Smooth sailing still for Yacht Rock series
Revivals from ’70s and ’80s fuel growing popularity of web show born 11 years ago
There aren’t too many web sensations of 2006 that can still entertain us: few are delighted by Judson Laipply’s “Evolution of Dance” anymore, and a passing reference to Snakes on a Plane is unlikely to elicit even a smile. Yet somehow, Yacht Rock endures — and thrives.
The mockumentary series about the creation of smooth California rock (Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross, etc.) from roughly 1978 to 1983 hit a sweet spot — humour, proper stories told with a cracking pace and genuine reverence for well-crafted radio staples — right from when it debuted at Channel 101, an L.A. indie-film event.
Soon that first episode and those that followed were posted online — “not an easy thing to do” at the time, series co-creator J.D. Ryznar remembers — and a part of web history was made. And it’s not over: a lively cult persists and will take over the Royal Cinema on Wednesday for a screening of all 12 episodes and a concert by a band lovingly bringing the genre of the title — a genre named and defined by the series creators — to life.
The series is entirely “responsible for me listening to and actually enjoying the smooth, polished music that I’d previously dismissed as adult contemporary radio schlock,” says David Bertrand, the Royal film programmer responsible for the night’s festivities. He regularly screened the series for friends at a Montreal cine- ma years ago, and fell under the spell of the likes of “I Keep Forgettin’ ” and “Ride Like the Wind” until the music became, he says, part of his life’s fabric.
“I would not have bought tickets to Hall & Oates last year were it not for watching Yacht Rock,” Bertrand says in an email, “nor would ‘You Make My Dreams’ have been the tune at my wedding after we tied the knot.”
Ryznar, talking from California, remembers how he and some friends, mostly struggling to break into Hollywood, came to fall for the music in a similar way, especially its relaxed, earthy ’70s esthetic: “We were just obsessed with that time period, as I think a lot of guys in their 30s and 40s are . . . cool guys with hairy chests.”
And so they began to retell the story of that music’s creation, as they imagined it: Loggins and McDonald get into a back-alley song brawl with Hall and Oates; Vincent Price uses the supernatural to coax “Human Nature” out of Michael Jackson; a movie soundtrack hit is needed to defeat an alien race. Cults, karate, medieval agriculture: it all got thrown into the mix.
The early days of Channel 101 feature an impressive roster of hustling storytellers from the perspective of 2017: Dan Harmon, of Community and Rick and Morty is the co-creator of several programs; Rick and Morty’s other originator, animator Justin Roiland, started here with the now infamous House of Cosbys; the efforts of the Lonely Island team (Andy Samberg and friends) led directly to Saturday Night Live.
Yet maybe even more than those efforts, it’s Ryznar’s show (co-created with Hunter Stair, who portrays Loggins, and Lane Farnham) that continually gets rediscovered online, and its legacy grows in surprising ways.
In 2015, Sirius XM created a seasonal Yacht Rock satellite radio channel and soon made it permanent. In 2007, John Oates credited the series with reviving Hall and Oates’ fortunes; Loggins and McDonald helped create Thundercat’s recent hit “Show You the Way” and, earlier this month, performed it with him on The Tonight Show.
Ryznar shrugs off any credit for the resurgence by the artists he loves, saying that at most, the series’ continued popularity “gives their people something new (to use) to say ‘Let’s give these guys another push.’ ”
Its legacy for him, though, is undeniable. Sirius XM brought in him and fellow Yacht Rock alumni to help program the channel and the experience inspired them to create Beyond Yacht Rock, a lively podcast in which they name and define new musical sub-genres (some quite inspired: you hardly need to be told what “Divorcecore” is).
Beyond that, the series helped Ryznar break into Hollywood and into what he calls “a blue-collar writing career,” adding that one fan of the series has proved important far beyond the realm of business.
“Got a wife and two kids out of it,” says a satisfied-sounding Ryznar. “That’s not too bad.”
In Yacht Rock’s 11th episode, J.D. Ryznar stars as Michael McDonald, Hunter Stair as Kenny Loggins and Wyatt Cenac as James Ingram. All 12 episodes of the show will be on tap at the Royal Cinema on Wednesday.