Yacht rock stinks but these five songs are still unbelievably good

There is a lot to hate about yacht rock. Not all of it is awful, though, as some songs of the subgenre are pretty excellent.
Atlanta Rhythm Section plays the Fox Theater
Atlanta Rhythm Section plays the Fox Theater / Tom Hill/GettyImages
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“Couldn’t Get It Right” – The Climax Blues Band (1976)

The follow-up to this song, the British band’s other major hit “I Love You” is pretty saccharine stuff. But this one – this one has got a little bit of funk to it. In Colin Cooper, they’ve got a long-haired, husky-voiced sax player who just oozes blues. (Say that five times fast). 

This is as close as you are apt to find to a genre I am going to make up right now called glam blues. They’ve got splashy guitars and keys. They’ve got the old soul sax. They’ve got a great groove coming from the bass and drums. This is not especially fast-paced music, but it is almost impossible not to start dancing when you hear it.

Mind you, this is not who CBB was most of the time. Live, they were a jam band. Peter Haycock played a mean slide guitar and they would often go on extended forays into some solid professional blues rock. But “Couldn’t Get It Right” does kind of make me wish they had let Cooper sing a little more. Haycock had a higher voice that was fine on standard rockers. When Cooper sang, it was like tuning your guitar down. It introduced a different feel to the music.

But I can say this much with confidence. No matter who was singing, Climax Blues Band never set foot on a yacht.

‘I’m Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight” – Atlanta Rhythm Section (1977)

Atlanta Rhythm Section had a string of hits in the mid-‘70s, many of which are considered yacht rock. “So Into You,” “Imaginary Lover,” “Champagne Jam,” and especially “Spooky” are all stand-out songs that have hypnotic grooves. None of them should founder on the yacht rocks.

As their name suggests, ARS was comprised of studio session players. They backed up some of the titans of the music industry, and when you hear them, you are hearing as smooth and as tight an ensemble as you would find in the late ‘70s.  This song has a solid bass with plenty of flourishes on top. It has a tight little guitar solo. It has an equally smooth vocal. It’s a night out at the bar – a great party tune.

Let me just illustrate my point here with a brief anecdote. I always listen to a song before I write about it, no matter how well I think I know it. When I went to take another listen to this one, I accidentally clicked on a song that was adjacent to it on some online, yacht rock playlist. My initial thought was “Uh oh, this song doesn’t begin the way I remember it. It’s kind of boring.”

A few seconds later, Gerry Rafferty’s vaguely whining voice began singing “Right Down the Line” and I realized my mistake. Now, I have nothing against Rafferty – that whine worked wonders on “Stuck in the Middle With You.” But “Right Down the Line” is lifeless yacht rock. The Atlanta Rhythm Section were not.