Yacht Rock Favorites: Volume 1 Songbook

Sail away with the Yacht Rock Favorites: Volume 1 songbook featuring ten ultra-smooth soft rock hits from the 1970s and 80s like "Sailing," "Gypsy," "Sara Smile," and "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)." These piano solo arrangements by Jennifer Eklund are appropriate for intermediates and up.

This post is part two of the Yacht Rock Favorites Songbook Series.
Yacht Rock Favorites: Volume 1 Songbook

What is Yacht Rock?

“Yacht Rock” wasn’t a thing when the music it describes was popular between 1975 and 1984. Imagine smooth tunes enjoyed by fancy yacht owners-that’s it. The term was cooked up in 2005 by J. D. Ryznar and his pals in a years-long online video series called “Yacht Rock.” Initially kind of an insult, it playfully referred to yuppie yachties grooving to mellow music at sea, often with lyrics about the ocean. Think Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” (1979). The genre got teased for being cheesy, but that’s less of a thing nowadays.

A music guru named Matt Colier defined yacht rock in 2014 with some cool rules: keep it smooth, catchy, and light even when it gets sad. Journalist Katie Puckrik added that yacht rock takes you on an aspirational escape, like in Cross’s “Ride Like the Wind” (1979).

The origins of the genre are often traced back to the Beach Boys as their vibes were “scavenged” by folks like Rupert Holmes. The 1970s were kind of a separate bubble from politics, and yacht rock captures that personal escape vibe, all boosted by F.M. radio. Popular yacht rockers included Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Steely Dan, and Toto. So, picture breezy tunes, good times, and the open sea. The most important criteria? It has to be smoooooooooth (oh, and there’s a high probability you’ll hear the velvety vocals of Michael McDonald somewhere in the mix)!

There’s a lot of disagreement about which groups, artists, and songs actually belong to the genre because the definition is quite liquid (all pun intended). For my intents and purposes, I have included songs I’ve heard on the SiriusXM Yacht Rock station (channel 311).

Yacht Rock Favorites: Volume 1 Songbook

The following songs are included in the Yacht Rock Favorites: Volume 1 songbook. These are all available as separate singles, but you get the most value by purchasing the whole collection. All of these arrangements are appropriate for intermediates and up.

  1. Sailing (Christopher Cross)
  2. Danny’s Song (Loggins & Messina)
  3. Even the Nights Are Better (Air Supply)
  4. Gypsy (Fleetwood Mac)
  5. Escape (The Pina Colada Song) (Rupert Holmes)
  6. I’ll Be Over You (Toto)
  7. I’m Not in Love (10cc)
  8. Right Down the Line (Gerry Rafferty)
  9. Sara Smile (Hall & Oates)
  10. Sister Golden Hair (America)

Watch a performance of the entire volume:

Let’s dive deeper with some more details about a few of my personal favorites from Yacht Rock Favorites: Volume 1!

“Sailing” (Christopher Cross)

I mean, the whole genre is pretty much defined by this tune. It’s classic and so is the official music video for it:

“Sailing,” was released as a single in 1980, and achieved significant success in the United States, soaring to the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a week. Its accomplishments were further recognized with Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Arrangement of the Year, contributing to Cross’s Best New Artist win. The song’s production also marked an early instance of digital recording with the 3M Digital Recording System, a pioneering technology at the time.

Notably, “Sailing” became emblematic of the yacht rock style, a term that was later applied to songs of a similar ilk, even though Cross and contemporaries originally referred to it as the West Coast sound. The song’s inspiration stemmed from Cross’s youth and sailing escapades with an older friend named Al Glasscock, which he cited as a retreat from the challenges of adolescence.

“Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” (Rupert Holmes)

While there isn’t an official music video for this song, here’s four solid minutes of a live performance overflowing with 70s cheese!:

“Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” is a catchy tune by British-American singer-songwriter Rupert Holmes from his album “Partners in Crime” (1979). Released as the lead single, it quickly caught radio attention and became a sensation by the end of 1979. The song’s storyline unfolds in verses and choruses, narrating a guy’s boredom with his relationship and his amusing attempt at seeking something new through a personal ad. He ends up discovering that the woman he connects with through the ad is actually his current partner, leading to a lighthearted realization that they share more than they thought and don’t need to search for excitement elsewhere.

Holmes penned the song based on the idea of responding to a personal ad he spotted, pondering what might happen if he tried to escape his own marital monotony. Originally considering referencing Humphrey Bogart, he instead humorously substituted “piña coladas” to fit the theme of escape and vacation vibes. The song’s quirky narrative resonated with listeners, driving it to the top of the charts. “Escape” became the last number-one hit of both 1979 and the entire 1970s, making a unique mark by topping the Billboard Hot 100 charts in two different decades. It also landed a spot among the best-selling singles of 1980 in the US.

“I’ll Be Over You” (Toto)

Looking for an 80s escape? Don’t skip the official music video for this song:

“I’ll Be Over You” is a standout track by American rock band Toto, serving as the lead single from their 1986 album “Fahrenheit.” The song achieved substantial success, reaching the 11th position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1986. Guitarist Steve Lukather, who co-wrote the song with accomplished songwriter Randy Goodrum, took on lead vocal duties. Notably, Michael McDonald, a guest musician, contributed vocal counterpoint to the recording. Is there a Yacht Rock tune that doesn’t sneak Michael McDonald into the mix at some point?

The song’s narrative revolves around a man who has regretfully ended a relationship and comes to realize he should not have let it go. Expressing deep lingering affection, the lyrics serve as a cautionary tale about taking things for granted until they’re gone. The track resonated with listeners, leading it to spend two weeks at number one on the Adult Contemporary chart. This marked Toto’s second song to achieve this feat, following their 1983 hit “I Won’t Hold You Back.”

A music video, featuring both the band and guest vocalist McDonald, was filmed on a rooftop in Los Angeles, California. The video also recreated the album cover image using live actors. The song’s emotive and wistful qualities contributed to its positive reception, with Cash Box noting its emotional resonance and potential for success.

“Gypsy” (Fleetwood Mac)

This song’s music video, directed by Russell Mulcahy, was groundbreaking at the time for its high production budget. However, the video’s creation was marred by interpersonal tensions within the band, including Nicks’ struggles with drug addiction and the uncomfortable dynamic between her and former partner Lindsey Buckingham. Don’t miss out on this one and the signature Stevie Nicks “twirl.”

“Gypsy” is a heartfelt song by Fleetwood Mac, written by Stevie Nicks in 1979 and initially intended for her solo album “Bella Donna.” The song gained new meaning when Nicks’ close friend Robin Anderson passed away from leukemia, prompting Nicks to include it in Fleetwood Mac’s album “Mirage.” Released as the second single from the album, “Gypsy” climbed to No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and resonated with listeners due to its emotional depth.

The inspiration behind “Gypsy” is twofold. First, Nicks drew from memories of her earlier life before Fleetwood Mac, particularly her time with Lindsey Buckingham. The song reflects on their shared journey before fame, encapsulating the simple and creative moments of their lives together. Secondly, the song became a tribute to Robin Snyder Anderson, Nicks’ best friend, who passed away from leukemia. The lyrics encapsulate both Nicks’ personal nostalgia and her feelings of loss and remembrance.

Ready to set sail with more great Yacht Rock?

Did I miss one of your favorites? I’m always open to requests so drop me a comment!

Jennifer Eklund
Written by Jennifer Eklund
Jennifer Eklund holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in music from California State University, Long Beach. She is an avid arranger, composer, and author of the Piano Pronto® method books series as well as a wide variety of supplemental songbooks. She is also a Signature Artist with Musicnotes.com with a large catalog of popular music titles for musicians of all levels.


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