What is Yacht Rock anyway?

I watched a recent Ford TV commercial (November 2019) that showcased the Ford F-150 pickup truck and focused on its trailer towing capacities. The spot portrays a truck deftly launching a decent-size pleasure boat into a harbor. The boat is named Brandy and the music that played through the spot is Brandy by the 1970s band Looking Glass. This is the tail-end of the second decade of this new century, and still this tune, like many others, persists.

Screen capture from a Ford F-150 commercial, featuring a boat named Brandy.

Brandy is a favored staple of the yacht rock genre. But what, many ask, is yacht rock?

Yacht rock refers to tunes that were released mostly in the 1970s or early 1980s that have the following traits in common:

  • They are very catchy, with choruses and hooks that will bury themselves in your brain for weeks.
  • They are more soft-rock than hard. Not really as soft as James Taylor or Carole King, but definitely not as hard as Deep Purple or Aerosmith.
  • Their production values are very high, with lots of exquisite harmonies and layered guitar and piano work.
  • They generally convey good feelings – especially travel, wanderlust and moving toward some new horizon, especially by sea.

The term yacht rock was coined decades later in a mocking way, suggesting that tunes like Brandy, Sail Away by Christopher Cross or Summer Breeze by Seals and Crofts were only listened to by wealthy people as they lazed around on their own yachts.

But the term has been embraced by those who love the music, and it helps to separate it from the dozens of other types of excellent music that people choose to gravitate to. Other members of the yacht rock artists community include Hall & Oates, 10cc, Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Boz Scaggs, and Jimmy Buffett, but there are also many bands who might be considered one-hit wonders, like Diesel (Sausalito Summer Night), Starbuck (Moonlight Feels Right) and Ian Thomas (Painted Ladies). Even if they had more than one hit in their career, these are the tunes people know, love and request.

So, it’s a genre that is unique to the 1970s – an era where tunes were a product of the individual talents and work histories of the musicians who recorded it. A blues-oriented drummer will add a very different spin than a drummer whose roots were in jazz, funk or early rock ‘n’ roll. The 1980s by contrast placed greater focus on electronic enhancements, the 1990s offered up retro-influenced grunge along with new country.

Today’s era of Spotify has essentially removed the idea of album-oriented music, replacing it with individual downloadable tunes, and more often than not, they are composed not on a piano but on a MacBook. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Music always moves with the times.

Yet 1970s music still captivates people of all ages. If you grew up with this music, then it holds a special place as part of the soundtrack of your life. But younger people who weren’t even born then tend to discover these tunes through other media, especially movie soundtracks, online games, and TV commercials. And in many cases they like it.

Aging rockers, those 70+ performers who are still filling stadiums, are doing so because their original fans are now bringing their kids and grandkids to experience the music. The Desert Trip mega concerts in California featured the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, The Who, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Roger Waters, and it’s a sure bet that the audiences weren’t 100% in the 60-70-year-old demographic.

This is not to say that 1970s music is better than today’s music. It’s just different. Every generation, and every calendar year showcases amazing acts – artists who both fulfill and exceed the current status quo to deliver musical satisfaction to fans. Its fascinating to think who from this decade’s lineup will be playing a Desert Trip style concert 40 years from now. Taylor Swift? Ed Sheeran? Ariana Grande?

To us at Absolutely Jack, we find yacht rock to be a perfect blend of catchy and familiar tunes that make you tap your toes or even dance and sing along. Personally, these are tunes that I can play a thousand times and never tire of playing them. Each time, it seems, I will hear something new – some extra harmony or acoustic guitar flourish that the group lovingly added during the recording to make the texture just that bit better.

So…if you work at a company based in the Toronto area and are looking for a faithful recreation of the 1970s yacht rock sound, I hope you will consider us. You can follow us on this LinkedIn page as well as on Twitter at @absolutelyjack. Our website, as you might expect, is absolutelyjack.ca. Here is a selection of the yacht rock tunes we play in the ambient sets. Or visit the Spotify playlist here. We also offer danceable sets because, hey, people just love this stuff. And you don’t even have to own a yacht.

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