In Which I Both Decry, and Defend, the Concept of Dad Rock

I was thinking about the concept of “Dad Rock” and what it means, and when it is that a previously popular and/or relevant band goes full Dad Rock, and I realized that there was a particular song from a particular band that crystallized the Dad Rock Moment, as it were, for me: “Vertigo,” by U2, off the band’s 2004 album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

What’s wrong with the song? Well, there’s nothing wrong with it. If you were to present it to someone who had no other context for the song or the band, it would probably come across as a nice, chunky rock song. It’s solid if not spectacular, the sort of song that a band with a long discography would trot out at the two-thirds mark of a concert. It’s the song that’s no one’s favorite but that everyone likes well enough, to pad the playlist until they get to the songs that will build to the end of set. It’s not a song one would put in the encore. It’s good! Which is fine. Or more accurately, it’s fine! Which is good.

In context, it’s the sound of U2 standing pat. U2 became the Biggest Rock Band in the World in the late 80s with The Joshua Tree, then freaked out a bit about that in the 90s, releasing a trio of albums (Achtung Baby, Zooropa, Pop) that increasingly strayed from their previous iteration before releasing 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which married the two previous eras into a “return to form” album that got them back to Biggest Rock Band in the World status.

So what did the band do for Atomic Bomb? Well, they stayed where they were and just worked that for a while.

“Vertigo,” the album’s first single, typified that. It’s a U2 song that sounds like a song that songwriters and musicians who were not U2 would make if they were told to make a song that sounds like U2. Bono is in full “arch lyric” mode, the Edge is sawing away but also doesn’t forget to drop in his signature chiming guitar in the right places, the rhythm section is doing its uncomplicated but solid thing. The video is grandiose and also tongue-in-cheek about it, to variable success.

All of which was a solid commercial choice: Atomic Bomb sold ten million copies, won nine Grammys (three for “Vertigo” alone), and started the band on its profitable relationship with Apple, which would culminate rather infamously with the band’s 2014 album Songs of Innocence being stuffed into everyone’s iTunes collection whether they wanted it or not (this was the uber Dad Rock maneuver, the tech company equivalent of making your kids listen to the classic rock station against their will as you drove them to school in the minivan). No one could fault U2 either for “Vertigo” or Atomic Bomb. From a sheer numbers point of view it kept the band on the top of the rock heap.

But for me it also meant U2 stopped being a band that would surprise or inspire. They became predictable, and comfortable, and less memorable. And indeed that’s where the band has stayed in the sixteen years and three studio albums since. The albums since have varied from “meh” to “not bad,” and each has a song or two worth revisiting. But when I think about the band, “Vertigo” is a hard frontier for me: What came before it could be flawed (boy, could it!) but wasn’t boring; what comes afterward might be good but isn’t essential.

And fundamentally this is what “dad rock” means to me: it’s when a rock band whose audience is mostly male stops challenging that audience and starts maintaining it instead, even if they release new work. Or as Bono himself might have put it, in the bridge to “Vertigo,” speaking as U2’s audience: “Just give me what I want and no one gets hurt.”

I’m noting U2 here because it’s a band relevant to my own life, but certainly they are not the only example. The Rolling Stones went Full Dad with Undercover in 1984; Genesis in 1987 with Invisible Touch; Metallica with Death Magnetic in 2008; Coldplay with Viva la Vida, also in 2008. Paul McCartney went Full Dad the instant he left the Beatles; likewise the Foo Fighters (who, by the way, I love) appear to have been intended as Dad Rock from day one. Most bands associated with the Album Oriented Rock era of music have been Full Dad since the early 90s; Journey, which was one of my favorite bands growing up, has a concert playlist that is stuck in amber — the band members call their greatest hits “the dirty dozen” and play them every show. Likewise pretty much every heavy metal band that started up in the 80s; when I went and saw Iron Maiden’s Legacy of the Beast tour last year; that “greatest hits” concert format, while entirely awesome, was also the epitome of Dad Rock.

(Let us not speak of KISS.)

Dad Rock is clearly used as a pejorative, and my personal definition of it isn’t particularly complimentary either, but allow me for a moment here to give at least a half-hearted defense of dad rock. First, look: There’s nothing actually wrong with producing a reliable creative product for an identifiable audience, said the man who got a thirteen-book publishing contract specifically because he is able to produce reliable creative product for an identifiable audience. If the worst thing that can be said about your new work is that it’s rather a lot like your old work, only more so, you’re probably going to be able to make your house payments (or castle payments, in the case of U2).

Second, it’s not just the bands and musicians staying pat. Rare is the music listener who is as adventurous with their tastes at 38 as they were when they were 18; even more so at 48 or 58 or further on. At a certain point people know what they like and they want more of that, and if the bands they already like keep putting out work that’s in the same vein, album after album, then guess what? Those fans are going to stick around.

Which brings us to a third point, which is that after a certain bend in the demographic curve, most musical artists aren’t picking up new listeners anymore, or at least, younger listeners; they work with what they have. If you’re lucky you become retro, or (in the case of U2, the Stones and probably Coldplay) you were so big at one point you could lose much of your audience over time and still fill stadiums. But most performers work with who they accrued in their heyday. Those kids who were your fans became dads, your music became Dad Rock, and you know what? That’s fine. We can’t all be David Bowie, innovating literally until the day we die, and it’s worth remembering that even David Bowie went Full Dad for a while there (See: Tonight and Never Let Me Down), and otherwise benefited from a catalogue that gave him the wherewithal to do other things later without regard as to whether an audience would follow.

Finally: Hey, combining constant innovation while maintaining a non-trivial level of popularity is hard. Shit, producing merely adequate creative product while staying popular is hard, which is why so few people actually manage even that, particularly in music, in which what is popular can become obsolete almost literally overnight (See: The extinction event of 80s hair metal bands known as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in 1991). It might be unfair to demand constant innovation from musicians, especially when coupled with their need to, you know, move units (or, these days, shift streams) in order to eat.

To go back to “Vertigo,” it might be the sound of U2 standing pat, but it’s also the sound of U2 being as U2 as they could possibly be, for an audience who wanted that and was, for the most part, glad to keep getting it. It might be that U2’s greatest moments of creativity, innovation and popularity are behind them and they just keep doing more of the same between now and whenever. But let us also acknowledge that there are worse fates, for both a band and its audience, than becoming Dad Rock.

— JS

90 Comments on “In Which I Both Decry, and Defend, the Concept of Dad Rock”

  1. Incidentally, I just played “Vertigo” to Athena, who did not know the song or know it was from U2. Her response: a shrug, and “it’s okay, I guess. It sounds like something I’d play on Guitar Hero 3.” So there you have it.

  2. Yeah, not everyone is Leonard Cohen. And apparently those who were/are, don’t exactly live serenely joy-filled lives.

    Every journey is unique, every journey is necessary. Even if we can’t necessarily figure out why.

  3. Not actually apropos of this article, I just want to note that for the last four entries, even though there was no top byline I could tell who wrote it by the end of the first paragraph.

  4. David Goldfarb:

    Yup. It is not entirely surprising that the authorial voices of a 51-year-old man, and a 21-year-old woman, might be somewhat distinct from each other.

  5. I wonder who is the Dad Rock of other genres. The boy bands of the 2000s all kinda bombed out except for Timberlake. Electronica acts are awash with artists who cut That One Month’s Banger and were never heard from again (hi, Darude).
    Will there ever be dad rock again in this post-album era?
    I guess the closest is Sir Mix-A-Lot, who does a ten minute version of baby got back at every live show.

  6. Xarph:

    “Dad Rock” is just one iteration of “the other side of the mountain” for musical acts who have different audience demographics. Basically, out of 100 musical acts, only one or two are going to keep having hits across decades; the rest of them are going to have to fall back on their catalogue. There are worse things for them, too, of course. One may think “one-hit wonder” is a pejorative, but if it’s the right hit, you can have a very comfortable life off it.

  7. This reminds me of when we all had a good laugh when a co-worker was outraged because her daughter had called Guns ‘N Roses “old people music.” Mom was insisting this wasn’t the case at all. We laughed after she left the room, we’re not monsters

    People who demand others recognize the moral superiority of the popular art of their youth are a sad sorry lot.

  8. @xarph

    As someone who got big into the indie rock Renaissance of the early 00s, most of those bands have definitely transitioned to dad rock. None of them ever filled stadiums, but they still reliably fill theaters on national tours, mostly with the same fans who have been going for the last 20 years (and maybe their kids).

  9. And it’s not like Cohen was EVER extremely innovative either. I mean, he was always Leonard Cohen, and he got back to releasing new stuff late in life. But nothing from Dear Heather, Old Ideas or You Want It Darker?, apart from the title track of the latter, sounds like it couldn’t have been a dropped track from The Future or I’m Your Man.

    He was fucking AWESOME to see live two times this century, though.

    And, for me, that’s the difference between Dad Rock (Or, in this case, Granddad Folk..) done right, and people who should just pack it in and retire already. If you got to see Cohen live, or go see, say, John Fogerty live, you see people who are still happy to be there, still happy to play for you, still enjoying themselves.

    Seen some other acts that seemed bored on-stage. Or just doing a thorough and professional job on auto-pilot. Those are the guys who should think about just retiring.

  10. There’s a somewhat snobbish distinction between “art” and “craft”, where “craft” is seen as the lesser of the two skills, as it’s “only” cranking out more of the same. Some bands have that “craft” thing going since the first album – AC/DC or Sabaton anyone?

    Oh, and Darude is still around – was in the ESC or something last year, but I didn’t follow that very closely.

  11. Led Zeppelin. Never Dad Rock!! But… would they have succumbed if Bonham hadn’t died? Gah! I would have had to slit my throat.

    Music as it was originally performed seems to always evolve into a baseline against which all subsequent music is judged. But is it an age thing or just human nature to want what you fall in love with to never change? Or maybe it’s simply a factor of musical sophistication and education that allows a listener to appreciate the evolution of a band’s work… or an author’s.

    RIP John Bonham.

  12. And sometimes it’s switching to, if not “Dad” mode at least mainstream mode, that allows an interesting or innovative artist to become popular enough to have staying power. I was in college in the late 70s and saw that shift happen to Genesis, among others. Similarly, I much prefer Bonnie Raitt’s early blues-inflected albums to the music that brought her wider fame and fortune. But, as I got older I became more forgiving and understanding about these shifts. And no apologies for still seeing the late 60s – early 70s as the golden age.

  13. I basically agree with you. But the “problem” is that we are called “Stans”: “if you Stan this Dad Rock group, then you are a Boomer,” (even if you are Gen X). If a middle aged man complains about this as discriminatory ageism, he is both a wuss and obliviously obtuse. But the biggest travesty is that there may be good, valid musical reasons trancendant of commercial demographic to listen to an artist (such as Bowie) which is “tsk, tsk’d” and dismissed as beneath the younger listeners’ obviously much better musical pallet, and thus, like all forms of prejudice, keeps themselves from experiencing some artists’ best efforts due to the label “Dad Rock” like Alice Cooper, Humble Pie, AC/DC, The Faces, or Rush. I feel that U2, Sting, and Peter Gabriel actually qualify for “Mom Rock,” because they were “cute” (meaning fuckable) and wrote love songs to slow dance at prom or feel the rush of teen love (along with REM and INXS). Honestly, Dad Rock- if it is to be “ghettoized”– should be Skynyrd, Johnny Winter, ZZ Top, Black Sabbath, the Flaming Lips, Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth etc.: artists to whom an angry young man could furtively drink and six pack and share a low quality marijuana cigarette with his compatriots while those artists played through the car’s speakers on a cassette deck and the car battery ran down, leaving our lads stuck in a field somewhere in Suburbia .

  14. My daughters hate Rush. My wife has hated on them for decades. The girls in high school and college hated it as well. It wad Dad Rock before there was a term for it. And yet I love it. God speed Neil Peart.

  15. Don’t yuck on someone else’s yum. Not that this means music should always get a pass on analysis or criticism, just that it is rarely necessary to say, “I don’t like that,” in response to someone else expressing their like for something.

    Conversely when I say, “No thanks,” to the offer of listening to a favorite jazz artist it should not be taken as a signal that I really need to be exposed to some great jazz so I’ll see how great it really is.

    Taste is individual and finding new or old music to love is an individual journey. I’ll certainly advocate for it, but I’m not going to force anyone to keep finding albums to try at the local library. (Yes, I’m old-ish.)

    Not that I’m a paragon of listening to music that the kids like. Even new-ish bands that I enjoy ten to play in older styles, like The Soundtrack of Our Lives or Of Monsters and Men. And it is rare that I listen to an album that has been out for less than five years unless it is a movie soundtrack (NERD!) or a band I already know. By the time I find out about many bands they’ve already been famous and broken up.

  16. What is wrong with KISS? KISS has been making ridiculously fun dumb rock ‘n roll for decades, no one does it better because they only promise one thing: good time rock’s roll, no more, no less.

  17. Weirdly enough, you can Dad Rock for so long that people who didn’t like you the first time around start showing up for your stadium tours. My parents did not care for the Beatles (they were mid 20s for the British Invasion), so I was really surprised to hear that they had gone to a Paul McCartney show and really enjoyed it. Of course, their record collection from my childhood was largely Herb Alpert and Ray Conniff, so we’re probably just dunking on Sir Paul again.

  18. Oh please… lets talk about KISS. You can argue that the Eagles are the greatest American rock band, but you’d be wrong. It’s KISS, without a doubt. KISS is America’s No. 1 Gold record award-winning group of all time. They are easily the most influential band of the 70s.

    Look, I expect they will likely call it quits in 2023 after 50 years. In the meantime, they were on a worldwide concert tour putting one of the most incredible live shows ever. Sure, just like all the other bands that have 12 or so actual hits they play those hits to the old fans, new fans, and everyone in-between. Are they Dad Rock? Sure. Are they greatest Dad Rock band of all time? Well… I dunno I guess the Rolling Stones are still playing music aren’t they?

  19. KISS is the most influential band of the decade that included both Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath?

    Yeah… No.

  20. @corsairus Why is gold records the right metric for deciding that an American rock band is “the greatest”? Why not platinum? (Taking a quick look at the list that would mean that Alabama, Aerosmith, Chicago, and The Doors are greater.) Or just being an American rock act? (That would mean that Elvis kicks everyone’s butt.) And why is the American bit critical? I personally don’t actually care very much if a band comes from Ireland, Iceland, Australia, or Austria. And why should who is “the greatest” matter?

    All mistakes in looking over the RIAA certified gold/platinum/best selling list are mine. I just eyeballed who was American or not.

  21. I would have hated the idea of U2 being dad rock when I was in college. Honestly I would blame the fans who lost their minds over the Pop album ( it was a whole thing, they’d burn albums, throw fits, it was in the news for some reason) because for some reason I guess they’d had enough of U2 being experimental and U2 chose ‘Rock’s Hottest Ticket’ over any more artistic growth that’s why we have songs like Vertigo.

    Said all that to say that I blame U2 fans for U2 becoming ‘Dad Rock’.

  22. @John Scalzi Making sure I understand the concept of Dad Rock. Elvis in Vegas, Dad Rock? My impression would say yes.

  23. Funny story from, about, end of last century or maybe early this one.
    Mother, listening to radio: Oh James Taylor, I always loved him.
    Daughter: You know James Taylor??????

  24. Happens to writers as well, especially with decades-long sequels. Some can keep them alive and fresh (like Bujold or Cherryh) and some run out of ideas but not words. Readers hate it when their favorite characters of many years get obsoleted (killed, married off, etc.). Also TV and movies. Creativity is challenging.

  25. Ya — not many can be Dylan, staying Dylan and do all those turns and changes within Being Dylan, for how many decades now?

  26. On the other side, it can be a shock when you realize you’ve aged into Dad Rock as a listener. For me, it was in 2012, during one of the relief concerts for Superstorm Sandy. I was watching it and thinking to myself “These usually suck, but they did a good job of picking the musical acts for this concert.” Then it hit me – they’d done the same job as always, I’d just gotten old.

  27. Journey, one of your favorites. They are a group for people who have no taste in music I’m 60 and shy away from classic rock. I listen only to new music, singer songwriter. Check out The National and Lucinda Williams. Neil Young is an exception, still putting out new music thats worth listening to.

  28. I’d contend that the Rolling Stones became Dad Rock with Some Girls – great record, but it’s the moment they stopped setting musical trends and started following them.

  29. First, I am glad you finally saw Maiden. My favorite metal band, and proof that “dad rock” isn’t just for dads. While the arena had plenty of guys like me (50) at the time, it also had my 21 year old nephew who had discovered them and loves em as much as I do. And a lot of younger kids were there. Second, as a musician (not pro) for over 35 years, to me, categorizing music is as simple as two categories; what I like and what I don’t. I have never stopped exploring the music world, which means I listen to some of the same artists my teen nieces do, and that I also listen to music that no one I know has ever heard of lol. I just love to listen to music all day, and I can, and still do my job. Just listening to random tunes for hours is a favorite activity. Good music will always resonate. I have a lot of siblings (I am 1 of 8) so we have a group text going. Every Friday I send a new song to them, just to help them find new music. Been doing it for over a year, and it’s a great way to share. Made a Spotify playlist, and they and their kids enjoy it..

  30. Grandpa here doesn’t like Dad Rock, if this is an example of it, and didn’t like songs like that fifty years ago either.

  31. There’s a different kind of “dad rock,” which is what happens when a rocker becomes a parent and starts writing songs about how wonderful it is to be a parent and how beautiful the baby is and so forth. The canonical example, for me, is Rod Stewart, who, in going from “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” to “Forever Young,” executed one of he most pronounced “I’m a dad now!” shifts ever.

    And, hey, there’s nothing wrong with becoming a dad, or even working that into your art (our host seems quite in favor of both)! It changes you in many ways—one of which is that you may not write quite as many songs about getting laid.

  32. I still stand by my assertion that U2’s last two ‘Songs’ albums are miles better than their 00s work, most of which was alright but forgettable. But yeah, I’m fine with it being called Dad Rock now. It’s got a KTel ring to it. :)

  33. “It’s a U2 song that sounds like a song that songwriters and musicians who were not U2 would make if they were told to make a song that sounds like U2. ”

    Reminds me of post-Waters Pink Floyd, where David Gilmour wrote songs that didn’t sound enough like Pink Floyd so they hired some songwriters to help Gilmour write songs that sounded right.

  34. Then there’s people like Sinéad O’Connor, who:

    – Got wild success with its first album (“The Lion and the Cobra”) which was mostly pop-rock (she sold two million copies, not bad for a 18yo singer-songwriter).

    – So she did an album mostly filled with ballads (“I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got”, which includes the world famous cover shed did of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”), and got even more famous.

    – So she did an album (“Am I Not Your Girl?”) entirely full of covers of old songs (like “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, or “Why Don’t You Do Right?” or “Scarlet Ribbons”), which alienated her many fans.

    – So she did a deeply weird album (“Universal Mother”) that included a song by his son (then like 4yo), a cover of Nirvana, a rap song about the Irish 19th century famine, and a sort of power ballad or two about child abuse. That went well.

    – So she decided to sing about religious experiences and personal journeys (“Faith and Courage”).

    – So she switched to covering traditional irish songs (“Sean-Nós Nua”), some of them even in irish (a language she doesn’t speak).

    – Thinking, I suppose, that wasn’t weird enough, she recorded a reggae covers’ album (“Throw Down Your Arms”).

    – etc, etc.

    My point being, she’s faithful to her artistic vision, and that’s admirable. But it certainly has had a *big* impact in her career. (Though, to be fair, it’s not the only reason.)

  35. I don’t recall having heard the term “Dad rock” before , but I think I grokked what it was pretty immediately. (I’ll push back a little on your timing of Coldplay’s transition – I found X&Y a bit dadrocky, Viva la Vida more of a return to form as a full album, but my mileage varied slightly and we’ve ended in the same place). It also shines a bit of light on some music responses that I’ve had but didn’t examine too deeply: I was sad when REM announced their retirement, but it was a nostalgic sadness rather than mourning the loss of uncreated wonderful new things.

    I’ve seen U2 live twice – the first time they were amazing and I count it as one of my best concerts. The second, I was genuinely bored through some of it and if I mention that show to anyone, I refer to it as the first time I saw the opening act (Muse, who I went on to see multiple times before they shifted a bit also).

    I think it also helps explain why, other than classic 80s stuff, I rarely listen to my older music any longer in spite of my fondness for it. There’s new music out there that’s just more interesting to me.

    @drunkenofficianado, I had a terrible time getting my oldest, who is a musician, to listen to pretty much anything that predated his elementary school years from the time he entered high school until he was about half way through college, when people his age started raving about the same artists. I suspect that’s the fate of “old fogies,” at least until the kids get old enough to realize they were schmucks for a while in their preciousness.

    And I disagree with your characterization of Peter Gabriel – he was a lot more experimental than his mainstream hits suggested (aeb “Excellent Birds” with Laurie Anderson), and deeper (aeb “Biko” and “San Juacinto”). He was also an important introduction for me to international music. I didn’t even have a great idea of what he looked like without his stage makeup until he made “So”. Looking back, I think he was cute, but at the time I just thought he was cool.

  36. Then, on the other hand, you have the auteurs who leave their bands to become fresher; Richard Thompson, Mark Knopfler, Peter Gabriel (although he has always been a “whole album, not individual songs, and man that’s a wallet-hit when you’re disappointed” kind of guy). All of them have maintained a half-century of evolving technique and style.

    On the other hand, there are some really frightening dad rock bands out there that got where they are by supposedly being revolutionaries. One that’s particularly cringeworthy: New Model Army. There’s nothing that sounds as disappointing as a “politically aware” band whose political awareness is still anti-Thatcher… And there are lots of others; The Who, the Moody Blues, Neil Young, and certainly come to mind!

    The obvious solution to dad rock is dying young: His Holiness of the Electric Guitar J. Marshall Hendrix will never be dad rock. (Or you could be Keith Moon and turn one of your band’s greatest hits into personal prophecy.)

    It is rather interesting, though, that dad rock seems to require a Y chromosome driving everyone. Late Janis Ian is nothing like anything on Between the Lines…

  37. Do you think that the concept of dad rock can be generalized to other forms of media? I think some of the longer-running newspaper comics are dad rock, as is the Mega Man video game series (although the new gimmick mechanic in the latest one was actually both innovative and good, I thought.)

  38. @Kufat: It’s weird for video games, since there are now franchises like Mario and Final Fantasy whose original players are now technically old enough to be granddads. But the indie and mobile scenes also demonstrate that today’s gamers are perfectly happy with games based on decades-old genres or core mechanics, as long as they’re presented with modern craft and polish.

  39. Re: “Paul McCartney went Full Dad the instant he left the Beatles”:

    Are we talking about his music or his audience? I seem to remember something about young fans of his being surprised to learn that he was in another band before Wings.

    But then again, John was accusing Paul of doing “granny music” while both were still in the Beatles.

  40. Your definition of “dad rock” is as good as any I’ve seen. (I remember when Nine Inch Nails’ With Teeth album was released and a reviewer called it “dad rock” and it stung from the accuracy.) But since rock music has ceased to be a global cultural force for over a decade now, I do wonder if dad rock will similarly diminish.

  41. Vertigo is one of those songs that’s fun to crank up in the car, and really, isn’t that all a rock song has to be?

  42. I don’t think you can call Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles output Dad rock from day one, as he did draw in new listeners in the 1970s and into the early 1980s. After that, perhaps. Just because Paul did like “granny music” doesn’t mean there wasn’t an audience for it, even for rock n’ roll.

  43. Sorry John, I have to speak of KISS. It was one of the KISS guys who pointed out that once they were each very rich, then instead of breaking up the band and retiring, they played on. He meant they were real music lovers. I respect that.

  44. And then there’s Weird Al, who can take a current, in-the-moment song and show you exactly how it will become Dad Rock. The man’s clairvoyant, with an uncanny ability to throw up a distorted Dad Rock mirror of current reality. Amazing….

  45. The archetype for Dad rock bands of course has to be The Beach Boys, who after having initial stardom in the early 1960s along with some critically acclaimed recordings (Pet Sounds), fell out of favor despite putting out very good records (Holland) in the early 1970s that were innovative. Then Capitol Records put on a double album of their greatest hits (Endless Summer) in 1974 and it sold insanely well and it was clear that if the band had to go back to have a future. Brian Wilson did manage to put out one more album of original material that was quite good (Love You) in 1977, but after that it was Dad rock with older material and the occasional new song like “Kokomo”.

    But you know what? It wasn’t the band itself that really made that decision, it was their audience that did. It didn’t hurt that the Beach Boys were very good to begin with of course, and their best still does hold up. Giving the people what they want is not a bad thing, if you’re still giving them the good stuff.

  46. Innovation is often held up as the end-all, be-all, holy grail of art.

    Refinement – exploration of the mostly-known – is its own skillset, and carries its own, different, rewards, for both creator and audience.

  47. > They became predictable, and comfortable, and less memorable. […]

    > And fundamentally this is what “dad rock” means to me: it’s when a rock band whose audience is mostly male stops challenging that audience and starts maintaining it instead, even if they release new work

    That hits home for me. A favorite rock bnd of mine has been putting out mostly stuff I’m not super into during the last 15ish year (their releases have been *fine*), but they have clearly released unpredictable and challenging work which just happens to be less down my lane than the older albums. Part of me wished they’d just keep on making more songs like they used to, part of me is glad that they keep making whatever they feel up to

  48. R.E.M. is already mentioned as “mom rock’ – mom or dad regardless, when did it happen? At “Reveal” or already “New Adventures”?

  49. I also have to disagree with your take on Paul McCartney. Maybe I’m Amazed, Live and Let Die, the entire Album of Band on the Run, I think he was still being creatively leading edge post Beatles. Not to mention some experimental stuff that wasn’t widely popular.

    I noticed you also didn’t mention Queen. I guess it’s easy to trap a band in amber when a major creative force passes away. But I’d be curious about your take on their output while Freddy was still alive, especially in the later years…

  50. I remember having this discussion with friends about U2 as it was happening :<) We were noting that Actung and Zootopia were nothing like the songs we had loved a few years ago, and debating whether it was better to risk going stale by mining the same veins they'd tapped earlier, or burning out and fading away with failed experiments.

    Of course, some creative folk can have the best of both worlds, and it does take talent to get to places where predictably delivering your art to an audience is commercially viable.

  51. But, but, but, is Clapton Dad Rock or Grand-Dad Rock? Am I the last person who remembers the Yardbirds? (or Cream, Blind Faith, Derek…)

    What I’d really like to know is, does anybody listen to other genres than pop/rock? Roots, alt-country, newgrass? Hard to tell looking at ‘trending’ on Youtube.

  52. “Of course, their record collection from my childhood was largely Herb Alpert and Ray Conniff, so we’re probably just dunking on Sir Paul again.” When I bought a Herb Alpert Christmas album, I joked about becoming my parents (they had a LOT OF Tijuana Brass).

  53. “Vertigo” and “Discotheque” are but a handful of songs (literally) that I like, simply because they’ve never got the hardcore airplay that turned me off to the band for years on end.

    Haven’t really slipped into dad rock mode since I really detest the classic rock format that seems to be the rage these days. I usually listen to a lot of college radio, as well as niche radio stations, so there’s usually no chance in the sulfuric wasteland of drifting into dad rock.

    I agree with the point about certain music acts not really growing their fan base once they’ve been around awhile. It seems to me that only non-rock musical acts grow their fan base these days.

  54. I’m clapping my hands as I stand.
    It’s been years since I last read a music critic so good.
    Buuut, I have to confess that I, for 90% of the text, thought it was Athena’s critic.
    I was misdirected by “Dad Rock”.
    But it’s fine.
    Means this change is really going to work.
    At least for me, there’s no way I can tell which one of you is writting until I see the initials at the end.
    Thanks for the critic, thanks for not being a “Dad Editor”.
    No wait… O.o

  55. Listened to the new Pretenders album over the weekend and was reminded of my personal belief that New Wave was really Punk, with actual musical skills. Likewise the Psychedelic Furs new album, although I don’t recall them being so angry and depressed Back in the Day.

    I wish I had time to go searching for the Great New Stuff, but I don’t. Never have, which is why various gatekeepers were so valuable. Sadly, they seem to have all retired.

  56. Dad Rock Criteria…

    Band is still creating music

    The music is like an AC/DC album (We’ve heard it before, and it is repackaged) It is as good as anything the band has already put out

    It will likely not impact future generations they way the old albums might

    After the band quits putting out albums…do they just become obscure to irrelevant or do they get to shine on as gleaming examples of awesomeness?

    Is it just the age old concept of the cream rises to the top?

    This seems a great deal like the sci-fi cannon discussion in that regard.

    Am I done? Probably.

    Oh yeah….WEEZER has been Dad Rock for years.

  57. Dad rock. A painful epithet, especially as I have been listening to Genesis (pre ‘Invisible Touch’) Yes (a band whose albums upto ‘Talk’ I dearly love but after that… Meh.
    Pink Floyd, never dad rock, and also King Crimson. Defy anyone who has seen Crimson in the last three years to apply that deadly epithet.
    Agree with previous poster, individual artists eg Gabriel, Richard Thompson, Suzanne Vega, all remain relevant whilst having awesome back catalogues. It’s a thin line to tread and one feels for musicians who are constantly struggling with the need to express artistic development and growth, yet need to pay the bills…
    Maybe Dad Rock should be celebrated. It is a sign of survival, and also brings joy to those who grew up listening to them all… But not Journey. That’s a step too far

  58. I don’t listen to music a lot, usually just while driving (which I did do a lot, for commuting, until the last decade or so when I’ve been commuting by train). I have to say that most terrestrial radio is crap. So when I bought a car that came with Sirius XM, it brightened my driving life immensely, since I now had a selection of music streams to sample. I listened mostly to the 2000s/2010s and “rock/pop mix” stations, and was fairly satisfied until last year, when I increasingly started hearing songs that grated on me. Around last September, I gave up and dusted off my iTunes library, assembling a “Greatest Hits” playlist of songs from my long-ago uploaded CD collection, which mostly contained 80s and 90s bands and a few songs I actually bought on iTunes in the early aughts. I would play this playlist through the vehicle sound system on my iPhone while driving my son to his various evening and weekend suburban kid events, and the occasional 2-hour trip up to see grandma and grandpa. After a few weeks I noticed that he was singing along to these golden oldies. Fast forward to February, and he’s assembling his own YouTube playlist that’s mostly “dad rock” tunes from my iPhone playlist. He’s 9 years old, and I hope I haven’t permanently stunted his social growth by saddling him with a bunch of long-in-the-tooth songs.

  59. It’s why it’s so painful that the band keeps insisting they are being innovative and on top of their game. They’re not! (Well, I take it back. Some of No Line on the Horizon was.) I wish they’d own up to having a lane and staying in it.

  60. Accurate observations about my music (Dad Rock). I basically subsist on Alt Rock of the 80’s and 90’s. I completely agree about the place in time and space of “Vertigo” in the Pantheon that is U2’s oeuvre. Love that band and “New Year’s Day” is one of my all-time favorites, but I haven’t purchased anything by them since 2004.

  61. Fair warning: I am a classical music guy. It is pretty much impossible for a classical music guy to talk about popular music without coming across as a pretentious dick. I have learned to embrace this.

    With the disclaimer out of the way, the Dad Rock phenomenon seems to me just one manifestation of the transitory, generational nature of most popular music. Dad Rock is simply the music of the generation that has aged into being dads. Wait another few years and it will be the music of oldies stations. When I was a kid, oldies stations played Glenn Miller. Then a few years later, Elvis. Now they play the Beatles. Stick around and they will be playing Jay-Z. And what happens to the music that the oldies stations have moved past? Mostly they are forgotten except by a niche audience of eccentrics. (I rather like Glenn Miller, by the way.)

    Most will be forgotten, but a tiny slice will still be performed, but reclassified as classical music. If you hear Scott Joplin or John Philip Sousa or Stephen Foster on the radio, it probably is on a classical station, sandwiched between Mozart and Dvorak. Classical music is an undefinable category, but one approximation is that it is music that is performed even after its generation has died off (or, for new music, music intentionally written with the hope of sticking around).

    Popular music within living memory that might be played on classical stations a century from now: Simon & Garfunkle fits within the art song tradition. I can totally imagine a recital that mixes it with Schubert lieder. Throw in some Leonard Cohen and you have yourself a concert!

  62. Dad Rock is comfort food for the ears. I play my Dad Rock channel on Pandora all the time, I’m not proud. I love falling across new music that is great and inspirational and different, but it’s always nice to settle into what you know you will enjoy. And just to bait the trolls, I’ve always been “meh” on both Kiss and Led Zeppelin.

  63. What’s more comforting than Dad Rock? Easy: If you get tired of it, there is long list of web stations playing varieties of “ambient music.” For me, the German electro-metal-ambient goes well with reading science fiction. (No lyrics)

  64. My term for Dad Rock has been “Moldy Oldies”, but for me, that was the music of the ’50s that we listened to on our long sojourns to places largely off the map (or Montana). Yes, I am just about a year your junior, John

  65. Re: Vertigo, it’s also worth noting that “uno, dos, tres, catorce” is the most Dad Joke opening to any rock song ever.

    As if they’re boldly declaring their entrance into the Dad Rock pantheon.

    I wouldn’t expect anything less from U2, really.

  66. At the time, Bono was kind of in his full-social-justice-warrior (SJW(TM)) mode and I always felt like it was the band saying, Here, ignore all Bono’s shit, let’s play some music you’ll like.

  67. One of MTV’s tag lines in the 80s (when they still played mostly music videos) was “easy listening for the 90s.” It was an outrageous thing to say, considering how edgy and hip they were at the time. And it was absolutely true of course.

    I’ve often wondered what it feels like as a musical artist who has played #1 hits to packed stadiums to see yourself on a billboard for a casino in Mississippi or Oklahoma. Or to be lip-syncing your old hits to group of computer programmers at a convention. Steve Miller Band, Crosby Stills & Nash, The Beach Boys, and the Village People are some I have seen in this position. I know the Village People were lip-syncing, because when we asked them to substitute the four-letter acronym of the convention for “YMCA” they told us that their songs were all prerecorded.

  68. I used to sneer at the rolling stones, but then everyone I know who has seen them in the last thirty years had an amazing time. And now I’m old enough where the punk bands I loved in the 90s are reforming and touring, and seeing a bunch of 50 year olds chug through punk songs they wrote when they were 22 is still pretty heartwarming. I think the act of seeing live music is an incredible form of communion, whether you are seeing the Eagles or some up and coming artist. I won’t yuck anyones yum. As an aside, I saw Mos Def/Yasin Bey play last year, and it was full on dad hip-hop, in the best way.

  69. Okay, be honest… was this article inspired by those two twenty-somethings reacting to “In the Air Tonight?”

  70. Hey! I like KISS! I still listen to some of their standards.

    Of course, I also like Steeleye Span, Jethro Tull, Johnny Mathis (DON’T JUDGE ME, MAN!), some of Fleetwood Mac, Neil Diamond (REALLY DON’T JUDGE ME!) — Steeleye Span aside, all groups Tammy hates.

  71. Reply to Our Gracious Host at 10:21am on 10 August:

    Pink Floyd as Dad Rock began — perhaps — with The Division Bell. To Yanks, A Momentary Lapse of Reason seems off touch, but it only makes sense if one was politically plugged in and living in the UK between the Battle of Orgreave and Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday party (and perhaps attended the latter, which was worthwhile just to see Clapton put in his place as a side man). There’s just too much Stuff going on in the background, the foreground, and lots of specific-politician/controversy asides. In a way, it’s an attempted “peacetime” followup to The Final Cut with method-echoes of Dark Side of the Moon, while the band was still coming to grips with “no Roger? does that mean we have to/get to write our stuff now?” A Momentary Lapse of Reason is not a masterpiece from beginning to end; Dad Rock it’s not.

  72. You’re not wrong about Vertigo and U2, but for me it was sad that they just seemed to be revisiting Beautiful Day. Which was in and of itself a bit of just mining anthemic rock chords.

  73. Dana said: “What I’d really like to know is, does anybody listen to other genres than pop/rock?”

    Me me me! I loves me some EDM and ambient.

    GB Miller said: “Haven’t really slipped into dad rock mode since I really detest the classic rock format that seems to be the rage these days. I usually listen to a lot of college radio, as well as niche radio stations, so there’s usually no chance in the sulfuric wasteland of drifting into dad rock.”

    WORD to this. “Jet Airliner” and “Take It Easy,” no thanks. Give me deadmau5 any day! Failing that, “More” and “Obscured by Clouds”-era Pink Floyd. Handel’s Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks are good for an occasional change of pace.

  74. I really liked the ‘Grampa Folk’ line more than the ‘Dad Rock’ line. That being said, consider me a pretentious dick when I note that I have not listened to much other than Phillip Glass for the last decade. Might be the tinnitus.

  75. @Joe G:

    Yeah, I’d thought about the Mario series when I was writing that comment, but I’d exclude that (and Final Fantasy) because they continue to try new things. (FF9 was slightly dad rock, though.)

  76. Yeah, and let’s all remember music is one of the most subjective art forms ever created, and articles like yours – meant to fit your editor’s narrative du jour – are really easy to write. Music that appeals to 10s of millions? Not so much. U2 has done that as consistently as any band I know of in my lifetime.

    That article was meh-ful. Oh, and I’m a proud Dad in my 50s. Not ashamed at your passive aggressive moniker. I like what I like.

    Rock on, brother!

  77. Danjlevak:

    Indeed, I can confirm this article was written to fulfill my editor’s narrative du jour.

    I’d also add that I might know a little something about creating things that appeal to millions.