Friday, May 28, 2010

What A Fool Believes

After spending the better part of a week listening to and compiling the definitive Yacht Rock collection, it is undeniable that there were some truly gifted musicians playing on some of these tracks. Glossy production aside, these soft rock gems sport some shining moments of solid gold songwriting and musicianship.

Steely Dan, the pioneers of over-produced, over-indulgent jazz-rock fusion employed only the best studio session players to achieve their musical aspirations. Core members, Becker and Fagan quickly established a reputation of being control freaks in the studio who used, and subsequently discarded musicians as needed. Preferring studio recording to touring, they were expert producers, focusing on sound quality and absolute perfection in fidelity. They made music that begged to be played on pricey rack systems of the day.

AOR gods, the Eagles are often overlooked for their specific contributions to Yacht Rock. Mainstays in the Soft Rock arena, they released a string of easy listening classics. Between Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Timothy B. Schmit, Joe Walsh and Randy Meisner, there was no shortage of songwriters in the band, and they cranked out at least 10 Yacht Rock chart-toppers including "Take It Easy", 'New Kid In Town", and the signature ballad "Desperado". They were by far, the biggest selling Yacht Rock band in the world.

What I like even better than the established acts are the one hit wonders, the Yacht Rockers that possessed just enough gusto to go for the Schlitz. Exhibit A is Player's "Baby, Come Back", a perfect example.

As the decade progressed and Yacht Rock became an established and lucrative genre, more and more bands crossed over from wherever style of music they had been making to reinvent themselves and cash in on the easy listening craze. Ambrosia began as a Prog-rock band but by the end of the 70's they had released two quintessential Yacht Rock ballads, "How Much I Feel" and "Biggest Part Of Me". Meanwhile, the hard funk R&B sounds of The Commodores (with Lionel Richie at the helm) jumped on the slow jam band wagon with tunes like "Easy" and "Sail On". Lite FM would turn out to be a profitable venture for Mr. Richie, as he would go on to have a half dozen hits in the format.

As we continue to groove through the super mellow 70's, it should be noted that Yacht Rock has a laxative effect. If you listen at night, you're guaranteed regularity by morning.

I'm just sayin'.

Yacht Rock Vol. 2- Ride Like The Wind

Ride Like The Wind- Christopher Cross (Warner Bros. Records, 1980)

Steal Away- Robbie Dupree (Midnight Special, 1980)

Bany Come Back- Player (RSO Records, 1977)

I Keep Forgettin'- Michael McDonald (Warner Bros. Records, 1982)

Have You Never Been Mellow- Olivia Newton John (Midnight Special, 1975)

Easy- The Commodores (Motown Records, 1977)

Rosanna- Toto (Columbia Records, 1982)

Maxell Commercial (Scali McCabe Sloaves, 1980)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Yacht Rock! Ahoy!

Easy listening. Soft Rock. Light Music. Call it what you will, but this genre helped define the 70's and the implications of it can still be heard anytime you're traveling in an elevator, waiting in line at the bank or just getting a root canal. So come aboard as we trim the mainsail and set off on a moonlit cruise, because this is Yacht Rock.

My earliest memories of these smooth, soothing sounds go back to my adolescence, I distinctly remember the soulful, husky baritone of Michael McDonald lamenting a 'somebody-done-somebody-wrong' song while waiting an eternity for my orthodontist to make the necessary adjustments to my braces. But that was 1979, and by then the Soft Rock boat had already left the dock on its quest to conquer the FM airwaves.

The roots of Yacht Rock can be traced back to the previous decade. As the rebellious spirit of the 60's gave way to the malaise of the 70's, the idealistic hippie movement settled into the reality of actually having to work for a living. Protest marches and sit-ins were replaced with desk jobs and mortgage payments, and the musicians who were trying to change the world less than ten years earlier were resigned to churning out feel good music that got lots of airplay, sold tons of records and really did nothing more then help take the edge off the busy work day.

Meanwhile, the refreshing rebellious exuberance found in cities like San Francisco was abandoned and replaced by the slick, sun-bleached dystopia of Southern California. If L.A. represented the good ship Soft Rock, it's captain was certainly Michael McDonald. There is no doubt all yacht rockers, at one time or another, caught a trade wind behind the master and commander of Blue-Eyed Soul.

Early on, McDonald served as first mate for Steely Dan, but it was only a three-hour tour. What followed was a more permanent gig with the Doobie Brothers and his emergence as Rear Admiral of Lite Music. By the mid-70's he was swashbuckling his superficial schmaltz across the seven seas, his credits reading like a who's who of MUZAK, including, but not limited to: songwriting, backing vocals and session gigs with the likes of Ambrosia, Carly Simon, Kenny Loggins, James Ingram, Nicolette Larsen, Poco and Toto.

I'll bet by 1978 there wasn't a single Akai reel-to-reel that didn't have 'Minute by Minute' cued up. Oh yeah, and there were yachts, boats and dinghies in every size and shape. From Key Largo to Papeete Bay, it seemed as though everyone adopted the nautical theme, weighed anchor and hit the high seas. On the starboard side of this musical love boat there was Jimmy Buffet, CSN and Loggins & Messina, while port side you'd find Christopher Cross and Looking Glass, to name just a few. It was completely possible to circumnavigate the globe from the comfort of your teak-inspired bachelor pad with nothing more than a pair of docksiders and a set of Pioneer headphones.

With that, I am dedicating a few posts the mellow magic of Yacht Rock. I guess you had to live it to really understand it, but for me it is truly a guilty pleasure. Some of the lyrics are incredibly cheesy, but the melodies are catchy, upbeat and relaxing, hence Easy Listening. So join me, as we crack open a bottle of Asti Spumanti and set sail for paradise, because my life, my love and my lady is the sea.

I'm just sayin'.

Monkey Mix: Yacht Rock 1-Summer Breeze

Baker Street- Jerry Rafferty
Lido Shuffle- Boz Scaggs
Feelin' Stronger Every Day- Chicago
Thunder Island- Jay Furguson
It Never Rains In Southern California- Albert Hammond
Summer Breeze- Seals & Crofts
Ventura Highway- America
Miracles- Jefferson Starship
Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)- Looking Glass
Crazy Love- Poco
I'd Really Love To See You Tonight- England Dan & John Ford Coley
Lotta Love- Nicolette Larson
How Long- Ace
Dirty Work- Steely Dan
Rockford Files Theme- Mike Post
Get Closer- Seals & Crofts
Midnight At The Oasis- Maria Muldaur
Moonlight Feels Right- Starbuck
Feels So Good- Chuck Mangione
Reminiscing- Little River Band
I Can't Tell You Why- The Eagles
She Gone- Hall & Oates
This Is It- Kenny Loggins

What A Fool Believes- The Doobie Brothers (Live, 1979)

Reelin' In The Years -Steely Dan (Midnight Special, 1973)

Baker Street- Gerry Rafferty (Capitol/EMI, 1978)

Summer Breeze- Seals & Crofts (Midnight Special, 1973)

Moonlight Feels Right- Starbuck (Midnight Special, 1976)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lord Only Knows

With the re-release of Exile on Main Street, I have been on a big Stones kick lately. I watched the entire week of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon dedicated to the revamped reissue due out tommorow. Not a big fan of covers or tributes (mostly because the artist covering the songs suck), I did find Sheryl Crow’s rendition of All Down the Line to be a standout. Mr. Nicole Kidman wasn't bad either.

I thought the Stones themselves were to perform on the show Friday, but I was gladly mistaken. Much better than seeing those old dinosaurs creak through Tumblin’ Dice was the excellent doc they showed about the making of Exile. What most would agree to be the end of the 'Golden Era' for the Stones, the Exile still kicks some ass. Two things I learned: Graham Parsons was a huge dope fiend and it is plausible to charge $140 for 40-year old music.

So back to the reason for this post. I am listening to the Stones non-stop and I notice while listening to ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’ from Beggar’s banquet, that it sounds an awful lot like a more recent song. Couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but after hearing it one more time I nailed it. Beck’s ‘Lord Only Know’ is almost a note for note copy, especially the end.

Kinda freaky, but not surprising. At this point, it’s impossible for rock to be original. Luckily, It’s reinterpretation is. I’ve attached the two tracks, decide for yourselves.

Even freakier is how healthy Keith looks now. He looks better now than he has in his entire life. Good docs? New liver? 12-step program? All of the above? He might look better but he's still somewhat of an incoherent mess, meanwhile Mick is all business.

I'm just sayin'.

Mick, Keith and Charlie- Pros & Cons (Late Night w/ Jimmy Fallon)

Tumblin' Dice - The Rolling Stones (Live, May 21, 1972 Montreux, Switzerland)

Happy- The Rolling Stones (Live, 1972)

Jigsaw Puzzle- The Rolling Stones (Beggars Banquet, 1968 ABKCO)

Lord Only Knows- Beck (Odelay, 1996, DGC)