A few little-known facts about singer/songwriter Michael McDonald: Aside from topping the charts in the 1980s, he was a tireless defender and advocate of smooth music. His best friend ...
A few little-known facts about singer/songwriter Michael McDonald: Aside from topping the charts in the 1980s, he was a tireless defender and advocate of smooth music. His best friend died in a back-alley songwriting contest, and he feuded with one-time songwriting partner Kenny Loggins. Actor Vincent
Price, however, forced the two to make amends so they could conjure a spirit to help with the recording of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Sound a bit far-fetched?
JD Ryznar offers a curated selection of his favorite less-obvious songs of the era
“Any World (That I’m Welcome To)” by Steely Dan
“Aside from being totally awesome and beautiful, this is one of the first Dan songs to feature Michael McDonald’s huge background vocal power. The presence of McDonald’s voice pretty much legitimizes any song’s Yacht Rock status.”
“It Keeps You Runnin’ ” by Carly Simon
“This is not only a cover of the Doobie Brothers’ hit, but also actually features the Doobies as the backing band. Still, it’s a totally original take on the song, and a rare example of Yacht Rock female empowerment.”
Kenny Loggins’ alternate versions
“If you hear a song on a Doobie or Michael McDonald album that was co-written by Kenny Loggins, chances are, Loggins has a version of that song with a classic Loggins twist. Check out Loggin’s versions of the Doobies ‘What a Fool Believes’ and Michael McDonald’s ‘I Gotta Try’ & ‘No Lookin’ Back’ to see what I mean.”
Not to JD Ryznar, the Los Angeles based writer, actor and director who portrays the man with the beard in his series of short films called “Yacht Rock.”
The shorts, which have garnered a cult following thanks to their success as part of the Web site Channel 101’s monthly film contests (and subsequent downloads and blog shout-outs), take a look behind the scenes at the creation of the ultra-creamy hits that made folks like McDonald, Loggins and Toto pop stars in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Ryznar coined the term “Yacht Rock” after he noticed a series of connections and similarities between Steely Dan and groups like the Doobie Brothers and Toto. Such as:
And so “Yacht Rock” was born.
The show (see the full episodes here: www.channel101.com/shows/show.php?show_id=152 offers surreal backstories for singles known more for their gentle grooves than any underlying drama. But the series doesn’t attempt to satirize the musicians themselves. Instead, Ryznar takes aim at the songwriting process.
“When people want to sit down and write a hit record, they get together and it’s trial and error — not so much fun,” he says. “But if you infuse it with some sort of completely made up fairy tale story, suddenly it becomes a lot more interesting.”
This sly reverence for the subject matter gives the show an added nuance. After all, taking potshots at yesterday’s hit makers would be just too easy.
But much of the humor also comes from inverting the stereotypical images people have of the musicians in question. “When artists like Hall & Oates and Michael Jackson have such huge personas, you don’t want to just see another impersonation,” says Ryznar.
Thus, Hall & Oates become two thuggish trash-talkers from the hard streets of Philadelphia always looking for a fight and Michael Jackson gets portrayed as a brute womanizer. Even Journey front man Steve Perry gets the treatment, showing up in a couple of episodes as a motivational rocker who persuades Kenny Loggins to turn to the hard side.
Ryznar’s show has gotten him some notice and even an agent. The moderate success he’s achieved underscores the growing impact that Channel 101 (www.channel101.com) has as an important outlet for up and coming talent to showcase material that ordinarily wouldn’t get a cursory glance at major Hollywood studios.
Started by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab in 2003, Channel 101 allows anyone to submit a pilot, the best of which are selected and shown at monthly screenings held in Los Angeles. A sister site, www.channel102.net, recently opened up shop in New York. The top five vote-getters each month are added to a category called Primetime and are then allowed to make another episode. This constant influx of submissions means everyone has to keep upping the ante from month to month.
While Yacht Rock’s subject matter might make it seem like a strange candidate for such a word-of-mouth following, Ryznar’s idea ended up in the right place at the right time.