Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Music: Yacht Rock

Think about the music that you loved as a teenager - the pop songs that still make you grin, even though you’ve been forced to concede that despite what you told your mother when you were fourteen, Duran Duran is not the best band ever. Now think about how much of your adult brain is taken up with lyrics to those pop songs from your high school years. If you’re musically gifted, you can probably consign even more brain space away to long-remembered riffs and chord progressions.

It seems that there is some science to why the music that we listened to as teenagers has remained such a part of our lives. Rock musician and neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitan has explained it all in his book This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, and to be honest, I’m delighted that it’s not just me who thinks that the art of pop music peaked with the 3.5 minute song that was ruling my brain when I should’ve been concentrating on Mr McWhirter's trigonometry class.
My high school years were 1978-1983, and I’m not too proud to admit that much of the music that I listen to in 2013 was recorded during those high school years. Apropos of nothing important, I mentioned the term Yacht Rock last night on Twitter. I was surprised when ABC Queensland Evenings presenter Rebecca Levingston responded that she didn’t know what Yacht Rock is. How could this be?

Stars of Yacht Rock

I’m confident that Beck would know many of the songs, and like a few of them too. It’s just the terminology, the overt grouping of the sounds and images from a specific time, which links them all together, that is unfamiliar. The term “Yacht Rock” wasn’t around in the seventies and eighties, as far as I can recall, and these days the genre tends to get a hard time. It's smooth, bordering on over-produced, and I gather it’s not cool to like Yacht Rock. In fact, it has become so uncool that cutting edge hipsters have embraced it.

Bah humbug!
Cool or not, this music is imprinted on my brain. I am the baby duckling and Christopher Cross, whose song “Sailing” gave the genre its name, is my Mama Duck. Actually, that’s a totally misleading analogy. The truth is more about neurochemical tags and the ability of music itself to connect very deeply, making strong impacts on vulnerable teenaged minds. If you’re interested, I recommend Dan Levitan’s book.

Theory aside, here’s my Yacht Rock playlist, in no particular order. I’ve grabbed a few songs from outside the generally accepted time frame, but it’s my playlist and I give myself permission to do that.

Sailing, Ride Like The Wind – Christopher Cross
I’m All Right – Kenny Loggins

Minute by Minute, What A Fool Believes, 8th Avenue Shuffle – Doobie Brothers


You Can Do Magic – America
Rosanna, Africa, Georgy Porgy – Toto

FM, Peg, Hey Nineteen, Do It Again – Steely Dan

I Keep Forgetting – Michael McDonald
I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do), One on One – Hall & Oates

I love every one of these songs, yet it all looked a bit thin, for what is essentially a pop/rock/funk blend characterised by seventies sophistication. Think dinner parties hosted by ladies with long hair, blue eyeshadow and bearded husbands. When I took a critical look at this list, I noticed three things:

  • 100% male
  • 100% white
  • 100% American-based


Just for variety, let’s throw in some extras – the mood is the same, even if the beards are missing:

Forget Me Nots – Patrice Rushen
Fantasy, After the Love has Gone – Earth Wind and Fire

Off the Wall – Michael Jackson

Never Give Up on a Good Thing – George Benson

Lowdown, Georgia – Boz Scaggs

Come Back and Stay – Paul Young
For now, feel free to miss the rains down in Africa as much as you like, but please be aware that you're singing the wrong words.

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