Classic Rock Corner

Getting a Li'l Yachty With Houston Musicians

Lionel Richie and James Taylor are yacht rock staples
Lionel Richie and James Taylor are yacht rock staples Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

Here's an admission: we love yacht rock. The music is sometimes called "chillwave" or, more commonly, "Adult-Oriented Rock." Its easy, breezy tunes - songs like Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen," Rupert Holmes' "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" and the Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes" - created a commercially successful genre of music spanning from the late 1970s to the mid '80s. Other favorites include Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams," Lionel Richie's "You Are" and Spandau Ballet's "True."

Maybe you believe it's no longer hip to be square, but yacht rock is making some waves, especially in Houston, where periodically (including tonight) it is spotlighted at Leon's Lounge's Throwdown Thursday. There's no cover for an evening of DJ sets spun by Ruben Jimenez and Devin Bettineschi and imbibers can enjoy bottomless mimosas for $15 if they wear yachting gear.

And, of course, the night is filled with all the yacht rock you can handle without a heavy dose of Dramamine. Turns out, we're not the only fans of these smooth rock hits. We reached out to some Houston music favorites for the songs from the era that make their dreams come true. These picks are presented in no particular order and those who replied all have gigs approaching within the next week; so, if you prefer something edgier than AOR's greatest hits, follow the links and maybe sail out to their shows. With no further ado, come aboard and  let's get a li'l yachty:

"Ride Like the Wind," by Christopher Cross, as selected by Michelle Miears, MIEARS

“'Ride Like The Wind' by Christopher Cross is my current favorite yacht rock song. This song can pump you up from the lowest of lows," said Michelle Miears, arguably Houston's preeminent electro-pop chanteuse. "I recently went on a trip to Manchester, England to film a commercial with Houston’s Dinolion. Dinolion co-founder, Jeromy Barber, and this song left a lasting impression on me when he lip-synced the tune passionately in the basement of a Manchester club after we had wrapped filming on the commercial. I will always associate this song with great times and adventures with great friends!"

Tomorrow night, Miears supports a different set of friends — punk rockers Giant Kitty — at the band's release show for its new album, Rampage. Only Beast also plays the event, which is hosted by Nyx Laraye and will be held in House of Blues Houston's Bronze Peacock Room.

"Take Me Home Tonight," by Eddie Money, as selected by Richard Molina, Los Skarnales

"'Take Me Home Tonight' by Eddie Money is one of those songs that will forever live in my heart," said Richard Molina, the energetic keyboardist for the legendary Los Skarnales. "The subtle keyboards. The sexy sax solos. Male/female dual vocals. Easily one of my all-time favorite tracks which is funny because Money is responsible for 'Two Tickets to Paradise,' a song I absolutely loathe with every fiber in me."

Los Skarnales headline tomorrow night's show in the big room at Fitzgerald's. They'll be joined by out-of-towners The Sweethearts and The Ugly Beats, along with Houston's own La Skandaloza.

"Brandy," by Looking Glass, as selected by Rebecca Stoll, Grifters & Shills

"So I'll admit — I wasn't immediately familiar with the phrase 'yacht rock,' but after a few minutes on Pandora this morning, I realized it meant 'every song I grew up listening to and always surprise (upset?) my husband by knowing all the words to and singing along with the instrumental bits.' I get it, though -'yacht rock' is a little more succinct.

"This music is my guiltiest pleasure," said Rebecca Stoll, who, along with husband John, form Grifters & Shills, purveyors of old-world folk and modern Americana. "And picking a favorite is hard. This is my youth, man!

"But I'm going to go with 'Brandy,' by Looking Glass. I have always loved this song. I think unrequited love is kind of a favorite thing of mine. I think I always made myself Brandy.

"'He made it clear he could not stay. No harbor was his home.'

"It just ruins me. This song could be a movie. I think what I love about this style of music is that there aren't any games in it. No one is being manipulative. It captures moments in a very honest and innocent way."

Stoll is preparing for a Saturday night show at Union Tavern with Possessed by Paul James, Blackgrass Gospel and The Grizzly Band. But she was happy to take a yacht rock break, she said.

"Thank you for giving me an excuse to listen to this stuff all day today. You know, in the name of research," she said. "I may do a follow-up study tomorrow."

"Playing With the Boys," by Kenny Loggins, as selected by Andrew Berry, Fox Parlor

"'Playing With the Boys' by Kenny Loggins would be my favorite yacht rock song," said Andrew Berry, front man for rockers Fox Parlor. "It's an awesome song to drink some light beers to with the bros. Kenny Loggins is also highly underrated. People write him off as gimmicky because of his soundtrack work, but he really helped a lot of those movies come alive and all his songs are super rad.  It also jams in the best scene in Top Gun, where Maverick and Goose whoop Iceman and Hollywood on the sand volleyball court."

Fox Parlor shares a Saturday night bill with ILA Minori and The Big Lonesome at Shoeshine Charley's Big Top Lounge.

"Chevy Van," by Sammy Johns, as selected by Paige Mann, House of Blues Houston

Paige Mann is director of ticketing for House of Blues Houston. She's one of Houston music's most ardent supporters and is unequivocal in her choice for greatest yacht rock song of all time.

"Hands down it would be 1973's 'Chevy Van' by Sammy Johns. It was later featured in the so-bad-it's-good movie, The Van. Great harmonies that just scream dreamy '70s. Who wouldn't be wooed by the line 'Get some sleep and dream of rock & roll?'"

Approaching non-yacht rock shows at House of Blues to circle on the calendar include Machine Head (Jan. 31); St. Vincent (Feb. 20); and George Clinton (March 2).

"Stuck With You," by Huey Lewis and The News, as selected by Nicole Starch, Torpedoed Heart

"Huey Lewis and The News' 'Stuck With You' has to just about encompass everything that's great about boating and the video says it all with the cheesy tongue-in-cheek, dad joke antics," said Nicole Starch, the bandleader of Torpedoed Heart and a versatile singer-songwriter who describes her sound as a "a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll," just like Donny and Marie. "Personally, I'd fit in better on his boat - a dingy with the name Myott painted on the side - than a 40-foot luxury liner. The thing is, if you're going to be stuck on the water with someone for awhile, you'd better be 'happy to be stuck with you.'"

When Starch is not performing her own music, she's teaching at School of Rock Katy.  The school's students perform classic 1980s hits at their All 80s Season Show Spectacular this Saturday at Secret Group.

"The Chain," by Fleetwood Mac, selected by Tobin Anthony,
End Hip Entertainment

As co-founder and organizer of EndHipEndIt Festival, Tobin Anthony is familiar with doom rock, so familiar he can even find it in AOR music.

"Dark melodies reverberating times of heartache, mirrored by bittersweet harmonies blowing against an existential chain of love," he says of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain."  "Twangy pond crossing of British blues and blues rock bending flaring emotions, deepening the tension of a special bond, yet a timeless dark pop bass groove paves the way for a new direction. 'The Chain' solely holds equal creativity on Rumours, lyrically and musically, reflecting we as a people may struggle loving one another, yet we must strive to create a mutually beneficial future. 'Break the silence, damn the dark, damn the light,' worship Sabbath and bow to the Witch."

Anthony recommends next Tuesday's Warehouse Live show featuring Radio Moscow, Amplified Heat and Vanilla Whale.

"Ride Like the Wind," by Christopher Cross, selected by David Garrick, Houston Press

David Garrick was the second of our control group to pick this tune by Cross, thereby making it the greatest yacht rock song ever (or, at least the greatest in this blog post).

"I think in the spectrum of the sub-genre, there's a multitude of acts to choose from, because so many carryover acts from the seventies went that route at some point. If I had to pick a favorite track, it has to be 'Ride Like the Wind' by Christopher Cross, hands down. It's not because Cross is from Texas (San Antonio), but more because it embodies so much of that sound. The light and airy smoothness, the horns and the hand drum percussion,... and, of course, Michael McDonald, the captain of the good ship yacht rock, on backing vocals."

Always eager to share music - new and old - with fellow music lovers, Garrick provided the link to Channel 101's "Behind the Music"-like history of yacht rock episode featuring Christopher Cross (played by a young Justin Roiland, of Rick and Morty fame). Garrick can be heard playing Houston's best music Tuesdays on KTRU and he shares his picks for best Houston concerts of the week on Wednesdays in the Houston Press.

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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.