The Definitive Taxonomy of Pre-2000 Rock

It is Friday, and you need something to argue about at your it's-warm-enough-outside-to-have-a-party-outside-right outside party tonight, so here you go: The definitive taxonomy of rock music released prior to January 1, 2000.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

It is Friday, and you need something to argue about at your it's-warm-enough-outside-to-have-a-party-outside-right party tonight, so here you go: The definitive taxonomy of rock music released prior to January 1, 2000.

What does this mean? Well, you are almost certainly familiar with Dad rock, the sort of amorphous genre embodied by worn vinyl covers that you remember crammed under a record player in your house as a kid. (Or for those a bit younger, the CDs tucked under the rear-view mirror of your dad's car.) But how tightly defined is "Dad rock"? How exclusive? That is where this taxonomy comes in to play. We've identified seven categories of rock music that, in our humble estimations, provides as thorough an articulation as you will see prior to arriving at the Pearly Gates. (Heaven is notorious for its rigorous indices.)

Let's begin at the beginning.

Dad rock

Defining characteristics: The trademark of dad rock is its dad-ness. Like fashion sense, guys stick with what they know. Yeah, you had sideburns and listened to Cream and that was what was cool? Run with it. Take it to the extreme. So we're talking just plain old, FM radio rock-and-roll.

The best example: The Wire staff was torn on this. I would suggest that there is no rock band / act that is daddier than Mr. Bruce Springsteen. Joe Reid, however, calls The Eagles "the definition of dad rock." And, honestly, that lyric from "Hotel California" — "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave" — is pretty on the nose in terms of the points above.

Qualifying bands:

  • Bob Dylan
  • Cream
  • The Traveling Wilburys
  • Eric Clapton
  • Prog rock
  • CSN&Y

Stroller dad rock

Defining characteristics: We realized, as we were discussing this, that times have changed. (Pultizer committee, you know how to get in touch.) But the point is: Dads seem to be getting younger. The guys walking around Brooklyn pushing strollers and wearing Ramones T-shirts are not cool, young rock dudes. They're dads. So, like the dads of Dad Rock — the Boomer dads — the stroller dads have their own genre. But they're still dads, so it's the stuff they listened to in high school and college.

The best example: Another debate! We settled on The Pixies in part because they were so definitive to the era itself. But the first band on the list below was very much in contention.

Qualifying bands:

  • Nirvana
  • R.E.M.
  • My Bloody Valentine
  • The Ramones
  • The "shoegaze" genre
  • The Clash
  • Nine Inch Nails
  • Big Star


Defining characteristics: There is a group of Dad Rockers who, seeing the dark angel of death approaching, embraced bands that were more popular with the stroller dad generation. What defines a normcore rock band? They are, bluntly, bands that were appropriated by parents in the 1990s. They are bands that are not actually cool any more. These are the bands, in the evocative words of our David Sims, that Jon Stewart likes.

Wait, what is "normcore"? Oh, haha. Well, start here.

The best example: Pearl Jam. We literally created this category for Pearl Jam.

Qualifying bands:

  • Green Day
  • U2
  • Foo Fighters

Gay dad rock

Defining characteristics: Music enjoyed by gay men that are old enough to be dads. For example:

The best example: Erasure. That pretty much sums it up.

Qualifying bands:

  • Depeche Mode

Dork rock

Defining characteristics: This is the Dave Barry of rock. The acid-washed jeans. This genre is like how Weird Al tries to subvert music by being funny, but instead of using humor, these bands subvert music through being real rockers. In their estimation.

The best example: Steely Dan.

Qualifying bands:

  • Pink Floyd
  • Rush
  • Captain Beefheart
  • The Grateful Dead
  • Yes

Nerd rock

Defining characteristics: It is important to note that nerd rock and dork rock are not only dissimilar, they are vastly dissimilar. Nerd rock is nerds making rock in the I am indifferent to social norms mold, usually based on things they read in a textbook at an East Coast liberal arts college.

The best example: They Might Be Giants, which is a group of actual nerdy dads that now makes music for their nerdy children.

Qualifying bands:

  • TMBG
  • Devo
  • Violent Femmes
  • Radiohead

A question for the reader: Weezer. We think Weezer could go here, but also can see a strong case for Weezer being included in Stroller Dad Rock. Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Cringe rock

Defining characteristics: Just so completely awful and horrible that no rational adult should listen to it. Even nostalgia is not a strong enough rationale; just because you used to listen to Winger, maybe made out with some chick while it was playing, is no excuse to ever listen to Winger again.

The best example: Metallica. Metallica is old guys from California. Remember when the drummer was like hey man MP3s are evil. Ha ha. Ouch.

Qualifying bands:

  • Megadeth
  • Queensryche
  • Warrant
  • Led Zeppelin

Yeah, that's right. Zeppelin. And now you have something to talk about at your party.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.