruz, they honed their mid 70s piano and guitar driven soft rock into an even smoother, late 70s sound with electric piano and sweet harmonies that finally scored them serious hits 1978. Love will find a way reached number six and. Other acts that have fashioned themselves into de facto yacht rock were L.A. band player who topped the Hot 100 in early 78 with Baby The. Canadian singer Jenova Nely, who relocated to a Hollywood studio to record his 78 album Brother to Brother and scored a number four hit with the velvety I just want to stop by stop. Now, the winding down and Australian group, the little river band whose members dated to the 60s British invasion era and whose mid 70s work have resembled American country rock, but LRB scored its biggest U.S. hit with the ultra smooth and piano driven reminiscing, a number three hit in the fall of 78. We, as I often say, on hit parade when it comes to hit making, timing is everything. These singles were following a very specific strain of soft rock that captured the zeitgeist but was not beholden to other forms of pop. These songs weren’t just smoothed out folk rock, like, for example, the London trio America, who, contrary to popular belief, never recorded Yantra about. And I just can’t live without you. Can’t you see they weren’t trying to be disco like, say, Leo Sayer’s chart topper, you make me feel like dancing. And heaven forbid none of the yacht rockers restrain in for that laidback faux tropical vacation vibe like Jimmy Buffett, the king of the Parrot Heads was strenuously, showily mellow, not effortlessly smooth. He was the anti the thing. Practicing compare songs like Buffett’s to attract like, say, Bobby Caldwells, What You Won’t Do for Love, a No.9 pop number R and be hit in early 1979. I know what you want to do for follow Caldwells blue eyed soul hit was solidly in the back pocket with a jazzy, soulful vibe perched on the border between Pop and R and B. This was not, by the way, an isolated R and B crossover by a white performer either. Consider Toto’s hit Georgie Porgie. It’s not such.
S11: I just thought.
S2: The songs verses were sung by guitarist Steve Lukather, and at first Georgie Porgie resembles Toto’s typically suave, soft rock, albeit with some R and B syncopation. But then when it reaches the chorus, it goes even deeper into army. That vocal, by the way, is by Cheryl Lynn, a former cast member of the musical The Wiz, who became a recording artist in 1978. You might know Sherilyn from her hit Got to be with. John Kerry just weeks after Lin took that disco classic to number one on Billboard’s Hot Soul singles and number 12 on the Hot 100, she was back on both tracks with Tota.
S6: Thanks not only to Cheryl Lynn’s vocal, but Toto’s credible R and B Chop’s Georgie Porgie was a bigger hit at black radio than at pop radio. The single peaked on Billboard’s Soul chart at an impressive number 18 30 positions higher than it reached on the Hot 100. Moreover, there were plenty of black performers in the genre, and not only as session musicians consider Earth, Wind and Fires smash mega ballad After the love has gone with new.
S2: Deep inside, I love what the song was co-written by three white men, all affiliated with the California Sessions scene, Canadian born L.A. based producer David Foster Jr. Graden the guitarist on Steely Dan’s peg among many Yadi hits, and Bill Champlin, who would later joined the band Chicago. They had tried the song on two different albums and at one point were even considering it for an LP by Daryl Hall and John Oates before Earth, Wind and Fire as Maurice White got hold. CWF turned after the love has gone into the quintessential Yats Soul ballad, tricked out with layers of falsetto from Maurice White and Philip Bailey. It reached number two in the fall of 1979. Or consider the song, It’s The Falling in Love, co-written by David Foster with Journey woman songwriter. Carole Bayer, singer. That’s the case then the next by. After Sagra herself tried recording it with background vocals by Bill Champlin and Michael McDonald, the song wound up in the hands of producer Quincy Jones, who was working on the adult solo breakthrough album by former child star Michael Jackson. That is the painkiller. Recorded for Jackson’s 1979 blockbuster Off the Wall, It’s The Falling in Love was a favorite album Cut that became a black radio standard and Michael Jackson’s introduction to the sound of Yats Soul. It would not be his last foray into the would be genre. This refining and repurposing of smooth songs arguably reached its apex with the hit that would define yacht rock as it entered the 80s, and it wound up on the album that Michael McDonald was writing for the Doobie Brothers in late 1978. Minute by minute, the Doobies eighth studio album would be their first chart topping LP and all time biggest seller, and it affirmed McDonald’s conversion of the group into a smooth pop and B crossover act. But the LP’s centerpiece was a song McDonald had written with his friend Kenny Loggins and which Loggins recorded first. You’ve given some years ago I thought What A Fool believes was a song about romantic regret and the impossibility of rekindling a dormant romance in established, a lyrical theme, the yacht Rock Quanah’s would later identify as core to the genre. It was about a romantic fool. But Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald buried their ruminative lyrics in a jaunty package after Loggins had his turn with it on his 1978 Nightwatch album. McDonald cut it with the Doobies and it became even jaunty. Go to the Doobies, what a fool believes hit number one in April 1979, that same month, their minute by minute LP topped the Billboard album chart. But on top of its bespoke lyrics about romantic imprudence, Fool also established a yacht rock archetype, The Doobie Bounce. This sprightly, syncopated chord progression, typically played on piano or synthesizer, proved a remarkably sturdy pop song template, the doobie bounce recurred on a string of hit records. These included Steal Away a number six hit in July 1980 for Robbie Dupri. Whether this year or he’s so shy, a remarkably bouncy hit for the Pointer Sisters in October 1980, a number 10 R and B hit that did even better on the hot 100 reaching number three D.
S12: S. S. S.
S2: That’s Kenny Loggins himself would adopt those Bubley keyboards on more than one hit he co-wrote with Michael McDonald, including his number 11 hit from 1980. This is it. And this is make no mistake when you buy this. And his number 15 hit from 1983 heart to heart.
S12: I don’t know anyone in the.
S2: The Doobie Bounce even found its way into the most Yadi hit ever by Philly soul duo Daryl Hall and John Oates, the 1981 number one smash Kiss and. A quick sidebar here, you may be asking, how did we get this far into a yacht rock episode without playing a song by Hall and Oates? Well, are you sitting down? Hall and Oates are mostly not yacht rock. I know. I know. You may have been calling them that for the last decade and a half, ever since the yacht rock moniker was invented. John Oates himself has in at least one interview credited the popularity of Yacht Rock with helping to revive Hall and Oates reputation and career. And of course, a version of Hall and Oates appear in the original 2005 Yacht Rock Channel 101 series. In a positively hilarious twist, John Oates, not Daryl Hall, is the mastermind of the duo with a cartoonishly aggressive, violent temper.
S13: Pollinates Paul and I will not stand idly by. Will you? California vagina’s sailors stabbed the American airwaves in the balls with shit music.
S2: For the record, J.D. Reznor and his friends included Hall and Oates in the Rock series as comic foils East Coasters from, quote, the mean streets of Philadelphia. By the creators yardstick, however, their music sits adjacent to yacht rock but is not integral to it. Announce now essentially Hall and Oates, his music is blue eyed soul and it ranges all over the map from the 70s Philly sound of their 1977 chart topper, Rich Girl to the Orange B New Wave hybrid of their 1982 smash.
S14: Oh, this one city.
S2: Their music generally contains no West Coast personnel, although Hall and Oates did work with L.A. producers like David Foster occasionally on the Yacht Rock Founders long running podcast Beyond Yacht Rock, wherein they rank songs fidelity to the genre on a yacht ski scale.
S6: More than a dozen Hall and Oates songs were ranked and only two were tagged.
S2: Yacht Rock, a David Foster produced deep cut called Time’s Up and the Doobie bouncin kiss on this. Look, Yacht Rock is an invented retroactive genre. I am covering it in this episode as if it were a defined thing that existed in the 70s and 80s, which it wasn’t. But in the musical cosmology J.D. Reznor and friends formulated, there are parameters and the music of Daryl Hall and John Oates sensibly sits outside of them. I hope we’ve settled that anyway. As I mentioned at the top of the show, what a fool believes swept the top song prizes at the Grammys in 1980. But that same year, Michael McDonald played a part in the album that would do even better at the next Grammy Awards and set a new bar for pop smoothies. We Ride Like The Wind, featuring backing vocals by Michael McDonald, was the lead single from the self-titled debut album by Christopher Cross. You might say Cross was born career wise into yacht rock, unlike Michael McDonald or the members of Toto, who helped build or adapt their way into the genre. Christopher Cross, a San Antonio, Texas, guitarist and songwriter, had little history as a session player before signing with Warner Brothers Records in 1978, producer Michael Omada hit a California studio veteran who’d played with the likes of Steely Dan and Kenny Loggins, convinced Warner executives to let the easy listening crooner record his own material but use the cream of Ella’s session players. Cross’ eponymous LP dropped in the closing weeks of 1970 on. But with a tropical green background and a pink flamingo on the cover, the Christopher Cross LP might as well have been titled Yacht Rock Album. Literally dozens of West Coast players were all over the tracks. The Rising Tide lifted Cross’ boat and he went on to command the charts in 1980 by spring ride like the wind settled in at number two on the Hot 100 for four weeks.
S15: The follow up single did even better bands and well oh again.
S2: Skender Sailing is perhaps the most atypical but essential yacht rock song. It doesn’t bounce or certainly grew, but it is to yacht rock. What the bgs how deep is your love was to disco. The genre’s prototypical ballad, Sailing is literally about a boat and about as crossings quote tranquility all caught up in the revelry, unquote. It’s a smooth song about smoothness of sailing takes me away. Critics called sailing somnolent and numbing, but the public loved it. Sailing topped the Hot 100 in August 1980, and it made Christopher Cross the king of 1981 Grammy Awards, when the night was done. Thanks to Sailing and his self-titled album, Cross had swept the night’s top four Prises record song and album of the year and Best New Artist. He was the last artist to pull off this Grammy sweep until Billy Eilish in 2001 saying Take me away to Willow Bay. The complaint about this brand of soft rock after the 1980 and 81 Grammy Awards was that the music industry had taken a hard right toward white bread schlock. But apart from sailing most of the yacht rock that was now dominating the charts was a seamless blend of R and B and pop. And at the time, this blend was arguably more critical to black artists than white ones. As the 70s drew to a close and Disco was enjoying its last moments of overt chart topping success. Stand down, black artists increasingly found themselves boxed out of top 40 playlists as radio programmers scurried away from anything resembling disco. What that often meant, bluntly, was any song that seemed to black. This made yacht rock or yacht soul a haven for African-American acts. For example, Ray Parker Jr. picked up the bouncy yacht style in 1979 for his band Radios Single. You can’t change that. A number nine pop, number three R and B, you can’t change that.
S16: The only. Can’t change that.
S2: And jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. teamed with veteran soul singer Bill Withers on the 1981 Yats Soul ballad, Just the two of US, a number two pop number three, R and B hit Gethard.
S1: Do we can make it if we try to do.
S2: This crossover was vital because the sorts of hard funk records that were topping the R and B chart at the time were largely ignored on top 40 radio, whether by the likes of Rick James. Or the gap between these now highly regarded artists and songs were not pop hits, whereas Yats Soul helped launch the careers at both RB and pop radio of both jazzy soul singer Al Jarreau and. And emerging R and be vocal king Luther Vandross, you must know that balance, and that’s when you opened up. Also benefiting from this sound was super producer Quincy Jones, whom I mentioned earlier as the producer of Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. On the albums he produced, Jones employed many of the same musicians who played on records by Steely Dan or the Doobie Brothers in 1980. Guitarist and singer George Benson, whose aforementioned Berezan was an example of Proteau soul, went full Yamit on the Jones produced another night. Give me the. Quincy rebooted Benson’s career around his army of session players, including guitarist Lee Ritenour, keyboardists Greg Felin, Gaines and George Duke and percussionist Paulino DaCosta. Even David Foster and Michael McDonald made contributions to Bensons album Give Me the Night, returned Bensen to the top five on the album chart, and its title track became his biggest hit ever, reaching number four on the Hot 100 and number one on the R and B chart. One year later, Quincy’s The Dude, a 1981 album under Jones’s own name was practically a Whitman’s sampler of Yacht, Rock and Soul, featuring everyone from Toto Steve Lukather to trumpeter and frequent Steely Dan contributor Chuck Findley. Jones used the album to launch the career of vocalist James Ingram, who sang lead on the album’s two biggest hits, the ballad Just Once, and the mid tempo Super Smooth 100 Ways. Don’t forget, there could be an old lover in her memory if you meet her that same year, James Ingram reappeared on singer Patti Austin’s Quincy Jones produced 1981 album Every Home Should Have One Ingram and Austin duet ID on the slow burning love song Baby Come to Me, which of course also featured Michael McDonald on backing vocals after a long chart climb and a featured appearance on the TV soap opera General Hospital. Baby Come to Me topped the Hot 100 in early 1983.
S9: People come to me, put my arms around you.
S2: This was meant to be. And I’m also concerned about you. This was the breath of the yacht sound at its peak in the early 80s. It was infiltrating every corner of popular music, including TV themes and movies. There were middle of the road pop hits like Joey Scarborough’s bouncy theme from TV’s Greatest American Hero, a number two hit in 1981, believe it or not. For Christopher Cross’, chart topping theme from the movie Arthur, winner of 1981, best original song Oscar, a ditty about New York City that sounds very much like L.A.. On the other hand, there were also hits in this period that leaned decidedly more R and B like Michael McDonald’s smoldering 1982 torch song I Keep Forgetting. No new. But the track was McDonald’s solo debut after the 1982 dissolution of the Doobie Brothers. I keep forgetting made the top 10 on both the Hot 100 and the R and B chart number four on the former number seven on the ladder. Unsurprisingly, on his solo debut, McDonald was backed up by a raft of professional players from the L.A. session axis, including Gregg filling Gaines and two members of Toyota, Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro. But by 1982, Toto had something much bigger going on. After two underperforming albums, they had poured themselves into a make or break fourth album. Little did they know it was going to be Yacht Rock’s next chart and Grammy sweeping blockbuster. Rosann, written by toters David Page and named for Steve Porcaro, then girlfriend, actress Rosanna Arquette, was the lead single from Toto for the L.A. group’s biggest selling album. Instrumentally, at least, Rosana was a session rock masterclass built around an intricate halftime shuffle beat that Jeff Porcaro adapted from orand be legend Bernard Purdie, trading off low vocals from Steve Lukather and falsettos from Bobby Kimbe and closing with a full band jam. The song summed up everything Smooth Pop had produced in the last half decade. It was jazzy and rocking and bouncy and full of solos and lyrically regretful and slick Rosanne. Rossana spent a month at number two in the summer of 1982, stuck behind No one’s by the Human League and Survivor.
S6: It was a near miss, but this was already a bigger hot 100 performance than Toto had ever experienced. The Toto four album was platinum by late 1982. Unfortunately, no other song on Toto’s album seemed at the time like a proper follow up to Rosana, the band and their label tried issuing a similarly jazzy pop no named make believe, but it stalled at number 30 in the fall of 82. Of course, there was this other song.
S2: A dreamy Fantasia primarily written by band mate David Piech, about a man who hasn’t traveled much but thinks he knows the character of an entire continent, a moody oddball track that the band almost left off the album thinking it didn’t fit. So they buried it at the very end of side two and nobody thought it should be a single with no better options. The band finally released it as the third 45 from Toto. Four years later, members of Toto said in interviews, if you’d told them in 1982 that this, quote, goofy song was the one they’d be most remembered for, they’d have said you were nuts. What more can be said about Africa, the most enduring yacht rock song of all, the 80s song, most beloved by the Millennial and Z Generations, the song that would one day blanket the Internet in one rather literal sense. The song is a metaphor for yacht rock itself, black culture reinterpreted by white musicians. Drummer Jeff Porcaro, who arranged the songs conga based percussion, described it as, quote, a white boy trying to write a song on Africa. But since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV fighting. The song that everyone in toto underestimated reached number one on the Hot 100 in early February 1983. Three weeks later, with Africa still in the top five, Toto took the podium at the Grammy Awards. Their earlier hit, Rosana won record of the year and Toto four took album of the year in his acceptance speech. Drummer Jeff Porcaro made plain why this band, composed entirely of session veterans, had won the winter for Album of the year. This year is total for.
S17: This is really hard for us because there’s a lot of people who think most of all, there’s a lot of people we’ve worked with who we all love you for everything we learn from you.
S6: We’d like to Porcaro had a point if every industry figure who’d worked with Toto had voted for them, that alone might have been enough to give the band the win. It was the third time in four years after the Doobie Brothers in 1980 and Christopher Cross in 1981 that a song by this axis of evil, a session musicianship, the scene that was not yet known as Yacht Rock, took home one or more of the top Grammy Awards. By the way, among the albums that Toto Ford defeated for Album of the Year, that night was The Night Fly, the solo debut album by Steely Dan Singer, Donald Fagan.
S18: Yes, we’re gonna have to wait.
S2: Steely Dan would win album of the year 18 years later in 2001 for their comeback album Two Against Nature, completing a sweep of the top Grammys by most of the major yacht rock acts.
S6: So what finally brought about an end to the chart dominance of yacht rock? Perhaps the answer lies in an album that was already released the night that Toto won their Grammies, an LP that came out in the closing weeks of 1982 and on which multiple members of the band had played. This album wouldn’t be eligible for prizes until the 1984 Grammys at which it would sweep.
S2: And musically it was both fundamentally yacht rock and what came next if they see won. Michael Jackson’s thriller, the top selling and most hit pop studio album of all time, was produced by Quincy Jones and packed with many of the same session musicians who had appeared on countless West Coast studio albums since the mid 70s, from David Foster to Greg Felling gains that also included several members of Toto. And in fact, the song Human Nature was written by Steve Porcaro and intended for his own band before Quincy Jones heard it and asked if Michael Jackson could record it. It is, in essence a Toto song with Jackson singing. Is there any way that we live in human nature and eventual number seven hit on the hot 100 was not even the extent of Toto’s involvement on Thriller. They also played backup on the album’s equally Yadi lead single, the Paul McCartney duet The Girl Is Mine, a number two smash, I Love You. And believe it or not, Toyota also backed the album’s searing rock single, Beat It. Famously, the chart topping beat. Its blistering solo on the bridge is played by Guitar God, Eddie Van Halen. But on the verses, the main guitar riff is actually played by Todos Steve Loukia. They don’t want to see. The bias in the history of 80s pop music you can divide the world into before Thriller and after Thriller, Jackson’s mega blockbuster effectively ended the post disco backlash and started a new age of crossover black pop contained within that 42 minute nine song album were tracks that nodded to the smooth music of the late 70s and early 80s and songs that blew that template up. Thriller was an album that employed young rockers and essentially also killed Yacht Rock, but not right away.
S6: For example, Lionel Richie, another crossover black star whose late 1983 album Can’t Slow Down, would also go on to win. Album of the Year, recorded several songs involving the yacht Rock Access of players on Lionel’s hit Running With the Night, Steve Lukather reprised his Beat It guitar performance.
S2: Only this time Richie gave Lukather Thure the showcase solo slot. Not long after Thriller, however, centrist pop that appealed to both white and black audiences began to take on different, more kinetic forms, whether it was the new wave funk of British acts like Duran Duran, who were working with cutting edge producers like Nile Rodgers. For Hall and Oates, the yacht rock adjacent duo who moved deeper into clattering Dance Rock on 1984 hits like Adult Education and their number one smash Out of Touch. Actual yacht rockers were also adapting their sound for this new centrist rock reality, Kenny Loggins scored his only number one hit with the title song from the movie Footloose, hiding his smoothness under a veneer of twangy guitar.
S19: Now I’ve got to cut loose.
S2: And on their follow up to their Grammy winning juggernaut, Toto attempted to transform themselves into New Wave synth rockers with little success. The closest thing to pure yacht Rock on the Charts in 1984 came from Michael McDonald and James Ingram, who took one last smooth music victory lap with the Quincy Jones produced Be There. A number five are in being number 19. Pop hit will be. But the smoothest music on the charts in 1984 and 85 generally came from England with no connection to the west coast of the U.S. This was the moment for UK superstar pop like Shardey. This socks drenched music was its own breed of jazzy cocktail pop, certainly as smooth as peak yacht rock, but closer to the former new romantic and new wave movements by 1986, with Toto scoring their last top 20 pop hit Be for You As. And Michael McDonald finally scoring a chart topper in a duet with Patti LaBelle on my own that only vaguely resembled Yatsko with. The movement that still didn’t have a real life name, but which had quietly, smoothly commanded the charts for the better part of a decade, was over. So to return to the question we asked at the top of the show, why did Yacht Rock as a concept catch on? Was the appreciation of this music, especially by younger generations, ironic or sincere? For starters, as seemingly uncool as the music was, it never really went away. Only a decade after Yacht Rock’s decline in the summer of 1994, West Coast rapper Warren G, a stepbrother of gangsta superstar Dr. Dre, took his hit with Nate Dogg regulate to number two on the Hot 100. That was two positions higher than the song Warren G. Very prominently sampled Michael McDonald Zayat Soul Classic. I keep forgetting reached on the Hot 100 back in 1982. It was a clear black, not a clear white mormans. He was on the streets trying to console some starts with the sidewalk and get some phones while the number crunching the numbers that he’s in the 2000s as the yacht rock video series swept the web, the rise of yacht rock as a musical movement was equal parts kitsch, nostalgia and eventually admiration.
S6: And what started out as a snarky meme invented by funny men who genuinely appreciated the music soon gave a real boost to the performers.
S20: I thought it was hilarious when I first saw it. It was, you know, it was almost uncanny. But it’s fun. It’s no one’s more amazed than I think myself and my contemporaries are that we’re still working, you know, and we’re still out there playing music. It’s it’s what we love to do. And, you know, the fact that we get to do it at the level that sometimes we still get to do it is is really remarkable to us.
S6: That’s Michael McDonald in a 2017 interview, marveling at his good fortune. Since the yacht rock concept caught on, McDonald has been pretty busy.
S2: He toured with Boz Scaggs and Donald Fagan as the fake group The Dukes of September, recreating hits like Steely Dan’s Head. For the U.S.. And McDonald has enjoyed renewed hipster cred in the last 10 years, he has recorded guest vocal appearances for Brooklyn indie rockers Grizzly Bear. And also from Brooklyn, the synth pop and neo disco duo Holy Ghost. John. Of course, neither of these indie pop tracks were trying to sound like yacht rock, but in 2016, L.A. bassist and songwriter Steven Lee Bruner, a.k.a. Thundercat, went further, writing a new throwback to the yacht sound called Show You the Way. And he even invited both Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins to sing on. And then, of course, there’s the long afterlife of Todos unkillable Africa, it has appeared on 21st century TV shows from Stranger Things to Family Guy to The Tonight Show, plus probably a billion Internet users. One of those means a Twitter request from a die hard 14 year old fan of the alt rock band Weezer led Weezer to record a cover of Africa in the summer of 2013. That cover topped Billboard’s alternative rock chart for three weeks, Weezer’s biggest hit in a decade. As for Toto themselves, the surviving members, drummer Jeff Porcaro died back in 1992, were touring as recently as last fall. They were off the road by the spring of 2020 when the covid-19 pandemic hit. Then just last month, at the request of their fans. Founding Toto members Steve Lukather and David Piech, along with longtime percussionist Lenny Castro, produced a socially distanced version of their most famous hit, complete with video recorded from their homes. This new Africa was offered by Toto as a gesture of pure entertainment for folks under lockdown. This band of veteran musicians who had played in some of the world’s fanciest studios were playing in their bedrooms and dens. Maybe this is the most apt legacy of yacht rock. Yes, the recordings were always high end and polished, suitable for playing on an expensive vessel on the high seas. But the love that’s for the song, as if to say.
S14: Everybody is waiting for you.
S2: I hope you enjoyed this episode of Hit Parade. Our show was written, edited and narrated by Chris Melaniphy. That’s me. My producer for this episode was Benjamin Fresh, and we also had help from Rosemary Bellson, my extra special thanks to Hollywood, Steve Huie for his research support on this episode. June Thomas is the senior managing producer and Gabriel Roth, the editorial director of Slate podcasts. Check out their roster of shows at Slate Dotcom Slash podcasts. Thanks for listening and I look forward to leading the hit parade back your way. Until then, keep on marching on the one.
S14: I’m Chris Molaro rises tonight for the Serengeti. I seem to go as deep inside right now, just Justin.