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“My Top 50 Songs That Remind Me of My Dad”


My father unfortunately passed away late last week and truthfully I’m dealing with it pretty well, but just wanted to do something minor on my website to commemorate the event. Dad was a thorough lover of music, would make mixtapes copiously and once took me to see High Fidelity in the theaters (a film which I think he found a tad hackneyed). He was probably way more tuned in to ’90s alternative rock, too, than most dudes in their late 30’s or early 40’s were, as this list will confirm.

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50 The Breeders – “Divine Hammer”

The more melodic, friendlier of the two main Breeders singles off of Last Splash, this is the cut my dad would typically gravitate toward.

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49 Steely Dan – “My Old School”

For some reason it seems appropriate to me that my dad would have played this really awkward, tragic Steely Dan song in the car, a song about a girl fu**ing you over… but hey it’s got Donald Fagan’s sapphire vocals in there in all the harmonies and some great jazzy, quintessential Steely Dan rhythms so it should work.

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48 Blink-182 – “All the Small Things”

Yes, my dad liked Blink-182. And no he wasn’t on the payroll of Capitol. He just connected with the direct melodies and hooks and, I think, these guys’ sense of humor (just imagine if he’d caught this music video with them rocking underwear and making fun of boy bands).

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47 Neutral Milk Hotel – “The King of Carrot Flowers pt. 3”

This is a great song, obviously, a classic album opener on an album I don’t really perceive as classic but whose opener does bring in that wondrous accordion chord modification in the third repetition of the verse theme. One time my dad made the comment to me about the unspiteful nature of the apparent “mockery” going on in the lyrics and I had no choice but to tacitly concur.

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46 Fountains of Wayne – “Radiation Vibe”

This is another favorite of my dad’s that might surprise you but again the directness and catchiness spoke to him. I think he played it for me around 2003 or so and I hadn’t heard it in about five years and fully dove back in to its glorious hooks and of course that whammy bar.

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45 The Smashing Pumpkins – “Once upon a Time”

Adore is literally like a dream — it’s one big blur to me, an album I listened to straight through when I bought it in ’98 while having a sort of out-of-body experience from its lulling, infectious tranquility. Even with all this, this particular tune does soar to pretty glorious heights and make for a worthy centerpiece.

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44 Beck – “Corvette Bummer”

A sister song to “Loser” with its word-salad chorus rap giving way to a simple sing-song chorus and adjacent placement on the Loser single, “Corvette Bummer” is full of charming nothings like “All my days I had moldy bread” and “Gonna flap around and pass out on the kitchen floor”. My dad owned the Loser single and favored its cavalier, slacker attitude.

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43 The Troggs – “Wild Thing”

My dad was born in ’55 so his major music is Pink Floyd, Neil Young and the Grateful Dead, but this mid-’60s British invasion stuff must have been pretty formative for him too in a certain regard, this particular cut making enough of a splash that Jimi Hendrix picked it up for covers material on the excellent Live at Winterland.

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42 The Get up Kids – “Valentine”

This emo band was typically known for rambunctious, punk-mimicking songs of relationship heartbreak and calamity but “Valentine” marks a significant accumulation of ripe melody for them, as well as the brilliant line to close out the choruses: “Constants aren’t so constant anymore”.

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41 Technotronic – “Move This”

Yes, this is the same list: I didn’t accidentally cull from my Jock Jams 9 compilation. Technotronic blazed onto the scene in the early ’90s with some light-hearted dance-rap and many took note, each for unique reasons.

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40 Dead Milkmen – “Punk Rock Girl”

This was a fun one, an amorous ode to a no-good chick who steals cars, ransacks diners and of course pledges allegiance to punk rock, ignoring other genres to the point where they think “California Dreamin’” is by the Beach Boys, as it were.

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39 Jerry Garcia – “The Wheel”

“The Wheel” closes out Jerry Garcia’s outstanding first studio album in strident style, with its instrumentation melding into itself in pure psychedelia but also moving along lithely, fit for the streamlined ’70s and meaningful enough that his band the Grateful Dead would still be playing it well into the ’90s.

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38 R.E.M. – “Sad Professor”

Up stands for many ardent R.E.M. fans like me as their most underrated LP and “Sad Professor” is arguably the centerpiece of the album, with strangely literary but still bluntly honest lyrics and an explosive chorus of robust electric guitar coating Michael Stipe’s beautifully textural vocal.

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37 The Allman Brothers Band – “Mountain Jam”

In general I’m a big fan of the Allmans and I remember this being my dad’s favorite tune by them, which I think closes out their album Eat a Peach from when Duane Allman was still alive, providing his signature lead guitar work to the proceedings.

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36 Matthew Sweet – “Sick of Myself”

For a while I was pretty on the fence about this Matthew Sweet character, with the deliberate androgyny, the aw-shucks personality and the gushing displays of love in songs like this, but the music does hold up and he plays a pretty decent guitar, really. I think we saw him perform one time at the Taste of Chicago.

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35 The Waxwings – “It Comes in Waves”

My dad liked this song for the expansive song structure and the trippy, melting guitars that inform its second half. The singer’s voice fits perfectly with creating this kind of mood, too, with his sort of otherworldly falsetto that sound a little bit like Jim  James, I think.

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34 The Rolling Stones – “Dead Flowers”

Sticky Fingers happens to be my personal second favorite Rolling Stones album but I remember my dad taking interest in this tune in particular, as well as all of the country permutations as which it shows up in our culture from here to there. One of them made the Big Lebowski soundtrack, I do believe.

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33 The Doors – “L.A. Woman”

This is another one of my favorites and I remember its trippy mid-section really soaking into my consciousness on long family car rides, with both of us making fun of Jim Morrison’s grammatical faux pas: “If they say I never loved you / You know they are a liar”.

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32 Pearl Jam – “Nothing as it Seems”

I specifically remember that I was in my dad’s car the first time I heard this song and I was completely floored, especially that this band once described by Kurt Cobain as “a real commercial rock band” (takes one to know one) but issue for the lead single from Binaural a musical experience this lugubrious, psychedelic and gripping.

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31 Tommy James & the Shondells – “Crimson and Clover”

This song will forever remind me of my dad because he and Tommy James share the same hometown (Niles, Michigan) and so as a result my dad took interest in the lore surrounding these guys and James’ own memoir, Me, the Mob and the Music.

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30 Steve Earle – “Christmas in Washington”

“Christmas in Washington” is the astonishing opener on Steve Earle’s career masterpiece LP El Corazon. I thought it most appropriate for the occasion of a death but my dad also really like the rest of the album, especially “Telephone Road” and all its methodically rocking high jinks.

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29 Social Distortion – “Ball and Chain”

On an album of blistering straight-ahead rock that tends to veer pretty close to the territory of “punk,” “Ball and Chain” is more like a nose-to-the-grindstone classic rocker, like a permutation of The Cramps with a slightly more approachable disposition, but all the requisite frustration and desperation to make for a cathartic listening experience. My dad identified with this song for… reasons probably left unsaid, frankly.

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28 Bush – “Glycerine”

My dad tended to favor contemplative rock numbers like this pretty often and loved trying his hand at singing this tune, too. It’s likely my favorite Bush tune although that whole The Science of Things album is pretty underrated and also who can forget “Comedown”?

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27 Mazzy Star – “Five String Serenade”

This album So Tonight That I Might See which brought us the wonder of the world that is “Fade into You” is honestly a tad bit spotty but this tune in particular, as with the hit single, has a spare way of showcasing Hope Sandoval’s spooky, gorgeous croon, allowing her to sidle onto the mix with no unnecessary emotion or strain.

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26 Fleetwood Mac – “Save Me a Place”

Tusk is another album I find pretty patchy but “Save Me a Place” is a proud, strange masterpiece in its own right, with this strange, boisterous percussion technique perfectly flanking the quirky, underdog vocals at hand.

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25 The Cars – “Drive”

This is the song I heard in work and almost started crying to and I guess that’s why it made the list — because it’s never really been an ABSOLUTE favorite of either me or my dad but the melancholic, mournful qualities are undeniable, it was late in the night at work and yeah, that was almost bad there for a second.

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24 Led Zeppelin – “D’yer Mak’er”

I dunno if I just didn’t know any better when I was 15 but I remember hearing this song in the car with my dad and really thinking it rocked, an opinion probably not debilitated by my fixation on Bob Marley and company, anyway. But it certainly tends to get a bad rap for its deviation from the Zeppelin norm and for being a white boy foray into a black music, but you wouldn’t want it any other way, trust me.

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23 Lucinda Williams – “Concrete and Barbed Wire”

This album, which straddled the country world and the rock world with inimitable swagger, landed right about in my dad’s wheelhouse stylistically. Really, we could all never agree on a favorite song though except maybe this one, whose lyrics divide time nicely between metaphoric and realist and which boils down to a nice, simple but poignant chorus.

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22 The Sundays – “I Kicked a Boy”

This British band wrote beautiful songs throughout the ’90s and almost seems to have the type of cult following where you never hear them on the radio but everybody still seems to know them and you might hear some chick belting out part of “Summertime” in the middle of the grocery store, for no reason at all.

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21 Luna – “California”

My dad would rave about this band — I never got into them too hard, coddling on to Dean Wareham’s 2014 solo album a little more but definitely clicking with this tune, which indeed seems to carry the sort of style and moxie that would only come around once in a while, anyway.

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20 Credence Clearwater Revival – “Lodi”

During car rides we’d be rocking out to this song too and my dad would be explaining it to me, how Fogerty was apparently on tour and ran out of money which would have carried him home and away from this nondescript tour stop of “Lodi.” I wonder how the townspeople feel about it.

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19 Soul Asylum – “Runaway Train”

Right around when I started listening to music, my sister was really into grunge and this song was huge on the radio. It was mellow enough that my dad would take it and he often liked sort of melancholic radio songs like this. Also he liked it because he could actually sing the whole thing along and not have to strain too high or too low.

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18 Third Eye Blind – “Semi-Charmed Life”

Yes, my dad likes Third Eye Blind, which certainly might be hard to believe. This song is pretty easy to agree on though — I even observed a whole kitchen full of teenagers singing along to it as recently as 2017, in which case they might not have even been born yet when it came out, of course.

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17 The Troggs – “With a Girl Like You”

I think my dad liked the “bah-bah-bah”’s in this song, as most people probably do, and this one’s from probably around when HE started listening to music, which of course was a filthy good time to start what with the British invasion and Motown both right at their summits.

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16 Liz Phair – “Uncle Alvarez”

This is from Liz Phair’s third album whitechocolatespaceegg, which is typically so underdog that it’s not even deemed worthy of the ample DERISION that Whip-Smart even gets, but believe it or not it’s full of classic songs like this one, which in particular seems to show in a weird way that shame can be one of the most plangent songwriting emotions.

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15 10,000 Maniacs – “Campfire Song”

Now for Michael Stipe’s unlikely second appearance on this list, this was a nice little collaborative song toward the end of 10,000 Maniacs’ prize hog In My Tribe that addresses the issue of man’s selfishness against nature but more importantly features some more infectious Natalie Merchant melodies and hooks.

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14 Counting Crows – “Mr. Jones”

Obviously, not enough can be said about this song — it’s as brilliant lyrically as it is musically, the centerpiece on the classic August and Everything after with its intriguing label-signing metaphor of buddying up with this shadowy figure “Mr. Jones” who represents the faceless, corporate world that signs mainstream rockers’ checks.

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13 Badfinger – “Carry on ’til Tomorrow”

To be honest I don’t know for sure that my dad ever listened to Badfinger but in dealing with his difficulties over the years and feelings like I myself might have let him down I’ve for some reason looked to this tune a couple of times as a comforter. It appears on The Very Best of Badfinger along with a couple other pretty decent tunes.

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12 Bettie Serveert – “Unsound”

On Private Suit, the Dutch indie rockers Bettie Serveert lunged out with a sound that was a little cleaner and more polished in production, but with plenty of songwriting character and verve, too, as are showcased on this excellent opener about keeping yourself together during trying times. My dad was a devotee of this band and would sometimes see three or four of their concerts on one tour around Detroit and Cleveland.

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11 Billy Bragg & Wilco – “California Stars”

This song is such a staple of Wilco’s live show that it’s pretty surprising that it doesn’t show up on Kicking Television: Live in Chicago. They played it when I saw them, that is, in 2006 in Bloomington, Indiana, and even though it’s only on one of the Mermaid Avenue albums with Billy Bragg it seemed like everyone knew the words in the crowd, still.

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10 The Velvet Underground – “Femme Fatale”

Boy was this song a mind-fu** to hear when I was a little kid — this strange singer with this sort of sterile, immaculate-sounding voice telling the tale of this witchy woman who’s going to play with your mind and leave your heart for dead on the road. Is this type of lyrical landscape called for? Well, apparently, or it wouldn’t be there at all.

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9 Pretenders – “Back on the Chain Gang”

Chrissie Hynde has another one of those classic voices for belting out great rock and roll, carrying a pretty compelling story with her too at that, what with being a rape victim and then fleeing from her native Cleveland all the way to the UK to find her bandmates. This is likely the best song they ever did, a fact which didn’t escape my humble father.

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8 Pink Floyd – “Astronomy Domine”

Oh yeah, Dad had to have his Pink Floyd — The Dark Side of the Moon came out his senior year in high school, actually, and he went deep into their catalogue too, like onto Piper at the Gates of Dawn and this strange creation of ominous trippiness, complete with what sound like half-incoherent lyrical references to various planets.

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7 Crash Test Dummies – “God Shuffled His Feet”

This band of course punched its meal ticket with the mega hit “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” in the ’90s but this title track from the same album is undeniably just as good, a bizarre story of God showing up at a picnic and answering everybody’s questions in the form of vague, seemingly unrelated parables.

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6 Pearl Jam – “Yellow Ledbetter”

One of the more popular and powerful b-sides of all time, “Yellow Ledbetter” springs from the “Jeremy” single but then would make it onto the band’s greatest hits collection Rearviewmirror. Julian Casablancas of The Strokes was a huge fan of this song track too and its sublime, celestial guitar intro.

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5 Modest Mouse – “Ocean Breathes Salty”

This is another song I’m not sure if my dad ever heard but it just helps me deal with things and put everything in perspective, with its big, grandiose and sort of absurdist lyrics like “You missed when time and life shook hands and said goodbye / When the earth folded in on itself”.

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4 U2 – “Bad”

I used to hear this astonishing number and “A Sort of Homecoming” ALL THE TIME in the car and only recently did I put the puzzle together that my dad must have been playing me Wide Awake in America, a four-song live album the band put out sometime in the mid-’80s and which seems to sit squat temporally on their career apex.

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3 Bruce Cockburn – “If a Tree Falls”

My dad had a “Love Your Mother” and a “No More Nukes” bumper sticker on his car and was quite the planetary in general, so this tune, along with its breezy ’80s classic rock DNA, spoke to him for its subject matter as well. Bruce Cockburn hails from Canada and as far as I know is still writing pretty decent music and putting it to wax to this day.

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2 Neil Young – “Ambulance Blues”

Dad was a huge Neil Young fan and this might seem like a weird selection but it was one of his favorites and when you listen to it it’s not hard to hear why. We even get along with some great harmonica/string interplay in the chorus a taste of Neil Young’ s sardonic sense of humor as well: “So all you critics sit alone / You’re no better than me for what you’ve shown / With your stomach pump and your hook and ladder dreams / We could get together for some scenes”.

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1 Grateful Dead – “It Must Have Been the Roses”

This song first popped into my head as something heartfelt that would correspond with my relationship with my dad the first time he moved away from South Bend, which was 1997. He and my mom had already been divorced for five years, but for that time he’d stayed around town so I got to see him once a week or so. That once a week was soon to turn into four times a year or so, as he was headed for New Haven, Connecticut and a newspaper job there (luckily he’d later relocated to Homewood, Illinois, a South suburb of Chicago, which was a lot more reachable). And it’s hard to explain this song’s emotive qualities that seem so perfect for an occasion like this, though roses are obviously fitting for a funeral and I think a lot of us find Jerry Garcia a pretty substantial and genuine songwriter.

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