I’m very into defining categories and genres of music, so this article, entitled “Why Classic Rock Isn’t What it Used to Be?” by Walt Hickey at FiveThirtyEight piqued my interest immediately. Unfortunately, the headline and the author’s conclusion don’t fit the data he compiled. He says that classic rock is changing, expanding to the 90s bands like Green Day and Pearl Jam. Which is frightening to those of us who remember those bands being played on the “modern rock” stations in the 1990s. Modern rock can never become classic, right? That would mean that time is passing, and there’s lots of data out there that shows this to be patently false.
So, despite the good setup, the problem is that the data Hickey provides show that classic rock is not changing. The overwhelming amount of music on classic rock stations is from the 1970s with an occasional song from Rush and ZZ Top. Yeah, out on the west coast they play a bit more Pearl Jam and Nirvana on these stations. So what? I bet they played these bands on those stations in the ’90s. I base this not on data but memory; classic rock stations played Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Sound Garden, Alice in Chains, and Metallica pretty much right away. Why? Because their sound was influenced by and sounded like classic rock (listen to Merkinball). Just like bands in the 2000s started mimicking ’80s bands, and so many bands today embrace Dave Matthews (snark alert).
A more interesting article would focus on those bands played on stations where they shouldn’t belong. Why, for instance, are the Beastie Boys played on modern rock but not Outkast or Kanye, or at least the Jay Z/Linkin Park combos. Who plays the Hold Steady? Why aren’t they dominating classic rock charts? The Black Keys? Queens of the Stone Age? TV on the Radio? Broken Bells? We need a modern classic rock station.
In the meantime, I will worry that time is actually passing when classic rock stations are playing the bands that really defined the moment of ‘modern rock,’ like The Smiths and New Order.
photo credit: Stu Rapley