Friday, November 19, 2010

When Is "Classic Rock"?

(I drew him on my phone. Why should David Hockney have all the fun?)

Question: When is "classic rock"?

As a teenager back in the 80s, the last time I was listening to classic rock with any regularity, the answer seemed pretty straightforward: It was that stuff from the 60s and 70s.* But as the decades have marched on, the definition has morphed. Now stuff from the 80s is totally fair game. And maybe even a bit of the early 90s. So what can we conclude? Perhaps:
Classic rock is rock that is at least two decades (or so) old.
Does that sound about right? But if the end of the classic rock era is moving forward in time, what about the start? If new stuff is being brought into the fold, is old stuff being kicked out, falling off the front end into some even older category? "Oldies"? No, surely Led Zeppellin will always be classic rock. And I think of the term "oldies" as applying more specifically to rock 'n' roll** and other pre-"rock" popular forms. So is the start of classic rock stationary while the end moves forward in time? Will the duration of the classic rock era march relentlessly towards infiniti? Hmm.

* The whole concept of classic rock must have kicked off in the 80s, right? Before that it was just rock. Hmm.

** That's another good question. When did rock 'n' roll morph into just rock? I'd peg it at some time around the British Invasion—Beatles, etc.
when the music became less syncopated and more stadium-centric. Hmm.


  1. Amanda10:59 AM

    No! I am putting my foot down and not admitting 80s and 90s into the fold. Though "classic rock" may have initially meant rock that was two decades old, it must now be seen to describe a genre, as you say "oldies" and "rock 'n' roll" do. Music from the 80s can be described as "80s music" or subdivided into genres such as "new wave." Otherwise you are saying "Cars" is classic rock. That way madness lies, my friend!

    But perhaps a Venn diagram would help...

  2. Mmm. Yeah, the Cars don't fit. But what about 80s Van Halen or 80s Aerosmith?

  3. The first question to be settled is, what is rock?

  4. Chumpfest10:05 PM

    I think you are right about the Beatles/Who/Rolling Stones being the birth of classic rock as defined by major media outlets, with the 70s being the anchor decade of the genre, the maturity and entrenchment of the general ethos--long hair, driving guitar, total abandonment to the pleasures of sex and drug use, a hint of a taste for violence, etc--as a dominant form of expression in the culture. Starts to tail off after 1980, but anyone who still follows the template closely enough can still be considered part of the tradition, such as Guns N Roses seems to be and even dubious acts like the Black Crowes. Still, the classic rock era must be waning by this point: even if the stations try to introduces new acts, it seems unlikely that they'll stick.

    "Oldies" is another category whose boundaries have shifted some over the years, with the Beatle era of 1964-1970 remaining always the core. Songs from this period were already known as oldies in 1980, when in fact they were still pretty recent--most of the Beatles still hadn't even turned 40 at that point--with the beginning of the oldies era dating from the release of "Rock Around the Clock" in 1955 and its direct descendents. Nothing earlier counted, and pop holdovers from that pre-rock era like Sinatra and Dean Martin who continued to hang around were as if diverted into an entirely different stream of history unrelated to the age of Rock. "Oldies" nowadays seems largely confined to the era between the Beatles and the dawn of MTV, with the 80s constituting a separate category reserved for the 8p-12a slot on Sunday night, and the 1955-64 pre-Beatles stuff (with a few exceptions like Elvis, Buddy Holly and maybe Chuck Berry) relegated, if it is remembered at all. to a odd combination of Rat Pack--Pat Boone--Henry Mancini--Engelbert Humperdinck--Carpenters nostalgia progamming on AM.

  5. Dang, bruh. Think that about nails it.

  6. Perhaps "classic" refers not to a time-period, but to the sound or spirit in which the rock was made. I think this because surely GNR was classic rock immediately on release and didn't need to be aged.