Yacht Rock Not What It Used To Be



hallandoatesTen years ago, the online video series Yacht Rock became a viral sensation lampooning the “smooth music” of the era they defined as being between 1976 and 1984. An offshoot of the “Dad Rock” pejorative music view, Yacht Rock singled out The Eagles, the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan and Hall & Oates, among others, for ridicule.

The point that the Yacht Rock creators and their many adherents were trying to make was that this music was edgeless and pointless pablum that only served as a balm for the burnt-out psyches of tired baby boomers.

To be sure, there was some truth to what they were saying, and the series really hit the funny mark at times. There are indeed some Eagles and Doobie Brothers tracks that dubiously fit the bill of Yacht Rock from my perspective, and I make no apologies for seeing it that way. I also think they’ve both made some pretty good music too.

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But as the old expression goes, what goes around comes around. This is a notion particularly true of music. A funny thing started happening – some of the artists skewered by Yacht Rock actually began to gain popularity among a younger demographic.

In 2009 John Oates told the Seattle Weekly that Hall & Oates audiences were skewing younger, and he actually credited Yacht Rock for the change:

I think Yacht Rock was the beginning of this whole Hall & Oates resurrection…They were the first ones to start to parody us and put us out there again, and a lot of things have happened because of Yacht Rock.

I guess what happened is that younger people actually started listening to these older artists instead of making fun of them, and they liked what they heard. Funny how that works.

So now it looks like we are seeing a Steely Dan renaissance. A couple of years ago the Toronto-based atmospheric/roots revivalists The Darcys released a complete song-for-song cover of Aja. And a couple of nights ago, I nearly fell off my easy chair watching White Denim perform a really great cover of “Peg” on Jimmy Kimmel.

A new generation is discovering that Steely Dan isn’t worthy of disdain after all. They are discovering a band that is musically and lyrically adventurous, with attitude and chops galore. Well good on them for making that discovery. Hopefully now we can think about putting that yacht rock thing to bed, at least until the next generation starts the whole thing all over again.

Photo credit: By Gary Harris (Flickr: Hall & Oates) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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4 comments to “Yacht Rock Not What It Used To Be”
  1. I just don’t think Steely Dan belongs in that category with the rest of them.

    They’re a little more high-level, and a little less “of the times.”

    The rest of them can jog on, as far as I’m concerned, but Becker/Fagen are something special.

    • I agree with all of that, Brad, but the truth is that Steely Dan was vilified by a certain crowd 10 years ago, and suddenly they are pretty au courant with the same crowd.

  2. Hall & Oates and Steely Dan put out music that stands the test of time, and younger generations are listening to them because they are true talents. The music snobs will all come around.

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