Sparked by a popular online video series by the same name, Yacht Rock, the genre of music produced by artists such as Christopher Cross and Kenny Loggins during the late 1970s and early 1980s, has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts over the past several years. The term yacht rock comes from the nautical references that many soft rock artists of that era included in their songs, and, more generally, the laidback feeling the music inspires.
Today, a handful of cover bands don nautical attire—and, in some cases, fake mustaches—to pay tribute to the likes of Toto, Boz Scaggs, and Steely Dan. In an effort to better understand the phenomenon, I caught up with Topper Dandy, the leader of the Virginia-based yacht rock band Three Sheets to the Wind.
One of the common characteristics of a yacht rocker is a ridiculous stage name.
The other members of Three Sheets to the Wind include Captain Max Power, Danny Marnier, Sonny Pocket, Walter Ego, Christian Meat, and David Buoy. The Knights of Monte Carlo, a California-based yacht rock band, feature Doc Spiders, Nelson JC Borealis, Brad Bayliner, and Bobby Colada.
“The number one rule we’ve had since day one is to take the music seriously, but never ourselves,” Dandy says.
The members of the Atlanta-based Yacht Rock Revue have eschewed the use of fake names, but they don’t take themselves too seriously, either. Their Facebook page describes their sound as “The music you listen to at the dentist’s office while getting your teeth cleaned.”
The Yacht Rock Fanbase
Yacht rock cover band fans run the gamut from 50- and 60-somethings who grew up listening to soft rock, to a younger following that may be hearing the songs for the first time.
“It's not necessarily a nostalgia kick,” Dandy says of the yacht rock experience. “For some it is, of course, but because the shows are a participatory experience for the audience--dressing nautically, rocking fake mustaches, drinking Jack & Tab--there's an appeal for people simply looking to go out and have a good time.”
A good time is what yacht rockers aim to provide, and Three Sheets to the Wind will play more than 40 gigs this year. “Ultimately, that’s what yacht rock bands do—provide an experience through music that incorporates the image and the lifestyle of the ‘smooth’,” Dandy says.
The Online Series and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
In 2005, an online video series titled Yacht Rock profiled the fictionalized lives of soft rock stars including Loggins and McDonald during the genre’s peak. The series was canceled after 12 episodes but it inspired a number of today’s yacht rock cover bands. John Oates of Hall & Oates credits the series with resurrecting interest in his music, while McDonald said he thought it was hilarious. Jimmy Fallon has featured two yacht rock parties on his late-night show in recent years, with Christopher Cross and Robbie Dupree performing live.