Our editors serve up their favorite pontoon-worthy tunes (plus the nostalgia-fueled tales that inspired their picks), just in time for summer.
Although invented more than three decades ago, the yacht rock genre wasn’t technically baptized and codified until 2005 when Michiganite JD Ryznar moved to Los Angeles and teamed up with Hunter Stair, David B. Lyons, and Steve Huey—fellow lovers of kitschy soft pop from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Their hilarious “yacht rock” web series connected the dots between slick Southern California adult-contemporary and Hall & Oates’s brand of blue-eyed Philly soul.
The four have become de facto arbiters of the category (yes, there are rules!), but in essence it’s everything that sounds better on a boat. Bonus points for SoCal roots, album covers with sailing motifs, and artists who tagged Michael McDonald for background vocals. Needless to say, we love it!
Ryznar and his crew might quibble with some of our selects, but here at Coastal Living, we’ve set sail on many a skiff, pontoon, and yes, even the occasional yacht, carefully curating our own favorite tunes to navigate some waves. So slap on a sailor cap, grab yourself a coconut cocktail, and get ready to meet some old friends (we see you, Kenny Loggins!) as we taxi you into our smooth-sailing musical marina.
Our Ultimate Yacht Rock Playlist ... Listen Now!
Yacht Rock #1 Picks From Our Editors
Somebody's Baby by Jackson Browne
"I was two when 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' came out, but it’s been one of my favorite movies for years. It’s colored a Spicoli-level obsession with Vans, a lifelong crush on Jennifer Jason Leigh, a deep-rooted respect for Cameron Crowe’s early writing, and, of course, a love of Jackson Browne’s 'Somebody’s Baby,' which anchors the soundtrack." — Food & Wine Editor Chris Hughes
Africa by Toto
"Duh. Ok here’s why: Momoo, my grandmother, bought a new Oldsmobile at some point in the early 80s. The car came with a cassette tape of music that started off with 'the Oldsmobile Jingle'—which was actually kind of fantastic, and of course, the 80s hit Africa, which my brother and I loved. So there we were, cruising around small town Alabama in that 'fancy' new Oldsmobile blaring Africa. Of course, we had to rewind the tape after each listen, which took us right back to the Oldsmobile Jingle, so the two songs are forever entwined for me." — Style Director Lindsey Ellis Beatty
Related: Kristen Bell And Dax Shepard Are Beyond Cute in Their 'Africa' Vacation Video Flashback:
Brandi by Looking Glass
"This song stirs memories of belting soft rock with my dad in his ’92 Chevy pickup on the humid streets of Jackson, Mississippi. Because of these rides, I know all the words, and have been known to karaoke this song on occasion. Needless to say, it’s a crowd-pleaser!" — Senior Style Editor Rachael Burrow
Ride Like the Wind and Sailing by Christopher Cross
"My best friend owned the Christopher Cross debut album, and I used to stare at that crazy-opulent flamingo on the cover while songs like 'Ride Like the Wind' and 'Sailing' played on her stereo, and the whole experience just felt silky and summery and instantly transporting. I love this entire album, but these two songs were like calls to head out, hit the water, explore. Maybe I have Christopher Cross to thank for my becoming a travel editor." — Senior Travel Editor Tracey Minkin
The Entire Amazing Genre
“To really appreciate these songs, I feel like I have to start them abruptly in the middle of the first verse, like I taped them off the radio. I used to sit for hours with my tape player, finger on the red record button. Ready. It took some grit but after about a month, I had a decent cassette tape full of song fragments. They sound even better when they pick up your mom yelling at you in the background." — Senior Homes Editor Ellen McGauley
All Night Long by Lionel Richie
If there's one song that will get people up out of their seats, and maybe even into a conga-line, this electric hit by Lionel is it. So if a little too much sand and sun has lulled your guests into a sleepy-eyed stupor, dial up this track. I guarantee it will bring the party back from the brink. — Digital Editor Susan Hall Mahon