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

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

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."Geffen

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.

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

During this weekend's three-day sale on the Mental Floss Shop, you'll find deep discounts on products like AirPods, Martha Stewart’s bestselling pressure cooker, and more. Check out the best deals below.

1. Apple AirPods Pro; $219

Apple

You may not know it by looking at them, but these tiny earbuds by Apple offer HDR sound, 30 hours of noise cancellation, and powerful bass, all through Bluetooth connectivity. These trendy, sleek AirPods will even read your messages and allow you to share your audio with another set of AirPods nearby.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

2. Sony Zx220bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones (Open Box - Like New); $35

Sony

For the listener who likes a traditional over-the-ear headphone, this set by Sony will give you all the same hands-free calling, extended battery power, and Bluetooth connectivity as their tiny earbud counterparts. They have a swivel folding design to make stashing them easy, a built-in microphone for voice commands and calls, and quality 1.18-inch dome drivers for dynamic sound quality.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

3. Sony Xb650bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones; $46

Sony

This Sony headphone model stands out for its extra bass and the 30 hours of battery life you get with each charge. And in between your favorite tracks, you can take hands-free calls and go seamlessly back into the music.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

4. Martha Stewart 8-quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker; $65

Martha Stewart

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and buying a new pressure cooker, this 8-quart model from Martha Stewart comes with 14 presets, a wire rack, a spoon, and a rice measuring cup to make delicious dinners using just one appliance.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

5. Jashen V18 350w Cordless Vacuum Cleaner; $180

Jashen

If you're obsessive about cleanliness, it's time to lose the vacuum cord and opt for this untethered model from JASHEN. Touting a 4.3-star rating from Amazon, the JASHEN cordless vacuum features a brushless motor with strong suction, noise optimization, and a convenient wall mount for charging and storage.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

6. Evachill Ev-500 Personal Air Conditioner; $65

Evachill

This EvaChill personal air conditioner is an eco-friendly way to cool yourself down in any room of the house. You can set it up at your work desk at home, and in just a few minutes, this portable cooling unit can drop the temperature by 59º. All you need to do is fill the water tank and plug in the USB cord.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

7. Gourmia Gcm7800 Brewdini 5-Cup Cold Brew Coffee Maker; $120

Gourmia

The perfect cup of cold brew can take up to 12 hours to prepare, but this Gourmia Cold Brew Coffee Maker can do the job in just a couple of minutes. It has a strong suction that speeds up brew time while preserving flavor in up to five cups of delicious cold brew at a time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

8. Townew: The World's First Self-Sealing Trash Can; $90

Townew

Never deal with handling gross garbage again when you have this smart bin helping you in the kitchen. With one touch, the Townew will seal the full bag for easy removal. Once you grab the neatly sealed bag, the Townew will load in a new clean one on its own.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

9. Light Smart Solar Powered Parking Sensor (Two-Pack); $155

FenSens

Parking sensors are amazing, but a lot of cars require a high trim to access them. You can easily upgrade your car—and parking skills—with this solar-powered parking sensor. It will give you audio and visual alerts through your phone for the perfect parking job every time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

10. Liz: The Smart Self-Cleaning Bottle With UV Sterilization; $46

Noerden

Reusable water bottles are convenient and eco-friendly, but they’re super inconvenient to get inside to clean. This smart water bottle will clean itself with UV sterilization to eliminate 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria. That’s what makes it clean, but the single-tap lid for temperature, hydration reminders, and an anti-leak functionality are what make it smart.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

11 Facts About House Party for Its 30th Anniversary

Christopher Reid and Christopher Martin in House Party (1990).
Christopher Reid and Christopher Martin in House Party (1990).
New Line Home Video

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the classic coming-of-age comedy House Party. Written and directed by Reginald Hudlin, the movie starred the rap duo Christopher “Kid” Reid and Christopher “Play” Martin of Kid ‘n Play as well as many other recognizable names including Martin Lawrence, A.J. Johnson, Tisha Campbell, Full Force, Robin Harris (who passed away just weeks after House Party was released), and the late John Witherspoon.

Centering the Black teenage experience in a way that had not yet made it into the mainstream, this now-classic comedy proved to Hollywood that the growing interest in Black cinema seen in the late 1980s was not just a fad. The film centers Black joy in a way media still continues to struggle with today, yet its universal appeal has endured even 30 years later. Here are some fun facts about the beloved film.

1. The idea for House Party started with a song.

While he was still a student at Harvard University in the early 1980s, Reginald Hudlin came up with the idea for a short film that would eventually morph into the feature-length House Party after listening Luther Vandross’s 1982 hit "Bad Boy/Having a Party."

"At the time, Black music videos weren’t really a thing, so I would come up with a music video in my head to a song," Hudlin told The Ringer about House Party's origins. "I kept thinking about what that would be, and then I thought: 'No, that’s a movie.'"

2. House Party could have starred Will Smith.

Much like the film itself, the casting process for House Party all started with a song. The song in question? DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince's "A Nightmare on My Street." Due to some legal issues that arose around sampling the music from A Nightmare on Elm Street, the rap duo ended up in a deal that put the House Party script in front of them. When the pair ultimately decided to pass on making the movie, it opened the door for Kid 'n Play to take on the project.

3. Kid ‘n Play met at a real-life house party.

On a 2016 episode of OWN’s Where Are They Now?, Play recalled meeting Kid at a party where he saw him rap. Both were in different groups at the time, with Play going by Playboy and Kid going by Kid Coolout. As time went on their groups broke up, leading the pair to team up and shorten their names to Kid and Play (or Kid 'n Play).

4. The Hudlin brothers have a cameo in House Party.

House Party writer/director Reginald Hudlin and his brother Warrington, who is also a producer on the movie, appeared in front of the camera, too. They played the two burglars who get chased out of the house by the dog.

5. House Party featured a Fly Girl.

A.J. Johnson, who played Sharane—BFF to Tisha Campbell’s Sidney—was a Fly Girl on In Living Color. Based on her dance background and her experiences in university, it was Johnson who suggested adding a dance battle to the film, which ultimately became one of the movie's most memorable moments. Johnson even choreographed her and Campbell’s moves.

6. Tisha Campbell and A.J. Johnson can still do the House Party dance.

Speaking of the iconic dance-off: Johnson and Campbell recreated their House Party routine in 2015 as a surprise for Alicia Keys's birthday party, which was House Party-themed.

7. House Party featured one of Martin Lawrence’s first roles.

Martin Lawrence and Christopher Martin in House Party (1990).New Line Home Video

Martin Lawrence had only appeared in one film, Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, prior to being cast in House Party. He met his future Martin co-star Tisha Campbell while working on House Party.

8. "Ain't My Type of Hype" is not on the House Party soundtrack.

Full Force's "Ain’t My Type of Hype" was the song playing during the iconic dance-off scene, but it is not actually on the movie's official soundtrack. Full Force, the hip-hop group who also played the film’s villains, released the song after the soundtrack was completed and it ended up being one of their biggest hits.

9. There was a lot of improvisation and collaboration on the House Party set.

Robin Harris in House Party (1990).New Line Home Video

Input was taken from the very talented cast assembled: John Witherspoon and Robin Harris improvised most of their lines, and Full Force rewrote their characters to make them more humorous. "We had rehearsals where we would improvise and freestyle and I would incorporate their ideas into the script," Hudlin told Black Film. "You don’t have people that talented and say, 'Stick to the script.' Particularly [when] you’re making a comedy.”

10. House Party launched a film franchise.

House Party has spawned four sequels—House Party 2 (1991), House Party 3 (1994), House Party 4: Down to the Last Minute (2001), and House Party: Tonight's the Night (2013)—though none of them were directed by Hudlin. Kid 'n Play have appeared in all but one of the sequels.

11. LeBron James is producing an all-new House Party.

Harry How/Getty Images

In 2018, The Hollywood Reporter announced that LeBron James and his producing partner Maverick Carter were planning to create a House Party movie for a new generation. But James was clear that the film wouldn't be a retread.

"This is definitely not a reboot," James said. "It's an entirely new look for a classic movie. Everyone I grew up with loved House Party. To partner with this creative team to bring a new House Party to a new generation is unbelievable." Though there is no word whether Kid 'n Play will be reprising their roles, Carter did say that they were "trying out some ideas for musicians to be cast in and to be a part of the project."