Category Archives: Tribute bands

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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Yes! You Can!

Yes at Massey Hall, April 11, 2013.

Yes at Massey Hall, April 11, 2013.

We went to see Yes play at Toronto’s Massey Hall yesterday (April 11). That’s my back-of-the hall iPhone photo. They delivered a flawless performance, playing three albums in their entirety, and ending with “Roundabout.” Just like the Rolling Stones and so many others, they dispel the myth that live performers have an expiry date, and though most of the Yes line-up are now in their sixties, they powered through the tunes with a crisp accuracy that very few bands can attain. Massey Hall has excellent acoustics, and the signature sounds of Yes – Chris Squire’s custom-wired Rickenbacker 4001, and Steve Howe’s crystal-clear guitars reached all the way up to the nosebleed seats.

So, indeed most of the band members are in their sixties, but not so the lead vocalist, Jon Davison. Jon is amazing. He sings with pronounced passion and soul in the demanding alto range established by his predecessor, Jon Anderson. Even their names are strikingly similar. He blends so well with the music and looks so happy up on stage, it was hard to believe he is such a new addition to this giant of a band.

Yes frontman Jon Davison. Photo from Wikipedia.

Yes frontman Jon Davison. Photo from Wikipedia.

His story, too, is an amazing one, mostly because he has lived the dream of many hundreds-of thousands of musicians: he went from fronting a tribute band to fronting the band itself. How unbelievably cool is that?

According to Wikipedia, Jon was a musician friend of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, and long story short, Hawkins was also a friend of Chris Squire. So the connection was made.

An ironic twist here – Davison actually replaced another tribute band frontman, Benoit David of Montreal, who was the first to take the heat from Yes purists for replacing Jon Anderson, and who was sidelined, just like Anderson, with respiratory issues.

So along comes Jon Davison, and his voice peals beautifully through the complex verses of 1970’s Yes, and captures the spacey, lyrical Roger Dean-ish mindscapes that most members of last night’s audience grew up on.

For someone such as myself, who relishes virtuoso musical performance, and who strives to play as accurately and as soulfully as his own minor talent will allow, to watch truly gifted artists at work is an absolute pleasure, and to see artists such as Davison literally fill the space between legends such as Squire, Howe, Alan White and Geoff Downes, adds an additional vicarious thrill.

Yes has a gruelling tour schedule ahead of them. I wish them many, many standing ovations along the way. They deserve them all.

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