Yacht Rock isn’t exactly a genre. It’s more a state of mind. It is the musical equivalent of a mid-afternoon mimosa nap in some nautical location—a cool breeze of lite-FM confection with the substance of a romance novel and the machismo of a Burt Reynolds mustache comb.
But what exactly is Yacht Rock?
Yacht Rock is ‘70s soft schlock about boats, love affairs, and one-night stands.
Typified by artists like Christopher Cross, Rupert Holmes, and Pablo Cruz, Yacht Rock is not only easy to mock, but it’s also deserving of the abuse. There’s a sensitive 70s male brand of chauvinism that permeates this material—like somehow because you could schnarf an 8-ball of cocaine and sail a boat into the sunset, your indulgences and marital infidelity were actually kind of sexy. Cheap pickup lines and beardly come-ons abound.
And yet, this stuff is irresistible on a slow summer day. It reeks of sunshine and laziness, and couldn’t we all use a little of both?
I won’t give you the backstory on all 25 tunes. I mean, really, do you need the history behind Sammy Johns’ “Chevy Van.”? Dude bangs a chick in the back of a van; brags to his buds; and gets the Wrecking Crew to record the backing track. A lot of people from 1975 super relate to it; it sells over a million copies; and lands at #5 on the Billboard charts.
I know. Great story. That’s why I’ve got the Spotify playlist frontloaded for you here. These are the 25 Best Yacht Rock Songs, in order. Zero suspense. (Sorry if that’s less fun for you).
If you would like to learn more about Yacht Rock without getting a sailing license, read on…
What are the qualifications for a Yacht Rock song?
So Yacht Rock refers to a type of soft rock, right. But there’s a ton of soft rock out there that doesn’t fit the bill. There’s no room on my boat for Barry Manilow. At the Copa? Sure. But not so much on my boat. So what is it exactly?
I’ll just sum it up with this. Yacht Rock songs are primarily soft rock songs about one of three things:
- Finding the love of your life;
- Having a memorable one-night stand; or
- Doing something nautical.
These features pretty much capture everything that’s great about this milieu.
What’s the single best Yacht Rock song of all time?
This is easy. Rupert Holmes gets the top spot on our list with “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” Why? I mean, for one thing, it actually hits all three of the qualifications above.
This synthy faux-tropical earworm about casually attempted 1970s-style infidelity has everything—classified-ad based cheating, making love in the dunes, and rediscovering the love of your life. It also includes the line—“I am into champagne”—which underscores its deep class and sophistication.
But I digress. Both the backstory for the Pina Colada song and Rupert Homes come with a boatload of trivia facts.
The Short Story on Rupert Holmes
First, you should know that Rupert Homes is known to most as a one-hit-wonder, but unjustly so. American by heritage and British by birth, Rupert’s career as a singer, songwriter, composer, arranger, and bandleader is expansive. In fact, he made his first chart entry with a pop-rock band from Scranton Wilkes-Barre called The Buoys. He also contributed piano to the recording of their breakout hit, “Timothy”. The sympathetic portrayal of two miners forced to cannibalize their dead co-worker, “Timothy” succeeded both in generating controversy and peaking #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971.
Holmes spent the next decade establishing himself as a songwriting force, composing hits for Dolly Parton, Wayne Newton, the Partridge Family, and most notably, Barbara Streisand. He collaborated with the last of these on numerous projects of both stage and studio, including the coolest tune on Streisand’s “A Star is Born” Soundtrack.
Here’s a sampling.
The Short Story on “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”
Speaking of stage, Holmes is also a two-time Tony Winner, television producer, novelist, and perhaps most amazingly, has been married to the same woman since 1969.
This fact is noteworthy considering the theme of Rupert’s most famous song. It’s either ironic or fitting that a man so successful at monogamy is best known for a song in which a bored husband attempts infidelity only to find out that his wife is equally bored with him.
The good news is that The Pina Colada song isn’t at all autobiographical. In fact, at the time of writing, Holmes had never even tasted a Pina Colada. It’s also the extremely rare instance in which a song was essentially named by listeners. Rupert Holmes called the song “Escape.” But radio listeners of the time were hungry for any vaguely Caribbean FM Lite. And callers fueled the rise of Escape by phoning radio stations and demanding “The Pina Colada Song.”
Rupert conceded that this was probably the actual title for the song, and future releases called it “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).”
Those same callers fueled Escape to the top spot on the charts. In fact, Escape is also the first song to peak at the top spot on the charts in two different decades. In spite of its tropical vibe, the song reached #1 in mid-December of 1979. K.C. and the Sunshine Band knocked it from the top spot the next week, but Rupert reclaimed #1 in the second week of January, 1980.
Anyway, Rupert is widely credited with popularizing a drink that, reportedly, he still doesn’t like. But he also stirred the perfect yacht rock cocktail and a deserving candidate for top spot on our list.
Here’s the rest, in order: