In Defense of…Yacht Rock

How an obscure comedy web series helped re-popularize the music it made fun of, relaunching the careers of musicians in their sunset

Smooth.

That is the operative word when talking about Yacht Rock

While you may not be familiar with the term “Yacht Rock,” you most certainly have heard songs from the genre. Comprising dozens of Top Ten hits, the category is mostly composed of easy-going music written and recorded in the Los Angeles area from the mid-‘70s through the early ‘80s.

During that time, this music was most likely referred to as AM Gold, Adult-Oriented Rock or Soft Rock. But, by a humorous twist of fate, it would be rebranded decades later as Yacht Rock. Music that, in a word, could be universally defined as “smooth.” Think breezy melodies, jazz chord progressions played on a Fender Rhodes, and slick studio productions. Songs like “What A Fool Believes” by The Doobie Brothers,
“Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan and Toto’s “Africa.”

The prototypical Yacht Rock song incorporates elements of other genres, but it does not clearly belong to any of them. Instead, it drifts luxuriously between the ports of other styles. It’s smooth, but more sophisticated in structure than straight-ahead pop. Usually upbeat, but nowhere nearly as rowdy as hard rock. Soulful, but typically not as emotionally intense as R&B.

At its best, Yacht Rock conjures imagery of a boat party off the coast of Catalina Island during the sunset of the ‘70s. Tunes that, like the Brie at the party’s charcuterie table, are nearly impossible to resist — wonderfully cheesy and possibly addictive.

At its worst, Yacht Rock can get lost in the Bermuda Triangle of elevator music with songs that stray off course into sappy sentimentalism and/or moanfully bad cliches. In that respect, critics of the genre present a point worth noting.

Regardless of good or bad, these attributes make the genre — and most importantly the artists who performed the songs — a perfect target for parody. Which is exactly what happened in 2005, when the comedy series that coined the term “Yacht Rock,” debuted on the internet.

This Is It: Yacht Rock

Launched in 2002 in Los Angeles, Channel 101 began as a monthly short-film festival where audience members voted on their favorite shorts, all of which had to be a length of five minutes or less. After the votes were tabulated, the top-five selections would win “prime-time” spots on the Channel 101 website.

Series that continued to get voted into the top five would earn another month on the website and another chance to submit a new entry the following month. Those falling short of the top-five would be “canceled.”

Three years into the Channel 101 experiment, a short called Yacht Rock cruised into the competition. After sailing off in the first-place position that night, it went on to break all Channel 101 records by continuing to be a top-five finisher for nine consecutive months. Ten episodes were created from 2005 to 2006. At the time, no other series had previously lasted that long.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.