Cruise control: how yacht rock sailed back into fashion

Smooth, well-produced, meticulously written: soft rock had a bad reputation in the DIY 80s and 90s. But today it has renewed relevance. An aficionado explains

Yacht-rockin’ beats … Hall and Oates in 1984. Photograph: Rex

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s I worked in the music industry, doing marketing for record labels including Sony, Universal and Interscope Geffen A&M. My love for all things smooth, granted as a birthright to all born within the Santa Cruz county lines, never waned. I was often teased for being an aficionado of the soft-rock genre by colleagues at the office and bands I toured with. It was completely uncool to admit to being a fan of glossily produced songs in the era of indie rock, grunge and riot grrrls.

These “yacht rockers” that scored my early years seemed to clash with the artists I came of age with in my teens and 20s and were consigned to kitsch silliness along with fondue sets and Jello moulds quivering with mysterious canned fruit. The indie scenes of the late 1980s and early 90s were often based on DIY, grit and limiting your personal adornment to some semi-clean Converse trainers and second-hand clothes. Bands celebrated a punk ethos where the consumer/record-buyer could also be the producer/artist, and authenticity reigned supreme. Such artists provided a glaring contrast to wondering if a possible soulmate wants toEscape (I Like Pina Coladas) (as suggested by Rupert Holmes in his single of the same name). The whole idea of “selling out” – forgetting or shucking off your humble beginnings for the glamour and glitter of big rock star money, or even enjoying success – was often publicly frowned upon (though behind the scenes, many an artist enjoyed the very lifestyles that the yachters condoned).

Undaunted by the perceived repulsion of others, I began a one-woman journey to create a comprehensive yacht collection. For work, I often traveled through the US on tours with bands. We would stop at various record stores, giving me ample opportunity to pick up discounted Andrew Gold, Robbie Dupree and Looking Glass vinyl and badges. I once got into a passionate argument with a member ofLimp Bizkit who claimed to not like Hall and Oates’ Private Eyes – a masterpiece on a par with the Mona Lisa in my eyes. Maybe it came from the audio cues of those songs, taking me back to the halcyon days of my Californian youth, growing up near the sea, when the world seemed full of possibility; or perhaps it was because my contemporaries thought these groups were so horrendous – but could never really articulate why – my devotion to yacht grew over time.


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