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What Exactly Is Dad Rock? 21 Songs that Explain the Totally Not Embarrassing Genre


What Exactly Is Dad Rock? 21 Songs that Explain the Totally Not Embarrassing Genre Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters, Metallica-obviously dad rock at this point. But the genre is bigger than you might guess. In this Fathers Day playlist, listen to songs from various generations that bring dad energy.


Bryan Parys

June 14, 2024

I was doing the dishes one weeknight back in 2018 when I realized I was . . . dancing. Like, full-on grooving, swaying side to side, but just enough to stay rooted in front of the sink, cleaning up whatever dinner I'd made for my family of four. I was blasting the song Committed to the Cause by Swedish dream pop band the Radio Dept., and then I caught myself, mid-shimmy, to pose the question: Wait, is this dad rock?

I mean, just try not to groove to this bass line:

The dictionary-and most of the internet-would say no. Conventionally, dad rock is thought of as older music, though opinions differ on just how old. A scan of Spotify playlists on the topic include mostly '70s and '80s classic rock-your Steve Miller Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tom Petty, Def Leppard, the standard fare for any classic rock FM radio station over the last 30-plus years. On Spotify's official Cool Dad Rock playlist, you get Radiohead alongside Steely Dan.

For Gen Z, however, most of those artists would more accurately be considered grandad rock. For the TikTok generation, dad rock is more along the lines of Nickelback and Creed-that husky brand '90s/00s mainstream radio rock with big distorted guitars, low-growl vocals, and the sense that everyone in the band is somehow holding a cold beverage even while playing their instrument. In our student spotlight of Andrea Recalde, Nickelback's How You Remind Me was cited as one of Recaldes current favorite songs, saying that its classic dad-rock vibe was something she found herself returning to.

Mackenzie Hurst, a reporter for Hofstra University's student newspaper, suggests that Gen Z finds comfort in these older songs. When we associate an entire genre with our dads, we're establishing the idea that this music is nostalgic for our childhood, she says. Nostalgia psychologically evokes that feeling of comfort along with a sense of belonging, which is often difficult for Gen Z to find with the wide array of content, aesthetics, and ever-changing social groups we are subjected to.

Dad rock has its punchlines, but it also has heart, whether that's something in the music itself, or an emotion brought by the listener.

One Redditor provides an explanation for why my dish-dance felt like dad rock, despite it not being a nostalgic experience. Id say [dad rock is] anything that makes a dad get serious about dancing or just loosen up to the beat. That act of a dad trying to be cool is what becomes cheesy, not so much the music itself, they said.

Perhaps it's the combination of serious and cheesy that makes a song, regardless of era or genre, dad rock. When Mike Sempert, assistant professor of songwriting, released Hold on to the Light, a song he wrote for Hanukkah, he described the musical quality as having elements of dad rock. I called it dad rock' to be a bit self-deprecating, but deep down I honestly love this sound, he said. Dad rock has its punchlines, but it also has heart, whether that's something in the music itself, or an emotion brought by the listener.

It bears mentioning that the word dad carries more significance and complexity than can be described in a few paragraphs. Dad rock is really more a vibe than a statement about an artists or fans identity-its less about whos making the music and more about how we as fans associate the music with a particular time, place, or person. In the following playlist, Ive broken things into six categories that aim to show the breadth of said vibes, from the tried-and-true image of the suburban dad behind a grill to TikTok users coming to terms with how they actually love the music their dads subjected them to.

Tracklist and Notes Dads Who GrillThe vibe: Songs heard through a staticky radio over a backdrop of sizzling burgers, cans cracking open, and the swooshing sound bathing suit fabric makes when doing a little dance while monitoring the grill.

1. Take the Money and Run, Steve Miller Band 2. September, Earth, Wind & FireDad says: Earth, Wind & Fire were helping dads find their groove long before I started dancing in front of the sink.

3. I Only Wanna Be with You, Hootie and the Blowfish 4. Free Fallin, Tom Petty

Dads Who ChillThe vibe: Laid-back grooves, setlist comparisons, bootleg trades, and the sense of a cool breeze, regardless of the time of year.

5. Flake, Jack Johnson Dad says: Did dads wear flip-flops before Jack Johnson? We just don't know.

6. Truckin, Grateful Dead Dad says: Children who went to Dead shows with their dads . . .

7. The Squirming Coil, Phish . . . brought their children to Phish shows . . .

8. Hot Tea, Goose . . . and now those children bring their whole family to Goose shows.

Dads Who ShredThe vibe: Interrupting a conversation to make room for an air-guitar solo. The adjective face-melting.

9. Hey Joe, Jimi Hendrix 10. One Big Holiday, My Morning Jacket11. Broken Man, St. Vincent Dad says: If the surviving members of Nirvana keep asking you to fill in for the late Kurt Cobain, you have more than earned your license to shred.

Dads with Cred The vibe: Irrationally strong opinions and did-you-know fun facts. Songs dad knew before they were cool.

12. Harness Your Hopes, Pavement Dad says: A quintessential touchstone of the cool Gen-X dad, Pavement recently experienced an unexpected resurgence when this b-side started making the rounds on social media and Spotify.

13. I Against I, Bad Brains 14. Dig Me Out, Sleater-Kinney15. At the Chime of a City Clock, Nick DrakeDad says:
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