June 21, 2022

In Praise of Dad Bands

In Praise of Dad Bands

by Lindsay Eagar

“Guess who sings this song?” 

I still remember the mellow rhythms of the electric piano blasting through the crackly speakers of my dad’s Toyota pickup. The song accelerated into a series of key changes as the wind whipped my hair in my face. “I don’t know!” I’m ten years old. I know very little.

“Guess who sings this song!” My dad is singing along: These eyes have seen a lotta loves, but they’re never gonna see another one like I had with you… 

“I don’t know!” I repeat. “Who?”

“No, not the Who!” My dad is absolutely in his happy place—gleefully teasing his child while also imparting a lesson which he believes only he is qualified to teach. “I said, Guess Who sings this song!”

It’s peak dad joke fodder. These Eyes by the Guess Who. Guess Who sings this song. 

My dad taught me many things—some intentionally, some not—and one of his great passions, which he made sure to pass onto his offspring, was music. As far as I know, his only formal musical training was the high school glee club. He didn’t read music himself, but he considered himself a discerning partaker, an excellent judge of what was Good and what was Not Good.

I had perfect pitch, could sight read anything, and had been playing classical piano since five, but I took my dad’s opinions to heart. An eager pupil, I listened carefully to the albums he chose to blast on Saturday mornings. I gobbled up the cassettes he passed down to me, memorizing the lyrics so I could sing along. I learned. 

Like anyone else, I grew older and developed my own taste in music, and like anyone else, the overlap between my taste and my dad’s taste widened and widened until there were as many musicians I loved as there were ones my dad historically hated. 

And yes, sometimes those were the same musicians. 

Dad bands as a concept have been around for as long as popular music has been. But the term “dad-rock” was popularized by journalist Rob Mitchum in 2007, while describing a Wilco album as such. When Mitchum spoke about dad-rock, he was referring to such qualities as a passiveness, a “receding into the comfort zone,” equating the soft, “excessive noodling” and “self-pity” to putting on a pair of old sweatpants. Maximum comfiness at the expense of sexiness and artistic risk. 

I’m not here to split hairs about this terminology, nor if it’s accurate to the bands often listed with this modifier. Technically, I should point out, the dad-rock and dad bands of current internet culture are the bands I grew up with: The Foo Fighters. Green Day. Staind. I mean, Blink 182 is a dad band now? I guess I can feel the rain in my bones now, too.

We all have our own bands that come to mind when we think of our dads. The Eagles, for some. REM or Pearl Jam for others. Billy Joel, now and forever the soundtrack for dads, whether you actually have children or not. 

And maybe you, like me, still have a visceral dad-centered reaction when you hear a certain song. Maybe you, like me, are transported back to the rusty Toyota, buckled into the front seat, your dad singing along while the blinker signal clicks off the beat. Maybe you, like me, have asked your own child to guess who sings These Eyes

I’d like to catalog some of my dad’s most famous (and sometimes infamous) musical takes for you now, in honor of fathers and the sometimes incredible, sometimes bewildering teachings they pass down to their children. I promise I will not scoff or make flippant, patronizing jokes about teeny-boppers or if your musical preferences are different than mine.

First, Led Zeppelin.

My dad’s take: unironically believed this was the devil’s music. I’m not kidding. We weren’t a fundamentalist household. We were allowed to read Harry Potter. I brought home a pentacle necklace from the mall when I was ten and no one said a word. But Led Zeppelin was where my dad crossed the line. “They dabble in white magic,” I recall him telling me. “That whole overlord worship… it’s very addictive and very, very dangerous.” 

Before this conversation, Led Zeppelin hadn’t been on my radar, but you can bet that within a week of learning about a band so perilous to my eternal soul, my dad would let me blast Nine Inch Nails before he’d let me blast “Stairway to Heaven,” I was at Walmart, buying the first Led Zeppelin album I could find. Much has been written about the suburban obsession (or neuroses, if you prefer) about Led Zeppelin and the rumors of their devil worshipping ways, but there’s not much of the occult in the lyrics, the album art, or the music itself. You have to really listen for it, I think, and really know your mythology. 

I grew to love Led Zeppelin IV on my own terms, but thanks to my dad and his classic Christian, post-Satanic panic parenting, I get the led out whenever I need to converse with my inner demons. 

So who did my dad love? Exactly! The Who.

While my dad was inexplicably overly cautious about Zeppelin, he had worshipped The Who since he was fifteen years old with an understated, quiet devotion. In our house, we sang “Magic Bus.” We wailed along with “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” I knew Elton John and Tina Turner from Tommy, and I knew Sting from Quadrophenia. My dad’s art portfolio, a collection of pieces from his adolescence, was filled with carefully inked geometric patterns showcasing his favorite lyrics from Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy

When Dad played The Who, he’d get a wistful look in his eyes, and I still recall how much pain I saw there, how surprised I was that his favorite band could sting him like this. 

I’m old enough now to understand, at least I think I do—my dad found The Who right when the angst of his teenage years ramped up. He lived through incredible trauma, some of it his fault, some of it the devastating situations we all find ourselves in now and again—and The Who was his constant. His chosen North Star. 

I didn’t ever fall into The Who like my dad did, but I always thought this music was a gateway, a time machine, giving me a glimpse of my dad as a teenager. I could play “Baba O’Reilly” and my dad and I would both be fifteen, sneaking into the neighbor’s backyard pool, believing we’ll be young forever.

A band we both absolutely adored? Queen. (Does anyone not adore Queen?)

On reflection, it was very kind of my dad to let me discover Queen on my own, and he also kept his mouth shut when I played him my favorite songs on the greatest hits album I’d procured with a Target gift card. “These are all great,” he told me gently, “but when you’re ready, try this one.” And he pulled out A Night at the Opera, an album which completely retooled everything I thought about rock and roll—much like the album did to my dad when he was a kid. To this day, we can always break long silences between text conversations by simply sending each other a lyric: “You call me sweet like I’m some kind of cheese.” 

My dad introduced me to so many gems, bands that had peaked decades ago and had not been as immortalized as the bigger stars, but that he’d never stopped loving: Three Dog Night, Supertramp, America, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Steely Dan. 

He gave me David Bowie. He gave me Neil Young. He gave me Pink Floyd—he didn’t care for Dark Side of the Moon, but let me crank up The Wall and all its weird (borderline inappropriate?) wartime mental health references and Wish You Were Here. He failed to give me Animals, but I found it myself anyway.

He got some things wrong, absolutely. My dad played Hootie and the Blowfish like it was the epitome of cool. He couldn’t stand Joan Jett or Pat Benatar (an unfortunate case of misogyny, I’ve since diagnosed). He thought John Mayer was the Jimi Hendrix of his generation. He refused to respect our boy band phases and he refused to listen to my Tori Amos. 

But I’ll never forget this exchange we had, on the subject of music: it was early evening, I was about fourteen years old, and I was at the piano, clunking through a line of Debussy. My dad was in the kitchen. 

After bungling the notes about eight times in a row, I struck the keys in frustration. 

“Don’t stop,” my dad called. “Play it again. It’s sounding great.”

“It’s sounding awful,” I corrected. “I can’t get this part.” To demonstrate, I played the line again, hitting bum notes, making awful noises out of our family piano. 

“No, that’s my favorite,” he argued. “I love hearing you mess up. I love hearing you play the wrong notes. Because it means you’re still learning it, and I get to listen. I love listening while you learn.”

So perhaps I can forgive my dad for subjecting me to Puddle of Mud, to Yanni, to English Dan and John Ford Coley. Perhaps I can look past his Jim Croce, his Toto, his Wings. 

I think my dad had pretty good taste in music, all in all. 

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