“In the musical sense, yacht rock refers to the highly polished brand of soft rock that emanated from Southern California between 1976 and 1984. The term is intended to suggest the kind of smooth, mellow music that early yuppies probably enjoyed in sipping champagne and snorting cocaine on their yachts. Prominent “yacht rockers” include Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross and Toto.”
While the excessive 80s are long gone, the specter of Yacht Rock still floats. That’s precisely why we decided to count down our 10 favorite Yacht Rock songs of all time (with a few “honorable mentions” for good measure).
So grab your bubbly, your skipper’s cap and a scantily clad femme fatale with a fake tan and crank the Nakamichi up to 11.
9. Robbie Dupree – “Fly” (1980)
Straight out of Brooklyn, Robert Dupuis would have started his career by swinging his vocal cords on the sounds of Doo Wop. He eventually crossed over to blues and R&B and started writing his own material in the early 70s. and charted this little ditty, which was in the Top 10.
8. Player – “Baby Come Back” (1978)
Peter Beckett was the undisputed core of Player, a Los Angeles-based musical group that formed in 1977. Beckett, who commanded both vocal and guitarist duties in the band, was joined by bassist Ronn Moss and guitarist/keyboardist JC Crowley and drummer John Friesen. Languid guitar and swirling keyboards mixed with Beckett’s warm tenor make this sonic perfect for sipping champagne. Oh yeah, bassist Moss kept playing in Love glory and beauty. Boo-yaa!
7. Kenny Loggins – “That’s It” (1979)
Mr. Loggins has had quite a varied career. From his early days as one half of Loggins/Messina to his unforgettable ’80s soundtrack entries, including “Danger Zone” (from Superior gun), “Footloose” (from, you guessed it, Free from all ties), and “I’m Alright” (yeah, you know what movie that’s from – otherwise, it’s Caddyshack). While the aforementioned ditties endeared it to the karaoke crowd, it was this track, however, with island beats and Loggins’ breathy vocals sounding like a gentle breeze over a warm tropical expanse of ocean.
6. Michael McDonald – “I Keep Forgetting (Whenever You’re Near)” (1982)
As keyboard player and one of the main vocalists of the Doobie Brothers, McDonald was responsible for some of the most memorable mid-tempo rocks of the California pop scene of the seventies. McDonald was responsible for the unbridled success of the band “Takin’ It To The Streets”. But here, with the first single from his early 80s solo debut, he took soft rock to a whole new level. The song not only made the Top 5 singles chart, but also top 10 R&B tracks. Not bad for a cat that used to sing for Steely Dan, huh?
5. Toto – “Rosanna” (1982)
How can a song dedicated to Rosanna Arquette not be a real Yacht Rock staple? Well, actually, we’ll get to that popular misinformation in a second. Yet another LA-based band, Toto centered on David Paich, Steve Lukather, Bobby Kimball, Steve Porcaro, David Hungate and Jeff Porcaro. While “Rosanna” is one of their best-known hits, the group had cracked the Top 10 several times before this 1982 number racked up multiple Grammys (Record of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance, Best Instrumental Arrangement With Vocal, not to mention the album from which it was taken, Toto IV, winner of Album of the Year, Best Engineering Recording and Best Producer). Now let’s talk about the myth of Rosanna. According to our insiders (Arquette’s cousin, no less), even though she’s featured in the video and was dating Lukather at the time, the song was apparently written before she hit the scene.
4. Daryl Hall and John Oates — “A Kiss on My List” (1980)
Mule-haired Daryl Hall and mustachioed John Oates were the toast of the 80s. Hall, interestingly, cut his teeth as a soul singer for Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the famous founders of the Philly Soul sound. When he finally reunited with Oates, the two combined their love of R&B and Doo Wop with blue-eyed pop and lighthearted folk and bang, bang, boom, Hall & Oates was born. But they didn’t become self-sufficient until they uprooted themselves from Philadelphia and moved to New York. This track was the second single from the duo’s self-produced 1980 album Voice. It became a number 1 single and paved the way for their mega-hit follow-up. private eyes.
3. The Doobie Brothers — “What A Fool Believes” (1978)
The Doubs is already part of the list with our number 6, Michael McDonald. But here we give the whole band their Yacht Rock toast, though admittedly they never entered YR territory until McDonald joined the band in 1975. This track, which was released on the band’s 1978 album minute by minute, was not only a number one single, but it helped propel the album to stay in the top spot on the charts for astounding weeks. McDonald’s bubbly keyboards and bouncy vocals make for an original slice of sweet pop goodness. Oh yes, it was co-written by Kenny Loggins.
2. Steely Dan – “Hey Nineteen” (1980)
Duo Donald Fagan and Walter Becker brought soft faux jazz to the forefront with their complex, near-progressive compositions and light, airy feel that riled a generation of jazz purists as they climbed the pop charts. , became an integral soundtrack to a generation and provided countless amounts of samples for the rap world. While entire albums of the Steely canon could be considered Yacht Rock staples, if you had to identify a singular song that exemplifies the good life of Dom Perignon, fresh Colombian powder and girls in waifish bikinis walking around with determination bored on the deck of a 100 foot schooner, well this pup would be it. That the band is named after a William S. Burroughs counterculture dildo, naked lunch, is either a brilliantly ironic twist or a self-deprecating flashback. This particular hit is found on the album Gaucho.
1. Christopher Cross — “Sailing” (19)
While Loggins & Messina may have been pictured at the helm of a posh yacht on their 1973 album All sails out, it’s Christopher Cross’ ubiquitous hit “Sailing” that takes top honors on the list. Cross burst onto the scene in 1980 with his self-titled debut album. “Sailing” might be the song everyone remembers from that era, but the album also produced the Top 2 hit “Ride Like The Wind” and two other Top 20 hits, “Never Be The Same and “Say You’ll Be Mine”. But it’s ‘Sailing’ that won song of the year at the Grammys and it’s ‘Sailing’ that’s lucky (or unlucky, as the case may be) to actually have a title that fits the entire Yacht Rock concept to a “T.”
Of course, no Top 10 list, especially one dedicated to such a maligned subgenre like Yacht Rock, would be complete without a few honorable mentions:
Top 10 Yacht Songs Honorable Mentions
Seals & Croft – “Summer Breeze” (1972)
Ambrosia – “The Biggest Part of Me” (1980)
10cc – “I’m Not In Love” (1975)
Loggins and Messina – “Watch the River Flow” (1973)