When we listen to a song, album or artist, one element that typically makes their music great is the struggle. There’s a hunger that can often times bleed through the music making it vital and urgent. It’s what has given us genres like punk and hip-hop—they were born of artists who not only had talent, but had the need to make a living off their art because there were no other options.
There’s also plenty of music made by people who don’t need to do it to survive. Call it what you will — yacht-rock, dad-rock, yuppie music — there’s a definitive style that we’ve been listening to for decades that carries with it a level of financial comfort in its grooves. While the masses have on many occasions lapped up records by The Eagles, Seals & Crofts and Loggins & Messina, the artistic value of these bands are minimal — their music satisfies a basic craving but they are more comfort food than high art.
But what happens when rich guys make great rich-people music? It doesn’t happen all the time and typically it’s never in streaks, but there have been artists with money to burn who have made records that are undeniably vital. What constitutes a true yuppie album can be debated, and there may be some entries on this short list you may disagree with, but this is my best summation of the most top tier records by 7-figure artists.*
Paul Simon — “Graceland”
Paul Simon may have been in a bit of a rut after the cool reception to his “Hearts and Bones” album, but the singer/songwriter already had enough hits from his Simon & Garfunkel work alone, not to mention his ’70s solo work, to be comfortable for the rest of his life. He refused to sit still though. He went to South Africa, sampled some of the local flavor and came back with the Grammy-winning “Graceland.” While its worldbeat vibes and Simon’s signature unstraining voice have grown to be more accustomed to Sunday afternoon plays in the kitchen, its not uncommon to hear “Call Me All” thrown down in a DJ set every once in a while.
Fleetwood Mac — “Rumours”
Having undergone several lineup changes since Peter Green formed the band with Mick Fleetwood and John McVie in 1967, Fleetwood Mac hit the jackpot when Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks came into the fold in 1975. That year’s “Fleetwood Mac” would be a pretty substantial success on its own, but when they released “Rumours” in 1977, the band became a household name. Playing like a greatest hits album, the record has gone on to be one of the greatest selling albums of all time and is proof that even soft rock can be pretty damn hard sometimes, especially when its made by a group of broken-up couples.
Radiohead — “In Rainbows”
Obviously Radiohead is not yacht rock, but they are certainly a band we’ve all paid well over the years. So well in fact that they decided to let us decide how much we wanted to spend on their seventh album “In Rainbows,” a record that totally could have been a self-indulgent outing but was instead one of their strongest records. The ability for the general public to accept a band as outgoing musically as Radiohead is still at times baffling. It can also be quite funny, especially when you see dude-bros crooning along with “Reckoner” at their shows, but it’s a terrain that can sometimes be fun to share.
Peter Gabriel — “So”
Peter Gabriel’s career works in the reverse of how musicians usually explore their artistic freedom. You make your pop records first and then venture out once you’ve made bank. Gabriel somehow was able to be extremely popular despite making several highly experimental records after his departure from Genesis. For 1986′s “So,” he still kept his edge while simultaneously delivering some of the best Top 40 divers of the decade. An album like “So” might be best enjoyed from the stereo of a Mercedes, but its universally appealing no matter what your trade is.
Wilco — “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”
Much like Radiohead, the appeal of Wilco to crowds whose summer show schedules revolve around when Dave Matthews Band is in town is very strange and kind of awesome, especially when the catalyst for their mass appeal stems mostly from a record where most of its songs end beds of noisy feedback. Wilco may have popularized the term “dad-rock,” but if that’s the terminology critics are going to go with, then I think I want to be a father.
U2 — “The Joshua Tree”
U2 were already pretty successful throughout the ’80s, but the opening slab of hits that stack up side one of “The Joshua Tree” made them superstars. Produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, the record found the band hitting the ultimate sweet spot of their anthemic, soul-searching sound which made them the perfect group for yuppies looking to rock out. Much like Wilco and Radiohead years later, the band broadened the horizons of the mainstream with their future releases like “Achtung Baby” and “Zooropa” which explored industrial and electronic music.
Phil Collins — “No Jacket Required”
Phil Collins has taken a lot of flack for bringing Genesis into the pop world, a band that was originally a top dog progressive rock group. Naysayers aside, the record is an indispensable pop classic that unapologetically brandishes white-guy R&B and middle-aged ’80s rock, a sound tailor-made for mini-mansions and Park Avenue suites.
Destroyer — “Kaputt”
Something tells me Dan Bejar is not dining on caviar and champagne every day but on Destroyer’s most recent album “Kaputt,” he sounds like one of New York City’s cultural elite. The Canadian singer/songwriter is still probably most well-known for the few songs he contributes to every New Pornographers record, but “Kaputt”‘s snapshot of the luxorious high life might be his best work. If yuppies have not tapped into it yet then they damn well should!
The Police — “Synchronicity”
The Police started out like many rock bands did in 1976, embracing the rough edges of punk rock. That quickly morphed into new wave and by the ’80s was becoming something else entirely. The Police made “alternative” rock music for people who owned boats. “Synchronicity” would become the band’s swan song as well as their largest success, it containing the hits “King of Pain,” “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” and the stalker-anthem-turned-wedding-favorite “Every Breath You Take.”
Arcade Fire — “The Suburbs”
Were the Arcade Fire rich before they released “The Suburbs”? Probably not but they have to be by now. The success of their third record pushed the band into arena territory culminating in their winning of the Album of the Year Grammy, a feat not obtained by a new rock band since U2 picked it up for “The Joshuea Tree.” Aside from Arcade Fire’s likeable merging of the worlds of Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and modern indie rock, another large factor in the album’s yuppie appropriation comes from its lyrics, which are like a manifesto of domestic life anxieties. The album isn’t geared towards young people so much as it is for people dealing with little successes as they come and seeing if they can sustain a live within them.
*I do not have any financial records of any of these artists but it’s safe to say they all make 7 figures (probably not Dan Bejar).