What Is "Frat Rock" Music?

The Kingsmen's original "Louie Louie" album
 Courtesy of Amazon 

Frat-rock is sort of folk-rock's evil twin, having developed into a much different style for much the same reason: the first generation of rock and roll fans leaving high school and heading for America's universities. In this case, however, they weren't forming electric bands to interpret folk, but to stomp out their favorite R&B tunes. Frat-rock was designed first and foremost for the drunken party, much like seen in the classic 1978 film Animal House, written by Harvard alumni who well remember the wild shindigs of the early Sixties.

Typical Frat-Rock Song

The typical frat-rock song featured an organ and owed a strong debt to hard rhythm and blues, but the similarities between it and garage-rock stopped there: garage was more guitar-oriented, angry, brooding, and psychedelic. Frat, for its part, landed with a big stomping beat, salacious lyrics, and a drunken delivery. 

While the typical frat-rock anthem was pounded out by white or Latino collegiates—typically those weaned on James Brown's landmark 1962 Live At The Apollo LP, standard issue for all college debauches—the music was by no means segregated, as early soul bands found a devoted following among frat devotees as well. (The lighter entries in the genre also became favorites among the more laid-back revelers on the "beach" and "shag" scenes.) As time went on, the generation weaned on these acts and classic sides began to develop into America's finest from Springsteen's E Streeters to the J. Geils Band, all R&B-based and featuring keyboards and saxophone. As collegiate life got more serious in the late Sixties, however, college music followed it, leading to classic rock, prog-rock, and other definite non-party-starters.

Also Known As: Garage Rock, Party Rock

Examples of "Frat Rock" Music

  • "Double Shot Of My Baby's Love," The Swingin' Medallions: Like many of their contemporaries, this frat rock anthem actually sounded like a party happening in the studio, right down to the drunken hoots and hollers and a truly killer organ riff that was a mainstay of the genre.
  • "Louie Louie," The Kingsmen: The original frat-rock party anthem, the exact moment when West Coast R&B began to reverberate up and down the Pacific Northwest Coast. The Kingsmen were only one of several area bands to cover this Richard Berry hit.
  • "Wooly Bully," Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs: A dance craze, a slip past the censors, or just drunken silliness? Doesn't matter—Sam Samudio's crew were masters of the Tex-Mex sound and brought that infectious energy to the frat party.
  • "Nobody But Me," The Human Beinz: The perfect soundtrack to any dance-off of the era, the song which holds the world record for uses of the word "no" in one song, and a perversely apt backdrop for Uma Thurman's murder spree in the film Kill Bill.
  • "Quarter To Three," Gary "U.S." Bonds: An excellent example of the bonkers "Norfolk Sound" that Bonds helped bring out of Virginia and to frats everywhere, this one started out as a sax instrumental, which probably explains why it brims with real R&B brio.
  • "Shout!" The Isley Brothers: Forget Otis Day and the Knights—"Shout!" was the Isley's first entrance into the national charts a full two decades before its era-defining turn in Animal House. And yet it had enough gospel fire to land on mixtapes and wedding DJ lists for decades after.
  • "96 Tears," ? and the Mysterians: Frat-rock's greatest breakup ballad and also its greatest tale of revenge, a dark and brooding tone poem which nevertheless still bore all the marks of the genre, like snotty vocals and pre-psych organ.
  • "Land Of 1000 Dances," Cannibal and the Headhunters: The song that started out as a prime mover in New Orleans Soul took on an otherworldly, incantatory wooziness in the hands of these groundbreaking East L.A. Chicanos, who in turn birthed several more attempts.
  • "Farmer John," The Premiers: A real three-chord stomper with that frat-rock ability to make you feel the party was happening in your stereo, in part because, as with the Medallions, the whole band took the lead vocals at once.
  • "Mony Mony," Tommy James and the Shondells: Inspired by gazing out the window of their New York studio and seeing a sign for Mutual of New York life insurance, the Shondells returned to their pre-bubblegum "Hanky Panky" roots, but this time with production about a thousand times thicker.