Back in the seventies and eighties, AOR was at the peak of its popularity. Especially amongst the generation who had just graduated university and had entered the workplace for the first time. With their disposable income, they bought albums by Boz Scaggs, Seals and Crofts, Carly Simon, Toto, Christopher Cross, Daryl Hall and John Oates, Rickie Lee Jones and America. These artists and groups were amongst the finest practitioners of Adult Orientated Rock.
By the eighties, AOR was one of the most lucrative genres. AOR albums sold by the million. Gold and platinum discs were scattered throughout the Hollywood mansions of its practitioners. Still though, critics and other artists looked down on AOR.
According to critics, AOR was lightweight and didn’t address serious social issues. Not like hip hop, which many critics were championing. This was ironic.
Most hip hop artists weren’t musicians. They could neither read nor write music. Instead, they were musical illiterates, the idiot savants of the music industry. They were lost without a sampler and pile of vinyl.
This allowed them to sample snippets of music. Often, this was a blatant act of theft. Many hip hop artists didn’t even bother to clear the sample. They were the musical equivalent of highwaymen. The only difference was, hip hoppers didn’t bother to wear a mask.
They had perfected a scam that even the greediest banker would’ve been proud of. Unlike bankers, there was very little chance that the highwaymen hip hoppers were going to get caught with their sticky fingers in the till.
When hip hoppers, went crate digging for samples, they often went in search of forgotten singles and albums to sample. They searched through friends and relatives record collections. Then when that failed, they beg, stole and borrowed. The more obscure the vinyl the better.
Often that’s where the best drum beats and breaks were. Even better for the highwayman rapper, very few people had ever heard these singles or albums. So there was little chance that anyone would recognise the sample. Often, to lessen the chance of this happening, they would adjust the pitch of the sample. This was belt and braces, and ensured that their chances of getting close to caught were close zero. Or so they thought.
Often, it only became apparent years later, that many hip hoppers had illegally sampled artists. Sometimes, court cases ensued. Incredibly, some artists decided to to take action against those who had stolen from them. In many cases this was ironic.
Many of the artists whose music was sampled didn’t make much money out of music. This includes The Winstons, whose career began in the sixties and lasted into the seventies. They released two albums and a string of singles. They’re the second most sampled group or artist in the history of music Their music has been sampled 2,165 times. One of their most sampled songs was Amen Brother, the flip side to their 1969 single Colour Him Father. Sadly, The Winstons were often neither credited, nor received the royalties they were due. The closed they came to receiving royalties for the sampling of Amen Brother was when someone started a crowd funding campaign recently. Even that, only made a fraction of what The Winstons were due. It seems that this musical genre which critics hailed as music with a social conscience was far from that.
Hip hop may have talked the talk for a few short years, however, they never walked the walk. They were modern day highwaymen, robbing and pillaging musically, whenever and wherever they wanted. That was the case, whether it was soul, funk and R&B, to electronica, rock and even AOR. Nothing was off limits.
That’s why, when critics and cultural commentators call hip hop music with a social conscience, my response is “don’t believe the hype.”
AOR may be the antithesis to hip hop, but there’s much to commend this hugely underrated music from the seventies and eighties. It may not be music with a social conscience, but it was melodic, hook-laden and in many case timeless. Thirty to forty years later, the music doesn’t sound dated. That’s because it was written, played and performed by real musicians.
Those who wrote, recorded, played and performed AOR were true musicians in the truest sense of the word. They could actually play an instrument, sometimes several. Most could read and write music. They understood chordal structure, harmonics and in the case of many AOR musicians, they produced the music they wrote and recorded. This includes much of the music on Yaorcht Rock, which was recently released by Warner Music on CD and LP.
Yaorcht Rock features what in the seventies and eighties, used to be called AOR. However, no longer is AOR called AOR. Instead, AOR has undergone a rebranding.
Instead, AOR referred to as yacht rock. This is essentially a rebranding. To many people, AOR brings to mind the AM radio stations. That’s where many people heard their daily diet of AOR. Nowadays, however, AOR to record company executives, sounds like a remnant from the seventies. So yacht rock was born.
Soon, a slew of yacht rock compilations were released. They’ were a mixed bag, and ranged from good, bad to downright ugly. The problem was, the majors owned the rights to the best in AOR. So independent labels were left scrambling about, releasing compilations featuring the also rans of AOR. This should’ve left the field clear for the majors to release peerless compilations of AOR.
That should’ve been the case. However, it all depends on the compiler. For the latest marriage of Yacht Rock and AOR, Yaorcht Rock, classics, familiar faces and hidden gems rub shoulders. Choosing the ten highlights isn’t going to be easy. However, here goes.
The opening track on any album is always the most important. Yaorcht Rock is no different. Here, it’s case of eschewing the predictable, and heading to San Francisco, which was home to psychedelic rockers Sopwith Camel. They released Fazon, as a single in 1973 on Reprise. It was taken from their sophomore album, The Miraculous Hump Returns From The Moon. However, commercial success eluded Sopwith Camel, and not long after this, they split-up. Fazon is a floaty, funk-tinged slice of AOR, which showcases a talented band who are one of music’s best kept secrets.
Carly Simon however, was one of the stars of the AOR era. By 1978, the first Lady of AOR’s music had just released her seventh album, Boys In The Trees on Elektra. It featured the single Tranquillo (Melt My Heart), which saw Carly Simon heading in the direction of the dance-floor. This wasn’t surprising, as disco was at the peak of its popularity. The version of Tranquillo (Melt My Heart) on Yaorcht Rock is the extended disco mix, which despite its disco influence, doesn’t see Carly Simon turning her back on her AOR roots.
Another single from 1978, was Carole Bayer Sager’s It’s The Falling In Love. It was released on Elektra, and was taken from Carole Bayer Sager’s sophomore album Too. It’s The Falling In Love was written by Carole Bayer Sager and David Foster, and is another dance-floor friendly track with AOR leanings.
Christopher Cross released his eponymous debut album in 1979. It reached number six in the US Billboard 200 and fourteen in Britain. This resulted in the album being certified platinum o both sides of the Atlantic. This wasn’t surprising. Ride Like The Wind had been chosen as the lead single. When it was released in 1979, it reached number two US Billboard 100. Since then, Ride Like The Wind is regarded as an AOR classic.
That’s the case with The Doobie Brothers’ What A Fool Believe. It was released as a single in 1979, and reached number one on the US Billboard 100. What A Fool Believes featured on The Doobie Brothers’ 1979 album Minute by Minute, which reached number one on the US Billboard 200 and was certified triple platinum. Since then, it’s become not just an AOR classic, but a favourite of compilation compilers.
Blues rocker, J.D. Souther, released his sophomore album Black Rose, in 1976 on Asylum. Midnight Prowl was chosen as the lead single from Black Rose. It’s a moody sounding ballad, featuring a wonderfully worldweary vocal from J.D. Souther. It’s at the heart of the success of a track that epitomises everything that’s good about AOR.
Daryl Hall and John Oates were another act who epitomised the AOR sound. She’s Gone released as a single by Atlantic Records in 1973, but stalled at number sixty in the US Billboard 100. It was taken from the album Abandoned Luncheonette, which reached number thirty-three in the US Billboard 200. By 2002, Abandoned Luncheonette had sold over a million copies, and was certified platinum. This made it the most successful album Daryl Hall and John Oates released at Atlantic Records. No wonder. It oozes quality from the AOR duo.
1980 saw Brooklyn Dreams released I Won’t Let Go was a single. It was the title-track from their fourth album, which was released Casablanca Records. It’s another track that screams AOR. Brooklyn Dreams combined elements of soft rock, soul and even disco on I Won’t Let Go. The result is a track that owes a debt of gratitude to Daryl Hall and John Oates.
Chuck E’s In Love is the song that forever will be synonymous with Rickie Lee Jones. That’s despite a recording career that’s lasted thirty-six years. Rickie Lee Jones began in 1979, when she released her eponymous debut album on Warner Bros. It reached number three in the US Billboard 200, and was certified platinum. The lead single was Chuck E’s In Love, which reached number four in the US Billboard 100 and number eighteen in Britain. Since then, Chuck E’s In Love has become an AOR classic. However, it’s just a tantalising taste of one of the most talented singer-songwriters of her generation, Rickie Lee Jones.
America’s Tin Man closes Yaorcht Rock. It reached number one on the US Billboard 100 in 1974. This was a track from America’s fourth album Holiday. The album was produced by George Martin, and reached number three in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in the album being certified gold in America, and silver in Britain. Penned by Dewey Bunnell, and inspired by The Wizard Of Oz, Tin Man gave American their first top ten single in America since 1972. However, America’s first four album were commercially successful, and saw the trio become one of the most successful AOR bands of the seventies.
Unlike the last album of yacht rock I reviewed, Too Slow To Disco 2, Yaorcht Rock is well worth buying. Especially if you’re new to the genre, and wanting to dip your toe in the yacht rock waters. It features a good selection of the familiar, combined with a few left-field choices.
Some of the tracks are perennial favourites, and are veterans of many compilations, not just yacht rock compilations. This includes Christopher Cross’ Ride Like The Wind, The Doobie Brothers’ What A Fool Believes, Daryl Hall and John Oates’ She’s Gone and Rickie Lee Jones’ Chuck E’s In Love. However, these four tracks are true AOR classics. These tracks are just the tip of the iceberg.
View Yaorcht Rock, which was recently released by Warner Bros. as an introduction to these artists. The albums these classics are taken from, feature some fantastic music. Especially Rickie Lee Jones’ eponymous debut album. It’s one of the best debut albums I’ve encountered, and has stood the test of time. That’s the case with so much of the music on Yaorcht Rock.
Even the songs with a slight disco influence have stood the test of time. My only criticism is including the twelve inch mix of . Seals And Crofts’ You’re The Love and the extended disco mix of Carly Simon’s Tranquillo (Melt My Heart). Disco mixes and extended mixes are the devil’s work, and have no place in AOR. That’s a minor quibble.
Mostly, Yaorcht Rock is perfect primer to the golden age of AOR, the seventies and eighties. Choosing just nineteen tracks couldn’t have been easy. There’s enough music for a box set in the Warner Bros. vaults. Maybe that’s for another day? Just now, Yaorcht Rock is the perfect introduction to AOR. Yaorcht Rock a compilation which won’t end in the musical equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle, given it features a who’s who of AOR.