Music, Retro Rock

What is Frat Rock?

Now the seats are all empty

Let the roadies take the stage

Pack it up and tear it down

They’re the first to come and the last to leave

Working for that minimum wage

They’ll set it up in another town


Now roll them cases out and lift them amps

Haul them trusses down and get’em up them ramps

Cause when it comes to moving me

You guys are the champs

But when that last guitar’s been packed away

You know that I still want to play

So just make sure you got it all set to go

Before you come for my piano

The lyrics above are from Jackson Browne’s 1977 song “The Load Out,” which mentions roadies. I had this song rolling across my mind, as I was a roadie for Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God” tour in Roanoke, Virginia last month. While taking a break from roadie duties that day, I received a call from my friend Bruce Bias.

After finishing small talk, Bias asked me the question: “What is Frat Rock?” My friend had been listening to E Street Radio on SiriusXM and heard Bruce Springsteen mentioning that he used to play Frat Rock music in the early days of his career before the release of the “Born to Run” album in 1975.

I didn’t know quite how to respond to his question. The only thing that initially came to my mind was music that was played in the 1978 film, “Animal House.” Or maybe it was music that is played by garage bands?

Before ending our phone chat, I told Bruce that I would research the meaning of Frat Rock and get back with him. Obviously, I educated myself on the subject and am ready to share my thoughts with Bruce and to everyone else who is reading about Frat Rock now.

The week that I was researching Frat Rock, I watched the 1996 film, “That Thing You Do!” for the first time. Written and produced by Tom Hanks, the movie chronicles the rise and fall of a fictional 1964 “one hit wonder” garage rock band.

The film accurately portrays what a typical garage band would be like in the mid-60’s and paints the picture of what many Frat Rock bands had to deal with during that time period. My daughter Amy recommended the film to me and I am now recommending the movie to all who are reading this message.

So what is Frat Rock? This genre of music is closely associated with the garage rock bands that became popular after Beatlemania swept across America in 1964. Frat Rock is also associated with 60’s R&B grooves: songs that have fast up-tempo beats and explosive choruses that can be sung by multiple singers.

Many of the early Frat Rock songs sounded like a party was happening in the studio when the song was being recorded. Backup singers on these early recordings would hand clap, shout, laugh, holler and make it sound like a party was being thrown while the song was actually being made into a record.

Quite a few Frat Rock songs released in the 60’s were made by rock bands that were either “one hit wonders” or tended to not have more than two or three major Top 40 hits. Later on during the 70’s, Frat Rock’s biggest acts were J. Geils Band and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. These two bands featured plenty of guitars along with keyboards and saxophones.

One of the finest examples of Frat Rock from Bruce Springsteen comes from “The River “ album and the song, “Sherry Darling.”

During the 35th anniversary of Springsteen’s “The River” tour in 2016, Billboard Magazine had this to say about his “Sherry Darling” song: “The whooping party noises on this throwback frat-rock stomper provide a funny contrast with the lyrics, all about a guy stuck driving his girl’s pain-in-the-butt mother to the unemployment agency. Springsteen based the tune on ‘60s classics like the Swingin’ Medallions’ ‘Double Shot of My Baby’s Love,’ and he nails the vibe while injecting just enough sociopolitical angst to make it his own.”

During the late 60’s and early 70’s, Frat Rock songs became a mainstay for college fraternity parties. Perhaps the most celebrated Frat Rock song of all time is the tune called, “Shout.” The Isley Brothers wrote and recorded the song in 1959 but in was immortalized in the 1978 movie, “National Lampoon’s Aminal House.”

In the “Animal House” film, Otis Day and the Knights perform a cover version of “Shout” at a fraternity party that features drunken frat boys in togas dancing with sorority sisters. “Shout” is now in the Grammy Hall of Fame and Rolling Stone magazine ranks the song at number 118 on their, “500 Greatest Songs of All Time Listing.”

So what do music critics consider to be the best Frat Rock songs of all time? has a listing of their Top 10 Frat Rock songs:

  1. Double Shot Of My Baby’s Love—The Swinging Medallions
  2. Louie Louie—The Kingsmen
  3. Wooly Bully—Sam the Sam and the Pharaohs
  4. Nobody But Me—The Human Beinz
  5. Quarter To Three—Gary “U.S.” Bonds
  1. Shout—Isley Brothers
  2. 96 Tears—? And the Mysterians
  3. Land of a 1000 Dances—Cannibal and the Headhunters
  4. Farmer John—The Premiers
  5. Mony Mony—Tommy James and the Shondells

There is even an album called, “Frat Rock! The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Party Tunes of All-Time.”

Some of the songs on this compilation album from Rhino Records include:

  1. Gimme Some Lovin’—Spencer Davis Group
  2. Hungry—Paul Revere and the Raiders
  3. Keep on Dancing—The Gentrys
  4. Barbara Ann—The Beach Boys
  5. Wipe Out—The Surfaris
  1. Wild Thing—The Troggs
  2. Do You Love Me—The Contours
  3. Dance To The Music—Sly and the Family Stone
  4. Reelin’ and Rockin’—Chuck Berry
  5. Function at the Junction—Shorty Long

And now some of my favorite underrated Frat Rock Songs:

  1. (We Ain’t Got (Nothin’ Yet)—Blues Magoos
  2. Pushin’ Too Hard—The Seeds
  3. Talk Talk—The Music Machine
  4. You, I—The Rugbys
  5. Shape of Things To Come—Max Frost and the Troopers
  1. Birthday—Underground Sunshine
  2. Hot Smoke and Sasafrass—Bubble Puppy
  3. I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)—Electric Prunes
  4. Psychotic Reaction—Count Five
  5. Did You See Her Eyes—The Illusion

Obviously, my thoughts on Frat Rock are just the tip of an iceberg. If you want more information about this genre of music, there are many places on the Internet to satisfy your curiosity about the various aspects of Frat Rock.

To Bruce Bias, as I promised to you: an investigation and a blog message on Frat Rock. Enjoy the read!

And to everyone else who is reading this message now: You don’t have to be a former college fraternal brother to enjoy the type of music described on this blog.

Everyone can delight listening to this musical genre. Long live, Frat Rock!

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12 thoughts on “What is Frat Rock?

  1. Terrie Martin says:

    Wow!!! I remember each one of these playing at any given time any of the houses we would be partying at during my Morgantown days..
    Especially Mony Mony…
    I appreciate your researching this as I’m sure we were instrumental in laying the foundation for frat rock!!!!😎

  2. Bruce Bias says:

    a simple question has turned into a classroom lecture from “The Professer of All Genres” David Woodson. great writing and command of the subject. time spent on this must have taken quite awhile. big thanks for the education. just one more thing to say,,,, Toga, Toga, Toga

  3. Barbara says:

    Back in the college days….a frat rock song can really be any upbeat song with a large group of people and lots of alcohol being consumed. Helps when everyone knows the words too! For David Hardee it could be “Tighten Up”!

  4. Vicky says:

    I love to learn something new and this is what I learned new today I had heard the term but now I know.. I agree with Barbara drunk in a group creates the right atmosphere whether you know the words are not no one at that party would know if you were wrong!!!!

  5. David Maddox says:

    Once again you don’t let me down in providing yet another genre of music! I don’t think I’ve heard the term “Frat Rock” before, so now I need to add another playlist to my mp3 list and start lining them up. Excellent article!

  6. Laurie Russell says:

    Great read. Was unfamiliar with the term “frat rock” nor what music it referred to. Thanks for educating me! And yes I can see David HARDIE throwing down to this music it his beloved Hampton Sydney!!

  7. Charmaine Sims says:

    I don’t think I had heard that term before, but it instantly conjured up the right idea! Would you believe it was only a few months ago that I finally saw “Animal House”? haha. I know, long overdue! I’m not a big fan of drinking to excess or celebrating it. but definitely a fan of the music! My favorite part of the movie (besides John Belushi) was Otis Day and the Knights performing “Shout!” I LOVE the article’s opening number, the live Jackson Browne version of “Stay.” A lot of excellent music – thanks for the info and a good read!

  8. Bernard Johnson says:

    This is wild. I pledged the Pershing Rifles Honor Fraternity in 78 at Norfolk State College (now University). Went to see Animal House when it came out. The overwhelming majority of the Frat was not that wild, but I was. Shout is my all time favorite Frat Rock tune. I believe Otis Day performed that tune for years after the movie. I still watch Animal House when it come on tv. 3 of 4 of us brothers still communicate now. Can’t find the 4th member.

  9. Larry Dowdy says:

    If it’s Frat Rock, “there’s a party goin’ on right here” as Kool & the Gang would sing it. Truly some awesome songs. My “Frat Rock” Top 5 includes:
    5) Hungry – Paul Revere & the Raiders
    4) Gimme Some Lovin’ – Spencer Davis Group
    3) Devil With The Blue Dress On – Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels
    2) Dance To The Music – Sly & the Family Stone
    1) Shout – Otis Day & the Knights (we loved to play this song on Friday mornings, back in the day, on K92 and the K-Krew in the Mornin’.

  10. Michael W. Kovacevich says:

    Having attended the University of Notre Dame, which did not allow those Devil-Worshiping Fraternities (sigh!), I was not able to enjoy those near occasions of sin, fraternities. However, as a California high school kid from 1962-1966, I went to a number of dances where live rock music was played by our local bands here in Bakersfield. Our local rock radio station, KAFY (550 on the radio dial), would sponsor “Battle of the Bands” between groups of high school kids playing surf rock, rockabilly rock, Beatles music, and even original songs that hit the charts (Augie Moreno). We called them “Garage Bands,” which, I think, was more inclusive of a term than Frat Rock. Either way, it’s only Rock ‘n Roll but I like it!
    – Michael Kovacevich
    Bakersfield, California

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