The Stories Behind Five Yacht Rock Classics

by Greg Prato

In 2018, I wrote a book entitled The Yacht Rock Book: The Oral History of the Soft, Smooth Sounds of the '70s and '80s via Jawbone Press. And as its title suggests, the book told the complete story of how "AM gold" of the '70s and '80s thrived at the time, seemingly disappeared for a spell, and then experienced an extraordinary resurgence in popularity – including all-new interviews with such renowned artists as John Oates, Kenny Loggins, and Timothy B. Schmit, among others. And it turns out that Songfacts enjoyed the book – so much so that around the time of the book's release, they were kind enough to run an excerpt and a quiz...and now, the stories behind five yacht rock classics – plucked straight from the book.

Firefall - "You Are The Woman"
Rick Roberts [Flying Burrito Brothers singer, guitarist; Firefall singer, guitarist]: "You Are The Woman," as I understand it, there are about a half a dozen women around this country who have told people repeatedly that the song was written about them. In fact, the song was not written about anyone, because the woman I had always dreamed of, I was still dreaming of. I wrote the chorus at one point in maybe '74 or '75.

"You Are The Woman," although I've come to terms with it, has never been one of my favorite songs. Because I knew what I had - I heard the chorus and said, "This is a very commercial thing. Why don't I write something commercial for it?" And I went for like, three months trying to come up with the verses for it, and exploring all these ways to do it. And finally, I sat down one night and said, "I think you're way overthinking this. Keep it simple." So I decided to simplify and wrote the verses.

I meant what I said in the lyrics, which is it's about more than how a woman looks. I remember being in a hotel room in Aspen, and we were doing a three-day gig with a ski resort, and I came up with the verses at that time. I wrote the song for my wife Mary - even though I hadn't met her yet. [Laughs]"

"You Are The Woman" Songfacts entry

Player - "Baby Come Back"
Peter Beckett [Player singer, guitarist]: I was brought over to the States to be in this band called Friends, which was basically a supergroup. Nobody real famous, but writers and singer-songwriters from three different countries: Australia, England, and America. And I was "the English guy." We were put up in a condo up on the Sunset Strip, looking over the city. We were given money to literally sit around the swimming pool, write songs, get a suntan, and drink wine. Which after the life I had in England - the grueling road trips I had with bands in England - I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when I came here. And that band turned into a band called Skyband - we put one album out. Nothing ever happened.

So, I scrambled around LA for about a year, not knowing what to do, and just writing with different people. And then I went to this party up in the Hollywood Hills. Everybody was supposed to wear white - I didn't know it, and I'm in a T-shirt and jeans. And there was one other guy there who was in a T-shirt and jeans - J.C. Crowley. We kind of moved toward each other and started laughing about it - "We didn't get the memo, sorry!" - and we just started talking, and I realized he was a songwriter from Texas and he was a little "oddball." Definitely a little to the left.

We got together like a week later, and we wrote a handful of songs - a couple of good things. And we started shopping around. We brought in another couple of guys, we found a manager, Ronn Moss came in next. And the three of us would go around the offices of record people and we'd play acoustically - the handful of songs we had. People would go, "Not bad, we'll call you," kind of thing. We kept at it, and then it all fell into place. Then we wrote "Baby Come Back," and then we met [producers] Lambert and Potter - and everything changed.

Once we did the handful of songs and "Baby Come Back," Lambert and Potter nearly fell off their seats and went, "That's a hit!" Then they took it to Al Coury at RSO Records, and Al nearly fell off his seat, and we got signed. [That was] The Bee Gees' label, and Eric Clapton, Andy Gibb. They were having hits up the ying-yang. We were really lucky to get on that label. And we just put this band together - we got a drummer, John Friesen, and we all got on great and started practicing as a band. We recorded the album before we ever did any gigs, and the album was out, and we were at a rehearsal studio in Studio City in Los Angeles - a dirty old place. We were in there just working up these songs for whatever may happen. We didn't even know if anything was going to happen. All we knew is we were a band, we should probably work up the songs that we had recorded.

I think the highpoint for me was one day, we're in there, and our manager comes running in, and he says, "You guys are #80 on Billboard." To me, that was a big high, because I had never had a hit record. I had been in "known" bands in England, but had never had a hit record. I was like, "Oh my God! It's on the charts! This is insane!" And then we'd be driving around LA and the record started to be on the radio. And then it was on more and more and more. You'd change the channel, and it would be on two or three stations. It got really exciting.

The early days were much more exciting for me. And then time went on, and it started rising, and when it hit #1, it was just crazy. Fantastic times. J.C. Crowley had just broken up with his girlfriend of a long time, and I had too a little earlier. I was married, I came to LA, and the craziness of LA, my wife couldn't handle it - she left me and went back to England. So we both had a broken heart. We sat down to write that song, where none of the other songs had really been that kind of song. I guess this one hit home, lyrically, and touched people. Basically, it was both of us having broken up with somebody. So it was a genuine song, a genuine lyric. And I think that comes across in the song - that's why it was so popular.

"Baby Come Back" Songfacts entry

Robbie Dupree - "Steal Away"
Robbie Dupree [solo artist]: I had a writing partner at that time - Rick Chudacoff, who was also in the band Crackin' - and he was the one that was responsible for most of the music that came in our collaborations on those first three albums. We always did it the same way - he had a house in West Hollywood, and we would go out there and sit around a little Wurlitzer piano, he would play me an idea, and I would sing a melody, and then just slowly cultivate words for it.

It really didn't mean a whole lot to me, the lyric. It was a very simple rhyme song that was not anything meant to be heavy. The definition of it was really created when people - like all things - make memories of a song, they're the ones that give it the meaning. I really didn't have a particular meaning. It wasn't inspired by anybody. It was a song where the words and the melody fit together, and they were cool. I thought it was nice.

When a song has been around now for 36 years, and millions and millions of people have heard the record all around the world, naturally, I always get mail - "That was the song when I met my girlfriend," "That's the song when I broke up with my wife." Those are the people who are better to describe the meaning of it. There are many songs that do have meaning that I have written and recorded, but those songs in particular were pop songs.

To be candid, it got passed on by everybody in the industry. We did a five-song demo. Those five songs were really masters - a demo to me is a song that doesn't get a deal. So nothing happened. And I went back to New York. I was satisfied that I had given it my best shot - I had been doing this for a long time already. A friend of mine had given me an opportunity to work at a plant, loading trucks. I needed the money, so I went out to Long Island, to a place called Tri-State Floors, which sold these big, giant reams of carpet.

I was loading carpet on trucks, breaking my ass - for months. And the phone rang one day, and my drummer/co-producer Peter Bunetta's brother, Al, got my number somehow. He wasn't involved in my career at all - I barely knew him. But he had played the cassette for a guy from Elektra, and talk about irony, the guy said, "This song reminds me of my father" - and it wasn't "Steal Away."

"Who is that guy?" [he asked,] and Al said, "My brother played on this record."

"Why don't you see if he wants a record deal?"

That's how simple it was. I called him and he called me, and that was it. There was no feeling about hits or anything, because we had been turned down - like so many people, you walk around and walk around, nobody wants it, and that's the end of it.

And then, all of a sudden, it gets resurrected and it goes on to... I just got a plaque from BMI - in the United States, it has achieved three million airplays. That's crazy. When you do work, you always hope against hope, but the odds are always small. And it happens and it becomes one of those stories where you had nothing and you wind up having money and opportunity and making music. It's pretty incredible, the ride that you can get. All the guys on the Yacht Rock Tour kind of have the same story - they all had been fishing around for a while, and then all of a sudden, "Baby Come Back" comes out, and it becomes a monster #1 hit. It's just the way it happened back then.

"Steal Away" Songfacts entry

Ambrosia - "Biggest Part Of Me"
Burleigh Drummond [Ambrosia singer, drummer]: I got a nod from the great Billy Cobham, the drummer, who by way of his bass player that I knew, Tim Landers, told me he was driving one day with Billy and that song came on the radio, and Billy cranked it up, looked at him, and goes, "That's the shit." That's all I need to know about that song.

Very proud of that one. I think it came off great. I was studying with this famous drum teacher, Freddie Gruber, at the time, and he had me doing these exercises that resulted in me playing that groove like "Biggest Part Of Me" incessantly. I mean, I wouldn't stop. So at our rehearsals, we probably wrote six to eight songs that had that exact same groove. And "Biggest Part Of Me" just happened to be the best one. So, we owe it all to my drum teacher. [Laughs]

"Biggest Part Of Me" Songfacts entry

Hall & Oates - "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)"
John Oates [Hall & Oates singer, guitarist]: That song was very unique. It was the end of a recording session, everybody had gone home except for me, Daryl, and the engineer. We were just kind of tying up loose ends and talking about what we wanted to do the next day, and getting ready to leave. And Daryl went out and sat down at the electric keyboard, with a little primitive drum machine. It was the drum machine [we used] just to get our tempos together - it wasn't really something that we would use to record with. And he hit a button, and it happened to be set on a certain setting.

It just started going [sings the songs opening rhythm]. He just started going [sings bass part].

I go, "Hey man, that's really cool."

He goes, "Yeah, check this out," and he started playing some chords.

He said, "Get your guitar." I got my guitar and played a little riff, and that's it. That whole song is electric keyboard, guitar, sax, and vocals. There is nothing else on the song.

"I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" Songfacts entry

April 18, 2020

You can order The Yacht Rock Book: The Oral History of the Soft, Smooth Sounds of the '70s and '80s, on Amazon.

Some interviews you might like:

Rupert Holmes
Christopher Cross
David Paich of Toto
Boz Scaggs

More Song Writing

Comments: 1

  • Moritz from BerlinYou may like the video story of Yacht Rock by JD Ryznar:

    You can find the episodes on YouTube when you search for "Yacht Rock JD Ryznar". Beside the poor Video resolution it's a great and funny mockumentary if really smooth music!
see more comments

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