Why Michael McDonald, Steely Dan, and Toto Are Yacht Rock—and Jimmy Buffett Isn’t

Episode Notes

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, a scene and a sound cropped up on the West Coast: polished, perfectionist studio musicians who generated sleek, jazzy, R&B-flavored music. About a quarter-century later, this sound was given a name: Yacht Rock. The inventors of the genre name weren’t thinking about boats … well, unless the song was Christopher Cross’s “Sailing.” Yacht Rock was meant to signify deluxe, yuppified, “smooth” music suitable for playing on luxury nautical craft.

Whatever you call it, this music really did command the charts at the turn of the ’80s: from Steely Dan to George Benson, Michael McDonald to Kenny Loggins, Toto to … Michael Jackson?! Believe it: Even Thriller is partially a Yacht Rock album. This month, Hit Parade breaks down what Yacht Rock was and how it took over the charts four decades ago—from the perfectionism of “Peg,” to the bounce of “What a Fool Believes,” to the epic smoothness of “Africa.”

Podcast production by Benjamin Frisch.

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