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If This Yacht's Rockin' ...

By Bill Forman

The time has come to praise Yacht Rock. Not the music itself, of course--although if you do have a secret hankering for sultans of smooth like Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald and Christopher Cross, we promise that your secret's safe with us. No, we're talking about Channel 101's online comedy series, which does for session musician-driven soft rock what Saturday Night Live's Lazy Sunday did for blue-eyed rap enthusiasts.

The brainchild of JD Ryznar, Hunter Stair and Lane Farnham, Yacht Rock's seven episodes to date brilliantly juxtapose blank parody with over-the-top slapstick, as it skillfully skewers anyone who's ever had a member of Toto play on their album. Recently proclaimed the "most successful show in 101 history," Yacht Rock has been downloaded more than a third of a million times since its debut last June, all with virtually no budget and no advertising. It's that smooth.

But don't take our word for it. Download episode 1, in which Michael McDonald (played with smooth gravitas by Ryznar himself) is threatened by Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter with being tossed out of the Doobie Brothers if he doesn't come up with a hit. A fortuitous encounter with smooth music entrepreneur Koko Goldstein and Kenny Loggins (as well as Loggins' abandoned partner Jim Messina, now a homeless alcoholic who disparages smooth music between convulsive wretchings) turns everything around and, following a hilarious songwriting montage, even 'Skunk' is grooving to the sounds of "What a Fool Believes."

All of this might have amounted to little more than cheap shots at easy targets were it not for the fact that the creators of the series obviously have a perverse affection for the music of this happily bygone era. Ryznar can, in fact, speak at length about the minutiae of the movement, from the utter ubiquity of sailing imagery on the album covers and throughout the songs to the fact that whenever Kenny Loggins co-writes a song for a Michael McDonald or Doobie Brothers album, he ends up doing a version of his own that has, according to Ryznar, "a classic Loggins twist." Pretty disturbing, when you think about it.

In subsequent five-minute episodes, Ryznar has Loggins and McDonald do battle with Hall & Oates, try to keep Michael Jackson from abandoning his smooth sound for the Van Halen-enhanced "Beat It" (to do so, they call upon the ghost of Koko, who was killed off in a tragic harpoon accident during the Hall & Oates showdown) and, in the most recent episode, get hip-hop cred courtesy of Warren G's remake of "I Keep Forgettin'."

What's brilliant about Yacht Rock is how little it really has to exaggerate, given just how ludicrous the music industry was, is, and one suspects, ever shall be. Consider the following quote from Dr. Dre's brother-in-law Warren G's real-life record company bio: "I had just bought the Michael McDonald album and really liked the soulful beat on that song," recalls Warren. "So Nate Dogg and I flipped the beat on it and then worked off one another for new lyrics. That's how the song was created and how my career jump-started."

As Homer Simpson would say, "It's funny because it's true."

Yacht Rock, www.channel101.com

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From the March 15-22, 2006 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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