When I’m concentrating on a writing project, I like music with no lyrics or, at least, lyrics in a language I don’t speak. Amadou & Mariam are good for that. From Mali, they sing in French and Bambara. Since I don’t speak either, the music helps me find a flow, but the words don’t fight with my own thoughts.
On the other hand, I can listen to almost any kind of music when I’m brainstorming a writing project – or putting off work. Right now, I’m leaning into various flavors of “AM Gold,” the stuff you’d hear coming out of a transistor radio around 1972 or 1976. Here’s three music streams I’m using the most.
The words “yacht rock” get thrown around a lot without nailing down just what makes a song belong in the genre. I tend to stick with the writers and actors who coined “yacht rock” for a comedy video series back in 2005. Here’s a fuzzy version of the first episode, or you can click through to Channel 101 and watch it more clearly, along with the other 11 episodes.
For those guys, Yacht Rock is about everything from “smoothness” to instrumentation to lyrics to particular studio musicians that appear again and again. The “Doobie bounce” comes up a lot. Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like the Wind” and Steely Dan’s “Peg” are yacht rock. James Taylor’s “Your Smiling Face” and Bertie Higgins’ “Key Largo” aren’t. Yacht Rock Miami sticks to the “true” definition of Yacht Rock in a way that the Sirius XM Yacht Rock station doesn’t. To learn the completely arbitrary distinctions, dig into the archives of the Beyond Yacht Rock podcast. They’ll explain how Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” can be yacht rock while Jay Ferguson’s “Thunder Island” is not.
So what’s Marina Rock Radio? All those songs that people think are Yacht Rock, but aren’t. Now we’re talking soft rock or light rock like Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line.” I alternate between the two stations so just about the time I’m tired of yacht rockin’ Ambrosia’s “The Biggest Part of Me,” I’ve moved onto Al Stewart’s “The Year of the Cat.”
WKIT is a real, over-the-air radio station in Bangor, Maine that’s owned by novelist Stephen King and his wife Tabitha. It’s the kind of radio station that still does two-for-Tuesdays and runs spots from local greenhouses and heat pump installers. I’ve got to assume that the Kings hope the station makes money but also aren’t too worried about it. WKIT is straight-up classic rock oldies: ZZ Top, Heart, Wings… You get the occasional “new” band such as Greta van Fleet or Kings of Leon, but then, it’s right back to Guns N’ Roses or Rush. It’s the kind of station where the morning DJ, Bobby Russell, retired last year after 30+ years with the station and Stephen King came into studio for the last show. WKIT reminds me of the stations I listened to in high school in Davenport, IA. Heck, about half the songs are still in rotation here.
Literally a one-man operation, Great Big Radio is programmed, voiced, and kept on the internet by radio vet Howard Hoffman. His “real job” these days is creative services director for talk radio station WOR 710 in New York, but he’s been working in radio since the 1970s. Hoffman hosted multiple music and talk radio shows across the country as well as writing commercials and doing voiceover. That’s literally everything from all the voices in the Oscar-nominated “Courage the Cowardly Dog in The Chicken From Outer Space” to a talking car on “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”
Great Big Radio is billed as “The Hits and the Songs that Should have Been.” I love it because it’s just that – songs you know and songs that are catchy as hell but were only regional hits or maybe never made it high on the Top 40 at all. What other station is going to play Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m the Only One,” and Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein,” but also an ‘80s college rock tidbit like 10,000 Maniacs’ “What’s the Matter Here” and The Mamas & The Papas’ take on “Dancing in the Street?” For a little power pop cred, a Beatles cut plays at the bottom of each hour. Wilson Phillips and Jimi Hendrix in the same quarter-hour? My kinda station.