With pop music’s volume knob adjusted for deflation in the early '70s, softness begat smoothness. Crewmen arrived from the worlds of jazz, folk, rock, and soul, all peddling a product that was sincere, leisurely, and lofty. A sound that was buoyant, crisp, defined. Sometimes classified as West Coast—and, later, Yacht Rock—the compass points of our Private Yacht expedition are the blue-eyed harmonies of Hall and Oates, the cocaine-dusted Fender Rhodes of Michael McDonald, and the combover strums of James Taylor. Here, at the glassy apex of rock’s softer side, 20 strong swimmers are gathered together. An album for both relaxation and reflection, where listeners can enjoy the present, a cool breeze, and a taste of the good life.
As if fired from a cannon, the cacophony of ’60s rock left a ringing in some ears. Burned out or bummed out, fatigue had set in. Free Love had come at a price. Many young couples had become young families, with their bandleaders-turned-breadwinners gracious they’d purchased a station wagon rather than the customary van. As rock began to mellow and folk began to solidify, “Our House” became a work of nonfiction—with a mortgage. Some escaped the vortex of the collective cul-de-sac and lived to headbang another day, while others followed their collective hairlines, receding into the margins of the counterculture. Stretching an extension chord to the bonfire had always posed an obstacle for lackadaisical strummers. Likewise, plugging in poolside proved a new hazard. Others found it less of a bother to get an acoustic guitar in and out of rehab than an amplifier. Everywhere the wind blew, James Taylor and Carly Simon were soft rock’s power couple, with a combined catalog mellow enough to enjoy after the kids had been put to bed.
This is not to say soft rock was a sacrifice. Rather, it reflected the refined tastes of the boomers: better wages, better dwellings, better drugs. Greater musicianship led to improved songwriting, chord voicing, and a deeper respect for harmony. Sometimes classified as West Coast—and, later, Yacht Rock—the architects of this sound were not exclusively Californians or mariners. These were stylistic tides felt in North Dakota and Colorado, along the Outer Banks and the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Softer fare could occasionally serve as a salve for city life, a coping mechanism for strong swimmers still treading the nations’ metropolises. With pop music’s volume knob adjusted for deflation, softness begat smoothness. Songs conceived on the Gibson Dreadnought were embellished with Fender Rhodes, hand percussion, and chimes. Crewmen arrived from the worlds of jazz, folk, rock, and soul, all peddling a product that was sincere, leisurely, and lofty. A sound that was buoyant, crisp, defined. Numerous artists were able to coexist along this narrow stylistic isthmus. There was Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young—and, eventually, Scaggs, Rundgren, Hall & Oates. All the while, James Taylor was still plucking away with a beautiful head of hair, no end in sight to where a capo could take him.
The hands that hoisted the sail over the ’70s went down with the ship in the early ’80s. Feeding tributaries of Caucasian reggae, Salsalito, and Marina Rock, some ponds were drained while others stagnated, and others still overflowed. With the pop charts littered with shiny keyboards, sherbet guitars, and gated reverb, our celebrated strain of rock became a casualty of the gluttonous hair decade. Marriages capsized.
Staring out from either coast, a thin membrane is almost visible, one that separates the calmness of the sky from the stillness of the sea. Likewise, it’s hard to distinguish the event horizon where acoustic forces swirled around thoughtful rock, creating the estuary subgenre to which this compilation is devoted. There, at the glassy apex of rock’s softer side, away from all of the commotion, exists a place for both relaxation and reflection, where listeners can enjoy the present, a cool breeze—a taste of the good life.