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[SB 196] Setting Sail on a Yacht Rock Adventure
Hi, I’m Matt. Welcome to Steady Beats, a newsletter about chasing the good life at midlife: exercise, education, and eighties music.
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That’s how co-frontman Nick Niespodziani describes Yacht Rock Revue, the Atlanta-based, national-touring, opening-for-Kenny-Loggins-near-you musical time machine that captains audiences through a cruise back through the heart of Yacht Rock:
Since forming in 2008, the seasoned party band has graduated into a national touring act, packing clubs, anchoring corporate events, and setting sail on themed cruises with their note-perfect re-creations of soft-rock’s smoothest jams, from “Brandy” by Looking Glass and “Lido Shuffle” by Boz Scaggs to Ace’s “How Long” and Toto’s irrepressible “Africa.”
The band sailed through Orlando’s House of Blues this weekend, packing in a mostly middle-aged crowd that bobbed and imbibed to the band’s covers of smooth hits.
What is Yacht Rock, anyway?
Well, that’s up for debate.
Niespodziani says Yacht Rock is “Whatever we say it is.” The band did trademark the term, after all.
A more strict definition, enacted by four gentlemen who first coined the term back in the early aughts, would include:
• High production value
• Use of "elite" Los Angeles-based studio musicians and producers associated with yacht rock
• Jazz and R&B influences
• Use of electric piano
• Complex and wry lyrics about heartbroken, foolish men, particularly involving the word "fool"
• An upbeat rhythm called the "Doobie Bounce"
In general: think smooth lite rock made in Southern California between 1976 and 1984 by a group of tight-knit musicians—technical masters—who cranked out agreeable, fun, and meticulously played adult contemporary hits.
The Yacht Rock circle starts with Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins as the stewards at its center, with Aja and Gaucho-era Steely Dan, Christopher Cross, and Toto floating close by.
From there, numerous artists dipped into and out of the scene and the sound, and the debates about Yacht credentials ensue as the circle expands.
The now (sadly) mothballed podcast Beyond Yacht Rock—also hosted by the four guys who first coined the term—contained weekly debates over whether individual songs were “Yacht or Nyacht.”
The four, J.D. Ryznar, Steve Huey, Hunter Stair, and David Lyons left a legacy, even if they’re no longer talking Yacht Rock themselves. They created a mockumentary web series about the creation of these songs which is generally accepted as the roots of the categorization:
Fair warning: the YouTube series is hilarious, but the language is rough.
The Four Horsemen of Yacht also created a handy reference website with the scores levied during these podcast debates. The four would debate individual songs and then each assign a score for Yachtiness. Any song with an average score over 50 is “Yacht,” anything under 50 is “Nyacht.”
Needless to say, there are numerous bones to pick with the scoring. I won’t even get into how Marty Balin’s “Hearts,” or Toto’s “I Won’t Hold You Back” fall short. But I could get into it, with passion.
Oh, I could.
But let’s get back to Yacht Rock Revue
Here’s a little taste of “Brandy” from Saturday night:
For most of the crowd at a Yacht Rock Revue show, the songs are calorie-free comfort food (libations aside, anyway). The band played tried-and-true Yacht favorites like “Heart to Heart,” “Africa,” and “Hey Nineteen.” As always, saxophonist David B. Freeman crushed the solos in “Baker Street.” The vocal harmonies on “Lonesome Loser” soared. And sneaking in a little “Dancing Queen” disco from Abba was an entertaining and understandable onshore detour.
Yacht Rock Revue isn’t kitsch. They’re talented musicians. And they play these complex songs well.
The crowd knows all the lyrics and can hit all the notes. This is not a voluntary act on our part. The words and melodies were seared into our young and malleable brains as the background music from our youth: car rides, the kitchen radio, Solid Gold playing on TV on a Saturday night.
I’ll be able to recite McDonald, Loggins, and Toto lyrics long after the ravages of time pilfer more critical data files from my prefrontal cortex.
And of course, Yacht Rock songs continually reintroduce themselves.
They serenade us as we buy groceries or wait for teeth cleanings. And when Yacht Rock Revue comes through town, we serenade right back, an ode not just to nostalgia but to musical craftsmanship and just plain fun pop music from another time.
Thank you for reading.
Appreciate you setting sail with me this week. Let’s keep the Steady Beats going. 💚
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