Yacht rock was one of the most commercially successful genres to emerge from the '70s and yet has managed to evade concise definition since its inception. For many listeners, it boils down to a feeling or mood that cannot be found in other kinds of music: Simply put, you know it when you hear it.

Some agreed-upon elements are crucial to yacht rock. One is its fluidity, with more emphasis on a catchy, easy-feeling melody than on beat or rhythm. Another is a generally lighthearted attitude in the lyrics. Think Seals & Crofts "Summer Breeze," Christopher Cross' "Ride Like the Wind" or Bill Withers' "Just the Two of Us." Yes, as its label suggests, music that would fit perfectly being played from the deck of a luxurious boat on the high seas.

But even these roughly outlined "rules" can be flouted and still considered yacht rock. Plenty of bands that are typically deemed "nyacht" rock have made their attempts at the genre: Crosby, Stills & Nash got a bit nautical with "Southern Cross," leading with their famed tightly knit harmonies, and Fleetwood Mac also entered yacht rock territory with "Dreams" – which, although lyrically dour, offers a sense of melody in line with yacht rock.

Given its undefined parameters, the genre has become one of music's most expansive corners. From No. 1 hits to deeper-cut gems, we've compiled a list of 50 Top Yacht Rock Songs to set sail to below.

50. "Thunder Island," Jay Ferguson (1978)

Younger generations might be more apt to recognize Jay Ferguson from his score for NBC's The Office, where he also portrayed the guitarist in Kevin Malone's band Scrantonicity. But Ferguson's musical roots go back to the '60s band Spirit; he was also in a group with one of the future members of Firefall, signaling a '70s-era shift toward yacht rock and "Thunder Island." The once-ubiquitous single began its steady ascent in October 1977 before reaching the Top 10 in April of the following year. Producer Bill Szymczyk helped it get there by bringing in his buddy Joe Walsh for a soaring turn on the slide. The best showing Ferguson had after this, however, was the quickly forgotten 1979 Top 40 hit "Shakedown Cruise." (Nick DeRiso)

 

49. "Southern Cross," Crosby, Stills & Nash (1982)

CSN's "Southern Cross" was an example of a more literal interpretation of yacht rock, one in which leftover material was revitalized by Stephen Stills. He sped up the tempo of a song titled "Seven League Boots" originally penned by brothers Rick and Michael Curtis, then laid in new lyrics about, yes, an actual boat ride. "I rewrote a new set of words and added a different chorus, a story about a long boat trip I took after my divorce," Stills said in the liner notes to 1991's CSN box. "It's about using the power of the universe to heal your wounds." The music video for the song, which went into heavy rotation on MTV, also prominently displayed the band members aboard a large vessel. (Allison Rapp)

 

48. "Jackie Blue," the Ozark Mountain Daredevils (1974)

Drummer Larry Lee only had a rough idea of what he wanted to do with "Jackie Blue," originally naming it after a bartending dope pusher. For a long time, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils' best-known single remained an instrumental with the place-keeper lyric, "Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh Jackie Blue. He was dada, and dada doo. He did this, he did that ... ." Producer Glyn Johns, who loved the track, made a key suggestion – and everything finally snapped into place: "No, no, no, mate," Johns told them. "Jackie Blue has to be a girl." They "knocked some new lyrics out in about 30 minutes," Lee said in It Shined: The Saga of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. "[From] some drugged-out guy, we changed Jackie into a reclusive girl." She'd go all the way to No. 3. (DeRiso)

 

47. "Sailing," Christopher Cross (1979)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more quintessential yacht rock song than “Sailing.” The second single (and first chart-topper) off Christopher Cross’ 1979 self-titled debut offers an intoxicating combination of dreamy strings, singsong vocals and shimmering, open-tuned guitar arpeggios that pay deference to Cross’ songwriting idol, Joni Mitchell. “These tunings, like Joni used to say, they get you in this sort of trance,” Cross told Songfacts in 2013. “The chorus just sort of came out. … So I got up and wandered around the apartment just thinking, ‘Wow, that's pretty fuckin' great.’” Grammy voters agreed: “Sailing” won Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Arrangement at the 1981 awards. (Bryan Rolli)

 

46. "Just the Two of Us," Bill Withers and Grover Washington Jr. (1980)

A collaboration between singer Bill Withers and saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. resulted in the sleek "Just the Two of Us." When first approached with the song, Withers insisted on reworking the lyrics. "I'm a little snobbish about words," he said in 2004. "I said, 'Yeah, if you'll let me go in and try to dress these words up a little bit.' Everybody that knows me is kind of used to me that way. I probably threw in the stuff like the crystal raindrops. The 'Just the Two of Us' thing was already written. It was trying to put a tuxedo on it." The track was completed with some peppy backing vocals and a subtle slap bass part. (Rapp)

 

45. "Sara Smile," Daryl Hall & John Oates (1975)

It doesn't get much smoother than "Sara Smile," Daryl Hall & John Oates' first Top 10 hit in the U.S. The song was written for Sara Allen, Hall's longtime girlfriend, whom he had met when she was working as a flight attendant. His lead vocal, which was recorded live, is clear as a bell on top of a velvety bass line and polished backing vocals that nodded to the group's R&B influences. “It was a song that came completely out of my heart," Hall said in 2018. "It was a postcard. It’s short and sweet and to the point." Hall and Allen stayed together for almost 30 years before breaking up in 2001. (Rapp)

 

44. "Rosanna," Toto (1982)

One of the most identifiable hits of 1982 was written by Toto co-founder David Paich – but wasn't about Rosanna Arquette, as some people have claimed, even though keyboardist Steve Porcaro was dating the actress at the time. The backbeat laid down by drummer Jeff Porcaro – a "half-time shuffle" similar to what John Bonham played on "Fool in the Rain" – propels the track, while vocal harmonies and emphatic brass sections add further layers. The result is an infectious and uplifting groove – yacht rock at its finest. (Corey Irwin)

 

43. "Diamond Girl," Seals & Crofts (1973)

Seals & Crofts were soft-rock stylists with imagination, dolling up their saccharine melodies with enough musical intrigue to survive beyond the seemingly obvious shelf life. Granted, the lyrics to “Diamond Girl,” one of the duo’s three No. 6 hits, are as sterile as a surgery-operating room, built on pseudo-romantic nothing-isms (“Now that I’ve found you, it’s around you that I am” — what a perfectly natural phrase!). But boy, oh boy does that groove sound luxurious beaming out of a hi-fi system, with every nuance — those stacked backing vocals, that snapping piano — presented in full analog glory. (Ryan Reed)

 

42. "What You Won't Do for Love," Bobby Caldwell (1978)

Smooth. From the opening horn riffs and the soulful keyboard to the funk bass and the velvety vocals of Bobby Caldwell, everything about “What You Won’t Do for Love” is smooth. Released in September 1978, the track peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went on to become the biggest hit of Caldwell’s career. It was later given a second life after being sampled for rapper 2Pac's posthumously released 1998 hit single “Do for Love.” (Irwin)

 

41. "We Just Disagree," Dave Mason (1977)

Dave Mason's ace in the hole on the No. 12 smash "We Just Disagree" was Jim Krueger, who composed the track, shared the harmony vocal and played that lovely guitar figure. "It was a song that when he sang it to me, it was like, 'Yeah, that's the song,'" Mason told Greg Prato in 2014. "Just him and a guitar, which is usually how I judge whether I'm going to do something. If it holds up like that, I'll put the rest of the icing on it." Unfortunately, the multitalented Krueger died of pancreatic cancer at age 43. By then, Mason had disappeared from the top of the charts, never getting higher than No. 39 again. (DeRiso)

 

40. "Crazy Love," Poco (1978)

Rusty Young was paneling a wall when inspiration struck. He'd long toiled in the shadow of Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Neil Young, serving in an instrumentalist role with Buffalo Springfield and then Poco. "Crazy Love" was his breakout moment, and he knew it. Rusty Young presented the song before he'd even finished the lyric, but his Poco bandmates loved the way the stopgap words harmonized. "I told the others, 'Don't worry about the 'ooh, ooh, ahhhh haaa' part. I can find words for that," Young told the St. Louis Dispatch in 2013. "And they said, 'Don't do that. That's the way it's supposed to be.'" It was: Young's first big vocal became his group's only Top 20 hit. (DeRiso)

 

39. "Suspicions," Eddie Rabbitt (1979)

Eddie Rabbitt's move from country to crossover stardom was hurtled along by "Suspicions," as a song about a cuckold's worry rose to the Top 20 on both the pop and adult-contemporary charts. Behind the scenes, there was an even clearer connection to yacht rock: Co-writer Even Stevens said Toto's David Hungate played bass on the date. As important as it was for his career, Rabbitt later admitted that he scratched out "Suspicions" in a matter of minutes, while on a lunch break in the studio on the last day of recording his fifth album at Wally Heider's Los Angeles studio. "Sometimes," Rabbitt told the Associated Press in 1985, "the words just fall out of my mouth." (DeRiso)

 

38. "Moonlight Feels Right," Starbuck (1976)

No sound in rock history is more yacht friendly than Bruce Blackman’s laugh: hilarious, arbitrary, smug, speckled with vocal fry, arriving just before each chorus of Starbuck’s signature tune. Why is this human being laughing? Shrug. Guess the glow of night’ll do that to ya. Then again, this is one of the more strange hits of the '70s — soft-pop hooks frolicking among waves of marimba and synthesizers that could have been plucked from a classic prog epic. “The eastern moon looks ready for a wet kiss,” Blackman croons, “to make the tide rise again.” It’s a lunar make-out session, baby. Heehee. (Reed)

 

37. "Same Old Lang Syne," Dan Fogelberg (1981)

“Same Old Lang Syne” is a masterclass in economic storytelling, and its tragedy is in the things both protagonists leave unsaid. Dan Fogelberg weaves a devastating tale of two former lovers who run into each other at a grocery store on Christmas Eve and spend the rest of the night catching up and reminiscing. Their circumstances have changed — he’s a disillusioned professional musician, she’s stuck in an unhappy marriage — but their love for each other is still palpable, if only they could overcome their fears and say it out loud. They don’t, of course, and when Fogelberg bids his high-school flame adieu, he’s left with only his bittersweet memories and gnawing sense of unfulfillment to keep him warm on that snowy (and later rainy) December night. (Rolli)

 

36. "Eye in the Sky," the Alan Parsons Project (1982)

Few songs strike a chord with both prog nerds and soft-rock enthusiasts, but the Alan Parsons Project's “Eye in the Sky” belongs in that exclusive club. The arrangement is all smooth contours and pillowy textures: By the time Eric Woolfson reaches the chorus, shyly emoting about romantic deception over a bed of Wurlitzer keys and palm-muted riffs, the effect is like falling slow motion down a waterfall onto a memory-foam mattress. But there’s artfulness here, too, from Ian Bairnson’s seductive guitar solo to the titular phrase conjuring some kind of god-like omniscience. (Reed)

 

35. "Somebody's Baby," Jackson Browne (1982)

Jackson Browne's highest-charting single, and his last Top 10 hit, was originally tucked away on the soundtrack for the 1982 teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. That placed Browne, one of the most earnest of singer-songwriters, firmly out of his element. "It was not typical of what Jackson writes at all, that song," co-composer Danny Kortchmar told Songfacts in 2013. "But because it was for this movie, he changed his general approach and came up with this fantastic song." Still unsure of how it would fit in, Browne refused to place "Somebody's Baby" on his next proper album – something he'd later come to regret. Lawyers in Love broke a string of consecutive multiplatinum releases dating back to 1976. (DeRiso)

 

34. "Still the One," Orleans (1976)

Part of yacht rock’s charm is being many things but only to a small degree. Songs can be jazzy, but not experimental. Brass sections are great but don’t get too funky. And the songs should rock, but not rock. In that mold comes Orleans’ 1976 hit “Still the One.” On top of a chugging groove, frontman John Hall sings about a romance that continues to stand the test of time. This love isn’t the white-hot flame that leaves passionate lovers burned – more like a soft, medium-level heat that keeps things comfortably warm. The tune is inoffensive, catchy and fun, aka yacht-rock gold. (Irwin)

 

33. "New Frontier," Donald Fagen (1982)

In which an awkward young man attempts to spark a Cold War-era fling — then, hopefully, a longer, post-apocalyptic relationship — via bomb shelter bunker, chatting up a “big blond” with starlet looks and a soft spot for Dave Brubeck. Few songwriters could pull off a lyrical concept so specific, and almost no one but Donald Fagen could render it catchy. “New Frontier,” a signature solo cut from the Steely Dan maestro, builds the sleek jazz-funk of Gaucho into a more digital-sounding landscape, with Fagen stacking precise vocal harmonies over synth buzz and bent-note guitar leads. (Reed)

 

32. "Sail On, Sailor," the Beach Boys (1973)

The Beach Boys were reworking a new album when Van Dyke Parks handed them this updated version of an unfinished Brian Wilson song. All that was left was to hand the mic over to Blondie Chaplin for his greatest-ever Beach Boys moment. They released "Sail On, Sailor" twice, however, and this yearning groover somehow barely cracked the Top 50. Chaplin was soon out of the band, too. It's a shame. "Sail On, Sailor" remains the best example of how the Beach Boys' elemental style might have kept growing. Instead, Chaplin went on to collaborate with the Band, Gene Clark of the Byrds and the Rolling Stones – while the Beach Boys settled into a lengthy tenure as a jukebox band. (DeRiso)

 

31. "Time Passages," Al Stewart (1978)

Al Stewart followed up the first hit single of his decade-long career – 1976's "Year of the Cat" – with a more streamlined take two years later. "Time Passages" bears a similar structure to the earlier track, including a Phil Kenzie sax solo and production by Alan Parsons. While both songs' respective album and single versions coincidentally run the same time, the 1978 hit's narrative wasn't as convoluted and fit more squarely into pop radio playlists. "Time Passages" became Stewart's highest-charting single, reaching No. 7 – while "Year of the Cat" had stalled at No. 8. (Michael Gallucci)

 

30. "I Go Crazy," Paul Davis (1977)

Paul Davis looked like he belonged in the Allman Brothers Band, but his soft, soulful voice took him in a different direction. The slow-burning nature of his breakthrough single "I Go Crazy" was reflected in its chart performance: For years the song held the record for the most weeks spent on the chart, peaking at No. 7 during its 40-week run. Davis, who died in 2008, took five more songs into the Top 40 after 1977, but "I Go Crazy" is his masterpiece – a wistful and melancholic look back at lost love backed by spare, brokenhearted verses. (Gallucci)

 

29. "Biggest Part of Me," Ambrosia (1980)

Songwriter David Pack taped the original demo of this song on a reel-to-reel when everyone else was running late, finishing just in time: "I was waiting for my family to get in the car so I could go to a Fourth of July celebration in Malibu," he told the Tennessean in 2014. "I turned off my machine [and] heard the car horn honking for me." Still, Pack was worried that the hastily written first verse – which rhymed "arisin,'" "horizon" and "realizin'" – might come off a little corny. So he followed the time-honored yacht-rock tradition of calling in Michael McDonald to sing heartfelt background vocals. Result: a Top 5 hit on both the pop and adult-contemporary charts. (DeRiso)

 

28. "Africa," Toto (1982)

Remove the cover versions, the nostalgia sheen and its overuse in TV and films, and you’re left with what makes “Africa” great: one of the best earworm choruses in music history. Never mind that the band is made up of white guys from Los Angeles who'd never visited the titular continent. Verses about Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti paint a picture so vivid that listeners are swept away. From the soaring vocals to the stirring synth line, every element of the song works perfectly. There’s a reason generations of music fans continue to proudly bless the rains. (Irwin)

 

27. "Hello It's Me," Todd Rundgren (1972)

“Hello It’s Me” is the first song Todd Rundgren ever wrote, recorded by his band Nazz and released in 1968. He quickened the tempo, spruced up the instrumentation and delivered a more urgent vocal for this 1972 solo rendition (which became a Top 5 U.S. hit), but the bones of the tune remain the same. “Hello It’s Me” is a wistful, bittersweet song about the dissolution of a relationship between two people who still very much love and respect each other ��� a clear-eyed breakup ballad lacking the guile, cynicism and zaniness of Rundgren’s later work. “The reason those [early] songs succeeded was because of their derivative nature,” Rundgren told Guitar World in 2021. “They plugged so easily into audience expectations. They’re easily absorbed.” That may be so, but there’s still no denying the airtight hooks and melancholy beauty of “Hello It’s Me.” (Rolli)

 

26. "Smoke From a Distant Fire," the Sanford/Townsend Band (1977)

There are other artists who better define yacht rock - Michael McDonald, Steely Dan, Christopher Cross - but few songs rival the Sanford/Townsend Band's "Smoke From a Distant Fire" as a more representative genre track. (It was a Top 10 hit in the summer of 1977. The duo never had another charting single.) From the vaguely swinging rhythm and roaring saxophone riff to the light percussion rolls and risk-free vocals (that nod heavily to Daryl Hall and John Oates' blue-eyed soul), "Smoke" may be the most definitive yacht rock song ever recorded. We may even go as far as to say it's ground zero. (Gallucci)

 

25. "Dream Weaver," Gary Wright (1975)

Unlike many other songs on our list, “Dream Weaver” lacks lush instrumentation. Aside from Gary Wright’s vocals and keyboard parts, the only added layer is the drumming of Jim Keltner. But while the track may not have guitars, bass or horns, it certainly has plenty of vibes. Inspired by the writings of Paramahansa Yogananda – which Wright was turned on to by George Harrison – “Dream Weaver” boasts a celestial aura that helped the song peak at No. 2 in 1976. (Irwin)

 

24. "Reminiscing," Little River Band (1978)

The third time was the charm with Little River Band's highest-charting single in the U.S. Guitarist Graeham Goble wrote "Reminiscing" for singer Glenn Shorrock with a certain keyboardist in mind. Unfortunately, they weren't able to schedule a session with Peter Jones, who'd played an important role in Little River Band's first-ever charting U.S. single, 1976's "It's a Long Way There." They tried it anyway but didn't care for the track. They tried again, with the same results. "The band was losing interest in the song," Goble later told Chuck Miller. "Just before the album was finished, Peter Jones came back into town, [and] the band and I had an argument because I wanted to give 'Reminiscing' a third chance." This time they nailed it. (DeRiso)

 

23. "Heart Hotels," Dan Fogelberg (1979)

Ironically enough, this song about debilitating loneliness arrived on an album in which Dan Fogelberg played almost all of the instruments himself. A key concession to the outside world became the most distinctive musical element on "Heart Hotels," as well-known saxophonist Tom Scott took a turn on the Lyricon – a pre-MIDI electronic wind instrument invented just a few years earlier. As for the meaning of sad songs like these, the late Fogelberg once said: "I feel experiences deeply, and I have an outlet, a place where I can translate those feelings. A lot of people go to psychoanalysts. I write songs." (DeRiso)

 

22. "Year of the Cat," Al Stewart (1976)

Just about every instrument imaginable can be heard on Al Stewart's "Year of the Cat." What begins with an elegant piano intro winds its way through a string section and a sultry sax solo, then to a passionate few moments with a Spanish acoustic guitar. The sax solo, often a hallmark of yacht-rock songs, was not Stewart's idea. Producer Alan Parsons suggested it at the last minute, and Stewart thought it was the "worst idea I'd ever heard. I said, 'Alan, there aren’t any saxophones in folk-rock. Folk-rock is about guitars. Sax is a jazz instrument,'" Stewart said in 2021. Multiple lengthy instrumental segments bring the song to nearly seven minutes, yet each seems to blend into the next like a carefully arranged orchestra. (Rapp)

 

21. "How Long," Ace (1974)

How long does it take to top the charts? For the Paul Carrack-fronted Ace: 45 years. "I wrote the lyric on the bus going to my future mother-in-law's," he later told Gary James. "I wrote it on the back of that bus ticket. That's my excuse for there only being one verse." Ace released "How Long" in 1975, reaching No. 3, then Carrack moved on to stints with Squeeze and Mike and the Mechanics. Finally, in 2020, "How Long" rose two spots higher, hitting No. 1 on Billboard's rock digital song sales chart after being featured on an Amazon Prime advertisement titled "Binge Cheat." (DeRiso)

 

20. "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)," Looking Glass (1972)

Like "Summer Breeze" (found later in our list of Top 50 Yacht Rock Songs), Looking Glass' tale of an alluring barmaid in a busy harbor town pre-dates the classic yacht-rock era. Consider acts like Seals & Crofts and these one-hit wonders pioneers of the genre. Ironically, the effortless-sounding "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" was quite difficult to complete. "We recorded 'Brandy' two or three different times with various producers before we got it right," Looking Glass' principal songwriter Elliot Lurie told the Tennessean in 2016. The chart-topping results became so popular so fast, however, that Barry Manilow had to change the title of a new song he was working on to "Mandy." (DeRiso)

 

19. "I Can't Tell You Why," Eagles (1979)

Timothy B. Schmit joined just in time to watch Eagles disintegrate. But things couldn't have started in a better place for the former Poco member. He arrived with the makings of his first showcase moment with the group, an unfinished scrap that would become the No. 8 hit "I Can't Tell You Why." For a moment, often-contentious band members rallied around the outsider. Don Henley and Glenn Frey both made key contributions, as Eagles completed the initial song on what would become 1979's The Long Run. Schmit felt like he had a reason to be optimistic. Instead, Eagles released the LP then promptly split up. (DeRiso)

 

18. "Sentimental Lady," Bob Welch (1977)

Bob Welch first recorded "Sentimental Lady" in 1972 as a member of Fleetwood Mac. Five years later, after separating from a band that had gone on to way bigger things, Welch revisited one of his best songs and got two former bandmates who appeared on the original version – Mick Fleetwood and Christine McVie – to help out (new Mac member Lindsey Buckingham also makes an appearance). This is the better version, warmer and more inviting, and it reached the Top 10. (Gallucci)

 

17. "So Into You," Atlanta Rhythm Section (1976)

Atlanta Rhythm Section are often wrongly categorized as a Southern rock band, simply because of their roots in Doraville, Ga. Songs like the seductively layered "So Into You" illustrate how little they had in common with the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd. As renowned Muscle Shoals sessions ace David Hood once said, they're more like the "Steely Dan of the South." Unfortunately, time hasn't been kind to the group. Two of this best-charting single's writers have since died, while keyboardist Dean Daughtry retired in 2019 as Atlanta Rhythm Section's last constant member. (DeRiso)

 

16. "Dreams," Fleetwood Mac (1977)

Stevie Nicks was trying to channel the heartbreak she endured after separating with Lindsey Buckingham into a song, but couldn't concentrate among the bustle of Fleetwood Mac's sessions for Rumours. "I was kind of wandering around the studio," she later told Yahoo!, "looking for somewhere I could curl up with my Fender Rhodes and my lyrics and a little cassette tape recorder." That's when she ran into a studio assistant who led her to a quieter, previously unseen area at Sausalito's Record Plant. The circular space was surrounded by keyboards and recording equipment, with a half-moon bed in black-and-red velvet to one side. She settled in, completing "Dreams" in less than half an hour, but not before asking the helpful aide one pressing question: "I said, 'What is this?' And he said, 'This is Sly Stone's studio.'" (DeRiso)

 

15. "Minute by Minute," the Doobie Brothers (1978)

Michael McDonald was so unsure of this album that he nervously previewed it for a friend. "I mean, all the tunes have merit, but I don't know if they hang together as a record," McDonald later told UCR. "He looked at me and he said, 'This is a piece of shit.'" Record buyers disagreed, making Minute by Minute the Doobie Brothers' first chart-topping multiplatinum release. Such was the mania surrounding this satiny-smooth LP that the No. 14 hit title track lost out on song-of-the-year honors at the Grammys to "What a Fool Believes" (found later in our list of Top 50 Yacht Rock Songs) by the Doobie Brothers. (DeRiso)

 

14. "Lonely Boy," Andrew Gold (1976)

Andrew Gold’s only Top 10 U.S. hit is a story of parental neglect and simmering resentment, but those pitch-black details are easy to miss when couched inside such a deliciously upbeat melody. Gold chronicles the childhood of the titular lonely boy over a propulsive, syncopated piano figure, detailing the betrayal he felt when his parents presented him with a sister two years his junior. When he turns 18, the lonely boy ships off to college and leaves his family behind, while his sister gets married and has a son of her own — oblivious to the fact that she’s repeating the mistakes of her parents. Gold insisted “Lonely Boy” wasn’t autobiographical, despite the details in the song matching up with his own life. In any case, you can’t help but wonder what kind of imagination produces such dark, compelling fiction. (Rolli)

 

13. "Baby Come Back," Player (1977)

Liverpool native Peter Beckett moved to the States, originally to join a forgotten act called Skyband. By the time he regrouped to found Player with American J.C. Crowley, Beckett's wife had returned to England. Turns out Crowley was going through a breakup, too, and the Beckett-sung "Baby Come Back" was born. "So it was a genuine song, a genuine lyric – and I think that comes across in the song," Beckett said in The Yacht Rock Book. "That's why it was so popular." The demo earned Player a hastily signed record deal, meaning Beckett and Crowley had to assemble a band even as "Baby Come Back" rose to No. 1. Their debut album was released before Player had ever appeared in concert. (DeRiso)

 

12. "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight," England Dan & John Ford Coley (1976)

There aren't too many songs with choruses as big as the one England Dan & John Ford Coley pump into the key lines of their first Top 40 single. Getting there is half the fun: The conversational verses – "Hello, yeah, it's been a while / Not much, how 'bout you? / I'm not sure why I called / I guess I really just wanted to talk to you" – build into the superpowered come-on line "I'm not talking 'bout moving in ... ." Their yacht-rock pedigree is strong: Dan Seals' older brother is Seals & Croft's Jim Seals. (Gallucci)

 

11. "Hey Nineteen," Steely Dan (1980)

At least on the surface, “Hey Nineteen” is one of Steely Dan’s least ambiguous songs: An over-the-hill guy makes one of history’s most cringy, creepiest pick-up attempts, reminiscing about his glory days in a fraternity and lamenting that his would-be companion doesn’t know who Aretha Franklin is. (The bridge is a bit tougher to crack. Is anyone sharing that “fine Colombian”?) But the words didn’t propel this Gaucho classic into Billboard's Top 10. Instead, that credit goes to the groove, anchored by Walter Becker’s gently gliding bass guitar, Donald Fagen’s velvety electric piano and a chorus smoother than top-shelf Cuervo Gold. (Reed)

 

10. "Rich Girl," Dary Hall & John Oates (1976)

It’s one of the most economical pop songs ever written: two A sections, two B sections (the second one extended), a fade-out vocal vamp. In and out. Wham, bam, boom. Perhaps that's why it’s easy to savor “Rich Girl” 12 times in a row during your morning commute, why hearing it just once on the radio is almost maddening. This blue-eyed-soul single, the duo’s first No. 1 hit, lashes out at a supposedly entitled heir to a fast-food chain. (The original lyric was the less-catchy “rich guy”; that one change may have earned them millions.) But there’s nothing bitter about that groove, built on Hall’s electric piano stabs and staccato vocal hook. (Reed)

 

9. "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," Elvin Bishop (1975)

Elvin Bishop made his biggest pop-chart splash with "Fooled Around and Fell In Love," permanently changing the first line of his bio from a former member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band to solo star in his own right. There was only one problem: "The natural assumption was that it was Elvin Bishop who was singing,” singer Mickey Thomas told the Tahoe Daily Tribune in 2007. Thomas later found even greater chart success with Starship alongside Donny Baldwin, who also played drums on Bishop's breakthrough single. "A lot of peers found out about me through that, and ultimately I did get credit for it," Thomas added. "It opened a lot of doors for me." (DeRiso)

 

8. "Baker Street," Gerry Rafferty (1978)

Gerry Rafferty already had a taste of success when his band Stealers Wheel hit the Top 10 with the Dylanesque "Stuck in the Middle With You" in 1973. His first solo album after the group's split, City to City, made it to No. 1 in 1978, thanks in great part to its hit single "Baker Street" (which spent six frustrating weeks at No. 2). The iconic saxophone riff by Raphael Ravenscroft gets much of the attention, but this single triumphs on many other levels. For six, mood-setting minutes Rafferty winds his way down "Baker Street" with a hopefulness rooted in eternal restlessness. (Gallucci)

 

7. "Dirty Work," Steely Dan (1972)

In just about three minutes, Steely Dan tell a soap-opera tale of an affair between a married woman and a man who is well aware he's being played but is too hopelessly hooked to end things. "When you need a bit of lovin' 'cause your man is out of town / That's the time you get me runnin' and you know I'll be around," singer David Palmer sings in a surprisingly delicate tenor. A saxophone and flugelhorn part weeps underneath his lines. By the time the song is over, we can't help but feel sorry for the narrator who is, ostensibly, just as much part of the problem as he could be the solution. Not all yacht rock songs have happy endings. (Rapp)

 

6. "Ride Like the Wind," Christopher Cross (1979)

“Ride Like the Wind” is ostensibly a song about a tough-as-nails outlaw racing for the border of Mexico under cover of night, but there’s nothing remotely dangerous about Christopher Cross’ lithe tenor or the peppy piano riffs and horns propelling the tune. Those contradictions aren’t a detriment. This is cinematic, high-gloss pop-rock at its finest, bursting at the seams with hooks and elevated by Michael McDonald’s silky backing vocals. Cross nods to his Texas roots with a fiery guitar solo, blending hard rock and pop in a way that countless artists would replicate in the next decade. (Rolli)

 

5. "Summer Breeze," Seals & Crofts (1972)

Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were childhood friends in Texas, but the mellow grandeur of "Summer Breeze" makes it clear that they always belonged in '70s-era Southern California. "We operate on a different level," Seals once said, sounding like nothing if not a Laurel Canyon native. "We try to create images, impressions and trains of thought in the minds of our listeners." This song's fluttering curtains, welcoming domesticity and sweet jasmine certainly meet that standard. For some reason, however, they released this gem in August 1972 – as the season faded into fall. Perhaps that's why "Summer Breeze" somehow never got past No. 6 on the pop chart. (DeRiso)

 

4. "Lowdown," Boz Scaggs (1976)

As you throw on your shades and rev the motor, the only thing hotter than the afternoon sun is David Hungate’s sweet slap-bass blasting from the tape deck. “This is the good life,” you say to no one in particular, casually tipping your baseball cap to the bikini-clad crew on the boat zooming by. Then you press “play” again. What else but Boz Scaggs’ silky “Lowdown” could soundtrack such a moment in paradise? Everything about this tune, which cruised to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, is equally idyllic: Jeff Porcaro’s metronomic hi-hat pattern, David Paich’s jazzy keyboard vamp, the cool-guy croon of Scaggs — flexing about gossip and “schoolboy game.” You crack open another cold one — why not? And, well, you press play once more. (Reed)

 

3. "Lido Shuffle," Boz Scaggs (1976)

Scaggs' storied career began as a sideman with Steve Miller and already included a scorching duet with Duane Allman. Co-writer David Paich would earn Grammy-winning stardom with songs like "Africa." Yet they resorted to theft when it came to this No. 11 smash. Well, in a manner of speaking: "'Lido' was a song that I'd been banging around, and I kind of stole – well, I didn't steal anything. I just took the idea of the shuffle," Scaggs told Songfacts in 2013. "There was a song that Fats Domino did called 'The Fat Man' that had a kind of driving shuffle beat that I used to play on the piano, and I just started kind of singing along with it. Then I showed it to Paich, and he helped me fill it out." Then Paich took this track's bassist and drummer with him to form Toto. (DeRiso)

 

2. "Peg," Steely Dan (1977)

"Peg" is blessed with several yacht-rock hallmarks: a spot on Steely Dan's most Steely Dan-like album, Aja, an impeccable airtightness that falls somewhere between soft-pop and jazz and yacht rock's stalwart captain, Michael McDonald, at the helm. (He may be a mere backing singer here, but his one-note chorus chirps take the song to another level.) Like most Steely Dan tracks, this track's meaning is both cynical and impenetrable, and its legacy has only grown over the years – from hip-hop samples to faithful cover versions. (Gallucci)

 

1. "What a Fool Believes," the Doobie Brothers (1978)

Michael McDonald not only steered the Doobie Brothers in a new direction when he joined in 1975, but he also made them a commercial powerhouse with the 1978 album Minute by Minute. McDonald co-wrote "What a Fool Believes" – a No. 1 single; the album topped the chart, too – with Kenny Loggins and sang lead, effectively launching a genre in the process. The song's style was copied for the next couple of years (most shamelessly in Robbie Dupree's 1980 Top 10 "Steal Away"), and McDonald became the bearded face of yacht rock. (Gallucci)

Top 100 Classic Rock Artists

Click through to find out how they stack up, as we count down the Top 100 classic rock artists.

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