The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival—or Coachella to all you hipsters—may not immediately bring the Yacht Rock genre of which we’ve recently written to mind. But it’s important to remember that every April Coachella features artists from many genres of music— rock, indie, hip hop, electronic dance music, and more… including, yes, Yacht Rock.
IF that seems hard to imagine, well it’s for real. It’s hard to argue with success: Coachella is one of the largest and most profitable music festivals anywhere— with 250,000 attendees and $114.6 million in grosses for 2017 (this year’s figures not available yet). It’s easy to focus on 2018 Coachella indie stars like St. Vincent) and Japanese Breakfast while ignoring the likes of Steely Dan— who appeared in Coachella 2015—and the Harbor Master of Yacht Rock himself, Michael McDonald—who played the record-breaking 2017 event.
There’s more to connect Michael McDonald and Steely Dan as well. While true fans of either no doubt still groove to McDonald’s backing vocals on “Peg,” from the Dan Band’s legendary“Aja” album, more casual listeners may be as of yet unaware.
McDonald talked with the L.A. Times in 2017 about his beginnings in the music industry and a record deal that didn’t pan out:
“I thought I was going to go home in six months and listen to myself on the radio,” the singer laughed. But soon enough McDonald earned a place in the company of Walter Becker, Donald Fagen, and the rest of the touring edition of Steely Dan. And not too much longer after that, the “Aja” sessions and “Peg–” a song deemed one of the “10 Essential Steely Dan” songs— by Rolling Stone.
It’s interesting to hear Becker and Fagen talk about the making of this song, McDonald’s isolated vocals and McDonald’s comments too:
Later on, of course, McDonald joined the Doobie Brothers and then launched his hugely successful solo career in 1982. McDonald became a poster child for blue-eyed soul as a popular duet partner for R&B singers such as James Ingram and Patti LaBelle.
Decades later, despite his white hair and wire-rim specs, McDonald was triggering the Coachella crowd to unabashed cheers with his rendition of “What a Fool Believes.” It all goes to show the appeal of Yacht Rock continues today, and for the foreseeable future as well.
And with that thought, here’s an assembly of another Top 10 List—this one inspired by IGN’s list of Yacht Rock classics that continue to entertain and influence:
10. England Dan & John Ford Coley — “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” (1975)
9. Robbie Dupree — “Steal Away” (1980)
8. Player — “Baby Come Back” (1978)
7. Kenny Loggins — “This Is It” (1979)
6. Michael McDonald — “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” (1982)
5. Toto — “Rosanna” (1982)
4. Daryl Hall & John Oates — “Kiss on My List” (1980)
3. The Doobie Brothers — “What a Fool Believes” (1978)
2. Steely Dan — “Peg” (1977)
And… drumroll please… the #1 Yacht Rock classic?
1. Christopher Cross — “Sailing” (1979 )
Yes, that’s right. One simply can’t argue with “Sailing” and its #1 position on a Yacht Rock list. But Michael McDonald is the true harbormaster, appearing three times on the list versus only once from Christopher Cross.
Interestingly enough, for what was largely an American song form, the world continues to pay attention. See what was said in London’s “The Guardian” below:
“The best yacht songs have endured for decades and still sound amazing – even topical – in an uncertain world… These songs stick with you, like fine-tooled leather shoes… perhaps because they were obsessed over in their inception.”
Like an upmarket wine, or a pricier cheese, these (Yacht Rock) records just get better, more appreciated, more valuable, with time.
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