I boarded the Yacht Rock boat after it already dropped anchor in the port of pop-culture comebacks. I recall my wife introducing me to the genre following one of our earliest dates years ago by way of the now infamous viral series Yacht Rock, from which the sound derives its modern moniker. (If you have not seen it, it is hilarious…stop what you are doing and click play below).
For those unfamiliar with these sea-loving serenades, Yacht Rock is the name given to late-‘70s/early-‘80s soft rock. Think the kind of music played in a dentist’s office…catchy, but still soothing enough to lower your blood pressure before you get your gums nicked with a scalpel. Perhaps the best definition comes by way of the 2018 oral history, “The Yacht Rock Book” by Greg Prato: “Music that would not sound out of place being played aboard a yacht back in the good old days.” You may not realize it, but you probably know – even love – a yacht rock song or two. Some of its most notable numbers were penned by the likes of Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Kenny Loggins, Hall & Oates, Steely Dan, and The Doobie Brothers.
The later two took the Smoothie King Center for an evening sail on Tuesday, May 22. A sea of rowdy veteran rockers and a handful of stowaway hipsters in captain’s hats swayed to the soothing sounds of yesteryear as headliner Steely Dan cruised through a smooth current of classics including “Aja” and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” Frontman Donald Fagen made a subtle nod to founding member Walter Becker, who passed away late last year, by including his empty mic-stand to the left of his keyboard – an unspoken yet moving memorial.
The smooth spirit of Michael McDonald was noticeably absent during the Doobie Brothers opening set, who mostly navigated the more turbulent tides of their pre- and post-McDonald blues and roots-rock catalog. I was a bit bummed to not hear “What a Fool Believes”, the subject of the first Yacht Rock episode, however with a vast wave of hits like “Black Water,” “China Groove,” and “Listen to the Music,” it was hard to be disappointed.
For those looking to plunge deeper into the languid waters of unhurried harmonies, the creators of the Yacht Rock series have a podcast that is update regularly. You can also hear some choice favorites from the era live and local courtesy of New Orleans cover band Where Y’acht.