A year ago I discovered I really liked a couple early Doobie Brothers records (Toulouse Street & The Captain and Me). This was a shocking revelation, but after confessing to some peers of respectable taste I found I was not alone. Early-’70s Doobies is pretty great. But the closer one gets to the ’80s, the material becomes of increasingly questionable quality.
Michael McDonald, who most folks recognize as the bearded white guy with the deep R&B voice, joined the band and became a major creative force within. The Doobie Brothers were no longer purveyors of three-part-harmonized folk rock’n'roll, but of soft, smooth radio pabulum (the key word being “smooth“).
Alongside notable acts like Steely Dan and Kenny Loggins, late-era Doobie Brothers participated in the rise of what we now recognize as Yacht Rock.
Fast forward to 2005. Yacht rock afficionados JD Ryznar and Hunter Stair, depressed at the prospect of losing their beloved genre to the dustbin of history, contrived to bring the story of their musical heroes back to life the only way they knew how: as a web series.
Originally produced for Channel 101, Yacht Rock set viewership records while spreading the long-lost gospel of smoothness and revealing the little-known stories behind some of the biggest radio hits of the late-’70s and early-’80s. Intrigued? I know you are. S
o sit back and relax while “Hollywood” Steve Huey regales you with tales of epic songwriting battles kindled by Hall & Oates insults, a desperate Steve Porcaro (of Toto), and even a feud with The Eagles!
It is near impossible to overstate the brilliance through which this show was conceived. Ryznar deconstructed and reverse-engineered (if this isn’t the actual case, please don’t ruin my fantasy) some of the major hits of the genre, then mapped out episode plots accordingly. He then cranked the “ludicrous” factor and added heavy doses of tongue-in-cheekiness. Could these artists have been so earnest about such cheese when they were producing the original songs? It’s difficult to say, given how poorly most mainstream music of that era has held up.
One of the most amazing things to consider after watching a handful of these episodes is that most of the characters lampooned in the series have expressed their enjoyment of the portrayals. The reason lies in the fact that Ryznar has a genuine affection for the music despite its overwhelming corniness.
Yacht Rock does not just confine itself to the period, either. One of the best episodes reveals the story behind one of the most popular gangsta rap hits of the early-’90s. McDonald, Loggins, et.al. produced some smooth hits whose catchiness transcended musical eras and genres. There’s a reason why this show garnered such an astounding audience: people remembered these songs. Folks may not immediately recall who wrote or sang most of them, but as soon as the first few bars play, the mind jogs quickly into place.
Unfortunately only eleven episodes of Yacht Rock ever aired. It was conceived by Ryznar, Stair and David Lyons on a bit of a lark and at this point, it’s been more than three years since its cancellation. However, the first ten episodes were such an unexpected hit that the series is now firmly entrenched in the pantheon of contemporary web comedy. That popularity also provided the opportunity for the eleventh episode, which aired in 2007 at New York’s Knitting Factory.
Every six months or so the fellas get to reprise the live show and come to New York. For anyone in the area this Friday (Feb. 27), they can try to catch the smooth experience in person at The Bell House in Brooklyn. (If you happen to miss that, you can always sail over to B.B. King’s to check out Christopher Cross live on March 4.)
There’s even one last bit of good news for all the fans: Ryznar promises an episode 12 this year or he’s “a jerk.” Let’s hope he keeps that fire burning for all us fools who believe.