A Father’s Day Homage To The Warming Nostalgia Of Dad Rock
Baba, papa, pater, father or dad. Whatever your personal preference for the word dad, there are certain things for which they are famous; their quasi-religious devotion to DIY, encyclopaedic knowledge of screw types, borderline obsession to carefully masking taping the edges of any surface prior to painting, devotion to stonewash denim and penchant for paint-splashed deck shoes at least twenty years before they became popular amongst the vintage store scouring, hipster merchants who reside in each city worldwide. Above all, though, dads are renowned for their utter adherence to strictly consuming ‘dad rock’ at every available opportunity. It is not even certain if dads are aware of other music genres outside of this rock-laden sphere? To dads, music production effectively ceased once Blur and Oasis had traded their final blows and the Britpop wars drew to their bloodless conclusion. Guitars had been shattered, drums splintered, bass guitars slapped, and elaborate keyboard setups battered as music moved on to bold new horizons – but nobody told dads.
In the troubling times of Covid-19, and particularly on this strangest of Father’s Days, this dedication to nostalgia is something to be celebrated in many ways, though. Ask any child of a music loving dad who has developed their own interest in music and often the genesis of their appreciation is related to that one Raiders of the Lost Ark moment; set deep within the sacred, dusty confines of their dad’s loft or garage, they stumbled upon the musty pile of musical gold. Eyes adjusting rapidly in the half-light, peering expectantly through the gloom, blowing off years of dust and setting eyes upon the front cover of Whitesnake’s Lovehunter for the first time was a seminal moment in many adolescent’s lives. It is for these reasons that I have compiled an essential list of dad rock classics as an homage to our happy nostalgic foot-tapping and gentle shoulder swaying dads. Dad rock is dead, long live dad rock.
Neil Young - ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’
Shakey, The Godfather of Grunge, the Cantankerous Canuck. Like Gandalf, Neil Young goes by many names, but his reputation remains consistent as one member from the golden generation of music who actually managed to move chameleon-like through the different decades with his reputation relatively unscathed. It’s not all roses in the garden of Neil Young, though – just ask anybody what was happening during Trans or Everybody’s Rockin’ and I’m not sure they’ll be able to provide a coherent answer.
'Rockin’ in the Free World' is the nadir of dad rock. This is no longer the vulnerable Neil Young of Harvest or After The Goldrush. This is Neil Young at his most raw and uncompromising, seemingly stuck in a trance of dad like anger, the like of which can only be experienced once you have dropped a Pot Noodle on the new carpet that your dad had spent the weekend exasperatedly laying.
Blue Oyster Cult - ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’
There are many great mysteries in the world we collectively inhabit. Some of the most puzzling are: the shape and angles of go-to TV food critic Greg Wallace’s head; how in Mad Max: Road Warrior Mel Gibson’s aforementioned character found time to bleach his sideburns, and just how responsible was Carol Baskin for the unexplained disappearance of her husband? Trifling as these quandaries may be, none come close to the mystery of the cowbell on Blue Oyster Cult's iconic ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’. The dedication that drummer, Albert Bouchard, displays to maintain a steady, percussive cowbell beat for virtually the entirety of the song’s 5:08 playtime acts as the mystical adhesive that pulls the song together as a cohesive entity. Whose idea was it to include the cowbell? Who thought it would be appropriate to play it for so long? Why does it induce a Zen-like trance state in any listener as it attempts to break the shackles of the song’s other instruments? All worthy questions that are possibly best left unanswered.
Lynyrd Skynyrd - 'Freebird'
After the death of members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and Cassie Gaines, Lynyrd Skynyrd continued as a band, but, perhaps they never achieved the dizzying heights they may have had Ronnie remained firmly at the helm.
'Freebird' is essentially dad rock Americana in its purest, uncut form. Driven by what is possibly the greatest guitar solo committed to tape, 'Freebird' speaks to the dad in all of us as we struggle break the oppressive shackles of housebound quarantine and soar onto the open road in our 1.6L modest family hatchback. Treat yourself, give it a blast and air solo behind the breakfast island like Allen Collins.
Tom Petty - 'I Won’t Back Down'
Tom Petty's 'I Won’t Back Down' is the de facto dad protest song. It is to middle aged men what Beyonce’s - 'Run the World' is to women the world over. Since its 1989 release, dads have recoiled to places of safety – sheds and meticulously ordered garages mainly - quietly reciting the lyrics under their breath following an argument with 'Sue' about how appropriate it is to eat twelve Yorkshire puddings, in light of their recent high blood pressure results. We know that dad’s never back down from any argument, even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence and this song is the perfect antidote to entrench their blinkered point of view.
D-A-D - 'Laugh ‘n’ A1/2'
See band name: D-A-D. No explanation needed. Not a particularly exceptional song, but had to be included.
Bruce Springsteen - 'Hungry Heart'
Track six on the Boss aka Bruce Springsteen's utterly essential The River, this whimsical number speaks to all the dads who have dreamt about hitting the road in their crash-resistant Volvo estate, and 'leaving it all behind'. Let’s be honest, the protagonist at the heart of the song - the man with the hungry heart - is a bit of a dick. He had a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack, went out for a ride and he never went back. That’s the sort of behaviour that will have social services knocking at your door faster than you can say “child maintenance.”
Despite leaving behind a shattered family unit, the rest of the song is remarkably optimistic. This song is archetypal dad rock and all the better for it.
Billy Joel - 'We Didn’t Start the Fire'
Seemingly the result of a lost bet that resulted in Billy Joel having to recite the names of as many pop culture icons in 4:47 flat, 'We Didn’t Start the Fire' rattles along at an unrelenting pace. Perhaps not the literal meaning of the song that Joel intended with the metaphorical title, this song speaks directly to dads’ steadfast insistence on burning absolutely everything. The type of dads who wait until every house within a mile radius have opened their windows before unleashing the mightiest of infernos, stacked high with your old Buckaroo and Operation boardgames. If nothing else, this song stands as the greatest example in pop music existence of how to rhyme the words ‘homicide’ and ‘thalidomide’.
The Eagles - 'Hotel California'
There has been a lot of conjecture about the exact meaning of The Eagle's dad rock classic. Is it a reference to the dark, seedy nature of Hollywood life? An ode to the gradual erosion of innocence in the face of incessant temptation? A guitar-laden, harmony-infused odyssey that explores the eternal cosmic battle between good and evil? Or simply the tragic lament of a wandering double glazing salesman who checked in to a particularly low quality Air B'n’B? I like to think none of the above. I imagine it as the result of one dad’s alcohol-laced fever dream, experienced in the aftermath of a particularly raucous BBQ with the neighbours. Tossing restlessly in the sticky, summer night – lucid visions flickering vividly between images of Linda Lusardi circa 1987 and state-of-the-art belt sanders – the dad in questions wrestles with what it all means in a state of semi- consciousness, only to be forgotten upon the crimson drenched dawn. Essential dad listening.
Deep Purple - 'Smoke on the Water'
The one that got away. A conservative estimate would suggest 87% of all dads have attempted to learn this Deep Purple dad rock staple since its release in 1973. Combining a Sunday morning tip run to dispose of old cupboard units with a stop at the nearest of branch of Argos to purchase a serviceable electric guitar and amp combo, many a dad has retreated to his safe space to spend days, nay weeks, doggedly learning the opening riff. Emerging sweat-drenched, dishevelled, and complete with bloody finger tips that now share the same carbon density of diamond in their newly evolved form of paternal rock god. This song, perhaps more than any other, stands as a monument to the one time hopes and aspirations of all dads – an inspiration of sorts. Something they now channel in to their ability to lay exceptional decking and patios at the fraction of the cost of a professional operation.
Fleetwood Mac - 'The Chain'
A song, that for a certain demographic of people, will forever be associated with the high octane thrills of mid 90s Formula One and the dad-like magnificence of Nigel Mansell’s moustache. No other popular rock band can provide such a broad canvas of hits that both mums and dads find acceptable on long car journeys. Fleetwood Mac have come a long way from the blues-infused early days of Peter Green to the latter day, radio-friendly Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham incarnation. One of the most hit-laden and dysfunctional bands in the history of soft rock, Fleetwood make all millennial dads realise how good their own parents had it in the ‘dad rock’ halcyon decades of the 70s, 80s and 90s. For their Fleetwood Mac we have Empire of the Sun; for their Simon and Garfunkel we have The Kooks; for their Bob Dylan we have James Blunt. When it comes to 'The Chain', has there ever been a more satisfying pay-off and bassline in any song before and after? If you don’t love dad rock now, you will never love dad rock again.