Marcus, we’ve known the term “Yacht Rock” for many years, how did you come up with the term “Yacht Soul”?
Oh, I didn’t. It was in the air suddenly all over. Greg Caz (writer of our liner notes) first wrote about it as a journalist, then Katie Puckrick used it in her BBC Softrock documentary TV series. Next step: Paul Clifford openend the YACHT SOUL facebook group, and his radio show, and now this is where we are…. It is as always a joint effort! Still a very small movement….
Yacht Rock has a loyal fan base. How has your Yacht Soul concept been received by both long-time yacht rock fans and soul music aficionados?
I think it is a split thing. The pure Yacht Rock fans sometimes don’t appreciate the black music part. That’s why I never used that expression on our compialtions, instead went for Yacht Pop. To me that integration of soul, jazz, funk is the essence of the part of YACHT music I like. That soulful vibe was already all over the other TOO SLOW TO DISCO compilations. So for me it wasn’t a big step. But for some it is….
Marcus, can you give us some insight into the selection process for “Yacht Soul 2”? What criteria did you use to choose them?
There is only one way to make it on my compilation. I have to LOVE the track, because it is outstanding, and I have to be nervous to share it with the world, because I simply think everybody has to listen to it. It can sometimes be a very rare track (like this time the John Edwards and the Arnold McCuller tunes) or simply a track that is too good to be forgotten or rediscovered by a new generation (like Chaka Khan, Isley Brothers or Billy Paul).
Could you share any memorable moments or challenges you encountered while putting together “Yacht Soul 2”?
This time it took me very long to have that feeling, I made a top compilation, which is ready to go. There was always something special missing (hard to describe..) , which then – in the very end – came via two tracks, I was desperately trying to find and did not succeed for a long time…: “Gringo” by Arnold McCuller and “Tin Man” by John Edwards. The rights to the Arnold McCuller track are strangely lost. So I had to find a direct contact to Arnold himself, who first was very sceptical about this weird German DJ asking for the rights to rerelease that track for the first time, but then , in the end, he just gave it to me in a kinda “ah…fuck it…” way. He is a fun character! The John Edwards track on the other hand was a pure battle with the record company GINN MUSIC, who own the rights. For some strange reason (they called it company policy, something I just can’t accept….) they just didn’t want to give it to me. But I really, really insisted in the nicest way possible for months, and in the end I just had to pay the highest advance ever for it. The track is very special to me (Greg Caz recommended it to me), so I had to swallow the pill and go for it….
Let’s talk about some of the songs: “Sara Smile” is a beautiful cover version of the Daryl Hall and John Oates hit from Impact. Hall & Oates are a perfect example of a white duo who were heavily influenced by black Philly soul and R&B. The Temptations were a connecting link between the two groups. Please tell us about it.
Daryl Hall and John Oates were beginning to make a name (actually two names) for themselves in 1975 and the soulful “Sara Smile” became one of their earliest big hits. Two years later it was covered by Impact, a vocal group led by ex-Temptation Damon Harris. They didn’t really have to do anything to it to make it fit the R&B format since its Philly-reared originators had their own direct links to the Tempts, Hall having once been a member of the Temptones, an all-white Philly vocal group who were proteges of Eddie Kendricks.
Speaking of Philadelphia: Billy Paul is a Philly soul singer who already cut a fine figure on “Yacht Soul 1”. His soulful version of Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” is another highlight of the compilation. Carole King’s songs have always been grateful material for outstanding R&B versions, just think of Aretha Franklin’s breathtaking version of “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman”. Why do you think so many of her songs have been covered by R&B artists over the years?
The fact that so many black artists have covered her material just shows to me, how incredibly soulful her original compositions/writing has always been. Billy Paul’s version of “It’s Too Late” really demonstrates that soul and R&B connection. This influence has been a core part of King’s songwriting for the decade-plus that she had been cranking out hit after hit for countless artists throughout the 60s.
There was a trend in the 70s for R&B bands such as The Isley Brothers, who are represented on “Yacht Soul 2” with an exquisite cover of “Listen To The Music” by the Doobie Brothers, to record their own versions of well-known AOR songs. From your point of view, was it more of a nod to great songwriting or often also a commercial consideration to possibly reach new audiences with a crossover hit and make the leap out of the genre pigeonhole?
Well, we will never find out exactly. It can be both, but as long as the result is so special, unique and authentic, it is now – almost 50 years later – not so important to know. It would be terrible if we could actually hear, that they were forced to cover it. But all these acts instead just made these originals their own, which is what fascinates me.
With “Fate” in the version by Chaka Khan, we find a club classic from the 80s on the compilation. The song was written by Dominic Bugatti and Frank Musker, a congenial songwriting duo that we also met on the last Too Slow To Disco volume. The song is a good example of the generation gap. Many young people tend to associate the song with the sample of “Music Sounds Better With You” by Stardust from the 90s. Have you had any experience of this yourself?
I was thinking about including this one for a long time. Obviously it is pretty well known (to many) and not really a great discovery for the TSTD digger audience. But then I had to remind myself, that I am not doing these compilations for the “diggers”, who know everything already. Truth is, that in countless DJ sets when I played the Chaka Khan version, there were younger people coming to me asking, sometimes in disgust… : “Who did this cover version of the Stardust track”?…. which made me realize, it is a good time to share the real story.
“Fate” is a good example of the lack of a culture of remembrance. Do you see yourself as a keeper of old songs, vintage sounds and their history?
As explained before, I think it is a great, fun part of my job as compiler or DJ to spread stories to new generations. Spotify for example simply does not mention the connection between that track and the Stardust anthem anywhere, so how should a 20 year old know?
During your research, did you discover any previously unknown musical connections between the LA scene and the soul metropolises of Detroit, Memphis and Philadelphia?
The story I try to tell with YACHT SOUL is one of blurred lines between genres and how musical categories are often ultimately artificial constructs that melt away. Further proof, as if further proof were even needed, of the unifying power of great music.
Marcus, are there any specific artists or tracks featured on the compilation that hold a special place in your heart?
Of course I love all the tracks…. But I have to say that Mel & Tim’s “Keep the faith” is one of my favorite tracks ever, and it was such a satisfying moment, when you realize, we a) found the right owner, and b) they are willing to give us the rights to use it. That kickstarted the process of actually doing volume 2. It is a core track!
What’s next for you and the “Too Slow To Disco” series? Can we expect more exciting projects in the future?
As usual, I am working on several ideas, but none of them has reached the moment of …: LETS GO! But I am confident that I will release a new one next year, like I did every year since 2014, which is crazy….! 2024 marks the celebration of “10 years of TSTD”. Who would have thought….
Marcus, thank you very much for the interview!
Thanks to you Thomas. Keep spreading that Bottled Sunshine!
Want to find out more about Yacht Soul? Read our interview with Marcus Liesenfeld about “Yacht Soul 1” from 2021 HERE!