“They say he’s got an ’81 Firebird, I’m still in my ’79”
( Paul Davis lyric from “Somebody’s Been Gettin’ to You”)
For me, that line kind of typifies the West Coast sound, a sound which during its 1978-1983 heyday, was as pervasive in the U.S. as hair metal was in later in the decade. During those years, the top 40 charts were littered end to end with the stuff. The “sound” was typified by supreme musicianship, slick production and melodic cleanliness, and the people that made it tended to be straight white guys within the age range of 25-35. And as the state of the art recording studios in Southern California were where the overwhelmingly majority of it was created, at some point, years later, it started getting referred to as West Coast. When it was actually happening, it was just pop music, but the latterly coined genre name and the sound are admittedly a perfect match.
As for the music itself, I loved it. It spoke to me in ways I did not understand since I had nothing in common with the people creating it or their life experiences ( I was also obsessed with soul man Billy Preston, so there you go). I listened religiously to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 on Sunday mornings with anticipation, hoping for a new smoothie to spend my allowance on. The deal was, if you had a neatly trimmed beard and were leaning on a sports car, in a crumpled yet clean linen suit, with the sun descending behind you on the cover, and your single was at least # 39 in the chart, I bought your record. I trusted you and I loved you. My big obsession for awhile was this guy named Robbie Dupree who turned out to be from Brooklyn, but to me, was the West Coast-iast of all the West Coasters. His self-titled 1980 album is full of sleek, lonely and lovelorn tunes, nearly all of which I just plain f-ing loved. I would play it endlessly whilst simultaneously attempting to draw portraits of Robbie’s sullen bearded face as he stared out sadly from the album cover.
Come on and hold me, just like you told me…
There’s been a major resurgence in the popularity of West Coast over the past handful of years. In 2014, the lovingly curated Too Slow to Disco compilations appeared on the scene, collecting favored vintage cuts by some of West Coast’s finest and garnering a surprising amount of attention and critical love from the requisite “tastemaker” music blogs and mags. Then in 2017, brilliant bass man Thundercat featured esteemed West Coast royalty Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald on his super fine Drunk album. But of course it was the “Yacht Rock” phenomenon that really reignited the mass interest in the artists and songs of the West Coast world ( though the parameters of what qualifies as “Yacht” are ridiculously inconsistent…says a purist…me). It’s great that people are openly, brazenly loving these songs without guilt (as they should be) and artists that were “forgotten” are getting some attention. But the term “Yacht Rock” will never be an official part of my music vernacular. Never, because to me, especially teenage me, it’s never been an ironic joke. West Coast forever baby.
And with that here’s a playlist of spineless, wussy and awesome songs that continue to shine as brightly as a million suns, to play in your ’79 Firebird, as you drive to 7-11. They’re just waiting to be found…