BY: JChameleon of Yacht Rock Toronto
I have put together this list of key elements that can make a song Yacht Rock and boat worthy. Having some of these makes a good case for the boat and not having enough can leave a song docked in the Marina.
These are not my rules, these are the guidelines as set out by the creators of Yacht Rock (JD Ryznar, Hunter Stair, Hollywood Steve Huey & David Lyons) as they laid theme out in their influential podcast Beyond Yacht Rock podcast that has run for the last 3 years. I have simply compile these elements.
Yacht Rock Elements
1. The Doobie Bounce – The Doobie Brother Sound w/Michael McDonald – The lilt that occurs when the piano plays a percussive rhythm, while the bass plays on beat one and then rests leaving space for the rhythm section, before coming back in on beat three. In essence the bass plays a line often based around the kick drum pattern. This formula was established on the iconic yacht rock song “What a Fool Believes,” and has gone on to be copied thousands of time is the genre.
2. The Log Line – The Kenny Loggins sound - Folky roots with a jazz sensibility and a powerful vocal delivery
3. The Hold The Line – The Toto sound - How hard you can rock before it’s too hard in yacht rock.
4. The Cross- Fire – The Christopher Cross sound – Soft vocal delivery with strong guitar solos
5. Personnel Matters – The yacht rock sound is often achieved by a core group of session musicians who played on countless hits during the era. Songs without notable personnel can still make the boat if the sound is right.
6. Jazzy sophistication and/or r&b elements – Yacht rock has been described as nerdy white guys trying to do rhythm & blues. It is the inclusion of jazz or rhythm & blues, which distinguishes it from typical soulless soft rock.
7. Studio Polish – Yacht Rock occurs during the finest years for audio technology and was recorded in expensive studios during the analogue era (1976-1984). After 1984 most studios are using digital technology and the warmth is lost.
8. Musical Arrangement must take precedence over lyrics – Song arrangements need twist and turns and enough breathing room for the technical chops of the players to shine through. This is why singer/songwriters often fail to make the boat.
9. Campfire music doesn’t make it – Songs cannot typically be acoustic guitar driven or simple sing-song material.
10. Sailing and tropical references - Just because a song mentions boats or the tropics does not automatically mean it’s yacht rock
11. Key Instruments – Electric piano & electric Guitar, and sometimes sax.
12. Fools - Lyrical content is often about a fool either lost in love or out of love. However sappy love letter lyrics typically don’t work. (Except in Yacht Soul*)
13. Yacht pocket – Tempo range is about 80-110 bpm
14. Instrumental have the ‘Peg’ it. – Instrumental yacht rock songs are possible, but they have to work harder to overcome the lack of lyrics. They have to be pretty amazing and almost perfectly yachty.
15. Strings - Overuse of sappy string arrangements will get you kicked off the boat.
16. No Too Confident - Can’t be overly confident or sultry, unless it’s yacht soul* (See number 12)
17. Era - Due to production techniques the era is 1976-1984, songs outside this range can be considered if they really nail the sound. Songs before 1976 are referred to as ‘proto-yacht’ those after 1984 are referred to as ‘fire keepers.’
18. Drum machines and synths - These are acceptable if they support the song and feel organic.
*Yacht Soul – A subgenre of yacht rock in which an African American funk, pop, or r & b singer is backed up by a yachty sounding backing band, which is often populated by and/or produced by yacht rock session musicians. (Ex. We’re In This Love Together – Al Jarreau, produced by Jay Graydon)