What exactly is “Yacht Rock”?
The name generally refers to stuff like Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins and Christopher Cross, as well as well as a few other artists — while the definition of yacht rock is a bit malleable, it broadly refers to soft, West Coast rock made in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Originally, this style was referred to as being the “West Coast Sound,” but in 2005, the genre took on a new name thanks to a web series called Yacht Rock, which fictionally chronicled soft rock songs and songwriters.
While it was meant to be a joke, the name has since stuck, and even guys like McDonald himself have come to accept it. SiriusXM has also granted the genre its own channel by that name.
While some may debate what is and isn’t yacht rock, one song is universally seen as fitting into that category, and that song is Cross’ schmaltzy classic “Sailing.” If you’re familiar with that song, you pretty much understand exactly what yacht rock is.
But does yacht rock really live up to its name? That is, are guys really listening to these smooth sounds out on their yachts? Or is the title as ridiculous as it was intended to be?
Let’s find out by asking some real-life yacht guys…
On What They Listen to on Their Yacht
Brad Burke, musician and former yacht owner: It probably sounds cliché to say this, but I’m a musician, so I tend to have pretty eclectic taste. I listen to everything from heavy metal to classical to movie soundtracks to traditional Irish music. Honestly, being on the boat, one of the things I listened to the most was the Jaws soundtrack, which I’d consider to be very sea-going music.
Adam Placido, accountant and yacht owner: I usually listen to Sublime or hip hop.
On Yacht Rock
Burke: I found Yacht Rock on SiriusXM and they play a pretty good mix of things that I like, but they’re real repetitive — there are so many more tunes to pick from. While I may have heard the phrase “yacht rock” before that, that was where I noticed it. It seems like some people are very interested in forming a clear delineation between yacht rock and 1970s soft rock, but people take some of this stuff way too seriously. Life is too short.
Williamson: I like yacht rock, yeah. Sometimes I don’t know about the title — it seems more like mellow music than boat music. I live at the Marina, and you hear a lot more boat music like “Ride Captain Ride” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”
Placido: For the most part, yacht rock is kind of slow and cheesy 1980s songs that I wouldn’t listen to, so I don’t have a very high opinion of yacht rock.
On Kenny Loggins
Burke: I don’t really see him as yacht rock myself, but I don’t take this so seriously as to say he shouldn’t be considered yacht rock, either. I will say this about him: He’s overplayed. I think a lot of those artists are overplayed though, at least on SiriusXM.
Williamson: I like Kenny Loggins, a lot actually. I even listen to some of his songs like “I’m Alright” on my boat.
On Michael McDonald
Burke: This one is more about the vibe, because I see nothing about the person himself as being yacht rock. Working with Amy Grant as a studio grunt, I know Michael McDonald and have sung with him, and nothing about him says yacht rock to me. He’s more of a musician’s-lounge type guy to me — very passionate and intense about music, but very cool and easy in his approach to life. Not yacht rock, though. I don’t see him on a boat, really.
Williamson: Michael McDonald is a little mellow for me, but he’s cool.
Placido: I don’t really have an opinion of him.
On Christopher Cross
Burke: Because of the smoothness of his music, and because he’s identified with that “Sailing” song, that he automatically qualifies as yacht rock.
On “Finding Serenity If the Wind is Right” (As It Says in Christopher Cross’ “Sailing”)
Burke: Absolutely you can find serenity if the wind is right. When you’re sailing, you have to find the wind. If you can’t, you’re not going nowhere, but if you can find the wind and you can get set and stay there, you can sit in the boat and the boat will do all the work — all you got to do is sit there. Whoever wrote that lyric must have gotten that from a sailboat.
Placido: For sure. If the wind is nice, you can have a really relaxing day. My family and I do a lot of pleasure boating on Lake Erie. We bop around the islands, and we also have one of those foam mats to throw out on the water for the kids to play on. There’s nothing like it.
Williamson: Well, “if the wind is right” is more of a sailboat thing. That song is a sailboat song — I don’t have a sailboat, it’s a power boat.
On “Finding Innocence Again”
Burke: I think so, yeah. If you’ve caught that wind right, you let go of everything, all your stress, all your cares. You’re not taking everything so seriously. It’s like when you were a kid when you didn’t have to worry about a thing.
Placido: For sure you can find innocence again. Going out on the boat with the family is just a perfect day.
On “The Canvas Can Do Miracles”
Burke: Sunsets and sunrises on the water are just incredible. There’s even “the green flash,” which occurs just as the sun drops out of sight. It’s a real thing, so there are miracles out there. It’s explainable by science, but why is the world set up that way? It’s an amazing thing.
Placido: There’s nothing like being on the water. It’s never repetitive.
Williamson: I’ve seen some pretty amazing things on the water. One time I saw an aircraft carrier come right by me, that was amazing, and I’ve seen a humpback whale out there. I also see dolphins almost every weekend, and they swim beside the boat. They almost want to play with my dogs because I bring my two dogs on the boat with me.
On How Far It Is to Never-Never Land
Burke: I’m guessing that’s a lyric from the song, right? Well, Never-Never Land feels like a long-long way sometimes. I will say that.
Placido: It’s one mile past where you think it is, because you never seem to get there.
Williamson: It’s forever. But again, that’s more of a sailboat song.