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COME SAIL AWAY: "Yacht Rock Book" sets a course for smooth

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BOOK REVIEW: THE YACHT ROCK BOOK  by Greg Prato (Jawbone) 2018

First, I should mention right off the bat that I was seriously considering writing a book on the musical genre known as “Yacht Rock” – that soft rock and pop sound with delicious and mellow grooves that was common from roughly 1976 to 1984 – at least until I came across Greg Prato’s new book on the topic just a few months ago.

And while I was bummed Prato beat me to it (he admits that he, too, was surprised no one else had penned a book on Yacht Rock either, until he did), I may still write my own book. And I say that with even more certainty after having read The Yacht Rock Book just last week.

Why? Well, while Prato landed some seriously solid interviews with dozens of Yacht Rock luminaries, from Kenny Loggins to Christopher Cross, I felt Prato’s book was lacking his personality and insight. Instead, it comes off more as a Yacht Rock Bible, where the stars themselves talk and Prato listens – an oral history, obviously, as the subtitle indicates. That, apparently, was deliberate. It just wasn’t the book I was expecting. I wanted the author to immerse himself in the book, offering more personal observations. 

It gives The Yacht Rock Book a rushed, cash-in feel, even though it seems Prato was able to categorize aspects of the musical phenomenon chapter-by-chapter in an easy-to-read fashion.

But don’t get me wrong, Prato is a fan of this music style that has been previously categorized as soft rock, adult contemporary and, according to a mix CD I got in the early 2000’s from a friend who liked this style – “easy rock.”

Talking of the mid-2000’s YouTube Yacht Rock series, Prato writes, after watching all the episodes: “(I)t only confirmed the fact that I absolutely loved almost every single bloody song that was considered yacht rock! Especially the stellar production and sounds they achieved, and the exceptional vocal harmonies.”

And it’s true. The primary guy behind that Yacht Rock series – which was low-budget and high-parody – was led by “Hollywood Steve” Huey, a guy who I find somewhat divisive, particularly in terms of his loathing of Jimmy Buffett.

Sure, it’s debatable as to whether Buffett can qualify as “yacht rock,” but his hatred of Buffett and his mellow, acoustic-oriented songs is off-putting. But then, I’m a fan from way back. I was smiling to the songs of Toto, America, Orleans and Hall & Oates in the late 70's and early 80's, formative years for me, so when I hear them they relax me and the "worries" melt away. And when summer rolls around, Yacht Rock is a must-listen, all season long!

But I am also a fan of pretty much every artist interviews in this 250-plus-page book that features classic black-and-white and color photos of Yacht Rock faves from Rupert Holmes (“Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”) to poolside pics of the Captain and Tennille. And there are many revelations, from drug use to Walter Egan explaining the leering album art on his Fundamental Roll record sleeve.

I was interested in learning that while John Oates is cool with Yacht Rock label, Daryl Hall is not so much. And neither is Kenny Loggins, even though he's a millionaire and beloved across the world. Oh well.

An interview with Rick Roberts of the band Firefall reveals that hits like "Just Remember I Love You" (from their 1977 album Luna Sea) were created while doing cocaine. But while the songwriting benefited - for a while - the coke addiction took a toll and it went from coke-songwriting to just coke-coke-coke. 

Eagles membes Don Felder and Timothy B. Schmit make appearances, talking about those latter years of the original run of the Eagles, particularly Hotel California and The Long Run and the infighting that went on, particularly with Don Henley and Glenn Frey. "I Can't Tell You Why," sung by Schmit, is considered key Yacht Rock. 

And with Yacht Rock appearing in Will Ferrell films like The Other Guys, which features a scene with Ferrell's character defending the smooth sounds of the Little River Band, or the oddball turkey The Beach Bum with Matthew McConaughey, literally starring Jimmy Buffett and featuring his music, along with the sounds of Bertie Higgins, Gerry Rafferty, Stephen Bishop, have helped bring Yacht Rock to a new generation - one that is embracing the music wholeheartedly. Go to any wedding party or other event and chances are that Player, Ace, Ambrosia or Air Supply are on hand, thanks to deejays who get the appeal of Yacht Rock. 

And this new generation, like Nicholas Niespodziani of the Yacht Rock Review tribute band, explain how the music is experiencing a serious renaissance right now, particularly with SiriusXM's annual summer airing of a Yacht Rock Channel (Channel 70). 

Robbie Dupree, who is known for the song "Steal Away," put it this way: "I think that 'craft' - the quality of musicianship and the songwriting and the hooks that are in the songs, are very identifiable to people And when will the sentiment 'Baby Come Back' ever go away? Kids are saying that right now. And to all of those songs - Hall & Oates songs adn the Eagles - those songs were just so powerful, and they transcended generations."

Some chapters seemed out of place, like one on Billy Joel, a great artist who is "not Yacht Rock" or "nyacht rock." Yacht Rock Review's Niespodziani clarifies that while Queen and Supertramp were popular during the same period and incorporate some of the rock n' roll elements in Yacht Rock, they never "truly set sail." But the "smooth" is evident on albums like Supertramp's 1979 recording Breakfast in America.

I went back and forth on how I felt about The Yacht Rock Book. I wanted more - more from Prato himself. But that's just me. I want more personal insight. 

Getting Daryl "The Captain" Dragon interviewed before his death earlier this year, was important, because the mercurial musician has a complicated history with the music and his former partner, Toni Tennille. That was interesting. And Christopher Cross, who won a Grammy right before MTV launched in 1981, notes that the music video channel was a death knell for the Yacht Rock sound, even though songs like Michael McDonald's "Sweet Freedom," released in 1986, are considered latter-day, original Yacht Rock (although British singer/guitarist Chris Rea is not mentioned, disappointingly), MTV focused on New Wave and fashion.

Christopher Cross was neither. But songs like "Sailing," "Ride Like The Wind" and "Arthur's Theme (The Best You Can Do)" have a lasting quality that many MTV video bands and singers do not. And that is a key part of why Yacht Rock has such broad appeal and remains a successful genre, more than 40 years after it became part of the culture. 

And I should add that Prato has written books on MTV and grunge rock and "speed guitar." But I suspect this one on Yacht Rock will outlast all of the others. That's cool with me.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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