It's music that's peaceful enough to make a dental drill feel like a mother's kiss on a bruise; or, some say, just another smiley face pinned over the dreadful malaise of Carter's America. For DJ Shaun Slaughter, yact rock was just a way to baffle drunken New York hipsters. A year ago, Slaughter began ending his electro-punk sets with numbers like The Doobie Brothers' falsetto-happy 1978 hit "What A Fool Believes." "At first, the reaction was, 'Why the hell would you play this?' Now you play it and people freak out," he says.
Yacht rock was born around 1976 when prog-rock refugees and SoCal singer-songwriters began to fuse blue-eyed soul, lite-funk, lite-jazz, soft rock, and hazy synths into soundtracks for bearded Huntington Beach-harbor yuppies. Some of the genre's shining examples are Kenny Loggins' Caddyshack theme, "I'm Alright," Christopher Cross' wedding standard "Sailing," and the hair salon-friendly world music of Toto's "Africa." "It's an easygoing vibe and not very deep lyrics," says yacht rock aficionado Kurt Uenala of the drums 'n' keytar duo Kap10Kurt. "I appreciate the production of it–it's the opposite of raw, the opposite of rock and roll."
As white-bred as yacht songs may be, many of them ended up being sampled in hip-hop tracks, most notoriously the piece of Michael McDonald's "I Keep Forgettin'" that anchored Warren G's G-funk classic, "Regulate." This has, in turn, inspired indie hip-hop producers like Andrew "Anvil" Cohn. His debut album, New Music for Virtuosos (Fingerprint), consists entirely of yacht-christened hip-hop instrumentals. "[Yacht rock] has got a real sense of humor to it [and] that was the [kind of] record I wanted to make," says Cohn.
Two decades after the music faded away, nostalgia for its high camp fueled Channel 101.com's online sitcom Yacht Rock, which quickly developed a cult following. In the mockumentary, slapstick meets historical revisionism: Steely Dan assaults The Eagles with bats, Michael Jackson declares he will ruin "smooth music" for a decade.
The show inspired Sacramento, CA native Slaughter to hold a "yacht rock" party last year–droves came in polos, and one partier wore nothing but a Speedo and a life jacket. "Some people like [the music] because it's kitschy and funny, but it's also just good," says Slaughter.