Yacht Rock cruises for a bruising with the soft-rock sounds — and culture — you forgot to forget
ONLINE TV Contrary to what you might mistake as your better judgment, the soft-rock world of the late 1970s and early ’80s produced some top-notch sounds. Admittedly, nary a twentysomething peer confesses to joining me in enjoying the music of Michael McDonald, but even societal relegation to guilty pleasure status can't stop the soothe sounds — a sentiment thankfully shared by JD Ryznar and Hunter Stair, creators of the online television series Yacht Rock.
Released by Channel 101, a group based in Los Angeles, Yacht Rock presents humorous, five-minute vignettes (starring Ryznar and Stair kitted out in soft-rock drag) explaining the origins of some "remarkably smooth" hits from such champs as McDonald, Steely Dan, and Toto. "We're not just sailing the seas of smile on a gentle bed of rock," says "music industry mogul" character Koko Goldstein, the show's key promoter of smooth music in the industry. "My artists fuel their vessels with their blood ... and their broken dreams!"
It's some serious business — the songs of that era are given rather dramatic, hilarious backstories that, while stretching the truth, are based in hard facts: for instance, there are indeed Toto members playing on Michael Jackson's return to smooth production, "Human Nature."
"Hollywood" Steve Huey, a critic from the All Music Guide, hosts the show, guiding viewers through the hits of 1976 to 1984 in the yacht rock genre, a label referring to smooth pop that would seemingly please the affluent ears of champagne-sipping, island-cruising millionaires. Aside from being completely hysterical, the series presents many facts of interest to yacht rock aficionados: did you know that Ted Templeman, producer of the McDonald-period Doobie Brothers material, also produced the first Van Halen record?
Sellouts come in the form of Hall and Oates, the ever-present bullies who took the funkier, somewhat grittier route away from the Holy Church of Smooth. Kenny Loggins, while presented in a notably heroic light throughout, also comes off as something of a jerk, betting that McDonald's "I Keep Forgettin'” would never make it past number four on the charts (and although Loggins is initially correct, the salt ’n' pepper smooth OG comes out on top as the tune is later sampled in Warren G's hit "Regulate," ultimately reaching number two).
The myriad brilliant one-liners include such fortunate turns of phrase as "You guys just checked into Hotel Cali-ass-kick!" and McDonald's ice-cold response to Toto's threat of a musical climate change in the ’80s, "Me? An irrelevant joke? Please."
That anybody would want to reexamine the music of this period is certainly unusual, especially considering the reverence Yacht Rock has toward the music. Never before have I seen Loggins placed in anything resembling a heroic light. Not since Footloose anyway. Sadly, Yacht Rock has now ceased production of new episodes, but it's never too late to tune in to old installments — you'll soon be sailing away again with Christopher Cross and company. SFBG