The Final Word on 'Brandy'
One thing I've noticed on twitter is that dozens of interesting, talented, intellectual writers are really, really into Yacht Rock. I opened an invitation for them to contribute pieces for yachtrock.com and they have begun to answer the call. I call them Firekeepers, and their words will inform the way our children's children view the beautiful genre of Yacht Rock.
*Today, Beyond Yacht Rock archivist Tim Malcolm (follow him on Twitter!) has a few words about "Brandy" by Looking Glass, a song often considered Yacht Rock, but not at all Yacht Rock. Read his case below, watch the Captain's Blog for more of Tim's thoughts, and keep the fire.* -JD
You’re having a splendid summer afternoon. The grill emits a waft of store-bought frankfurters and frozen beef patties. There’s a glass of sangria at your side. Your Yacht Rock playlist is showering you with Airplay, Pages and the Larsen/Feiten Band. Nothing can be more perfect.
A friend saunters over to you. He tells you Amazon Prime has a Yacht Rock station. You’re intrigued. You look it up, then attempt to log in, then forget your password, then get Amazon to send you a lost-password email, then retrieve the email that includes a link to create a new password, then create the new password, then revisit the Amazon Prime login page, then login, then find the Yacht Rock station, then press play.
Your splendid summer afternoon is ruined.
Back on the 10th episode of Beyond Yacht Rock, the infamous Nyacht Rock episode, the guys gave us a host of reasons why songs are not considered Yacht Rock songs. While “Brandy” by Looking Glass was not among the top-12, the guys have made it achingly clear that “Brandy” is Nyacht Rock.
And the guys can say this - remember - since they coined the term Yacht Rock.
But despite this, folks still seem to believe - or simply ignore truth and carefully craft a world that merely justifies and protects their lies - that “Brandy” is pure Yacht Rock.
Well right here, right now, we end the argument. Here is why “Brandy” by Looking Glass is definitively not a Yacht Rock song.
1. “BRANDY" WAS RELEASED IN 1972
The Yacht Rock genre is focused primarily on music released from 1976-84. Yes there’s some wiggle room (the guys recently shared a 1988 Yacht Rock song on the podcast), but the further you get from those prime years, the more the song needs to nail the other qualifications.
2. NO BONANZA YACHT ROCK PERSONNEL
It certainly doesn't nail this one.
First, a word on Looking Glass. Formed at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., in 1969, Looking Glass was Elliot Lurie (vocals, guitar) and Larry Gonsky (piano), plus classic members Jeff Grob (drums) and Pieter Sweval (bass).
The band used a few other players on its debut self-titled album, which was recorded in 1972. Those folks include Larry Fallon (horns, strings), Eddie Hinton (guitar) and James Giampa (congas), plus backup vocals by Chuck Connolly, and Tasha Thomas and the Feel Good Girls.
Fallon, Giampa and Connolly were used on “Brandy,” but only Fallon has any extended credits, as he also arranged for Van Morrison, Jimmy Cliff and the Rolling Stones. As you can see, none of those people are Yacht Rock. Not only are there no Bonanza Yacht Rock personnel, but there’s no Yacht Rock connection whatsoever.
Moreover, Looking Glass is a New Jersey band of the early 1970s, a product of the Jersey Shore sound that birthed Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Now listen to “Brandy.” Doesn’t it sound like it could fit alongside “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle”? That’s not even close to Yacht Rock.
3. “BRANDY" IS A STORY SONG
In “Nyacht Rock,” the guys point out that songs that beg you to listen to the words over the music are typically automatic Nyachters. Examples include “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” written by storyteller Rupert Holmes, and “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty. These songs beat you over the head with the lyrics, making you have to listen first to the words and taking you away from the potentially smooth instrumentation.
Here’s how “Brandy” starts: “There’s a port on a western bay and it serves a hundred ships a day.” Right away Lurie is reeling you in with this tale of a port filled to the brim with sailors. He wants you to pay attention to his story, since without knowledge of this port and its sailors, you can’t fully appreciate the heartbreaking loneliness of Brandy, our object (very patriarchal of you, Looking Glass) referred to in the chorus.
Hell, the fact that the chorus itself is quite literate and straightforward (“The sailors say Brandy, you’re a fine girl, what a good wife you would be. But my life, my love and my lady is the sea.”) is another strike against the song's Yacht Rock case. The hooks of the best Yacht Rock songs typically make your brain hurt. To wit:
“This is it. Make no mistake where you are. Your back’s to the corner. This is it. Don’t be a fool anymore. The waiting is over ...”
“But what a fool believes he sees. No wise man has the power to reason away. What seems to be is always better than nothing, and nothing at all ...”
“Does anything last forever? I don’t know. Baby we’re near the end. So darlin’, how can we go on together now that we’ve grown apart? Well the only way to start is heart to heart.”
The more you think about those lyrics, the more you hate that you’ve thought about them. You can sum up each of those choruses with one phrase (“Do it,” “Stop dreaming,” “Talk”), but Yacht Rockers tend to beat around the bush. Why? It allows for those sparkling pro musicians to play the finest, smoothest choruses that wash over the inane lyric sheet.
“Brandy” is a story about a gal misses a man. And Looking Glass needs to tell you about it, or else the song doesn’t reach the top of the charts.
4. IT'S NOT THAT SMOOTH
This may be the most controversial discovery of the “Brandy” listening experience. Does the song have sweet horns? Hell yes. Is the lead vocal pleasing? Sure it is. Are there tight harmonies? You betcha.
But “Brandy” isn’t that smooth, and if it isn’t truly smooth, it can’t be Yacht Rock.
The previous point helps this case. The lead instrument in this song is Lurie’s voice, since he sings through nearly the entire song. And unless the lead vocalist is Enya, or maybe Bjork at some point in her career, there’s no way a lead vocal can be 100 percent smooth for 3:06.
There are smooth moments in the song, primarily the combination of Gonsky’s piano and Sweval’s bass. But they’re down in the mix, competing with both Lurie and the percussion, a combination of Grob and Giampa (the congas).
Case in point: The stretch from 2:18-2:32, the final verse, may be the smoothest stretch in the song. But Lurie is still the loudest thing in the mix, begging you to listen to the story. And once the rest of the music kicks in at 2:33, it’s a huge drum fill followed by brass and harmonies. There’s a lot happening there, interrupting the smooth.
And yes, Yacht Rock songs can have a lot of elements. An example is Michael McDonald’s “Sweet Freedom” from 1986. It’s nearly Nyacht Rock because it’s late in the genre and has a lot going on in the mix, but it doesn’t lose its smooth backbone (McDonald is a huge reason for this) while having some affiliated Yacht Rock personnel (McDonald, Greg Phillinganes, Rod Temperton, Chuck Findley).
But the point of “Brandy” is it’s very much a song about a lonely lady who happens to work by the sea. The music isn’t there to do anything but back up that story. It simply echoes the highs and lows of the vocal, never standing out, never in front, never veering or twisting to show instrumental mastery.
“Brandy” references sailors and the sea, but it’s more about a working class gal with working class aspirations, a theme made for the Jersey Shore sound. There are no connections to Yacht Rock and there’s no elevated musicianship, making it 100 percent not Yacht Rock. It is Nyacht Rock. Maybe Marina Rock ... but that’s for another time.
Does that mean you can’t listen to “Brandy”? Of course not. It’s a fine song. What a good song it would be on a random summer playlist, most preferably in Asbury Park or Wildwood. But don’t add it to your Yacht Rock summer playlist. If you do, you most certainly will be ruining someone’s splendid afternoon.