Welcome to The Playlist Project, where we’ll be posing musical questions to Paste staff, interns and writers and then compiling their responses into a handy playlist before opening it up for discussion in our comments section.
Father’s Day is on Sunday (still time to run to the store and pick up that last-minute tie!), and to pay tribute to the men who—in most cases, at least—provided our earliest introduction to music, this week’s Playlist Project is a celebration of dads.
Al Green, “Rock of Ages”
My dad only listened to his gospel music (I call it post-grits Al Green). This music got blasted during every road trip.
Ray Charles, “What’d I Say”
My father is a French Literature professor, and although he’s actually got a great sense of humor, he’s also got a lot of gravitas. So it always amazes people when he pulls one of his favorite party tricks—sitting down at the piano and launching into Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” (complete with Charles-esque vocals). Never fails to bring the house down.
Styx, “Come Sail Away”
It never bothered me that most people find Styx to be “uncool.” One of my earliest concert memories is going to some fairgrounds in Pennsylvania with my dad to see the band. Now I live by the idea of not talking trash about artists until you’ve seen them live because Styx blew me away. Plus I got to miss the first day of school that year, which was pretty cool to me.
Bruce Springsteen “Born In the U.S.A.”
Growing up, this is the only real artist I can remember to my father listening to. Since the purchase of his XM radio, E Street radio is on constantly. I only got to experience my first Bruce concert last year at Wrigley Field, and I am happy to say my father was there.
John Cougar Mellencamp, The Lonesome Jubilee
When I was little, my dad and I went on many camping trips together. And in the car en route to our camping locales, we’d switch off who got to choose the music. I usually hated the albums my dad played, and even his words “I consciously chose albums that I think you’ll like” didn’t prevent the inevitable worry. Alas, The Lonesome Jubilee turned out to be one of my most beloved albums of all time thanks to one fateful car trip. My dad always made a point to belt out the album’s angriest lines, like “Down and Out in Paradise”’s “I don’t like the Russians ‘cause I hear they hate me” and “Hard Times For an Honest Man”’s “And the rent we pay to stay here gets higher!” Those lines are some of my most poignant memories—not because my dad’s a particularly angry person, but because he was proud of how much Mr. Mellencamp just got it.
Weather Report, “Nubian Sundance”
The opening two-and-a-half seconds of it were my dad’s ringtone for a long time, and I still find the dramatic synth explosion laugh-out-loud funny, as I did when I was a teenager. Dad always had strong tastes in music, and it was one of the main things we fought about when I lived at home. Weather Report is one of his all-time favorites, and I think that goofy ringtone was one of the first things that opened my mind to appreciating what he liked.
Dan Fogelberg, “Leader of the Band”
My dad wasn’t a music fan, so it’s tough to look back and find a song we had in common (if you do a “mom” version of this list, be prepared for a 10,000-word manifesto), but in a general way, Dan Fogelberg’s “Leader of the Band” always makes me think of him. My dad wasn’t a musician or a soldier or a cabinet-maker, or any of the other references from the song, but the spirit of the song—how much we’re inevitably like our dads, for better and worse, and how much we imitate them, and the incredible power they have in our lives even when we become independent adults—resonates for me.
Chuck Mangione, “Feels So Good”
My dad doesn’t listen to music. He never has. It’s weird. When I think of him and music I think of the eight or so Chuck Mangione records he bought my mom in the ‘70s, solely because she liked “Feels So Good.” I don’t know if he just bought every Mangione record at the K-Mart because he didn’t know which one had “Feels So Good” on it (he definitely wouldn’t have known the name of the song), or if it was some sort of deal where he traded beer for a Mangione stack (he worked for Miller, and beer can get you things.) The only CD I remember him ever buying was a self-pressed disc by an acoustic guitarist he saw at a suburban Borders book store that he only went to to read magazines for free.
The Jackson 5, “I Want You Back”
When I was little, sometimes my dad would pick me up from cheerleading or softball or whatever my hobby of the week was in his convertible, which basically made me feel like the coolest kid in the world. He’d blast this one Jackson 5 greatest hits album, spending the ride home quizzing me and my siblings on Motown trivia (poor Marlon was the one member I could never remember to name), explaining the lyrics (if “pretty faces always made you stand out in a crowd,” MJ was calling you ugly) and mostly just gettin’ down to the hits of the Jackson family. The tradition continues, whether I’m around to witness it or not: I was home the other day for dinner, and caught him executing some pretty groovy choreography alone outside to “I Want You Back,” singing into his spatula as he grilled. He’s still got it.
The O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack
Like many of the others writing this list, my dad wasn’t a huge music fan, always opting for talk radio in the car. But the music that most reminds me of him is bluegrass. Dad grew up in Kingsport, Tenn., and though he was quick to leave Appalachia far behind him—the first in his family to go to college, he worked in Europe for IBM—he’ll always be a Tennessee man. There was no bluegrass in our house growing up, but when the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack blew up, it was the first CD in years that perked his interest. On a trip to see his family around that time, we all went up to the Carter Family Fold just across the Virginia border. His mom was there, and we’d just had our first daughter, making for four generations of Jacksons all listening to some lovely music as old as those hills.
Van Morrison, “Caravan”
My dad makes his living as a musician (shameless plug from a proud daughter, GROSS), and growing up, there was constantly something playing in our house, so the short answer to “what music reminds you of your dad?” for me is “a lot.” But there’s one song in particular: If you ask Don Stiernberg what the second-greatest moment in the history of cinema is, he’ll tell you it’s Van Morrison’s performance of “Caravan” in The Last Waltz (the first, he’ll insist, is the “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father; prepare to die” scene from The Princess Bride. He loves a good vengeance sequence). I can’t remember the first time he sat me down and showed me The Last Waltz (no doubt prefacing it with that “second-greatest moment in the history of film” spiel), but Dad’s been a huge Van fan for as long as I can remember, and that fandom got passed down to me. To this day, that purple sequined getup from The Last Waltz is the second thing I think of when I hear “Caravan.” The first will always be my goofy old dad jamming Moondance for the 80 gazillionth time while doing the dishes and imitating those little kicks.
Starting around age 11, my dad and I bonded almost exclusively through music. We’d spend most of his days off poking through guitar shops and used CD stores around Southeast Michigan (shout-out to Dearborn Music and Encore Records in Ann Arbor). As the former manager of a record store himself (R.I.P. Camelot Music), my dad had a thousand-strong CD collection filled with promo-stamped albums—and the whole thing was intimidating for a new music fan. Apparently he’d had an LP collection that put this to shame before I came along, and the CD stack was a collection he added to weekly, with an open mind and a sensitive nose for bullshit. The Kings of Leon didn’t pass that early test in 2003, and the hipster gods should recognize him as a prophet in 2014. He’d sit me down on Thursday afternoons (his day off) for essential spins, or explain Neil Peart’s contributions to Rush (and how he got Geddy Lee to sign his menu during a Big Boy restaurant run-in sometime in the ‘70s). So to pick out just one song is a difficult, if not impossible task for me. But it’s hard not to remember the first album he slipped me when I was 12: Nirvana’s Nevermind. “I’m not going to love all the music you love,” he’d tell me. He grew up in a house where Black Sabbath and Grand Funk Railroad alike were no-nos. “I remember what it was like to not feel supported in my musical pursuits. You will like this.” So naturally, he slipped me a CD with full-on baby nudity and enough sarcasm to fuel the course of my adolescence. From the roaring opening of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to the heartbreaking finale of “Something in the Way,” a musical fire was ignited, and my musical revolution was spelled “N-I-R-V-A-N-A.” Maybe he didn’t like the sound, but I’ll forever be in debt for turning on my rock ‘n’ roll lightbulb.
The Rolling Stones, “Satisfaction”
So, the first tapes I ever had were stolen from my dad’s glove compartment: Tattoo You by the Rolling Stones and Robert Palmer’s Riptide. Bet a psychologist would have a FIELD DAY with the fact that those two records make me think of my dad, but honestly, the Stones are my Dad Band and “Satisfaction” is the song I think of first when I think of driving around and talking rock ‘n’ roll and first records with my dad. He loooooves that riff. Should probably thank him for those tapes eventually.
Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, “Father’s Day”
Growing up, my dad and I traveled a lot and mainly for shows. It made for a pretty cool childhood, and one of his favorite things was Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers’ Fourth of July show. Pretty much any time that I hear Kellogg, especially his nostalgic tune “Father’s Day,” I think of all the rockin’ times I had with him.
Marshall Crenshaw, “Whenever You’re on My Mind”
A bunch of songs, nay, discographies, belong to my father in my head. Squeeze, Uncle Tupelo, and Superdrag all come to mind. But the one artist who is unmistakably my Dad is Marshall Crenshaw, who he tacked on to the end of a Beatles mixtape, convincing me for years to come that the Beatlemania John Lennon was a member of the Fab Four. My Dad calls him “the most underappreciated songwriter of the 20th century,” which made Crenshaw the natural choice to play his surprise, Beatles-themed 60th birthday party. I figured I’d have a sentimental daughter moment and sing an “Eight Days A Week” rendition, but my dad loves the spotlight as much as I do, and after about four bars had hopped up to harmonize with us. My (very long-winded) pick, therefore, is Crenshaw’s classic “Whenever You’re on My Mind,” a song to which my dad has harmonized on many a drive in his classic Jeep Cherokee.
Harry Nilsson, “Gotta Get Up”
There’s something about Harry Nilsson that’s reminded me of Dad for years. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise, as Nilsson’s songs carry some universal Dadly elements. For example, “Gotta Get Up” is practically the classic rock incarnation of “It’s time for school son,” and “Coconut” could well be “A Spoonful Full of Sugar” with…um….more witch doctors. At least I’m pretty sure both of those songs were repurposed under those auspices for me. Unsurprisingly, the fantastic documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) painted the lauded songwriter as an exemplary husband and father with a whopping seven offspring. Jump into the fire, indeed.