The Goldbergs gets its energy from ’80s nostalgia, ridiculous-but-clever characters, tried-and-true sitcom formulas and music. Lots and lots of music.

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While the ABC comedy, leans on a lot of Top 40, New Wave and one-hit wonders, it depends on classic rock more than any other genre. On the rare occasions The Goldbergs strays from its ’80s fetish, the show usually celebrates immortal rock bands; references to the Grateful Dead and Rush power dozens of punchlines.

Creator Adam F. Goldberg explained in an interview with Vulture how songs drive scenes, noting, “I always screen the show for the writers and then we come up with a list of five songs for the editors to put in. … When the song is right, the show comes to life, and it’s always an easy decision. The only song that stayed in start to finish was Toto’s ‘Africa’— because it’s just awesome and perfect in every way.”

We take a look below at the show's best classic-rock references - from hair metal to ’60s rock ’n’ roll.

“Can't Fight This Feeling,” REO Speedwagon, Season 1, Episode 1

The Goldbergs gets a lot of mileage out of the truism that parents just don’t understand. Recalling “turn that noise off!” arguments that have been a mainstay from Chuck Berry to Black Sabbath to Nirvana, father Murray (Jeff Garlin) just doesn’t get his eldest son, Barry (Troy Gentile), and his adolescent love of hip-hop. Tone deaf to the teen’s tastes, Murray picks up an REO Speedwagon cassette. Like so many dads before him, Murray butchers an attempt to sing along to modern music, but in the end Barry can’t deny REO’s skills for writing perfect hooks. Who can?

 

“Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” Pat Benatar, Season 1, Episode 11

Before playing the titular family’s daughter, Erica, Hayley Orrantia was a contestant on the first season of The X-Factor. When The Goldbergs’ writers found out about their young star’s vocal talents, they quickly began coming up with musical numbers for her character. One such example: Erica crushing a high-school talent show with her earnest, powerful performance of Pat Benatar’s rock-radio staple.

 

"Livin' on a Prayer,” Bon Jovi, Season 1, Episode 23

Barry wants to throw the ultimate house party. His parents want to ruin the ultimate house party. And they do. But not before Barry (dressed like a wannabe LL Cool J, complete with Reebok Pumps), Erica and a room full of teens go nuts to the sound of Bon Jovi’s biggest smash. Youngest son Adam (Sean Giambrone) called it his generation’s anthem. If you went to prom in 1987, you know what he means.

 

"Tom Sawyer,” Rush, Season 3, Episode 21

“You guys need to get a clue, there’s only one band on the planet that matters: Rush,” burnout Johnny Atkins tells his classmates. “They’re not the canned garbage you listen to. They’re real. They’re from Canada. It’s super-cold so they have to rock super-hard to stay warm.” Played with totally awesome aplomb by Sean Marquette, who is so obviously a decade older than any high-school kid should be, Atkins always wears a Rush shirt. When he takes Erica to his Corolla and pops in Moving Pictures, “Tom Sawyer” opens her mind to the prog-rock kings.

 

“God Only Knows,” The Beach Boys, Season 4, Episode 3

Murray doesn’t like the idea of Live Aid — “There’s going to be a million morons pouring into the city, each one with bad hair and worse ideas.” Sure, Robert Plant’s hair wasn’t great at the legendary 1985 Philly concert, but having Phil Collins play with Led Zeppelin turned out to be a smart call. Like every uncool mom, Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey) wants to go see the Beach Boys, not Page and Plant (she doesn’t realize they're on the same bill). In the end, everyone misses Zep, the Beach Boys, Black Sabbath, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Judas Priest, Santana, Tom Petty, the Cars, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and the greatest concert lineup in the history of rock.

 

“Touch of Grey,” The Grateful Dead, Season 4, Episode 17

Deadheads born in the ’50s and ’60s typically hate it, but “Touch of Grey” introduced a new generation to Jerry Garcia and company. Just like every high school in the ’80s had a kid in a Rush T-shirt, every one also had a stoner in a skull-and-roses tee. In The Goldbergs, the Deadhead is Matt Bradley (Shayne Topp), part of Barry’s posse of friends. While often the butt of jokes - “Their songs are, like, a million hours long, their crazy fans smell like armpits and all they wear is tie-dye. It's, like, pick a color, bro” - the Dead have their day when Bradley and pals celebrate summer by following the band around in a dirty old van. It all starts when the gang chooses a Grateful Dead show over a Fat Boys concert, which, oddly enough, was a real option teenagers had in the ’80s.

 

"Bohemian Rhapsody," Queen, Season 6, Episode 7

Ah, Barry, what a moron. He actually thinks Queen’s signature song is called “Bohemian Rap City” - “How could they make a song set in a rap city not have one single sick rhyme or fresh beat?” With help from his legitimately talented girlfriend Lainey (AJ Michalka), Barry, as his alter ego Big Tasty, absolutely ruins the masterpiece by adding a few lines turning the song into celebration of his ninja skills: “Mama, I'm so so sorry/Just killed a man with the power of karate.

 

"Walk This Way,” Run-DMC and Aerosmith, Season 6, Episode 20

Of course rock and rap can work together. Run-DMC and Aerosmith both changed the course of their careers when they tag-teamed on “Walk This Way” in 1986. In a very rare collaboration that doesn’t end in catastrophe, Barry and Erica pay homage to the hip-hop and hard-rock mash-up onstage at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

 

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