From our position of hindsight here in 2015, it seems absurd that some of the more currently-maligned musical styles and sub-genres were ever in vogue. Electroclash was once the great new hope for music, and the less said about nu-metal nowadays the better. But no cultural phenomenon ever truly goes away, it just exists underground hoping for a critical reappraisal. By the time Daft Punk’s Get Lucky gatecrashed the charts last summer, disco had been having a quiet revival for years in the guise of nu-disco, and besides, it was hardly like Nile Rodgers had been lazing around since Chic’s heyday.
The latest genre up for rehabilitation may well be the oft-derided soft rock of the 1970s. Despite Rumours by Fleetwood Mac being one of the best-selling albums in history, acts such as Steely Dan, Hall & Oates and Toto have often been mocked due to their glossy production, focus on musical acumen (particularly in Steely Dan’s case) and a perceived lack of rock n’ roll spirit. However, there are more than a few nods to Fleetwood Mac in the melodies of critical darlings Haim, the much-lauded War On Drugs wear their AOR leanings as a badge of pride, Ariel Pink’s entire career seems to be viewed through the prism of that time, and Todd Terje links soft rock, lounge and exotica on his incredible release from earlier this year, It’s Album Time.
Perhaps mindful of this revival, Berlin label How Do You Are have just released the Too Slow To Disco compilation, a collection of largely-forgotten acts of the 1970s – plus one or two marquee names – that they’re terming “yacht rock”. One of the featured artists on the record is White Horse, an Anglo-American trio of songwriters including Jon Lind who subsequently went on to write hits for Earth, Wind & Fire (Boogie Wonderland), Madonna (Crazy For You) and Vanessa Williams (Save The Best For Last) before moving into A&R and working with Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and more. Lind also wrote Over And Done With It, the track that appears on the collection, and believes the reason this music is currently coming into fashion again is its timeless quality and classic songwriting heritage.
“Back then, people were learning their instruments, they played the guitar, they played the piano, they listened to Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Etta James and the scales, the harmonics and the soul became this extraordinary melting pot of influences,” relays Lind down the phone from LA. “Not only were people listening to The Beatles and The Beach Boys, they were adding to those melodies the influences of R&B and gospel. That’s my explanation of how this music keeps popping up – it always will.”
Given its rich seam of high-quality influences, it’s unsurprising that there’s a comeback on the cards. Perhaps in the same way that the studious kids gets laughed at during school, the musicians who want to learn and master their craft will never be as cool as those who have a more laissez-faire approach. Don’t forget that during this period came punk, the supposed musical Year Zero which had a scorched earth manifesto when it came to musical proficiency and no tolerance on anything which could even slightly be labelled as self-indulgent or over-studied.
The earthiness and attainability of punk was in stark contrast to the excesses of the commercially successful soft rock scene – Too Slow To Disco is being sold as “an album of cocaine, cocktails and sunsets” in the press. While not succumbing to the pitfalls in the same fashion as some of his peers, Lind admits he met White Horse bandmate Billy Nicholls “in Richmond, London, through following the spiritual teacher Meher Baba, who Pete Townshend also followed” – a tale that certainly chimes with the mind-expanding preoccupations of the era.
But what of the term yacht rock? It’s surely not meant in a complimentary manner, and indeed there was an online video series a decade ago titled Yacht Rock which spoofed the lives of 1970s soft rock stars, including Michael McDonald of Too Slow To Disco stars The Doobie Brothers. It’s a comment on both the production sheen on the records of the era as well as the lifestyle enjoyed by the stars of the genre. Jon Lind takes it all in good humour: “It’s not disparaging as much as it describes people who haven’t necessarily made music that’s quite authentic. In other words, it’s people who have assimilated something they love and made something else from those influences. It’s not copying, but if it’s not quite crossing the barrier of the critics or people who are going to give it a moniker like ‘yacht rock’, then so be it. It’s alright with me!”
To turn your nose up at yacht rock and the Too Slow To Disco compliation would be to miss out on some fantastic songs, from the expert craftsmanship of Ned Doheny to the shimmy and swagger of Browning Bryant. Music trends really are cyclical, and this compendium is proof that you can’t keep good music down forever.
Too Slow To Disco is out now on How Do You Are