Dinosaur Jr.’s Lou Barlow Mixes up a Cool (and Kid-Friendly) Playlist

The noise rock pioneer celebrates soft rock, muses on the musical genius behind Milli Vanilli, and more in this week's party soundtrack.

Photo Credit: Levi Walton

Indie-rock legend Lou Barlow was one of the founding members of Dinosaur Jr, which arguably defined the genre by burying catchy melodies and vulnerable lyrics under layers of noise. The band just released their 11th studio album, “Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not.”

Lou has also helmed other successful bands, including Sebadoh and Folk Implosion, whose song “Natural One” became a modern rock standard. So, naturally, we asked him to craft a dinner party soundtrack.

“I used to throw a lot of dinner parties, and I’ve got kids now so things have changed a little bit,” Lou explains before presenting his picks below. “This playlist is going to reflect both what I would play for my adult friends, but also what I play for my kids.”


Smokie – “Don’t Play Your Rock ‘N’ Roll to Me”

I love discovering new music. Things that I’ve never heard of that I didn’t know existed. And one of these things would be a band called Smokie, and this song called “Don’t Play Your Rock ‘N’ Roll to Me.”

The beginning is just immediately warm. It’s just these big guitars, and people would be like, “What is this?” And they’d think they should have heard it before, like, “This sounds familiar!”

Just a really amazing piece of ’70s, jangly, soft rock. I love the sound of soft rock just because that’s when I really discovered music. When I was a kid, and those kind of turbulent years between the ages of six and 10 when you’re kind of becoming a conscious being, really, it was nice to have soft rock there to cushion the blow of reality.

Boney M. – “Daddy Cool”

So, the next song would be “Daddy Cool” by Boney M. It’s got this amazing strummed bass line, which really appeals to me because, as the bass player for Dinosaur Jr., I strum my bass chords. I’m not a traditional bass player. It actually just makes my head explode every time I hear it.

The thing with Boney M. is that, in the ’70s, they were constructed by this German producer, Frank Farian, and he assembled a band to, basically, go on television and lip sync these songs. He went on to do Milli Vanilli. Of course, when people found out that Milli Vanilli were not actually singing the song, there was a huge outrage. But Frank Farian had already done this in the ’70s with Boney M. He had already created this band that just visually represented his songs on TV performances.

Frank Farian… I almost see him as like this Phantom of the Opera kind of figure, hunched over his mixing desk and just this rumpled face. But he’s a musical genius, and he writes these amazing pop songs, and when he wants them to be performed, of course, he can’t do it himself [laughs]. I’m sorry, Frank Farian. I have no idea what you really look like.

Animal Collective – “Hocus Pocus”

So now, it’s time for my third song. There is a band that I love, but I have a really hard time ever playing their music when anyone else is around because they elicit pretty extreme reactions in people. The band’s Animal Collective. This song is called “Hocus Pocus.”

I mean, Animal Collective are interesting because they’re not a noise band, but a lot of their songs are so frenetic and so, kind of, crazed at their beginnings. It’s like people are like, “Get that off! What is it?”

“Hocus Pocus” is a Panda Bear composition, Panda Bear being a member of the collective. His songs, they have these beautiful transitions in them. You’re kind of like, “Where is he going with this? Where is it?” And then, this just nice, melodic swell will come in, and you go, “Oh, there it is.”

And it’s a true hook, and it’s a hook that, it just seems so intuitive, and there’s a real simplicity to it.

Dinosaur Jr. – “Love Is”

This is the absolute end of the party because I’m going to play my own songs now. There’s a song on the Dinosaur Jr. record that I wrote, and the song is called “Love Is.”

Sometimes, if I have a really good night of listening to music, I will sometimes end up by myself with my headphones on, and I will do, like, a little career retrospective of my own music to kind of get a perspective, like, “Have I ever done a good song?” You know, I think that’s always my question, like, “Did you ever do anything good, Lou?”