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Ultimate Classic Rock

Top 50 Yacht Rock Songs

Yacht rock was one of the most commercially successful genres to emerge from the '70s and yet has managed to evade concise definition since its inception. For many listeners, it boils down to a feeling or mood that cannot be found in other kinds of music: Simply put, you know it when you hear it.

Some agreed-upon elements are crucial to yacht rock. One is its fluidity, with more emphasis on a catchy, easy-feeling melody than on beat or rhythm. Another is a generally lighthearted attitude in the lyrics. Think Seals & Crofts ' "Summer Breeze," Christopher Cross ' "Ride Like the Wind" or Bill Withers ' "Just the Two of Us." Yes, as its label suggests, music that would fit perfectly being played from the deck of a luxurious boat on the high seas.

But even these roughly outlined "rules" can be flouted and still considered yacht rock. Plenty of bands that are typically deemed "nyacht" rock have made their attempts at the genre: Crosby, Stills & Nash got a bit nautical with "Southern Cross," leading with their famed tightly knit harmonies, and Fleetwood Mac also entered yacht rock territory with "Dreams" – which, although lyrically dour, offers a sense of melody in line with yacht rock.

Given its undefined parameters, the genre has become one of music's most expansive corners. From No. 1 hits to deeper-cut gems, we've compiled a list of 50 Top Yacht Rock Songs to set sail to below.

50. "Thunder Island," Jay Ferguson (1978)

Younger generations might be more apt to recognize Jay Ferguson from his score for NBC's The Office , where he also portrayed the guitarist in Kevin Malone's band Scrantonicity. But Ferguson's musical roots go back to the '60s band Spirit; he was also in a group with one of the future members of Firefall, signaling a '70s-era shift toward yacht rock and "Thunder Island." The once-ubiquitous single began its steady ascent in October 1977 before reaching the Top 10 in April of the following year. Producer Bill Szymczyk helped it get there by bringing in his buddy Joe Walsh for a soaring turn on the slide. The best showing Ferguson had after this, however, was the quickly forgotten 1979 Top 40 hit "Shakedown Cruise." (Nick DeRiso)

49. "Southern Cross," Crosby, Stills & Nash (1982)

CSN's "Southern Cross" was an example of a more literal interpretation of yacht rock, one in which leftover material was revitalized by Stephen Stills . He sped up the tempo of a song titled " Seven League Boots " originally penned by brothers Rick and Michael Curtis, then laid in new lyrics about, yes, an actual boat ride. "I rewrote a new set of words and added a different chorus, a story about a long boat trip I took after my divorce," Stills said in the liner notes  to 1991's CSN box. "It's about using the power of the universe to heal your wounds." The music video for the song, which went into heavy rotation on MTV, also prominently displayed the band members aboard a large vessel. (Allison Rapp)

48. "Jackie Blue," the Ozark Mountain Daredevils (1974)

Drummer Larry Lee only had a rough idea of what he wanted to do with "Jackie Blue," originally naming it after a bartending dope pusher. For a long time, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils' best-known single remained an instrumental with the place-keeper lyric, " Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh Jackie Blue. He was dada, and dada doo. He did this, he did that ... ." Producer Glyn Johns, who loved the track, made a key suggestion – and everything finally snapped into place: "No, no, no, mate," Johns told them. "Jackie Blue has to be a girl." They "knocked some new lyrics out in about 30 minutes," Lee said in It Shined: The Saga of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils . "[From] some drugged-out guy, we changed Jackie into a reclusive girl." She'd go all the way to No. 3. (DeRiso)

47. "Sailing," Christopher Cross (1979)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more quintessential yacht rock song than “Sailing.” The second single (and first chart-topper) off Christopher Cross’ 1979 self-titled debut offers an intoxicating combination of dreamy strings, singsong vocals and shimmering, open-tuned guitar arpeggios that pay deference to Cross’ songwriting idol, Joni Mitchell . “These tunings, like Joni used to say, they get you in this sort of trance,” Cross told Songfacts in 2013. “The chorus just sort of came out. … So I got up and wandered around the apartment just thinking, ‘Wow, that's pretty fuckin' great.’” Grammy voters agreed: “Sailing” won Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Arrangement at the 1981 awards. (Bryan Rolli)

46. "Just the Two of Us," Bill Withers and Grover Washington Jr. (1980)

A collaboration between singer Bill Withers and saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. resulted in the sleek "Just the Two of Us." When first approached with the song, Withers insisted on reworking the lyrics. "I'm a little snobbish about words," he said in 2004 . "I said, 'Yeah, if you'll let me go in and try to dress these words up a little bit.' Everybody that knows me is kind of used to me that way. I probably threw in the stuff like the crystal raindrops. The 'Just the Two of Us' thing was already written. It was trying to put a tuxedo on it." The track was completed with some peppy backing vocals and a subtle slap bass part. (Rapp)

45. "Sara Smile," Daryl Hall & John Oates (1975)

It doesn't get much smoother than "Sara Smile," Daryl Hall & John Oates ' first Top 10 hit in the U.S. The song was written for Sara Allen, Hall's longtime girlfriend, whom he had met when she was working as a flight attendant. His lead vocal, which was recorded live, is clear as a bell on top of a velvety bass line and polished backing vocals that nodded to the group's R&B influences. “It was a song that came completely out of my heart," Hall said in 2018 . "It was a postcard. It’s short and sweet and to the point." Hall and Allen stayed together for almost 30 years before breaking up in 2001. (Rapp)

44. "Rosanna," Toto (1982)

One of the most identifiable hits of 1982 was written by Toto co-founder David Paich – but wasn't about Rosanna Arquette, as some people have claimed, even though keyboardist Steve Porcaro was dating the actress at the time. The backbeat laid down by drummer Jeff Porcaro – a "half-time shuffle" similar to what John Bonham played on " Fool in the Rain " – propels the track, while vocal harmonies and emphatic brass sections add further layers. The result is an infectious and uplifting groove – yacht rock at its finest. (Corey Irwin)

43. "Diamond Girl," Seals & Crofts (1973)

Seals & Crofts were soft-rock stylists with imagination, dolling up their saccharine melodies with enough musical intrigue to survive beyond the seemingly obvious shelf life. Granted, the lyrics to “Diamond Girl,” one of the duo’s three No. 6 hits, are as sterile as a surgery-operating room, built on pseudo-romantic nothing-isms ( “Now that I’ve found you, it’s around you that I am” — what a perfectly natural phrase!). But boy, oh boy does that groove sound luxurious beaming out of a hi-fi system, with every nuance — those stacked backing vocals, that snapping piano — presented in full analog glory. (Ryan Reed)

42. "What You Won't Do for Love," Bobby Caldwell (1978)

Smooth. From the opening horn riffs and the soulful keyboard to the funk bass and the velvety vocals of Bobby Caldwell, everything about “What You Won’t Do for Love” is smooth. Released in September 1978, the track peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went on to become the biggest hit of Caldwell’s career. It was later given a second life after being sampled for rapper 2Pac's posthumously released 1998 hit single “Do for Love.” (Irwin)

41. "We Just Disagree," Dave Mason (1977)

Dave Mason's ace in the hole on the No. 12 smash "We Just Disagree" was Jim Krueger, who composed the track, shared the harmony vocal and played that lovely guitar figure. "It was a song that when he sang it to me, it was like, 'Yeah, that's the song,'" Mason told Greg Prato in 2014. "Just him and a guitar, which is usually how I judge whether I'm going to do something. If it holds up like that, I'll put the rest of the icing on it." Unfortunately, the multitalented Krueger died of pancreatic cancer at age 43. By then, Mason had disappeared from the top of the charts, never getting higher than No. 39 again. (DeRiso)

40. "Crazy Love," Poco (1978)

Rusty Young was paneling a wall when inspiration struck. He'd long toiled in the shadow of Stephen Stills , Richie Furay and Neil Young , serving in an instrumentalist role with Buffalo Springfield and then Poco . "Crazy Love" was his breakout moment, and he knew it. Rusty Young presented the song before he'd even finished the lyric, but his Poco bandmates loved the way the stopgap words harmonized. "I told the others, 'Don't worry about the ' ooh, ooh, ahhhh haaa ' part. I can find words for that," Young told the St. Louis Dispatch in 2013. "And they said, 'Don't do that. That's the way it's supposed to be.'" It was: Young's first big vocal became his group's only Top 20 hit. (DeRiso)

39. "Suspicions," Eddie Rabbitt (1979)

Eddie Rabbitt 's move from country to crossover stardom was hurtled along by "Suspicions," as a song about a cuckold's worry rose to the Top 20 on both the pop and adult-contemporary charts. Behind the scenes, there was an even clearer connection to yacht rock: Co-writer Even Stevens said Toto's David Hungate played bass on the date. As important as it was for his career, Rabbitt later admitted that he scratched out "Suspicions" in a matter of minutes, while on a lunch break in the studio on the last day of recording his fifth album at Wally Heider's Los Angeles studio. "Sometimes," Rabbitt told the Associated Press in 1985, "the words just fall out of my mouth." (DeRiso)

38. "Moonlight Feels Right," Starbuck (1976)

No sound in rock history is more yacht friendly than Bruce Blackman’s laugh: hilarious, arbitrary, smug, speckled with vocal fry, arriving just before each chorus of Starbuck’s signature tune. Why is this human being laughing? Shrug. Guess the glow of night will do that to you. Then again, this is one of the more strange hits of the '70s — soft-pop hooks frolicking among waves of marimba and synthesizers that could have been plucked from a classic prog epic. “ The eastern moon looks ready for a wet kiss ,” Blackman croons, “ to make the tide rise again .” It’s a lunar make-out session, baby. (Reed)

37. "Same Old Lang Syne," Dan Fogelberg (1981)

“Same Old Lang Syne” is a masterclass in economic storytelling, and its tragedy is in the things both protagonists leave unsaid. Dan Fogelberg weaves a devastating tale of two former lovers who run into each other at a grocery store on Christmas Eve and spend the rest of the night catching up and reminiscing. Their circumstances have changed — he’s a disillusioned professional musician, she’s stuck in an unhappy marriage — but their love for each other is still palpable if only they could overcome their fears and say it out loud. They don’t, of course, and when Fogelberg bids his high-school flame adieu, he’s left with only his bittersweet memories and gnawing sense of unfulfillment to keep him warm on that snowy (and later rainy) December night. (Rolli)

36. "Eye in the Sky," the Alan Parsons Project (1982)

Few songs strike a chord with both prog nerds and soft-rock enthusiasts, but the Alan Parsons Project's “Eye in the Sky” belongs to that exclusive club. The arrangement is all smooth contours and pillowy textures: By the time Eric Woolfson reaches the chorus, shyly emoting about romantic deception over a bed of Wurlitzer keys and palm-muted riffs, the effect is like falling slow motion down a waterfall onto a memory foam mattress. But there’s artfulness here, too, from Ian Bairnson’s seductive guitar solo to the titular phrase conjuring some kind of god-like omniscience. (Reed)

35. "Somebody's Baby," Jackson Browne (1982)

Jackson Browne 's highest-charting single, and his last Top 10 hit, was originally tucked away on the soundtrack for the 1982 teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High . That placed Browne, one of the most earnest of singer-songwriters, firmly out of his element. "It was not typical of what Jackson writes at all, that song," co-composer Danny Kortchmar told Songfacts in 2013. "But because it was for this movie, he changed his general approach and came up with this fantastic song." Still unsure of how it would fit in, Browne refused to place "Somebody's Baby" on his next proper album – something he'd later come to regret . Lawyers in Love broke a string of consecutive multiplatinum releases dating back to 1976. (DeRiso)

34. "Still the One," Orleans (1976)

Part of yacht rock’s charm is being many things but only to a small degree. Songs can be jazzy, but not experimental. Brass sections are great but don’t get too funky. And the songs should rock, but not rock . In that mold comes Orleans’ 1976 hit “Still the One.” On top of a chugging groove, frontman John Hall sings about a romance that continues to stand the test of time. This love isn’t the white-hot flame that leaves passionate lovers burned – more like a soft, medium-level heat that keeps things comfortably warm. The tune is inoffensive, catchy and fun, aka yacht-rock gold. (Irwin)

33. "New Frontier," Donald Fagen (1982)

In which an awkward young man attempts to spark a Cold War-era fling — then, hopefully, a longer, post-apocalyptic relationship — via bomb shelter bunker, chatting up a “big blond” with starlet looks and a soft spot for Dave Brubeck. Few songwriters could pull off a lyrical concept so specific, and almost no one but Donald Fagen could render it catchy. “New Frontier,” a signature solo cut from the Steely Dan maestro, builds the sleek jazz-funk of Gaucho into a more digital-sounding landscape, with Fagen stacking precise vocal harmonies over synth buzz and bent-note guitar leads. (Reed)

32. "Sail On, Sailor," the Beach Boys (1973)

The Beach Boys were reworking a new album when Van Dyke Parks handed them this updated version of an unfinished Brian Wilson song. All that was left was to hand the mic over to Blondie Chaplin for his greatest-ever Beach Boys moment. They released "Sail On, Sailor" twice, however, and this yearning groover somehow barely cracked the Top 50. Chaplin was soon out of the band, too. It's a shame. "Sail On, Sailor" remains the best example of how the Beach Boys' elemental style might have kept growing. Instead, Chaplin went on to collaborate with the Band , Gene Clark of the  Byrds  and the Rolling Stones – while the Beach Boys settled into a lengthy tenure as a jukebox band. (DeRiso)

31. "Time Passages," Al Stewart (1978)

Al Stewart followed up the first hit single of his decade-long career – 1976's "Year of the Cat" – with a more streamlined take two years later. "Time Passages" bears a similar structure to the earlier track, including a Phil Kenzie sax solo and production by Alan Parsons. While both songs' respective album and single versions coincidentally run the same time, the 1978 hit's narrative wasn't as convoluted and fit more squarely into pop radio playlists. "Time Passages" became Stewart's highest-charting single, reaching No. 7 – while "Year of the Cat" had stalled at No. 8. (Michael Gallucci)

30. "I Go Crazy," Paul Davis (1977)

Paul Davis looked like he belonged in the Allman Brothers Band , but his soft, soulful voice took him in a different direction. The slow-burning nature of his breakthrough single "I Go Crazy" was reflected in its chart performance: For years the song held the record for the most weeks spent on the chart, peaking at No. 7 during its 40-week run. Davis, who died in 2008, took five more songs into the Top 40 after 1977, but "I Go Crazy" is his masterpiece – a wistful and melancholic look back at lost love backed by spare, brokenhearted verses. (Gallucci)

29. "Biggest Part of Me," Ambrosia (1980)

Songwriter David Pack taped the original demo of this song on a reel-to-reel when everyone else was running late, finishing just in time: "I was waiting for my family to get in the car so I could go to a Fourth of July celebration in Malibu," he told the Tennessean in 2014. "I turned off my machine [and] heard the car horn honking for me." Still, Pack was worried that the hastily written first verse – which rhymed " arisin ,'" " horizon " and " realizin '" – might come off a little corny. So he followed the time-honored yacht-rock tradition of calling in Michael McDonald to sing heartfelt background vocals. Result: a Top 5 hit on both the pop and adult-contemporary charts. (DeRiso)

28. "Africa," Toto (1982)

Remove the cover versions, the nostalgia sheen and its overuse in TV and films, and you’re left with what makes “Africa” great: one of the best earworm choruses in music history. Never mind that the band is made up of white guys from Los Angeles who'd never visited the titular continent. Verses about Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti paint a picture so vivid that listeners are swept away. From the soaring vocals to the stirring synth line, every element of the song works perfectly. There’s a reason generations of music fans continue to proudly bless the rains. (Irwin)

27. "Hello It's Me," Todd Rundgren (1972)

“Hello It’s Me” is the first song Todd Rundgren ever wrote, recorded by his band Nazz and released in 1968. He quickened the tempo, spruced up the instrumentation and delivered a more urgent vocal for this 1972 solo rendition (which became a Top 5 U.S. hit), but the bones of the tune remain the same. “Hello It’s Me” is a wistful, bittersweet song about the dissolution of a relationship between two people who still very much love and respect each other a clear-eyed breakup ballad lacking the guile, cynicism and zaniness of Rundgren’s later work. “The reason those [early] songs succeeded was because of their derivative nature,” Rundgren told Guitar World in 2021. “They plugged so easily into audience expectations. They’re easily absorbed.” That may be so, but there’s still no denying the airtight hooks and melancholy beauty of “Hello It’s Me.” (Rolli)

26. "Smoke From a Distant Fire," the Sanford/Townsend Band (1977)

There are other artists who better define yacht rock - Michael McDonald, Steely Dan, Christopher Cross - but few songs rival the Sanford/Townsend Band's "Smoke From a Distant Fire" as a more representative genre track. (It was a Top 10 hit in the summer of 1977. The duo never had another charting single.) From the vaguely swinging rhythm and roaring saxophone riff to the light percussion rolls and risk-free vocals (that nod heavily to Daryl Hall and John Oates' blue-eyed soul), "Smoke" may be the most definitive yacht rock song ever recorded. We may even go as far as to say it's ground zero. (Gallucci)

25. "Dream Weaver," Gary Wright (1975)

Unlike many other songs on our list, “Dream Weaver” lacks lush instrumentation. Aside from Gary Wright’s vocals and keyboard parts, the only added layer is the drumming of Jim Keltner. But while the track may not have guitars, bass or horns, it certainly has plenty of vibes. Inspired by the writings of Paramahansa Yogananda – which Wright was turned on to by George Harrison – “Dream Weaver” boasts a celestial aura that helped the song peak at No. 2 in 1976. (Irwin)

24. "Reminiscing," Little River Band (1978)

The third time was the charm with Little River Band 's highest-charting single in the U.S. Guitarist Graeham Goble wrote "Reminiscing" for singer Glenn Shorrock with a certain keyboardist in mind. Unfortunately, they weren't able to schedule a session with Peter Jones, who'd played an important role in Little River Band's first-ever charting U.S. single, 1976's "It's a Long Way There ." They tried it anyway but didn't care for the track. They tried again, with the same results. "The band was losing interest in the song," Goble later told Chuck Miller . "Just before the album was finished, Peter Jones came back into town, [and] the band and I had an argument because I wanted to give 'Reminiscing' a third chance." This time they nailed it. (DeRiso)

23. "Heart Hotels," Dan Fogelberg (1979)

Ironically enough, this song about debilitating loneliness arrived on an album in which Dan Fogelberg played almost all of the instruments himself. A key concession to the outside world became the most distinctive musical element on "Heart Hotels," as well-known saxophonist Tom Scott took a turn on the Lyricon – a pre-MIDI electronic wind instrument invented just a few years earlier. As for the meaning of sad songs like these, the late Fogelberg once said : "I feel experiences deeply, and I have an outlet, a place where I can translate those feelings. A lot of people go to psychoanalysts. I write songs." (DeRiso)

22. "Year of the Cat," Al Stewart (1976)

Just about every instrument imaginable can be heard in Al Stewart's "Year of the Cat." What begins with an elegant piano intro winds its way through a string section and a sultry sax solo, then to a passionate few moments with a Spanish acoustic guitar. The sax solo, often a hallmark of yacht-rock songs, was not Stewart's idea. Producer Alan Parsons suggested it at the last minute, and Stewart thought it was the "worst idea I'd ever heard. I said, 'Alan, there aren’t any saxophones in folk-rock. Folk-rock is about guitars. Sax is a jazz instrument,'" Stewart said in 2021 . Multiple lengthy instrumental segments bring the song to nearly seven minutes, yet each seems to blend into the next like a carefully arranged orchestra. (Rapp)

21. "How Long," Ace (1974)

How long does it take to top the charts? For the Paul Carrack-fronted Ace: 45 years . "I wrote the lyric on the bus going to my future mother-in-law's," he later told Gary James . "I wrote it on the back of that bus ticket. That's my excuse for there only being one verse." Ace released "How Long" in 1975, reaching No. 3, then Carrack moved on to stints with Squeeze and Mike and the Mechanics . Finally, in 2020, "How Long" rose two spots higher, hitting No. 1 on Billboard's rock digital song sales chart after being featured in an Amazon Prime advertisement titled "Binge Cheat." (DeRiso)

20. "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)," Looking Glass (1972)

Like "Summer Breeze" (found later in our list of Top 50 Yacht Rock Songs), Looking Glass' tale of an alluring barmaid in a busy harbor town pre-dates the classic yacht-rock era. Consider acts like Seals & Crofts and these one-hit wonders pioneers of the genre. Ironically, the effortless-sounding "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" was quite difficult to complete. "We recorded 'Brandy' two or three different times with various producers before we got it right," Looking Glass' principal songwriter Elliot Lurie told the Tennessean in 2016. The chart-topping results became so popular so fast, however, that Barry Manilow had to change the title of a new song he was working on to " Mandy ." (DeRiso)

19. "I Can't Tell You Why," Eagles (1979)

Timothy B. Schmit joined just in time to watch the  Eagles disintegrate. But things couldn't have started in a better place for the former Poco member. He arrived with the makings of his first showcase moment with the group, an unfinished scrap that would become the No. 8 hit "I Can't Tell You Why." For a moment, often-contentious band members rallied around the outsider. Don Henley and Glenn Frey both made key contributions, as Eagles completed the initial song on what would become 1979's The Long Run . Schmit felt like he had a reason to be optimistic. Instead, Eagles released the LP and then promptly split up. (DeRiso)

18. "Sentimental Lady," Bob Welch (1977)

Bob Welch  first recorded "Sentimental Lady" in 1972 as a member of Fleetwood Mac . Five years later, after separating from a band that had gone on to way bigger things , Welch revisited one of his best songs and got two former bandmates who appeared on the original version – Mick Fleetwood and Christine McVie – to help out (new Mac member Lindsey Buckingham also makes an appearance). This is the better version, warmer and more inviting, and it reached the Top 10. (Gallucci)

17. "So Into You," Atlanta Rhythm Section (1976)

Atlanta Rhythm Section is often wrongly categorized as a Southern rock band, simply because of their roots in Doraville, Ga. Songs like the seductively layered "So Into You" illustrate how little they had in common with the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd . As renowned Muscle Shoals sessions ace David Hood once said, they're more like the " Steely Dan of the South ." Unfortunately, time hasn't been kind to the group. Two of this best-charting single's writers have since died , while keyboardist Dean Daughtry retired in 2019 as Atlanta Rhythm Section's last constant member. (DeRiso)

16. "Dreams," Fleetwood Mac (1977)

Stevie Nicks was trying to channel the heartbreak she endured after separating from Lindsey Buckingham into a song, but couldn't concentrate among the bustle of Fleetwood Mac's sessions for Rumours . "I was kind of wandering around the studio," she later told Yahoo! , "looking for somewhere I could curl up with my Fender Rhodes and my lyrics and a little cassette tape recorder." That's when she ran into a studio assistant who led her to a quieter, previously unseen area at Sausalito's Record Plant. The circular space was surrounded by keyboards and recording equipment, with a half-moon bed in black-and-red velvet to one side. She settled in, completing "Dreams" in less than half an hour, but not before asking the helpful aide one pressing question: "I said, 'What is this?' And he said, 'This is Sly Stone 's studio.'" (DeRiso)

15. "Minute by Minute," the Doobie Brothers (1978)

Michael McDonald was so unsure of this album that he nervously previewed it for a friend. "I mean, all the tunes have merit, but I don't know if they hang together as a record," McDonald later told UCR. "He looked at me and he said, 'This is a piece of shit.'" Record buyers disagreed, making Minute by Minute the Doobie Brothers' first chart-topping multiplatinum release. Such was the mania surrounding this satiny-smooth LP that the No. 14 hit title track lost out on song-of-the-year honors at the Grammys to "What a Fool Believes" (found later in our list of Top 50 Yacht Rock Songs) by the Doobie Brothers. (DeRiso)

14. "Lonely Boy," Andrew Gold (1976)

Andrew Gold’s only Top 10 U.S. hit is a story of parental neglect and simmering resentment, but those pitch-black details are easy to miss when couched inside such a deliciously upbeat melody. Gold chronicles the childhood of the titular lonely boy over a propulsive, syncopated piano figure, detailing the betrayal he felt when his parents presented him with a sister two years his junior. When he turns 18, the lonely boy ships off to college and leaves his family behind, while his sister gets married and has a son of her own — oblivious to the fact that she’s repeating the mistakes of her parents. Gold insisted “Lonely Boy” wasn’t autobiographical, despite the details in the song matching up with his own life. In any case, you can’t help but wonder what kind of imagination produces such dark, compelling fiction. (Rolli)

13. "Baby Come Back," Player (1977)

Liverpool native Peter Beckett moved to the States, originally to join a forgotten act called Skyband. By the time he regrouped to found Player with American J.C. Crowley, Beckett's wife had returned to England. Turns out Crowley was going through a breakup, too, and the Beckett-sung "Baby Come Back" was born. "So it was a genuine song, a genuine lyric – and I think that comes across in the song," Beckett said in The Yacht Rock Book . "That's why it was so popular." The demo earned Player a hastily signed record deal, meaning Beckett and Crowley had to assemble a band even as "Baby Come Back" rose to No. 1. Their debut album was released before Player had ever appeared in concert. (DeRiso)

12. "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight," England Dan & John Ford Coley (1976)

There aren't too many songs with choruses as big as the one England Dan & John Ford Coley pump into the key lines of their first Top 40 single. Getting there is half the fun: The conversational verses – " Hello, yeah, it's been a while / Not much, how 'bout you? / I'm not sure why I called / I guess I really just wanted to talk to you " – build into the superpowered come-on line " I'm not talking 'bout moving in ...  ." Their yacht-rock pedigree is strong: Dan Seals' older brother is Seals & Croft's Jim Seals. (Gallucci)

11. "Hey Nineteen," Steely Dan (1980)

At least on the surface, “Hey Nineteen” is one of Steely Dan’s least ambiguous songs: An over-the-hill guy makes one of history’s most cringe-worthy, creepiest pick-up attempts, reminiscing about his glory days in a fraternity and lamenting that his would-be companion doesn’t know who Aretha Franklin is. (The bridge is a bit tougher to crack. Is anyone sharing that “fine Colombian”?) But the words didn’t propel this Gaucho classic into Billboard's Top 10. Instead, that credit goes to the groove, anchored by Walter Becker ’s gently gliding bass guitar, Donald Fagen’s velvety electric piano and a chorus smoother than top-shelf Cuervo Gold. (Reed)

10. "Rich Girl," Daryl Hall & John Oates (1976)

It’s one of the most economical pop songs ever written: two A sections, two B sections (the second one extended), a fade-out vocal vamp. In and out. Wham, bam, boom. Perhaps that's why it’s easy to savor “Rich Girl” 12 times in a row during your morning commute, why hearing it just once on the radio is almost maddening. This blue-eyed-soul single, the duo’s first No. 1 hit, lashes out at a supposedly entitled heir to a fast-food chain. (The original lyric was the less-catchy “rich guy ”; that one change may have earned them millions.) But there’s nothing bitter about that groove, built on Hall’s electric piano stabs and staccato vocal hook. (Reed)

9. "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," Elvin Bishop (1975)

Elvin Bishop made his biggest pop-chart splash with "Fooled Around and Fell In Love," permanently changing the first line of his bio from a  former member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band to a solo star in his own right. There was only one problem: "The natural assumption was that it was Elvin Bishop who was singing,” singer  Mickey Thomas told the Tahoe Daily Tribune in 2007. Thomas later found even greater chart success with Starship alongside Donny Baldwin, who also played drums on Bishop's breakthrough single. "A lot of peers found out about me through that, and ultimately I did get credit for it," Thomas added. "It opened a lot of doors for me." (DeRiso)

8. "Baker Street," Gerry Rafferty (1978)

Gerry Rafferty already had a taste of success when his band Stealers Wheel hit the Top 10 with the Dylanesque "Stuck in the Middle With You" in 1973. His first solo album after the group's split, City to City , made it to No. 1 in 1978, thanks in great part to its hit single "Baker Street" (which spent six frustrating weeks at No. 2). The iconic saxophone riff by Raphael Ravenscroft gets much of the attention, but this single triumphs on many other levels. For six, mood-setting minutes Rafferty winds his way down "Baker Street" with a hopefulness rooted in eternal restlessness. (Gallucci)

7. "Dirty Work," Steely Dan (1972)

In just about three minutes, Steely Dan tells a soap-opera tale of an affair between a married woman and a man who is well aware he's being played but is too hopelessly hooked to end things. " When you need a bit of lovin' 'cause your man is out of town / That's the time you get me runnin' and you know I'll be around ," singer David Palmer sings in a surprisingly delicate tenor. A saxophone and flugelhorn part weeps underneath his lines. By the time the song is over, we can't help but feel sorry for the narrator who is, ostensibly, just as much part of the problem as he could be the solution. Not all yacht rock songs have happy endings. (Rapp)

6. "Ride Like the Wind," Christopher Cross (1979)

“Ride Like the Wind” is ostensibly a song about a tough-as-nails outlaw racing for the border of Mexico under cover of night, but there’s nothing remotely dangerous about Christopher Cross’ lithe tenor or the peppy piano riffs and horns propelling the tune. Those contradictions aren’t a detriment. This is cinematic, high-gloss pop-rock at its finest, bursting at the seams with hooks and elevated by Michael McDonald’s silky backing vocals. Cross nods to his Texas roots with a fiery guitar solo, blending hard rock and pop in a way that countless artists would replicate in the next decade. (Rolli)

5. "Summer Breeze," Seals & Crofts (1972)

Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were childhood friends in Texas, but the mellow grandeur of "Summer Breeze" makes it clear that they always belonged in '70s-era Southern California. "We operate on a different level," Seals once said , sounding like nothing if not a Laurel Canyon native. "We try to create images, impressions and trains of thought in the minds of our listeners." This song's fluttering curtains, welcoming domesticity and sweet jasmine certainly meet that standard. For some reason, however, they released this gem in August 1972 – as the season faded into fall. Perhaps that's why "Summer Breeze" somehow never got past No. 6 on the pop chart. (DeRiso)

4. "Lowdown," Boz Scaggs (1976)

As you throw on your shades and rev the motor, the only thing hotter than the afternoon sun is David Hungate’s sweet slap-bass blasting from the tape deck. “This is the good life,” you say to no one in particular, casually tipping your baseball cap to the bikini-clad crew on the boat zooming by. Then you press “play” again. What else but Boz Scaggs ’ silky “Lowdown” could soundtrack such a moment in paradise? Everything about this tune, which cruised to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, is equally idyllic: Jeff Porcaro’s metronomic hi-hat pattern, David Paich’s jazzy keyboard vamp, the cool-guy croon of Scaggs — flexing about gossip and “schoolboy game.” You crack open another cold one — why not? And, well, you press play once more. (Reed)

3. "Lido Shuffle," Boz Scaggs (1976)

Scaggs' storied career began as a sideman with Steve Miller  and already included a scorching duet with Duane Allman . Co-writer David Paich would earn Grammy-winning stardom with songs like "Africa." Yet they resorted to theft when it came to this No. 11 smash. Well, in a manner of speaking: "'Lido' was a song that I'd been banging around, and I kind of stole – well, I didn't steal anything. I just took the idea of the shuffle," Scaggs told Songfacts in 2013. "There was a song that Fats Domino did called 'The Fat Man ' that had a kind of driving shuffle beat that I used to play on the piano, and I just started kind of singing along with it. Then I showed it to Paich, and he helped me fill it out." Then Paich took this track's bassist and drummer with him to form Toto. (DeRiso)

2. "Peg," Steely Dan (1977)

"Peg" is blessed with several yacht-rock hallmarks: a spot on Steely Dan's most Steely Dan-like album, Aja , an impeccable airtightness that falls somewhere between soft-pop and jazz and yacht rock's stalwart captain, Michael McDonald, at the helm. (He may be a mere backing singer here, but his one-note chorus chirps take the song to another level.) Like most Steely Dan tracks, this track's meaning is both cynical and impenetrable, and its legacy has only grown over the years – from hip-hop samples to faithful cover versions. (Gallucci)

1. "What a Fool Believes," the Doobie Brothers (1978)

Michael McDonald not only steered the Doobie Brothers in a new direction when he joined in 1975, but he also made them a commercial powerhouse with the 1978 album Minute by Minute . McDonald co-wrote "What a Fool Believes" – a No. 1 single; the album topped the chart, too – with Kenny Loggins and sang lead, effectively launching a genre in the process. The song's style was copied for the next couple of years (most shamelessly in Robbie Dupree's 1980 Top 10 "Steal Away"), and McDonald became the bearded face of yacht rock. (Gallucci)

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The 20 greatest yacht rock songs ever, ranked

27 July 2022, 17:50

The greatest yacht rock songs ever

By Tom Eames

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We can picture it now: lounging on a swish boat as it bobs along the water, sipping cocktails and improving our tan. Oh, and it's the 1980s.

There's only one style of music that goes with this image: Yacht rock.

What is Yacht Rock?

Also known as the West Coast Sound or adult-oriented rock, it's a style of soft rock from between the late 1970s and early 1980s that featured elements of smooth soul, smooth jazz, R&B, funk, rock and disco.

  • The 40 greatest disco songs ever, ranked
  • The 10 greatest and smoothest ever sax solos, ranked

Although its name has been used in a negative way, to us it's an amazing genre that makes us feel like we're in an episode of Miami Vice wearing shoulder pads and massive sunglasses.

Here are the very best songs that could be placed in this genre:

Player - 'Baby Come Back'

yacht rock era

Player - Baby Come Back

Not the reggae classic of the same name, this 1977 track was Player's biggest hit.

After Player disbanded, singer Peter Beckett joined Australia's Little River Band, and he also wrote 'Twist of Fate' for Olivia Newton-John and 'After All This Time' for Kenny Rogers.

Steely Dan - 'FM'

yacht rock era

It's tough just choosing one Steely Dan song for this list, but we've gone for this banger.

Used as the theme tune for the 1978 movie of the same name, the song is jazz-rock track, though its lyrics took a disapproving look at the genre as a whole, which was in total contrast to the film's celebration of it. Still, sounds great guys!

Bobby Goldsboro - 'Summer (The First Time)'

yacht rock era

Bobby Goldsboro - Summer (The First Time)

A bit of a questionable subject matter, this ballad was about a 17-year-old boy’s first sexual experience with a 31-year-old woman at the beach.

But using a repeating piano riff, 12-string guitar, and an orchestral string arrangement, this song just screams yacht rock and all that is great about it.

Kenny Loggins - 'Heart to Heart'

yacht rock era

Kenny Loggins - Heart To Heart (Official Music Video)

If Michael McDonald is the king of yacht rock, then Kenny Loggins is his trusted advisor and heir to the throne.

This track was co-written with Michael, and also features him on backing vocals. The song is about how most relationships do not stand the test of time, yet some are able to do so.

Airplay - 'Nothing You Can Do About It'

yacht rock era

Nothin' You Can Do About It

You might not remember US band Airplay, but they did have their moment on the yacht.

Consisting of David Foster (who also co-wrote the Kenny Loggins song above), Jay Graydon and the brilliantly-named Tommy Funderburk, this tune was a cover of a Manhattan Transfer song, and was a minor hit in 1981.

Boz Scaggs - 'Lowdown'

yacht rock era

Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (Official Audio)

We've moved slightly into smooth jazz territory with this track, which is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

The song was co-written by David Paich, who would go on to form Toto along with the song's keyboardist David Paich, session bassist David Hungate, and drummer Jeff Porcaro.

Steve Winwood - 'Valerie'

yacht rock era

Steve Winwood - Valerie (Official Video)

This song is probably as far as you can get into pop rock without totally leaving the yacht rock dock.

Legendary singer-songwriter Winwood recorded this gong about a man reminiscing about a lost love he hopes to find again someday.

Eric Prydz later sampled it in 2004 for the house number one track ‘Call on Me’, and presented it to Winwood, who was so impressed he re-recorded the vocals to better fit the track.

Toto - 'Rosanna'

yacht rock era

Toto - Rosanna (Official HD Video)

We almost picked 'Africa' , but we reckon this tune just about pips it in the yacht rock game.

Written by David Paich, he has said that the song is based on numerous girls he had known.

As a joke, the band members initially played along with the common assumption that the song was based on actress Rosanna Arquette, who was dating Toto keyboard player Steve Porcaro at the time and coincidentally had the same name.

Chicago - 'Hard to Say I'm Sorry'

yacht rock era

Chicago - Hard To Say I'm Sorry (Official Music Video)

Chicago began moving away from their horn-driven soft rock sound with their early 1980s output, including this synthesizer-filled power ballad.

  • The 10 greatest Chicago songs, ranked

The album version segued into a more traditional Chicago upbeat track titled ‘Get Away’, but most radio stations at the time opted to fade out the song before it kicked in. Three members of Toto played on the track. Those guys are yacht rock kings!

Michael Jackson - 'Human Nature'

yacht rock era

Michael Jackson - Human Nature (Audio)

A few non-rock artists almost made this list ( George Michael 's 'Careless Whisper' and Spandau Ballet 's 'True' are almost examples, but not quite), yet a big chunk of Thriller heavily relied on the yacht rock sound.

Michael Jackson proved just how popular the genre could get with several songs on the album, but 'Human Nature' is the finest example.

The Doobie Brothers - 'What a Fool Believes'

yacht rock era

The Doobie Brothers - What A Fool Believes (Official Music Video)

Possibly THE ultimate yacht rock song on the rock end of the spectrum, and it's that man Michael McDonald.

Written by McDonald and Kenny Loggins, this was one of the few non-disco hits in America in the first eight months of 1979.

The song tells the story of a man who is reunited with an old love interest and attempts to rekindle a romantic relationship with her before discovering that one never really existed.

Michael Jackson once claimed he contributed at least one backing track to the original recording, but was not credited for having done so. This was later denied by the band.

Christopher Cross - 'Sailing'

yacht rock era

Christopher Cross - Sailing (Official Audio)

We're not putting this in here just because it's called 'Sailing', it's also one of the ultimate examples of the genre.

Christopher Cross reached number one in the US in 1980, and VH1 later named it the most "softsational soft rock" song of all time.

Don Henley - 'The Boys of Summer'

yacht rock era

The Boys Of Summer DON HENLEY(1984) OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO

Mike Campbell wrote the music to this track while working on Tom Petty’s Southern Accents album, but later gave it to Eagles singer Don Henley, who wrote the lyrics.

The song is about the passing of youth and entering middle age, and of a past relationship. It was covered twice in the early 2000s: as a trance track by DJ Sammy in 2002, and as a pop punk hit by The Ataris in 2003.

England Dan and John Cord Foley - 'I'd Really Love to See You Tonight'

yacht rock era

England Dan & John Ford Coley - I'd Really Love To See You Tonight.avi

A big hit for this duo in 1976, it showcases the very best of the sock rock/AOR/yacht rock sound that the 1970s could offer.

Dan Seals is the younger brother of Jim Seals of Seals and Crofts fame. Which leads to...

Seals & Crofts - 'Summer Breeze'

yacht rock era

Summer Breeze - Seals & Croft #1 Hit(1972)

Before The Isley Brothers recorded a slick cover, 'Summer Breeze' was an irresistible folk pop song by Seals & Crofts.

While mostly a folk song, its summer vibes and gorgeous melody make for a perfect yacht rock number.

Christopher Cross - 'Ride Like the Wind'

yacht rock era

Ride Like The Wind Promo Video 1980 Christopher Cross

If Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins are in charge of the yacht rock ship, then Christopher Cross has to be captain, right? Cabin boy? Something anyway.

The singer was arguably the biggest success story of the relatively short-lived yacht rock era, and this one still sounds incredible.

Eagles - 'I Can't Tell You Why'

yacht rock era

The eagles - I can't tell you why (AUDIO VINYL)

Many Eagles tunes could be classed as yacht rock, but we reckon their finest example comes from this track from their The Long Run album in 1979.

Don Henley described the song as "straight Al Green", and that Glenn Frey, an R&B fan, was responsible for the R&B feel of the song. Frey said to co-writer Timothy B Schmit: "You could sing like Smokey Robinson . Let’s not do a Richie Furay, Poco-sounding song. Let’s do an R&B song."

Gerry Rafferty - 'Baker Street'

yacht rock era

Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street (Official Video)

Gerry Rafferty probably didn't realise he was creating one of the greatest yacht rock songs of all time when he wrote this, but boy did he.

  • The Story of... 'Baker Street'

With the right blend of rock and pop and the use of the iconic saxophone solo, you can't not call this yacht rock at its finest.

Michael McDonald - 'Sweet Freedom'

yacht rock era

Michael McDonald - Sweet Freedom (1986)

If you wanted to name the king of yacht rock, you'd have to pick Michael McDonald . He could sing the phone book and it would sound silky smooth.

Possibly his greatest solo tune, it was used in the movie  Running Scared , and its music video featured actors Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines.

Hall & Oates - 'I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)'

yacht rock era

Daryl Hall & John Oates - I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) (Official Video)

This duo knew how to make catchy hit after catchy hit. This R&B-tinged pop tune was co-written with Sara Allen (also the influence for their song 'Sara Smile').

  • Hall and Oates' 10 best songs, ranked

John Oates has said that the song is actually about the music business. "That song is really about not being pushed around by big labels, managers, and agents and being told what to do, and being true to yourself creatively."

Not only was the song sampled in De La Soul's 'Say No Go' and Simply Red 's 'Home', but Michael Jackson also admitted that he lifted the bass line for 'Billie Jean'!

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Sail Away: The Oral History of ‘Yacht Rock’

By Drew Toal

This story was originally published on June 26, 2015

I n the late 1970s and early 1980s, musical artists like Kenny Loggins , Michael McDonald , Steely Dan , Toto , Hall and Oates , and dozens of others regularly popped up on each other’s records, creating a golden era of smooth-music collaboration.

And on June 26th, 2005, an internet phenomenon was born. In 12 short but memorable episodes — first via the the short-film series Channel 101 and then online — JD Ryznar, Hunter Stair, Dave Lyons, Lane Farnham and their friends redefined an era and coined a term for the sultry croonings of McDonald, Fagen, et al.: “yacht rock.”

As “Hollywood” Steve might say, these guys docked a fleet of remarkable hits. This is the story of Yacht Rock, told from stem to stern — a reimagining of a bygone soft-rock renaissance, courtesy of hipsters with fake mustaches, impeccable record collections and a love of smoothness. Long may it sail.

The Michigan Connection JD Ryznar (Director, “Michael McDonald”): I moved from Ann Arbor to L.A., and ended up making friends with all these other guys from Michigan, like “Hollywood” Steve Huey, Hunter Stair, and David Lyons. Pretty much every weekend I’d have “Chinese Thanksgiving” at my apartment — we’d eat BBQ chicken and burgers, drink beer and listen to records of what I called “yacht rock.” You know, like Michael McDonald is singing background vocals and like there’s guys on boats on the covers; it feels like you’re on a yacht listening to it. And the guys were like, oh, we know this music.

Dave Lyons (“Koko”): You know how, in the Seventies, these big bands started playing arena rock? We liked the idea of these smooth bands playing “Marina Rock.” I thought it was a better name.

“Hollywood” Steve Huey (“Hollywood Steve”): What I mostly remember is JD playing Journey records all the time. He was so into Journey that he had photocopied a photo of Steve Perry and pasted it onto his liquid soap dispenser. He wrote “Steve Perry Soap: Clean as all fuck” on it.

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Lane Farnham (editor, “Jimmy Messina”): JD and I had talked about Journey for a year before we did Yacht Rock. In the third episode, that whole “you need to fly like a pilot” bit? Those are direct lines from Steve Perry in this crazy documentary we found. He’s coked to the gills, in the Eighties, just blabbering about who knows what. We got a kick out of that stuff. 

Sail Away: The Oral History of ‘Yacht Rock’ , Page 1 of 12

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If the Yacht Is a Rockin': Riding the Yacht Rock Nostalgia Wave

By maggie serota | jun 12, 2020.

Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina making some waves on the cover of 1973's "Full Sail" album.

It’s not often that an entire genre of music gets retconned into existence after being parodied by a web series, but that’s exactly what happened after writer, director, and producer J.D. Ryznar and producers David B. Lyons and Hunter D. Stair launched the Channel 101 web series Yacht Rock in 2005. Hosted by former AllMusic editor “Hollywood” Steve Huey, the series was a loving sendup of the late '70s/early '80s smooth jams to which many Millennials and late period Gen-Xers were likely conceived.

The yacht rock aesthetic was innovated by a core group of musicians and producers including, but not limited to, Christopher Cross, Steely Dan, Robbie Dupree, Kenny Loggins, Toto, David Foster, and hirsute soft rock titan Michael McDonald, along with scores of veteran session musicians from the Southern California studio scene.

The Yacht Rock web series was perfectly timed to coincide with a contemporary renaissance of smooth music from the late '70s, the kind that was previously considered a guilty pleasure because it fell out of fashion in the mid-'80s and was soon thereafter regarded as dated and square compared to other burgeoning genres, like punk rock and hip-hop.

Yacht Rock's Early Years

The yacht rock era began roughly around 1976, when yacht rock pillar Kenny Loggins split up with songwriting partner Jim Messina to strike out on his own. That same year, fellow yacht rock mainstay Michael McDonald joined The Doobie Brothers. The two titans of the genre joined forces when Loggins co-wrote the definitive yacht rock hit “What a Fool Believes” with McDonald for the Doobies. They collaborated several times during this era, which was par for the course with such an incestuous music scene that was largely comprised of buddies playing on each other’s albums.

"Look at who performed on the album and if they didn’t perform with any other yacht rock hit guys then chances are [it's] ‘nyacht’ rock,” Ryznar said on the  Beyond Yacht Rock podcast, referencing the pejorative term frequently used to describe soft rock songs that just miss the boat.

"The basic things to ask yourself if you want to know if a track is yacht rock are: Was it released from approximately 1976 to 1984? Did musicians on the track play with Steely Dan? Or Toto?," Ryznar said. "Is it a top 40 radio hit or is it on an album meant to feature hits?" And, of course, does the song celebrate a certain breezy, SoCal aesthetic?

Building the Boat

There are certain key ingredients necessary for a track to be considered yacht rock. For starters, it helps (though is not necessary) to have album art or lyrics that specifically reference boating, as with Christopher Cross's landmark 1980 hit “Sailing.” The music itself is usually slickly produced with clean vocals and a focus on melody over beat. But above all else, the sound has to be smooth . That’s what sets yacht rock apart from "nyacht" rock.

"Its base is R&B, yet it’s totally whitewashed," Ryznar explained on  Beyond Yacht Rock . "There [are] jazz elements. There can be complex, challenging melodies; the solos are all cutting-edge and really interesting. There’s always something interesting about a true yacht rock song. It goes left when you expect it to go right."

Yacht rock’s complex musicianship can be attributed, in part, to the session players on each track. Musicians like percussionist Steve Gadd, guitarist and Toto founding member Steve Lukather, and Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro don’t have much in the way of name recognition among casual soft rock listeners, but they’re the nails that hold the boat together. Steely Dan, “the primordial ooze from which yacht rock emerged,” according to Ryznar, famously cycled through dozens of session musicians while recording their 1980 seminal yacht rock album Gaucho .

"These musicians were not only these slick, polished professionals, but they were highly trained and able to hop from style to style with ease,” Huey explained on  Beyond Yacht Rock . “Very versatile.”

Steely Dan has been described as "the primordial ooze from which yacht rock emerged."

In Greg Prato’s 2018 tome, The Yacht Rock Book : An Oral History of the Soft, Smooth Sounds of the 70s and 80s , Huey broke down “the three main defining elements of yacht rock,” explaining that it requires “Fusing softer rock with jazz and R&B, very polished production, and kind of being centered around the studio musician culture in southern California … It’s not just soft rock, it’s a specific subset of soft rock that ideally has those elements."

Soft rock untethered

Whereas the music of the late 1970s and early ‘80s is often associated with the anti-establishment music of punk pioneers like the Dead Kennedys and the socially conscious songs being written by early hip-hop innovators like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, yacht rock is the antithesis of the counterculture.

Yacht rock occupies a world that is completely apolitical and untethered to current events. Between the oil crisis, a global recession, and inflation—not to mention the fact that the U.S. was still licking its wounds from the loss of the Vietnam War and the disgrace of Watergate—the late '70s were a dark time for Americans. Yet yacht rock, at its heart, is a tequila sunrise for the soul, whisking the listener away to a world where they have the time, and the means, to idle away the hours sipping piña coladas at sea while decked out in flowy Hawaiian shirts and boat shoes.

Yacht rock was never edgy, nor did it ever feel dangerous. Yacht rock didn’t piss off anyone’s parents and no one ever threatened to send their kid to boot camp for getting caught listening to Kenny Loggins's “This Is It.” Yacht rock tracks are more of a siren song that invite your parents to join in on the chorus anytime they hear Toto’s "Rosanna."

Yacht rock songs are meant to set the soundtrack to a life where the days are always sunny, but as Ryznar pointed out on Beyond Yacht Rock , there’s “an underlying darkness”—just not the kind that’s going to derail a day of sailing to Catalina Island. No, yacht rock has elements of low-stakes heartbreak with sensitive male protagonists lamenting their own foolishness in trying to get back together with exes or hitting on women half their age.

The aspirational aspect of the genre dovetailed nicely with the overarching materialism defining the Reagan era. “Yacht rock was an escape from blunt truths, into the melodic, no-calorie lies of ‘buy now, pay never,’ in which any discord could be neutralized with a Moog beat,” Dan O’Sullivan wrote in Jacobin .

Some Like it Yacht

Although the cult comedy series Yacht Rock ceased production in 2010, the soft rock music revival it launched into the zeitgeist is still going strong. For the past few years, SiriusXM has been running a yacht rock station during prime boating season, or what those of us without bottomless checking accounts refer to as the spring and summer months. Yacht rock tribute acts like Yacht Rock Revue are profitable business endeavors as much as they are fun party bands. There’s also a glut of yacht rock-themed song compilations for sale and a proliferation of questionably curated genre playlists on Spotify.

Whether you believe yacht rock is an exalted art form or the insidious soundtrack to complacency, any music lover would probably agree that even a momentary escape from the blunt truths of life is something we could all use every now and then.

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This Is the Definitive Definition of Yacht Rock

By Timothy Malcolm July 12, 2019

yacht rock era

Michael McDonald. One might say the smoothest mother in music history.

Image: Randy Miramontez / Shutterstock.com

About 10 years ago , somebody showed me a YouTube video of Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins writing a song that’s smoother and more polished than anything else on the airwaves.

That video—lovingly spoofing the writing of the Doobie Brothers' 1978 hit “What a Fool Believes”— was the first episode of a series called Yacht Rock . Premiering in 2005 on the Los Angeles-based television incubator Channel 101, Yacht Rock struck a chord with a generation of music nerds who attempt to compartmentalize and categorize the songs they heard as children. The term “yacht rock” itself grew out of the video series, permeating our culture today as much as the music had back in the late 1970s and early '80s.

But here’s the thing about terms that permeate our culture today: They get compromised and bastardized to fit other people’s cozy narratives, typically based on their own nostalgia. Google “yacht rock” and you’ll find articles from across the media spectrum attempting to define the term , failing hard because these writers just don’t get it. There’s even a new BBC series about yacht rock , and while it went into great detail providing context on the emergence of the musical style, it still turned out to be one person’s definition that included songs that were—as some of us might say— nyacht rock.

I’m here to set the record straight—or smooth. Yacht rock is music, primarily created between 1976 and ‘84, that can be characterized as smooth and melodic, and typically combines elements of jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock. You’ll hear very little acoustic guitar (get that “Horse With No Name” out of there) but a lot of Fender Rhodes electric piano. Lyrics don’t get in the way of the song’s usually high musicality (some of the finest Los Angeles session players, including members of the band Toto, play on many yacht rock tunes.) The lyrics may, however, speak about fools. The songs are as light and bubbly as champagne on the high seas, yet oddly complex and intellectual.

And just to hammer this home: Fleetwood Mac is not yacht rock. Daryl Hall & John Oates are 98 percent not yacht rock. Those folkie songs from America, Pure Prairie League, and Crosby, Stills & Nash? Nope. Rupert Holmes's "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)"? Too wordy and not musically interesting—not yacht rock. How about "Summer Breeze" by Seals & Crofts? A little too folky, but close.

I’m not affected by personal nostalgia (I was born in 1984, just as the yacht rock era was ending); instead, I’m an objective music lover who just so happens to have been researching yacht rock for the past several years. I know the men who coined the term “yacht rock” ( they have a great podcast and actually rate whether or not a song is yacht rock ), and they can back me up on this. 

So whether you’re docked for the summer or about to set sail on an adventure, allow me to steer you in the right direction. I've crafted for you the definitive yacht rock playlist—below are a few highlights:

“What a Fool Believes,” The Doobie Brothers

I won’t get any nerdier, I’ll just say that this is the song that epitomizes yacht rock. It’s effortlessly melodic, bouncy, and bright, features a prominent Fender Rhodes electric piano, and includes an ultra-smooth vocal from Michael McDonald.

“Heart to Heart,” Kenny Loggins

Loggins never quite knew whether to be a jazzy folkie or a rocker, but in between those two phases were a couple yachty gems, including this cool breeze on a warm summer day, from the 1982 album High Adventure . Just listen to Loggins’s vocal—it’s butter.

“FM,” Steely Dan

Steely Dan brought a New York edge and a habit of wanting the best players on their records to Los Angeles. In time their sound morphed into the whitest smooth jazz on the planet, aka yacht rock. “FM,” from 1978, has both that snarky exterior and smooth center, but look up the band’s classic albums Aja and Gaucho for a number of yachty delights.

“Human Nature,” Michael Jackson

Once you get to know yacht rock, you can begin traveling into yacht soul—smooth songs from top studio players that lean just a little harder on the R&B. This classic song from the 1982 album Thriller was written and performed by Toto. Jackson provides the gorgeously breezy vocal.

“Rosanna,” Toto

Speaking of Toto, these guys were and still are awesome musicians. The 1982 hit “Rosanna” proves this in spades—the drum shuffle is iconic, the twists are remarkable, and the sound is smoother than a well-sanded skiff.

“Nothin’ You Can Do About It,” Airplay

Who is Airplay? A one-album band created by mega-producer David Foster and session guitarist Jay Graydon. These guys wrote Earth, Wind & Fire’s “After the Love Has Gone,” then this absolute stunner from 1980, a bouncy, giddy, and gentle pop classic.

“I Really Don’t Know Anymore,” Christopher Cross

Emerging out of nowhere with a Grammy-winning album in 1979, Cross is the perfect yacht rock figure, a normal-looking white dude who just so happens to sing like the wind on a summer’s evening. This song, from that debut album, is essential yacht rock with a noticeable background singer—of course, Michael McDonald.

If you want to catch McDonald and sing along to some of his yacht rock classics, he’s performing Friday night at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands. Chaka Khan—who also has a few yacht rock tunes in her catalog—will open. Tickets start at $39.50; prepare accordingly with this  summer yacht rock playlist on Spotify . You’re welcome.

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Top 100 Greatest Yacht Rock Songs of All Time

Top 100 Greatest Yacht Rock Songs of All Time

Yacht Rock, a term that has steadily grown in popularity, refers to the smooth, groovy rock music of the '70s and '80s that has been popularized over the recent years. Initially categorized as soft rock or adult contemporary, Yacht Rock places a stronger emphasis on the groove rather than the lyrics, making it some of the easiest and catchiest easy listening music for many rock fans. Interestingly, nearly all Yacht Rock songs were created 35-40 years before the genre was officially recognized as its own distinct style, leaving room for interpretation about what exactly qualifies as Yacht Rock. For our criteria, we analyzed the entire catalog of Sirius XM Yacht Rock Radio alongside Spotify and Apple Music’s Yacht Rock playlists and ranked the songs accordingly. Each song included has been deemed Yacht Rock by at least one of these sources and was scored against all other entries. Some songs may rank higher in a broader rock or soft rock sphere, but here are what we have deemed to be the 100 Greatest Yacht Rock Songs of All Time complete with a playlist of all 100 Songs . For a broader list across at songs across the rock realm, be sure to check out the Top 200 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time .

1. What a Fool Believes - The Doobie Brothers

Deemed almost unanimously as the quintessential Yacht Rock tune by the few publications that have taken the time to dive into this same endeavor , What a Fool Believes  stands out as one of the grooviest rock tunes to ever achieve mainstream success. Featuring the quintessential Yacht Rock vocalist, Michael McDonald, the song topped charts across North America and became one of the most recognizable and frequently played songs of the '70s. Michael McDonald, who joined The Doobie Brothers in 1975, had become the band's primary vocalist by the release of Minute by Minute  in 1978, which houses What a Fool Believes . With this album marking a new sound for the band, especially following the temporary health-related departure of Tom Johnston, the band's new sound was polished to perfection, a dramatic shift from the Toulouse Street  sound of the early part of the decade. Nevertheless, What a Fool Believes  is a serious earworm, a critically "perfect" pop-rock song, if you will, and a song that reinvented The Doobie Brothers.

2. Peg   - Steely Dan

One of the most talented groups on our list, if not the most talented, Steely Dan transcended the typical confines of Yacht Rock during their initial ten-year run. Covering genres from Yacht Rock to jazz rock, progressive rock, and funk rock, Steely Dan captivated audiences uniquely throughout the '70s and early '80s. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen consistently collaborated with the world's finest studio musicians, producing albums of perfectionist caliber. Within the realm of Yacht Rock, Peg  takes their top spot, ranking just behind What a Fool Believes  in the genre. Once again, Michael McDonald provides backing vocals, harmonizing behind Donald Fagen and Paul Griffin. The silky smooth vocals paired with top-notch instrumentals make Peg  a standout track. Furthermore, Aja , the album that houses Peg , is one of the most impressive American albums of all time , beyond its Yacht Rock appeal.

3. Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)   - Looking Glass

Released in 1972, the one-hit wonder by Looking Glass, Brandy , established a much bigger name for itself than the band ever managed to achieve on its own. As one of the smoothest and catchiest songs of the ‘70s, Brandy  consistently appears on nearly every Yacht Rock, adult contemporary, or easy listening playlist available. The song tells a melancholic tale that is open to interpretation, though it is generally understood to describe an attractive bartender based in Northern New Jersey. Featuring catchy harmonies, clean soft guitar, and subtle horn use, what's not to love about this song?

4. Sailing   - Christopher Cross

If it were up to us at Melophobe, the "Yacht Rock Crown" would go to San Antonio’s own Christopher Cross. Although Cross really shined with just his first two studio albums before his later releases (post-1983) fell into obscurity, his early work still grabs all the attention. From his self-titled debut album, Sailing  stands out as a top ten hit that's the epitome of Yacht Rock. Interestingly, the term "yacht rock" itself is often linked right back to this song. His debut album is loaded with iconic tunes in this style, with Sailing  rightfully taking its place at the forefront.

5. Escape (The Pi ñ a Colada Song)  - Rupert Holmes

The second tune in our top ten that found its way onto one of the three Guardians of the Galaxy  soundtracks—as well as its original LP release—comes from yacht rock icon Rupert Holmes. Escape (The Piña Colada Song)  tells a story that feels more comical today than it might have in the ‘70s, describing a personal ad in search of a like-minded, carefree, fun-loving companion. Beyond the quirky lyrics, the sounds of crashing waves and clean guitars have turned the tune into a timeless earworm, cementing its status as a yacht rock masterpiece long before the term even existed. Guardians of the Galaxy  wasn't just a great series for action lovers; who would've guessed its soundtrack would become almost as iconic as the movies themselves?

6. Lowdown  - Boz Scaggs

Part of the same studio musician collective that worked with Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs hit major commercial success in 1976 with the release of his richly decorated album Silk Degrees . Boz Scaggs found success as one of the few artists to achieve substantial mainstream success in the jazz rock world aside from Steely Dan, with both artists utilizing many of the same studio musicians. Released from Silk Degrees , the standout yacht rock tune is Lowdown , a tightly produced masterpiece. Similar to Christopher Cross, Boz's peak in the mainstream was relatively brief, with his fame primarily anchored to Silk Degrees  and sporadic airplay of his other songs over about a decade.

7. Come and Get Your Love  - Redbone

Yet another tune from the Guardians of the Galaxy  soundtracks to make our top ten is Come and Get Your Love , released in 1975 by the swamp rock band Redbone. While often labeled as a one-hit-wonder, Redbone actually scored another American top 40 hit in 1971 and enjoyed scattered success in the R&B scene throughout the '70s. Come and Get Your Love  has since been celebrated as one of the greatest pop songs of the '70s and also managed to somewhat subtly tap into the disco craze of the era.

8. Margaritaville  - Jimmy Buffett

The question of whether Jimmy Buffett fits into the yacht rock category has stirred some debate lately, with the answer remaining somewhat unclear since the term itself is still relatively new. Most agree that Buffett's music is in a category of its own, but there are still those who argue that his unique sound has a place within yacht rock. Regardless, Margaritaville  and a few other Buffett tunes are staples on yacht rock radio stations, so we've deemed them eligible. Buffett's music embodies a carefree lifestyle that mirrors the feel and attitude of yacht rock. His iconic song Margaritaville  instantly puts listeners in a vacation mindset, a unique characteristic that has garnered it extensive praise and airplay over the years. The passing of Jimmy Buffett, an American legend, touched the hearts of many.

9. Africa  - Toto

The first track from the 1980s to make our top ten is Africa  from Toto's fourth album, aptly named Toto IV , released in 1982. Africa  topped the charts across North America and performed exceptionally well worldwide with its powerful chorus, extensive keyboard usage, and subtle guitar playing. Alongside Rosanna , also from Toto IV , Africa  has become a yacht rock staple, but it didn’t stop there—it transcended the genre to become one of the most iconic songs of the '80s. Today, it's still adored, nearing two billion streams on Spotify. The song has also become a favorite for covers, from bar bands to top-notch acts like Weezer.

10. Baby Come Back  - Player

Player carved out a slice of mainstream success in the late '70s, as soft rock began to resonate with those not taken by styles like punk rock and disco. Their biggest hit by far was the North American chart-topper Baby Come Back . Aside from being a soft rock staple, the song has also gained a new life as a meme across the internet. While yacht rock songs typically shy away from overly heartfelt or emotional lyrics, focusing more on the groove, Baby Come Back  manages to do both masterfully. The song blends notable emotional depth with an undeniably groovy beat, making it incredibly memorable—so much so that it's recognized by just about every American

11. Just the Two of Us  - Grover Washington Jr, Bill Withers

12. Southern Cross  - Crosby, Stills & Nash

13. Take it Easy  - Eagles

14. Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)  - Christopher Cross

15. Year of the Cat  - Al Stewart

16. Hey Nineteen  - Steely Dan

17. Still the One  - Orleans

18. Sharing the Night Together  - Dr. Hook

19. Sister Golden Hair  - America

20. Dreams  - Fleetwood Mac

21. Summer Breeze  - Seals & Croft

22. Guitar Man  - Bread

23. Thunder Island  - Jay Ferguson

24. Lido Shuffle  - Boz Scaggs

25. Give Me the Night  - George Benson

26. How Much I Feel  - Ambrosia

27. Reminiscing  - Little River Band

28. Doctor My Eyes  - Jackson Browne

29. Sara Smile  - Hall & Oates

30. Rosanna  - Toto

31. All Night Long (All Night)  - Lionel Richie

32. I.G.Y.  - Donald Fagan

33. Minute By Minute  - The Doobie Brothers

34. If You Leave Me Now  - Chicago

35. Time Out of Mind  - Steely Dan

36. Kokomo  - The Beach Boys

37. Eye in the Sky  - Alan Parsons Project

38. Sentimental Lady  - Bob Welch

39. Rich Girl  - Hall & Oates

40. What You Won't Do for Love  - Bobby Caldwell

41. Ride Like the Wind  - Christopher Cross

42. I'd Really Love to See You Tonight  - England Dan & John Ford Coley

43. Lovely Day  - Bill Withers

44. Graceland  - Paul Simon

45. Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes - Jimmy Buffett

46. Time Passages  - Al Stewart

47. One of These Nights  - Eagles

48. She's Gone  - Hall & Oates

49. Silly Love Songs  - Wings

50. Hold On  - Santana

51. Steal Away  - Robbie Dupree

52. Dance With Me  - Orleans

53. Listen to the Music  - The Doobie Brothers

54. How Long  - Ace

55. So Into You  - Atlanta Rhythm Section

56. Diamond Girl  - Seals & Croft

57. Lotta Love  - Nicolette Larson

58. We Just Disagree  - Dave Mason

59. Mexico  - James Taylor

60. Keep on Loving You  - REO Speedwagon

61. Baker Street  - Gerry Rafferty

62. Tender is the Night  - Jackson Browne

63. Love Will Find a Way  - Pablo Cruise

64. You Can Do Magic  - America

65. Key Largo  - Bertie Higgins

66. When You're In Love With a Beautiful Woman  - Dr. Hook

67. Dirty Work  - Steely Dan

68. All Out of Love  - Air Supply

69. I Saw the Light  - Todd Rundgren

70. Let Me Love You Tonight  - Pure Prairie League

71. I Love You  - Climax Blues Band

72. I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)  - Michael McDonald

73. This is It  - Kenny Loggins

74. The Things We Do For Love  - 10cc

75. Say You Love Me  - Fleetwood Mac

76. Biggest Part of Me  - Ambrosia

77. You're the Inspiration  - Chicago

78. Dream Weaver  - Gary Wright

79. Longer  - Dan Fogelberg

80. You Are  - Lionel Richie

81. Just a Song Before I Go  - Crosby, Stills & Nash

82. Right Down the Line  - Gerry Rafferty

83. New Frontier  - Donald Fagan

84. I Love a Rainy Night  - Eddie Rabbitt

85. Cool Night  - Paul Davis

86. Get Down On It  - Kool & The Gang

87. It's Raining Again - Supertramp

88. Vincent  - Don McLean

89. Crazy Love  - Poco

90. Spooky  - Atlanta Rhythm Section

91. Vienna  - Billy Joel

92. Cool Cat  - Queen

93. Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You  - George Benson

94. Hypnotized  - Bob Welch (Also Released by Fleetwood Mac)

95. Casablanca  - Bertie Higgins

96. Think of Laura  - Christopher Cross

97. Fooled Around and Fell in Love  - Elvin Bishop

98. Private Eyes  - Hall & Oates

99. Lonesome Loser  - Little River Band

100. Moonlight Feels Right - Starbuck

All of the picks from this list have been compiled into a streamable Spotify Playlist below entitled Yacht Rock Top 100 .

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Yacht Rock: How the Smooth Sounds of the ’70s and ’80s Became a Genuine Genre

July 9, 2019

When the weather’s warm, the weekends long, and the cocktails crafted using blue curaçao, there’s no better music than yacht rock —the soft, smooth sounds released between roughly 1976 and 1984 that typically feature vocals and keyboards with guitars barely audible in the background. Yet, this genre of music didn’t even have a name until a few years ago.  

Artists like the Eagles , Fleetwood Mac , and Chicago were once viewed as belonging to an adult-contemporary, soft-rock bridge between ’70s disco and ’80s arena rock. But in 2005, a few friends noticed that several artists’ albums of the era had boats on their covers. They jokingly called these albums “marina rock” and created a 12-episode comedy video series that went viral. Yacht rock was born, and today the video series’ creators even have a podcast, Beyond Yacht Rock .

On Spotify, yacht rock is most popular among those aged 45-54 and 18-24, indicating that listeners who came of age during the music’s heyday and their children love those smooth grooves. While yacht rock is most streamed in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, when measured as a percentage of total streams yacht rock is far and away the most popular in New Zealand. In fact, seven of the top 10 cities that keep yacht rock on repeat are in New Zealand (which also just so happens to be the current holder of the America’s Cup —coincidence?). 

But what are the defining characteristics of yacht rock? Let our yacht-or-knot list below be your celestial guide.

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  2. The 20 greatest yacht rock songs ever, ranked

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    Dave "Koko" Lyons, center, and Hunter "Messina" Stair regale some young women with tales of smooth-music adventures in 'Yacht Rock.' The viral Internet series celebrates its 10th anniversary.

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    Yacht Rock's Early Years. The yacht rock era began roughly around 1976, when yacht rock pillar Kenny Loggins split up with songwriting partner Jim Messina to strike out on his own.

  5. This Is the Definitive Definition of Yacht Rock

    Yacht rock is music, primarily created between 1976 and ‘84, that can be characterized as smooth and melodic, and typically combines elements of jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock.

  6. Yacht Rock Guide: A Brief History of Yacht Rock

    The name “yacht rock” didn’t enter the popular imagination until decades after its heyday in the early 1980s. It was a public access comedy show that gave this genre its name, which evokes the breezy marinas of southern California.

  7. Top 100 Greatest Yacht Rock Songs of All Time

    Yacht Rock, a term that has steadily grown in popularity, refers to the smooth, groovy rock music of the '70s and '80s that has been popularized over the recent years. Initially categorized as soft rock or adult contemporary, Yacht Rock places a stronger emphasis on the groove rather than the lyrics, making it some of the easiest and catchiest ...

  8. Yacht Rock: How the Smooth Sounds of the ’70s and ’80s ... -

    When the weather’s warm, the weekends long, and the cocktails crafted using blue curaçao, there’s no better music than yacht rock —the soft, smooth sounds released between roughly 1976 and 1984 that typically feature vocals and keyboards with guitars barely audible in the background. Yet, this genre of music didn’t even have a name ...