Karla Peterson: Your endless summer is brought to you by yacht rock and Yachtley Crew

By Karla Peterson

If you believe in calendars, summer is almost over. But if you believe in yacht rock, summer is never over.

"It's kind of a made-up genre. But even if you don't know what it is, if you hear it, you already get it," said vocalist Philly Ocean (real name, Phillip Daniel) of the Los Angeles-based yacht-rock band Yachtley Crew.

"It's all of these easy-listening, feel-good tunes that go well with a pina colada on the deck of a yacht with the horizon off in the distance. Summer vibes are encapsulated in these songs."

It will never be recognized by the Grammys, but yacht rock has become a pop-culturally accepted category for the semi-fizzy, sorta-jazzy soft-pop songs that ruled the charts in the late '70s and early '80s. Songs like Christopher Cross' "Ride Like the Wind," the Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes," and every track on Steely Dan's "Aja" album.

But before it became a streaming-radio format, a brunch inspiration and the genesis of tribute bands with names like Yachty by Nature and Monsters of Yacht, yacht rock was a web series.

Created in 2005 by actors J.D. Ryznar and Hunter Stair, "Yacht Rock" was a deliberately cheesy, yet totally appreciative "mockumentary" series following the fictional lives and careers of such future yacht-rock heroes as Hall & Oates, Kenny Loggins and the Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers.

Once the series made its way to YouTube, it tickled the fancies of industry types who realized that re-branding soft rock as yacht rock could give these oldies new, hipster-approved life. Satellite- and streaming-radio stations began adding yacht-rock channels, and by 2016, these smooth tunes had made their way to the musicians who formed Yachtley Crëw.

According to Yachtley lore, the two veteran Los Angeles musicians who would go by the names of Sailor Hawkins (drums) and Baba Buoy (bass) were hanging out in a hot tub with their wives ("Probably drinking," Ocean surmised), when they heard a satellite-radio yacht-rock station and had an epiphany.

One year later, they had a band.

"They thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to have a band and play just this music?,'" Ocean said. "When we would go around pitching to venues, club owners would look at us sideways like, 'You play Christopher Cross? Who is going to listen to that on a Friday night?' We would always say, 'Just give us a shot.'"

Four years and many Christopher Cross tunes later, Yachtley Crëw is playing sold-out shows in venues all over California and beyond; Ocean is singing to passionate crowds who know every word to Boz Scaggs' "Lido Shuffle" and Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby"; and the genre started out as a goof has turned out to be a real happy thing.

And that is no joke.

"I think these songs have lasted because they are of the highest quality. The musicianship, the melodies, the lyrics, that is what has given them a long life and caused them to come back around," Ocean said. "There is a zest for life that you can experience in every single one of these songs. They just make you feel good."

Even if you can't catch Yachtley Crew on tour, there are plenty of other ways to get your yacht-rock fix. Fire up the blender, crank up the tunes, and it will be smooth summer sailing all year long.

—Streaming and satellite radio: Whether it's Spotify's 11-hour playlist or the stations curated by SiriusXM satellite radio and the LiveXLive streaming service, yacht rock's nonstop happy hour is just a click away. Because they have a lot of digital space to fill, programmers have expanded the yacht universe to include such genre-questionable crew members as Van Morrison, Tommy Tutone and Eddie Money, but after a few umbrella drinks and a nap, it's all good, matey.

—Slate's "Hit Parade" podcast: On his two-part "What a Fool Believes" episode, chart analyst and "Hit Parade" host Chris Molanphy gives the yacht-rock genre the thorough, musically astute analysis it deserves. We hear how its shiny roots stretch back to the legendary group of L.A. studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew; how the sessions for Boz Scaggs' "Silk Degrees" album are responsible for the existence of Toto; how Toto shaped Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (It's true!); and why the aforementioned "Aja" album set the itinerary for the stylish radio adventures that followed. Enlightenment, ahoy!

—"Classic Albums: Steely Dan's 'Aja'": Without this landmark 1977 album, there might be no yacht rock today. And without this 1999 episode of VH1's essential "Classic Albums" series, we wouldn't know the control-freaky lengths Steely Dan masterminds Walter Becker and Donald Fagen went to in their effort to achieve such glossy, effortless perfection. We also wouldn't get to see guitarist Jay Graydon unfurl that classically casual "Peg" solo or watch Michael McDonald nailing those sweet, sweet layer-cake harmonies. You can stream it on IMDb TV with irritating, randomly placed commercials, or you can purchase the DVD and immerse yourself as yacht-rock nature intended. Don't forget your snorkel.


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