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20 Dad-Rock Albums You Should Learn to Love

Dad-rock (n.): 1. (lit.) music played by dads; 2. music made by old white dudes that somehow always ends up on the car stereo and/or being played on the hi-fi at various school friends’ houses. Both these definitions probably leave you with the impression that it’s something to avoid, and while this is often true, it’s not always the case. Apropos of a recent Flavorwire office discussion about modern-day dad-rock, here’s a list of 20 AOR staples that are actually, y’know, good, starting in the golden age of dad-rock (i.e., the ’60s) and stretching through to the present day.

Santana — Abraxas

It may be impossible to listen to Santana without thinking of the episode of The Mighty Boosh where Rudi and Spider go searching for the new sound, but that doesn’t mean the man didn’t write some decent tunes. His guitar playing is particularly spectacular here, and “Black Magic Woman” is the one Santana song you should know.

Van Morrison — Astral Weeks

One of those albums that always ends up in “best album ever” polls in magazines like Mojo despite no one under 40 having actually heard it. It’s worth hearing, though!

Booker T & the MG’s — Green Onions

You’ve probably heard the title track a gazillion times on whatever golden oldies station your dad prefers. That doesn’t mean it’s not a jam, though.

Cream — Disraeli Gears

Eric Clapton may be a thoroughly unpleasant man (as, for that matter, is Ginger Baker), but they could certainly play. Enjoying their music necessarily involves some difficult art/artist separation, but hey, at least there’s not a naked 11-year-old girl on the front of this one!

Queen — Sheer Heart Attack

It was always kinda hilarious how Queen were embraced by manly men who had sheds and framed sports jerseys and authentic neon Miller Lite signs on their walls. You can find such men singing along to “We are the Champions” on any given Sunday, entirely oblivious to the fact that the man they were singing along to may or may not have once hosted a party that involved naked dwarfs with platters of cocaine strapped to their heads.

Pink Floyd — The Dark Side of the Moon

One of the things people tend to overlook when evaluating capital-C Classic Rock is its subject matter — it’s not all Woodstock and whatever the fuck Chicago sang about. The Dark Side of the Moon struck the perfect balance between Roger Waters’ burgeoning misanthropy and his bandmates’ desire to make widescreen, experimental music. The lyrics are great — “Time” and “Breathe,” in particular, are some of the finest dissections ever penned on the futility of the corporate treadmill — and the music is innovative and evocative. And “Money” has a great bassline, too.

Elton John — Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

The former Reg Dwight is on record as saying he never really wrote pop songs until this album, but he made up for lost time: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is home to “Bennie and the Jets,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” and, yes, “Candle in the Wind,” which was a rather touching tribute to Marilyn Monroe until the Princess Diana version spoiled it for everyone. Then there’s the title track, arguably Elton’s single finest moment — and there’s a song called “Jamaica Jerk-Off.” What more could you want?

Steely Dan — Aja

They were named after a fictional dildo in Naked Lunch, y’know. You may only know AOR staples “Do It Again” and/or “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” but pretty much all of Steely Dan’s work is worth investigating, and this 1977 highlight is as good a place to start as any.

Fleetwood Mac — Rumours

AKA that album that you keep hearing on classic-rock radio without realizing that it’s perhaps the most compelling portrait of intra-band loathing ever recorded. You’d need some sort of intimidatingly complicated flow diagram to keep track of who was sleeping with who and who hated who and who was blowing drugs up whose ass, but basically, there was lots of sex, lots of drugs and lots of hatred. Astonishingly, it got worse.

Bruce Springsteen — The River

There’s really no one who epitomizes dad-rock more than Broooooce. If your only experience of him is “Born in the USA” and Courtney Cox and a general perception of Jersey bro-dom, it’s really worth investigating further — he’s a lyricist with a sharp and compassionate eye for human frailty and defiant romance. And honestly, if “The River” doesn’t make you cry just a little bit, you have no soul.

Billy Joel — The Nylon Curtain

It’s never been fashionable to like Billy Joel, and I’m not going to attempt to make any justification for the likes of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” or his saccharine love songs here. Having said that, there was a gritty, world-weary undertone to his work — no one who comes out of the Bronx can be entirely Disney-fied, it appears — and it was in full effect on this portrait of the Reagan era. Lead track “Allentown,” about the decline of the US steel industry, was particularly good.

John Cougar (Mellencamp) — American Fool

Mellencamp’s spent most of his career fighting off the poor man’s Springsteen label, which isn’t entirely fair — the two definitely channel a similar American everyman vibe, but Mellencamp is a fine songwriter in his own right. Amongst other things, this album is home to “Jack & Diane,” a song whose familiarity rather overshadows what a compelling portrait of adolescence it is; “Life goes on/ Long after the thrill of living is gone” is the best lyric Bruce never wrote.

Peter Gabriel — So

The man whose departure from Genesis was indirectly responsible for Phil Collins’ solo career, but don’t hold it against him. This is his most successful solo album and a staple of dads’ record collections everywhere, and it’s definitely better than anything the gated snare homunculus ever unleashed on the world. “Sledgehammer” was the big hit, with its iconic Aardman animated video, but there’s plenty more to like (especially “Red Rain,” which is still beautiful after all these years.)

Dire Straits — Making Movies

Another band that has never really been fashionable, not entirely through any fault of their own — their decidedly middle-aged sound was never going to fly considering that they released their debut album at the height of punk, and the inescapability of their Brothers in Arms-era hits pretty much left everyone never to hear them again by about 1987. In between, though, came this, which is actually a perfectly good record. I’ll go to the grave defending “Tunnel of Love” and “Romeo and Juliet,” no matter how desperately daggy they are (and probably always will be).

Paul Simon — Graceland

C’mon, Vampire Weekend isn’t his fault.

Frank Zappa — Have I Offended Someone?

If you have a dad who is Seriously Into Music, he might be prone to digressing at length on how Zappa’s work is Nearly As Good As Jazz, dissecting metric structures and enthusing about Frank’s technical wizardry on the guitar and etc. What such paeans to Zappa’s greatness tend to overlook is the fact that he was also great fun. This compilation catalogs his most pleasantly offensive moments, and as such has something to offend, well, pretty much everyone. Huzzah.

Pearl Jam — Ten

It’s a chastening moment when you realize that your own generation’s music has become dad-rock, but it’s not the likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones that today’s kids are complaining about. No, it’s hearing “Alive” for the umpteenth time. It’s been fashionable to hate on Pearl Jam for about 20 years now, but their first three records are still quality. This is the one to start with.

Counting Crows — August and Everything After

No, wait, hear me out. If you can get past Adam Duritz’s hair and put out of your mind the fact that this is the same band responsible for the worst cover version ever, there’s a decent amount to like about Counting Crows’ first album. Duritz’s lyrics are melodramatic, sure, but there’s also a certain realness to them that’d be lost with subsequent records — “Perfect Blue Buildings,” for instance, is a compelling portrait of depression and (possibly) addiction, while “Round Here” is the best song the band ever wrote. Go on, listen without prejudice.

Wilco — Summerteeth

As far as latter-day dad-rock goes, it’d be remiss to compile any sort of list that doesn’t include Jeff Tweedy et al, because Wilco are the band that Gen X dads are gonna find themselves embracing in spite of themselves as 40 rolls around. It’s happening already.

The National — High Violet

Also on the contemporary dad-rock front: given their penchant for besuited, wine-drinking, middle class melancholy, you can see why The National have spent a decade fighting the dad-rock label (happily, they’ve finally given up and embraced their dad-ness.) Any of their albums would fit here, but I can’t go past “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” the 21st century’s finest dad-rock anthem so far!

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