This story was originally published on June 26, 2015
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, musical artists like Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Steely Dan, Toto, Hall and Oates, and dozens of others regularly popped up on each other’s records, creating a golden era of smooth-music collaboration.
And on June 26th, 2005, an internet phenomenon was born. In 12 short but memorable episodes — first via the the short-film series Channel 101 and then online — JD Ryznar, Hunter Stair, Dave Lyons, Lane Farnham and their friends redefined an era and coined a term for the sultry croonings of McDonald, Fagen, et al.: “yacht rock.”
As “Hollywood” Steve might say, these guys docked a fleet of remarkable hits. This is the story of Yacht Rock, told from stem to stern — a reimagining of a bygone soft-rock renaissance, courtesy of hipsters with fake mustaches, impeccable record collections and a love of smoothness. Long may it sail.
The Michigan Connection
JD Ryznar (Director, “Michael McDonald”): I moved from Ann Arbor to L.A., and ended up making friends with all these other guys from Michigan, like “Hollywood” Steve Huey, Hunter Stair, and David Lyons. Pretty much every weekend I’d have “Chinese Thanksgiving” at my apartment — we’d eat BBQ chicken and burgers, drink beer and listen to records of what I called “yacht rock.” You know, like Michael McDonald is singing background vocals and like there’s guys on boats on the covers; it feels like you’re on a yacht listening to it. And the guys were like, oh, we know this music.
Dave Lyons (“Koko”): You know how, in the Seventies, these big bands started playing arena rock? We liked the idea of these smooth bands playing “Marina Rock.” I thought it was a better name.
“Hollywood” Steve Huey (“Hollywood Steve”): What I mostly remember is JD playing Journey records all the time. He was so into Journey that he had photocopied a photo of Steve Perry and pasted it onto his liquid soap dispenser. He wrote “Steve Perry Soap: Clean as all fuck” on it.
Lane Farnham (editor, “Jimmy Messina”): JD and I had talked about Journey for a year before we did Yacht Rock. In the third episode, that whole “you need to fly like a pilot” bit? Those are direct lines from Steve Perry in this crazy documentary we found. He’s coked to the gills, in the Eighties, just blabbering about who knows what. We got a kick out of that stuff.