The genre ‘yacht rock’ (gotta love the name) is a type of soft rock that incorporates west coast style instrumentation and vocals. The laid-back vibe of these songs make you feel like you’re bobbing around on a boat off the Californian coast without a care in the world. Sounds good, right?!
So whether you own your own luxury yacht (lucky you) and need some tunes to accompany you, or you just want to kick back and chill out, here’s our list of the best yacht rock songs.
Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) – Looking Glass
Written by the band’s lead guitarist Elliot Lurie, pop-rock band Looking Glass is a one-hit wonder thanks to their popular single ‘Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl).’ The song tells the story of a young “barmaid” in a bustling seaport who brushes off endless propositions as she longs for her one true love to return to her from the sea, knowing his true love is the sea itself. Lyrics from this early ’70s hit were used in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie series to describe complicated father-son relationships.
Related: See more songs on our playlist of Guardians of the Galaxy songs.
Ride Like the Wind – Christopher Cross
Tackling an outlaw theme not often covered in the glossier yacht rock scene, Christopher Cross was inspired to write ‘Ride Like the Wind’ after watching cowboy films like The Lone Ranger. Vocalist Michael McDonald, who was also the lead singer of popular band The Doobie Brothers, also lent his vocals to the single.
Related: You’ll be blown away with the best wind music.
Rosanna – Toto
A romantic tune featuring a protagonist who doesn’t understand why his lover cares for him so deeply, Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze would go on to act in the music video for Toto’s ‘Rosanna.’ Acting alongside him for the video is his Dirty Dancing co-star, Cynthia Rhodes, who played the character Penny in the film.
Related: Here is our Dirty Dancing soundtrack song list.
Peg – Steely Dan
Featured on Steely Dan’s 1977 album Aja, their single ‘Peg’ follows the story of a young couple whose relationship is falling apart. The girl has aspirations of becoming a Hollywood starlet and knows she has to leave her boyfriend to chase her dreams. The lyrics suggest she is following the advice of a director, but the listener doesn’t know whether his intentions are good or bad.
Year of the Cat – Al Stewart
Scottish rocker Al Stewart released ‘Year of the Cat’ in 1976 and focused on a coming-of-age story with life’s transitions leaving the protagonist unsure of exactly what to do. At the crux of the message is a tale of romance. He wonders if he should stay with his newfound lover in a foreign country or leave her behind and head back home.
Related: Check out more songs with cat in the lyrics.
Private Eyes – Hall & Oates
Written by songwriters Warren Pash and Janna Allen, Hall & Oates’ ‘Private Eyes’ was released as a single in 1981. The number one hit hints at a surveillance state with the lyric, “You can’t escape my Private Eyes. They’re watching you.” Warren Pash came up with the concept while driving on the freeway in Los Angeles and spotting a private detective billboard.
Related: Keep an eye out for the best stalker songs.
Southern Cross – Crosby, Stills and Nash
This celestial-themed song was originally titled ‘Seven League Boots’ with original lyrics by Rick and Michael Curtis, also known in the music industry as “The Curtis Brothers.” When Stephen Stills got ahold of the song, he changed the title and added a new chorus, making the overall theme focused on the universe’s ability to ultimately heal all things. Stills sang lead on the track with Graham Nash laying down backup vocals.
Related: Going sailing? Here are some more songs about boats.
What a Fool Believes – The Doobie Brothers
Co-written by Kenny Loggins, who also penned hits like ‘Footloose’ and ‘Danger Zone,’ he wrote ‘What a Fool Believes’ alongside Doobie Brothers lead singer Michael McDonald. Telling the story of two exes trying to rekindle their former romance, it was one of the few hits of ’79 that contained a non-disco style.
Just the Two of Us – Bill Withers and Grover Washington Jr
“I see the crystal raindrops fall. And the beauty of it all.” Written by soul icon Bill Withers, the tune ‘Just the Two of Us’ features a soaring, dynamic saxophone solo by Grover Washington Jr. The single first appeared on Grover Jr.’s album, Winelight. Bill Withers’s original hit inspired rapper and actor Will Smith’s song by the same name.
Related: Fall in love with our 80s love songs playlist.
Ventura Highway – America
Though the band America was formed in England (ironic, ain’t it?), their music goes perfectly with west coast vibes often found in yacht rock. Though there isn’t technically a ‘Ventura Highway,’ there is a Ventura county in California which the song could easily be about. Bandmate Dewey Bunnell wrote it after his vehicle broke down on a pacific coast highway, and the sun overlooking the ocean gave him songwriting inspiration.
Related: Take a drive with our playlist of highway songs.
Lowdown – Boz Scaggs
When Boz Scaggs sings about the “dirty lowdown” in his number one hit, he’s referencing the cold, hard truth. In this situation, he’s shining light on an ungrateful lover who takes advantage of him. Toto member David Paich helped Scaggs pen this soft rock tune.
Summer Breeze – Seals and Crofts
“Blowing through the jasmine in my mind.” Feel-good, floral imagery envelopes songwriting duo Seals and Crofts’ cheery hit ‘Summer Breeze.’ The 1972 tune evokes feelings of peace and harmony as they sing about life’s simple pleasures. As followers of the faith known as “Baha’i,” the songwriters often incorporated symbolism and imagery of nature and the universe in their music.
Related: Feel at ease with this playlist of peaceful songs.
The Boys of Summer – Don Henley
Using images of summer coming to an end, Don Henley’s hit ‘The Boys of Summer’ encapsulates fading youth set against a fading romance. The post-Eagles solo tune for Henley scored him a slew of Grammy nominations. Years later, the pop-punk band The Ataris would resurrect the tune after releasing a popular, modern cover version.
Related: Soak up the sun with the best songs about summer.
Valerie – Steve Winwood
Rumored to be about musician Valerie Carter as she experienced a dip in her career due to drug use, Steve Winwood’s ‘Valerie’ appears on the English songwriter’s 1982 album Talking Back to The Night. The song’s story finds the protagonist reminiscing about a lost love he wishes he could find again.
Related: Listen to more songs with women’s names for titles.
The Logical Song – Supertramp
“When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful.” Bandmate Roger Hodgson tackles the delicate issue of having to grow up quickly in ‘The Logical Song.’ For the sensitive Brit, his early days being sent off to boarding school by his family conjured up many emotions he worked through with his music. He spent ten years away from his family while studying.
Related: Growing up is tough, but here are some songs about coming of age.
Listen to the Music – The Doobie Brothers
Band leader Tom Johnston had world peace on his mind as a college kid when he wrote ‘Listen to the Music.’ Meant to pose a peaceful solution to the Vietnam War conflict, he imagined politicians of the world putting aside their differences to live in harmony with one another. The ’72 classic rock tune was covered during a live performance at the CMAs in 2014, featuring artists like Hunter Hayes and Jennifer Nettles. It was also re-released for their album, The Very Best of The Doobie Brothers.
Related: See more on our playlist of anti-war songs.
Dirty Work – Steely Dan
Released as a protest to what the band called “dumb rock,” their “smart rock” single involves a protagonist who should enjoy getting casual sex from a wealthy female but instead feels “dirty” despite participating in the act. Steely Dan liked to include deeper meanings within their music which often vaguely criticized their mainstream competitors. The philosophical tune appears on their 1972 album Can’t Buy a Thrill.
Baker Street – Gerry Rafferty
Scottish singer Gerry Rafferty wrote ‘Baker Street’ during a time of great turmoil in his life. Due to legal issues with his former band Stealers Wheel, he would often travel to his friend’s house on Baker Street in London while meeting with lawyers to deal with music contracts. ‘Baker Street’ deals with feelings of loneliness, alienation, and the creative process while constantly traveling solo. The book The Outsider by Colin Wilson also served as inspiration.
Related: Take a trip with the best London songs.
Baby Come Back – Player
Written after a couple of the band members went through tough breakups with their girlfriends, ‘Baby Come Back’ was the single that kickstarted their rise to fame. Released on Players’ 1977 self-titled album, it charted on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B charts due to its funk/rock fusion.
Related: Feeling sorry? Here’s our playlist of regret songs.
Dreams – Fleetwood Mac
The summer of 1977 found bandmates and former romantic partners Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks penning scathing songs about each other. While Buckingham wrote the popular song ‘Go Your Own Way,’ Nicks took a more metaphorical approach and wrote ‘Dreams.’ Though Buckingham’s tune charted well, Nicks gave Fleetwood Mac their only number one hit with ‘Dreams.’
Related: This song features on our list of songs with dream in the title.
So Into You – Atlanta Rhythm Section
“When you walked into the room. There was voodoo in the vibes.” Billed as an early “alt-rock” band in the late ’70s, the Atlanta Rhythm Section proved the blues was still alive and well with their release of ‘So Into You.’ Released on their 6th album Rock and Roll Alternative, the song is about seeing a beautiful stranger in a room and trying desperately to get their attention.
Sailing – Christopher Cross
This quintessential yacht rock song is a must for any summer playlist. Though the light-hearted, relaxing tune focuses on escaping to a tropical paradise, when Cross wrote the lyrics, he drew on his lonely, tough childhood as inspiration for wishing to escape from it all. ‘Sailing’ would score Grammy awards and become a defining song for the yacht rock genre.
I Can’t Tell You Why – Eagles
Though the listener never learns the couple’s fate, the Eagles’ ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’ focuses on a troubled relationship at its breaking point. Originally written by songwriter Timothy Schmit, Eagles band member Don Henley loved the tune when Schmit pitched it to him because of its R&B stylings. Henley was a huge Al Green fan and R&B enthusiast.
How Long – Ace
Lead singer Paul Carrack wrote ‘How Long’ in 1974 and released it on the band’s debut album. Though the tune is often considered to be about romantic infidelity, it’s actually about his discovery that bandmate Terry Comer was secretly working with other acts behind Ace’s back. Forty-five years after its initial release, ‘How Long’ shot to number one on the charts after it was used in an Amazon commercial.
Related: If someone went behind your back, you might want to hear our betrayal songs list.
Reminiscing – Little River Band
Written by Little River Band’s lead guitarist, Australian rocker Graeham Goble, when he penned the lyrics, he had the romantic era of cinema and music in mind a la the days of Cole Porter and Glenn Miller. The band recorded the tune three times, and Capitol Records was hesitant to release it as a single because the label didn’t think it would chart well. ‘Reminiscing’ remains the group’s biggest hit.
Related: Remember the old days with these songs about reminiscing.
Smoke From a Distant Fire – The Sanford/Townsend Band
Johnny Townsend started as a classically trained player. However, there isn’t much money to be made in the classical music genre. As a joke, he sat down one day and quickly wrote an R&B-tinged song in the stylings popular at the time in the mid-’70s. The tune he wrote as a funny one-off, ‘Smoke From a Distant Fire,’ ended up being an enduring money-maker for the Sanford-Townsend Band after recording it at the famous Alabama studio, Muscle Shoals.
Related: Hear more songs with fire in the lyrics.
Africa – Toto
“I bless the rains down in Africa.” Toto’s ‘Africa’ was once named “the best song ever made” by tech publication Gizmodo. There are a few reasons why the song has long been so beloved by listeners everywhere. Its symmetrical driving beat, wide-ranging harmonies, and simple melody are a tried-and-true trifecta for hit-making potential. Its popularity continues as well-known bands like Weezer release covers of the number one hit.
Related: Head over to our list of the best adventure songs.
Sail On, Sailor – The Beach Boys
“I sailed an ocean, unsettled ocean. Through restful waters and deep commotion.” The Beach Boys’ breezy surf rock sound makes it ideal for the yacht rock genre. Brian Wilson co-wrote ‘Sail On, Sailor’ with several other co-writers while recording the band’s 1973 album, Holland. Though Wilson has publicly stated he’s not a fan of the song, it continues to be one of The Beach Boys’ many tunes with staying power through the decades.
Related: Find this song on our profession songs playlist.
Still the One – Orleans
Written by songwriting duo Johanna and John Hall, the idea for the song came to Johanna after a friend asked her why there were so many breakup songs and not enough love songs. Johanna wrote the lyrics while doing laundry, and John composed the music in about fifteen minutes. Orleans picked up the tune after listening to several Hall songs while searching for new music to record. They recorded ‘Still the One’ for their ’76 album Waking and Dreaming.
Sara Smile – Daryl Hall & John Oates
Hall & Oates’s signature sound of fusing blues, rock, and funk gave rise to a new sub-genre of soft rock often associated with the yacht rock movement, “blue-eyed soul.” ‘Sara Smile,’ an easy-listening ballad written about Daryl Hall’s girlfriend of thirty years, proved to be a breakout single for the group.
Crazy Love – Poco
Songwriter and Poco frontman Rusty Young wrote ‘Crazy Love’ in about a half hour one day while working on his house overlooking the valley in Los Angeles. Heavily influenced by Steven Stills and Neil Young (who played in the band Buffalo Springfield at the time), Young paired poetic lyrics with dynamic, acoustic instrumentation to give the hit song a contemporary country-rock vibe.
Related: You’ll love our songs with love in the title playlist.
Moonlight Feels Right – Starbuck
Bandmember Bo Wagner took a rare marimba solo in the Starbuck single, ‘Moonlight Feels Right.’ Compared to the xylophone, the marimba contains soft tones, whereas the xylophone contains hard tones. A renaissance song in nature evoking feelings of the spring season, the single immediately charted after its initial radio campaign in ’76.
Related: Find similar songs on our moonlight songs list.
Escape (The Pina Colada Song) – Rupert Holmes
The hit song ‘Escape (The Pina Colada Song)’ is a must for any yacht rock playlist. Rupert Holmes originally titled the tune ‘People Need Other People,’ and if you listen closely to the lyrics, they paint the picture of a couple in turmoil despite its cheery melody.
Related: Chill out by the water with this beach music list.
This is It – Kenny Loggins
Written while Kenny Loggins was worried about his father going through medical treatment due to a heart condition, The Doobie Brothers’ Michael McDonald joined Loggins yet again in the making of ‘This is It.’ McDonald and Loggins have written several tunes together over the years, including ‘What a Fool Believes In’ and ‘I Gotta Try.’
Hey Nineteen – Steely Dan
This 1980 top ten Steely Dan hit finds an older man trying to seduce a younger girl and relying on the help of a little tequila to do so after learning the girl doesn’t even know who Aretha Franklin is. ‘Hey Nineteen’ is one of the first tunes to use an early programmable drum machine fashioned together by their engineer. The nickname they used for the fortuitous invention? “Wendel.”
Related: Celebrate the last teenage year with these songs about being 19.
Lonely Boy – Andrew Gold
While songwriter Andrew Gold denied his song ‘Lonely Boy’ was an autobiographical story, the tune closely resembles many aspects of his childhood. The song chronicles the story of a lonely child outshined by his sister, born a few years later. Singer Linda Ronstadt sang backup on the song, reversing their roles because up until then, Gold had been the one backing her on songs such as ‘Heart Like a Wheel’ and ‘Prisoner in Disguise.’
Related: If you’re feeling alone, here are the best songs about isolation.