From Haim to Chromeo: The new wave of Yacht-rockers

Seventies and Eighties AOR acquired a derogatory nickname a few years ago. But that hasn’t stopped it sailing back to popularity

If you’re not familiar with the term yacht-rock, you’ll certainly be familiar with its sound: classic soul-inflected ultra-smooth rock with unabashed sun-drenched soaring harmonies and slick production. And if you thought it was a sound left behind in the 1970s and 1980s – a time when no saxophone riff was deemed excessive – you’d be mistaken. Yacht-rock, once dominant in southern California, in a golden age of studio music purveyed by acts including Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Hall and Oates, Toto, Christopher Cross, Kenny Loggins, Robert Palmer, The Eagles, Spandau Ballet and even Rumours and Mirage-era Fleetwood Mac, is back.

Philadelphia’s Hall and Oates are going on tour next month – albeit with less bouffant hairdos than in their heyday – while Christine McVie has reunited with Fleetwood Mac for the band’s biggest tour to date. Meanwhile, the Club Yacht Rock Night in London, at the Heavenly Social in Oxford Street, which has been serving up the era’s laid-back polished grooves since 2007, is seeing more fans than ever, and compilation CDs devoted to the genre are becoming more plentiful. With the revival clearly in mind, the first volume of Too Slow to Disco, a compilation series of late Seventies West coast yacht-pop compiled by DJ Supermarkt, and avoiding many of the usual key players thus showing the sub-genre’s range, was released last month. Next up is Yacht Rock, a new compilation from Universal Records and Chris Scott, the man behind the club nights.

“Something’s happened in the last couple of years”, Scott says. “I was in Urban Outfitters in Shoreditch in spring and Hall and Oates were on the stereo and the clothes racks were full of Hawaiian shirts. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been putting on yacht-rock nights for seven years.”

At the time when such unashamedly smooth rock was prevalent, between 1976 and 1984, nobody knew it as yacht-rock (back then it was described as adult-oriented rock). That came in 2005, when Los Angeles writer and director JD Ryznar’s spoof online video series on the imagined lives of 1970s soft rock stars, including Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers and Kenny Loggins, coined the term. Then, yacht-rock was derided as a soundtrack for affluent types who whiled away hours luxuriating aboard yachts.

“The term ‘yacht-rock’ was used as an insult”, says Scott, “smooth studio music that was the preserve of people who probably had yachts and would listen on their newly acquired stereos. It morphed into the yuppie rock of the Eighties. If it had a stigma in the past, that was probably because people thought of growing up with dad’s lousy music.” But Scott says that stigma has gone. “It’s completely gone. The name is memorable, raises a chuckle when you first hear it, and now people use it as a term of love.”

It conjures up a lifestyle, the easygoing sound oozing summer vibes and the sense of escapism, evoking the feeling of being by the sea, drinking Martinis in the sunshine. Lyrics, song titles and album art often had a nautical theme (think of the famous video for Duran Duran’s “Rio”, Loggins and Messina’s 1982 album Full Sail, and Christopher Cross’s song “Sailing”).

The hallmarks of the genre are slick production, clean vocals and a focus on big-hearted melodies. Everything about the production was excessive; no expense was spared on recording, lavishing vast brass and string sections and countless studio hours. It is said that Steely Dan, renowned for perfectionism in the studio, employed no less than 42 session musicians and 11 engineers to create their 1980 seven-song album Gaucho. Members of acts associated with smooth rock were often session musicians at the top of their act. It all gave that luxurious, decadent feel. And as time progressed, the quality and sophistication of the production values and musicianship shone through.

And the sound appears to be popular again, as shown by the younger acts adopting elements of yacht-rock, unashamedly embracing classic smooth rock, from Chromeo to Haim. Canadian act Chromeo are known for melding yacht-rock into their electro funk, and even appeared on stage alongside Hall and Oates at music festival Bonnaroo in 2010, duetting on hits “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” and “Kiss on My List”. Texas indie band White Denim’s last album Corsicana Lemonade embodied more of a soft-rock feel than the feisty acid-punk rock of their previous releases, while T-shirts at their tour merchandise stands have been emblazoned with palm trees. Rising Connecticut band The Stepkids, meanwhile, are garnering comparisons to Steely Dan and Hall and Oates for their psych-soul-funk. Then there’s Haim, the massively popular trio of Los Angeles sisters who are hugely indebted to Fleetwood Mac, blending nu-folk and 1990s R&B.

“We have a lot of rap and high energy dance in the charts”, says Scott. “If you listen to Avicii, Subfocus, Magnetic Man and Calvin Harris, it’s all very high-energy and a lot of noise. Yacht-rock is the antithesis of that.”

The three-disc compilation ‘Yacht Rock’ is out on 9 June on UMTV (Universal). Hall and Oates tour from 6 to 22 July

 

1. The Eagles Hotel California

All the traits of yacht rock are here: a strong melody, soaring harmonies and studio precision – and a playful reference to Steely Dan in the lyrics: “They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast.”

 

2.  Hall and Oates  I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)

The epitome of smooth music, this classic has the obligatory saxophone solo, smooth soul vocals from Daryl Hall, a twinkly sheening synth sound running throughout and that slinky bass intro too.

3.  Steely Dan Do It Again

A mellow jazz-inflected groove with an extended instrumental from songwriting partners Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, a duo who were notorious for their perfectionism in the recording studio.

 

4. The Doobie Brothers What a Fool Believes

No yacht-rock playlist is complete without singer-songwriter Michael McDonald’s Doobie Brothers and a song co-written with Kenny Loggins. This cheesy falsetto-fuelled number oozes summer vibes.

5. Christopher Cross Sailing

This Grammy-winning anthemic soft-rock track, complete with strings and twinkling synths in the background, has been hailed the “smoothest song ever”. 

 

Five GREAT Yacht-Rock tracks

 

“The name is memorable, raises a chuckle when you first hear it, and now people use  it as a term  of love”

 

Harmony, hairspray: Este Haim of Seventies-inspired Haim and, below, (from left) Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, and Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac Karl Walter/Getty Images; Ferdy Damman/AFP

Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tv review
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

The best TV shows and films coming to the service

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003