America has never fully embraced what I like to call frat rock – the blend of pop-punk perfection filled with crunchy hooks, lyrics that combine humor and attitude, and a keg-tapping, booty-chasing college guy mentality – even though some of my favorite songs would fit into that category.
Sure, Deadeye Dick’s “New Age Girl” became a Top 40 hit, peaking at #27 and selling half a million singles in the process. And “Flagpole Sitta” – the Harvey Danger song that ruled the summer of ‘98, at least for me – reached #38 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart (although with lyrics like “put me in the hospital for nerves and then they had to commit me, you told them all I was crazy, they cut off my legs, now I’m an amputee, goddamn you” the song should have been a number one smash).
But Blink-182’s arguably definitive frat rock song “What’s My Age Again?”, which stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for almost five months, never charted higher than #58. The video, featuring Tom DeLonge, Mark Hoppus, and Travis Barker streaking through town, was both infamous and iconic, but unfortunately, the US didn’t seem to share their sense of humor. And SR-71’s awesome “Right Now”, which was a number two smash on the Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart, never came close to charting on the mainstream Hot 100.
So it’s not surprising that Bowling for Soup, a pop-rock band from Wichita Falls, Texas, didn’t have much luck with “Girl All the Bad Guys Want”. With a tongue-twisting chorus and hooks that refused to let go for hours or even days, the song should have been one of the bigger hits of 2003. Instead, it barely lasted two months on the chart, peaking at #64.
Then something wonderful happened. Jaret Reddick, the lead singer of Bowling, teamed with Mitch Allan and John Allen of SR-71 to write “1985”. An ode to the suburban housewife who used to dream of shaking her ass “on the hood of Whitesnake’s car”, the song name checks everyone from Mötley Crüe to Madonna and reminisces about a magical time that included St. Elmo’s Fire and “music still on MTV”. The song became a Top 40 hit, peaking at #23 and selling more than a million downloads.
Bowling for Soup charted two more times with “Almost” (#46) and “High School Never Ends” (#97), but although they, like Deadeye Dick, Harvey Danger, and Blink-182, are officially one-hit wonders (Blink-182 broke into the Top 40 with their #6 smash “All the Small Things”), they’re still popular. They’ll be playing several dates in Europe, beginning October 17 in Glasgow, and their new CD, Sorry for Partyin’ will go on sale Tuesday, October 13.
Maybe I’m foolish for being such a fan of frat rock. But in a music world where heavily autotuned “vocals” by Lil’ Wayne and T-Pain appear on every other single being released, the Black-Eyed Peas spend half a year at #1 for songs consisting of catchphrases set to a beat, and mainstream rock is defined by the gloomy (Kings of Leon), the grating (Nickelback) or the unbearably whiny (The Fray), I’m not apologizing for anything. I may not want to return to 1985, but I wouldn’t mind a few more songs with clever lyrics, human vocals, and a frat party vibe.
Other songs mentioned in this post include “New Age Girl” by Deadeye Dick:
“Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger:
“What’s My Age Again?” by Blink-182:
“Right Now” by SR-71
“Girl All the Bad Guys Want” by Bowling for Soup
“All the Small Things” by Blink-182: