By Sarah Sweeney and Joe Costal
In the immortal words of the band Boston: I looked out this morning and the sun was gone / Turned on some music to start my day / I lost myself in a familiar song / I closed my eyes and I slipped away …
We here at the Dad Rock Review love nothing more than closing our eyes and slipping away to the classics, remembering bygone experiences with all the yearning of a suburban dad staring at old photographs of a Pontiac. This Valentine’s Day, we’re thinking about past loves while turning back the clock to discuss our favorite lovelorn ballads and time-worn rockers like the nostalgic saps we are. Each of us has put together a countdown of our own favorite dad-rock love songs.
You Shook Me All Night Long: A Joe Costal Joint
#10: “Oh Sherrie,” Steve Perry
IT SHOULD’VE BEEN GONE! Like off this list … but something about this song keeps me coming back. The yelling? The nonsense lyrics? What exactly are “words of steel?” Journey has several songs that could have easily snuck onto this list—my favorite being “Faithfully.” There’s a great dad-rock anecdote in which Prince felt that the riffs in “Purple Rain” were too close to the ones in “Faithfully,” so Prince called the songwriter and let him listen to “Purple Rain: to avoid a future lawsuit. The “Faithfully” songwriter, according to legend, was like, “Are you kidding, man? Your song is sick.” I’m paraphrasing, here, but still, good call, brah.
#9: “Biggest Part of Me,” Ambrosia
What says love like a band named after a marshmallow fruit salad? When I was 8, I heard this playing at Sears and had my first—and possibly last—daydream about my future wedding. In it, my wife Nancy McKeon (Jo from Facts of Life) and I twirl longingly to this song. This radio hit is pure schmaltzy goodness. The vanilla groove, the falsetto (“make a wish bay-bay”). It’s as much about actual love as Cinderella is about actually getting ready for prom.
#8: “Heart to Heart,” Kenny Loggins
Those high notes. Loggins’ beard. The frustrated-architect music video. Michael McDonald on backing vocals. Sweet, sweet dad-rock goodness. “Does anything last forever?” This. I hope.
#7: “Love Stinks,” The J. Geils Band
“You love her, and she loves him, but he loves somebody else …” The immortal lines would ring true in my head over the next 35 years of unrequited love and pathetic triangles that pitted me in romantic wrestling with the likes of Tedd Vanderhoss, the head of the high school choraliers. And let’s just say, well, that kid could SING. Also, the video had a cigarette-smoking fish head.
#6 (tie): “Sara Smile” / “You Make My Dreams,” Hall and Oates
When I was in college, I told a girl named Sarah that I fell in love with her to put this song on a mixtape, and I kinda meant it. When we broke up, I blamed the silent “h.” Starship’s “Sara” didn’t have one, either. Something about the instrumentals in this song still haunt my broken heart. In hindsight, is any opening line more overlooked for its creepiness? “Baby hair with a woman’s eyes.” Baby hair? Gross.
When I own my own business, even if it’s a funeral home, “You Make My Dreams” will be the hold music. I defy you to not bop in place when this song plays.
“Hello, City Morgue.”
“Ohhhhh, Grandpa’s gone…”
What I want, you got, it might be hard to handle—
*Bopping, despite sadness, commences*
#5: “Sweet Thing,” Van Morrison
Lyrics as romantic as any Shakespearean sonnet (And I shall drive my chariot down your street and cry), but it’s impossible to even distinguish the words with Morrison’s mumble and the brambles of guitars and whistles. The song mounts and yet somehow meanders like a summer’s day.
#4: “Southern Cross,” Crosby, Stills and Nash
Is anything more dad rock than a song that uses sailing as a metaphor for love? How about a song that refers to its love interest as a “woman girl?” CSN’s restraint of an ending—the decision to not soar into another chorus. That flatness, mirroring the song’s flat acceptance of lost love, keeps us coming back. And you knooooow we will.
#3: “Over My Head,” Fleetwood Mac
The fade-in intro, like the song’s been playing forever, and after you hear it, you believe it has been. Your mood is like a circus wheel, you’re changing all the time. Such an underrated Mac song. McVie’s voice is pure love, as sweet as Buckingham’s ethereal, bluesy, poppy guitars.
#2: “Purple Rain,” Prince
This song is such a showstopper, it feels like it’s bigger than romantic love. It played in my head during Justin Timberlake’s Super Bowl homage to the Purple One. A cosmic, sonic love ballad that kicks minivan ass. This one has been making intergalactic, high-note-hitting divas out of normal dads since the mid-80s. When it comes on, my kids audibly sigh, and I tell them shush and raise the volume. Daddy will be back in 4:05.
#1: “All You Need is Love,” The Beatles
Possibly one of my favorite songs ever. The last recording of a content Paul and John. I love that the song is about the very sentiment those two would struggle with in future months and years. I also love watching the “video” for this song, which was the first satellite broadcast in the history of humanity. That means that the first message we sent into space was Lennon saying, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.” Man, I love that. A Valentine’s Day kind of a love.
Another One Bites the Dust: A Playlist by Sarah Sweeney
#10: “Incident on 57th Street,” Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
What does an 8-minute opus about two Latino lovebirds in New York City in the ‘70s have to do with my life, you ask? This song transports me right back to the summer of 2013, when I found myself tangled in an illicit summer fling with a very attractive wanted criminal (aren’t they all???). Like Bruce’s protagonist Johnny, a sensitive gigolo torn between the streets and Jane, a "late Juliet" who offers redemption in the form of true love, my criminal and I enjoyed a brief moment in the sun before he asked me for an alibi and I was forced to end things quickly. Sigh.
#9: “I’m No Angel,” The Gregg Allman Band
Whatever Gregg is selling here, I’m buying. I won’t ever lift a hand to hurt you, and I’ll always leave you glad, he growls. In his heyday, this man was pure sex—HELLOOO, he married CHER!—and this song is the quintessential anthem for the bad boy with a heart of gold.
#8: “Not the Only One,” Paul Brady
Bonnie Raitt put this song on everyone’s radar in 1991, but the Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady penned the track for his 1983 album, True for You. The lyrics are so earnest and relatable—I was in a daze, moving in the wrong direction, feeling that I’d always be the lonely one—and Brady’s voice is such a dad-rock balm that, combined with the glossy, early-‘80s production, the track is nothing short of sublime. Brady isn’t a household name here in the U.S., except maybe your dad’s household.
#7: “Wavelength,” Van Morrison
Is love like a radio? Van Morrison thinks so on this track about being so attuned to your partner that you’re vibrating on the frequency of love: This is a song about your wavelength and my wavelength, baby. Irish people can write a love song like nobody’s business and Van manages to be both mystical, poppy, and commercial on “Wavelength,” which builds to the most ecstatic crescendo ever—totally satisfying on every level.
#6: “It Makes No Difference,” The Band
Sung by Rick Danko and written by Robbie Robertson, “It Makes No Difference” is the saddest song ever written about unrequited love. Come at me, I’ll defend that statement to the grave. Like a lot of The Band’s songs, there’s an odd mixture of poetic and pastoral lyrics here, and who but Robertson could rhyme “losing battle” with “stampeding cattle”? (Side note: A young Rick Danko could GET. IT.)
#5: “Mystifies Me,” Ronnie Wood
Ronnie Wood is the most underrated Rolling Stone. His debut solo album, appropriately titled I’ve Got My Own Album to Do, is one of my desert-island picks and features everyone from Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, David Bowie, Mick Taylor, and George Harrison, to Rod Stewart, who you can hear wailing on this track. The guitar work here is sumptuous and sexy and even though all those dudes were straight-up chlamydia-carrying cads, you really do believe Ronnie when he croons, You look so fine and true, no one mystifies me like you do.
#4: “Take Me Home Tonight,” Eddie Money
Easily one of my favorite songs about being horned up for some lovin’. As a society, we don’t appreciate Eddie Money or Ronnie Spector enough, nor do we honor the invaluable cultural contributions of a mid-song saxophone solo. In 2010, I dragged my very pregnant friend to the the Boston Hatch Shell to see Eddie Money live (see photo). We both cried.
#3: “Heroes Are Hard to Find,” Fleetwood Mac
People forget that Fleetwood Mac was an entity way before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks came onboard. I’m partial to two of Fleetwood’s early albums, Bare Trees and Heroes are Hard to Find, from which comes this titular Christine McVie rocker. When I’m feeling manic, I turn to Stevie—but when I need to be blanketed in mother’s warm wisdom, it’s Christine all the way. And in this jam, she’s at her finest: Girls you know, when you’re in the mood, you may meet a man, can’t do anything good. But you’ve got to pity him and try to understand that a hero is so hard to find. Mama said there’d be days when you get your jollies with an oaf, but don’t settle for less than you’re worth.
#2: “The Boys of Summer,” Don Henley
I remember seeing the video for this song when I was about 8 or 9 and it WRECKED ME. I’d just come off a summer vacation with my parents at Emerald Isle in North Carolina and we stayed in this condo building where we befriended the family next door. Of course, they had a son my age; of course we played footsie in the pool. Did we kiss? I can’t recall. I don’t even remember his name. But I remember that I loved him for that one golden week at the beach, which already I recognized as the most romantic environs imaginable. To this day, “Boys of Summer” is one of those songs where, if I hear it in the middle of an otherwise fantastic afternoon, I nearly drop to my knees and weep.
#1: “You Got It,” Roy Orbison
I live my life to be with you, no one can do the things you do. I’ve never understood why everyone isn’t getting married to this song. “You Got It” is the sweetest, most heartfelt love song delivered from the honeyed voice box of Roy Orbison, godfather of my soul. Joyous, resplendent, transporting, Orbison professes his love and devotion without even a hint of shame, fear, or caution and that is the kind of love we should all strive to get.
Check out Dad Rock Review #1: Bertie Higgins, Key Largo
Sarah Sweeney is the author of Tell Me If You’re Lying. She writes liner notes for Light In The Attic Records, loves BBQ, your dad, and works as a writer in Boston. Visit her at www.sarah-sweeney.com.
Joe Costal is a dad of four. He rocks, so do his kids. He’s an assistant editor at Barrelhouse. His poetry can be found in More Challenges for the Delusional by Diode Editions and in the music issue of Philadelphia Stories. Visit him at joecostal.com