If you are of a certain age, as I am, you might owe your entire existence to Daddy Cool’s Eagle Rock. Your parents probably had sex to it. No one wants to think about that, do they? It makes it literally Dad rock. Or Mum-and-Dad rock, if you prefer.
Eagle Rock is 50 years old this year. It is a cultural touchstone, voted the second greatest Australian song of all time, behind only the Easybeats’ Friday On My Mind, in a 2001 Australasian Performing Right Association poll.
Yet there is a younger generation that semi-ironically loses its mind over Daryl Braithwaite’s Horses – a naff cover of a Rickie Lee Jones song – but spurns Eagle Rock. Why?
It could be Mondo Rock, the new wave band that Daddy Cool leader Ross Wilson fronted from 1976 to 1991. More specifically, it could be their creepy 1983 hit Come Said The Boy. But you can’t totally blame Wilson for that one. It was written by guitarist Eric McCusker.
More likely, it’s the ubiquity. Overexposure can do terrible things to a tune, and Eagle Rock is inescapable. In Australia, it has charted twice in my lifetime: 17 weeks at No. 1 in 1971 (the year of my birth, if not conception), and it reached No. 17 when reissued in 1982. It remains an FM radio classic rock staple.
New Zealanders were just as fixated with Eagle Rock. Across the Tasman, the song peaked in the charts 19 years after release, finally going to No. 1 for a month in 1990, when it stayed in the charts for 15 weeks.
It’s a football anthem. The West Coast Eagles play it to celebrate wins after home games, after their club song, and it was also played after their win in the 2018 grand final. It’s also the unofficial theme song of the NRL’s Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.
More dubiously, it was students at the University of Queensland who started the strange tradition of lowering their pants and strutting around to it, albeit more like chickens than eagles. (I can personally attest to this.)
Cultural cringe may also play a part – the belief that Eagle Rock is a hand-me-down of an American tradition. The name derives from the ragtime standard Ballin’ The Jack, which features the lyric: “Spread your lovin’ arms right out in space / Then you do the eagle rock with style and grace” – the eagle rock, of course, being a sexual metaphor.
Which brings us back to what makes Eagle Rock work. It is true that Daddy Cool had more of the 1950s than the ’60s about them when they appeared in the early ’70s: musically, they were a throwback to the spirit of early rock & roll and doo-wop that may have seemed at odds with the time. And on the other, Daddy Cool’s music itself moved with a style and grace that was timeless.
When you get right down in the groove, Eagle Rock remains infectious, from the first, seductive notes of the late Ross Hannaford’s guitar, to Wilson’s cry: “Now listen!” His delivery is sly and horny. Of course it is: what else should a song called Eagle Rock be? The joy in the ensemble playing is palpable.
And if a good cultural cringe demands validation from beyond our shores, then Daddy Cool had it in spades. Most famously, Elton John’s Crocodile Rock was directly inspired by Eagle Rock. Which is also cool. But did you know Marc Bolan’s first request, after touching down in Australia with T. Rex in 1973, was to meet the song’s author? Or that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were entranced by Daddy Cool’s first album, Daddy Who? How cool is that?
Daddy Cool were also one of the first Australian bands to hit American shores, in 1971, when Eagle Rock was still flying atop the charts in their home country. Signing a deal with Reprise, they opened shows for the likes of Deep Purple, Captain Beefheart and Fleetwood Mac (pre-Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham’s arrival).
So, what is it about this song? I asked Wilson if there was anything left to be said about Eagle Rock after 50 years.
Wilson replied that the four members of Daddy Cool, between them, had that intangible chemistry that great bands have. “Give that song to other bands and it just doesn’t sound right,” he said.
“When I listen to the original recording today, I still get amazed by the voodoo in that track. There are harmonic overtones that I can hear that provide the magic, as if there are extra players, even though I know there aren’t.
“One of my greatest post-Daddy Cool moments was at Port Fairy folk festival maybe 10 years ago when some Nigerian musicians heard I was playing, insisted on seeing me, dropped in side of stage – we finished with Eagle Rock and as I came off stage they gave me a big hug. Such is the reach of Eagle Rock. It’s funky.”
So, there you have it. Who’s your Daddy? Daddy Cool. You should thank them. Spread your lovin’ arms right out in space.
First published in the Guardian, 7 August 2021