Segarini: What (exactly) is Classic Rock?

Bob in Rolling StoneFrom Wikipedia: “KRBE-AM, Houston was an early classic rock radio station. In 1983 program director Paul Christy designed a format which played only early album rock, from the 1960s and early 1970s, without any current music or Top 40 material at all. KRBE was the first station to use the term “classic rock” on the air. Classic rock soon became the widely used descriptor for the format, and became the commonly used term for early album rock music by the general public.”

Really? So…how are Nirvana and Green Day “classic rock”?

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classic-rockBack in 1983 when the Classic Rock format was first conceived and launched on radio, it was a hell of an idea. More than just channeling the British Invasion, Power Trio, and Progrock sub-genres’ that sprang from the original reset of rock and roll brought to bear by the Beatles and their beat group brethren, the Classic Rock format included the progenitors and architects of the stew made up of jazz, hillbilly, and blues music into a new American art form; Rock and Roll.

These records were spun by DJs who knew the history of the music. They played the music of the ‘60s and early ‘70s that had created the first ‘Free Form” and “Underground” radio stations, making FM radio (AM radio’s sad little brother) into the powerhouse it remains to this day. It is telling that the first classic rock formats were on the AM band, a rather smart idea considering that by 1983, most people over the age of 25 were starting to pine for the “good old days” of high school and their youth. Never underestimate the power of nostalgia.

And that, my friends, is what Classic Rock radio has become.

Nostalgia.

It’s not about the music as much as it is about recapturing the youth of its listeners.

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There are tens of thousands, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of ‘classic rock’ songs out there that do not figure into the playlists of the stations that play this kind of music. Even the absolute rulers of the format are limited to a handful of tracks from their recorded catalogues.

Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and all of the original mainstays of the time period (mid ‘60s to mid ‘70s) originally mined for the format, have dozens of songs you seldom, if ever, hear on the radio.

Why is that?

…and another thing; lately, some of the ‘classic rock’ I’m hearing is from the ‘90s and beyond. What the hell does THAT mean?

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When I first started to research this column over 3 weeks ago, I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to say. I was fairly certain I could knock out a few thousand words and make my point, and then go for a soda, or shiatsu, or just sit here and play Angry Birds Star Wars. I am not the Mr. Smarty-Pants I thought I was…were…whatever.

ClassicRock  fans

Turns out, the more I read and listened, the more confused I got, like having to choose between Betty and Veronica, or either rooting for the Maple Leafs or repeatedly slamming my head in the refrigerator door. The more I tried to ascertain the true meaning of Classic Rock, the more clouded the issue got. I would write 1000 words, read something else, start all over again, rinse, repeat. By late last week, what I had originally wanted to say (Classic Rock is a genre’, not a specific time period the music has to come from) started to sound superficial and over-simplified…and not quite right. I would read more, change my mind again, write, delete, start over, delete, read, write…I was suddenly reminded of trying to get a cat into a bathtub full of water, or getting a tech support person on the phone whose accent wasn’t as thick as a bowl of oatmeal.

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The worst part was the amazing amount of documentaries available featuring musical legends both old and new. I became obsessed with watching every single one I could get my hands on, which, thanks to the Intertoobz, was damn near all of them.  I learned two things right off the bat.

  1. There are some pretty smart musicians out there.
  2. There are some really stupid musicians out there.

Pedals!One of the documentaries featured 3 musicians from three different eras of rock music. The youngest one was the most talented, erudite, and sincere in his love of music. The middle one was more concerned with gadgets, foot pedals, ‘sound’, and more gadgets. The oldest one seemed amused by the whole thing and a bit underwhelmed that anyone gave a hoot about what he used to do for a living.

Another of the docs was a love letter to a rundown recording studio in a San Fernando Valley industrial complex and the Neve console they used to record a lot of hit records with. This one raised the respect I have for David Grohl even higher than it already was, and further surprised me with the passion and actual love of music and appreciation of their good fortune to be part of the business that many of the musicians who recorded at the studio displayed. There was also (for me, anyway) a telling and very funny moment when Paul McCartney is writing/arranging a song he is about to record with Grohl and a couple of other guys. He stops the proceedings to suggest going to an “A” chord after what seemed like an eternity in “D”. Everyone agrees and follows his lead. All I could think of was, who the fuck would tell McCartney his song ideas are crap. I mean, seriously, who would have the balls to say, “Hey, Paul, that is completely retarded. Let’s try this instead.” By now, he must know there isn’t anyone who would challenge any suggestion he ever makes. He’d probably have a stroke if someone did.

wired-for-sound-b-b-king-dvd-cover-artI watched dozens of clips from The Wrecking Crew documentary, the wonderful 3 hour Eagles doc that Showtime ran last week, and revisited a doc that I narrated years ago called “Wired for Sound”, the story of Gibson Guitars and the guitar players who love them. I watched maybe another half a dozen docs as well.

When my ears stopped ringing and my eyes stopped bleeding, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say.

It helped that I had a bottle of Jack Daniels and a six pack of PBR handy.

Still…I continue to wrestle with this as we speak.

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One conclusion I did reach is that classic rock is different things to different people. As individuals who like to revisit the snapshots of our lives on occasion, that’s fine, but when radio tries to be all things to all people, it reeks of desperation.

Die-hard music fans come in various shapes and sizes, and if they are passionate about a specific genre’ or artist, do not play well with others. Fans of music who have open minds and embrace quality over territorial imperative can appreciate The Eagles and Sinatra as easily as they can enjoy Led Zeppelin and the New York Dolls. In my experience, however, they are far outnumbered by, say, an Eagles fan who would dare  suggest The Eagles’ recorded output and songs are superior to Led Zeppelin’s to a Led Zeppelin fan, who in turn,would likely be shouted down, punched in the throat, or hospitalized. You know the kind of fan I am referring to; the one at your last party who kept replacing your iPod halfway through your “Best of Motown” playlist with his iPods “Gwar Live!” playlist.

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It occurs to me that Classic Rock is an ever-changing chameleon whose definition depends on when you were born. People my age, for example, will have their rock touchstones ranging from Louie Jordan, Hank Ballard, Richard, Berry, and Elvis, while the generation after mine would cite The Beatles Stones, and Motown, and the next, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, etc, and then you get into those who grew up on Punk, Grunge, alt, rap and hip-hop, and finally those we lost to beats, autotune, and committee writing/producing/marketing/choreographed/bright shiny objects, which, if there is a God, will someday have its own radio format called “Classic Meh”.

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muffin-topTo be honest, Classic Rock is far too undefinable at this point in time to be able to say it is any one thing. If you’re looking to relive your youth, wiggle into your high school jeans and tank top and pretend it’s 1970. 80, or 90-something, tune into your local ‘Classic’ Rock Station and wait…they will play a hit from your timeframe sooner or later. All of them. With very few exceptions, they are ALL looking to find the perfect combination of nostalgic ‘hits’ to attract the ‘good old days’ crowd, even though some of those ‘good old days’ were as recent as 5 years ago. I wish them luck.

If you are a MUSIC fan and still look for new music that compliments and adds to what has gone before, listen to stations like The Rock, who have wisely decided that there is great new rock music being made (and overlooked) currently and from the past 40 years that deserves to be heard, as well mas deeper cuts from the “good old days”. For my money, this is the best thing to happen to radio in the last 30 years.

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What kind of Classic Rock Radio Station would I like to hear?

This one….

69.9 The Bob

The Move – Do Ya

There would have been no heavy rock or Cheap trick without this record.

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Our first double-shot. The Originator…

Little Richard – Keep a Knockin’

…and the Imitator.

Led Zeppelin – Rock and Roll

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Two Double-Shots in a row! The overlooked first effort…

The Beatles – My Bonnie

…and the overlooked classic.

The Beatles – Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except for Me and My Monkey)

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A friendly reminder; Jeff Beck recorded more than Beck’s Bolero…and Rod Stewart was a really good singer before he became a crooner.

Jeff Beck – Blues DeLuxe

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From Petty’s first LP. Heard at a house party at the Jersey Shore the week it came out. Breakdown was the hit, but this opening side one cut got played over and over.

Tom Petty – Rockin’ Around with You

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Always loved the name. Sounds like a Marvel Comic Book title.

Omar & The Howlers – Hard Times In The Land Of Plenty

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Remember this band? This song? Still smokin’ hot.

Living Colour – Cult of Personality

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For the life of me, I can’t understand why classic rock stations don’t play these. The Bob does….

Stevie Wonder/Clash – Uptight at the Casbah

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Once again, vital music missing from most playlists…Noooooo!

King’s X – Over My Head

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Double-shot. Classic Power Pop…because I said so!

Dwight Twilley – I’m on Fire

20/20 – Giving it All

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Overlooked New Wave, funnest of all Waves….

The Jags – Back of my Hand

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A groundbreaking neo-punk British unit. The bass sound alone makes for the Pogo.

The Stranglers – Peaches

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A couple of beloved country/rock/punk/folk songs. These get played occasionally, but they deserve to be heard!

Georgia satellites – Keep Your Hands to Yourself

Jason and the Scorchers – Absolutely Sweet Marie

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What? Another double-shot? Well, kinda. One of Canada’s best kept secrets…

The Respectables – Sweet Mama

…and is there a rule against playing YouTube stuff on the radio? Not at The Bob, there isn’t! More Canadian greatness….

The Trews and The Respectables – Highway to Hell

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There was a time when disc jockeys could play a record that suited the mood of the moment…like when there was a thunderstorm….

Blondie/Doors – Rapture Riders

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Two in a row from an iconic singer who inspired so many rock bands and singers, he was covered for decades. How soon we forget….

Wilson Pickett – Land of a 1000 Dances

Wilson Pickett – Everybody Needs Somebody to Love

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Why play the Black Crows cover when you can play this? How sad that other stations only play Dock of the Bay…not that there’s anything wrong with that. Wait…yes there is.

Otis Redding – Too Hot to Handle

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I (and so many other singers) covered this guy’s songs in the first two bands I was ever in. We were never as good as he was.

Marvin Gaye – Can I Get a Witness

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See…isn’t this fun?

The Jackson Five/Beatles – I Want You Back in My Life

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Four tracks that inspired drummers, guitar players, and introduced the Wurlitzer electric piano to rock keyboardists. Made it okay to add horns…didn’t it, Chicago?

Freddie King – Hideaway

James Brown – Night Train

Ray Charles – What’d I Say

The Mar Kays – Last Night

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Seriously, why doesn’t radio play this stuff? Or would the nostalgists yell “FOUL!”

James Brown/Beatles – I Feel Good Driving My Car

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He is as good as Clapton, Beck, and Jimmy, AND he’s Canadian. Hear him here first!

Johnny V – Gotta Get Back to My Squeeze

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There are over 25 Rival Sons tracks here. I’ll understand if you get sidetracked for a while….

Rival Sons

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Adele? Janis? They’re both dead to me. This woman, is not….

Alabama Shakes

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Rival Sons are not the only new kids bringing new music to the party with a rock-solid foundation. Here’s a little Northern and Southern rock from this millennium you might like….

Blackstone Cherry – White Trash Millionaire

Blackberry Smoke – Up in Smoke

Them Crooked Vultures – No One Loves Me And Neither Do I

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More Canadians? What? Am I crazy? Yeah…crazy like a Leafs fan.

The Balconies – Beating Your Heart

The Balconies – Battle Royale

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Still more Canadalings? Yes. Oh yes. Reminiscent of the classic British Invasion vocal groups only not collecting pensions. They’re young, they’re talented, they write frighteningly good original songs and their fun! Remember fun? Worthy of a double-shot.

Xprime – Tell Me Why

Xprime – Jane’s Modern Waltz

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Another Canadian talent who is now touring as part of Prince’s band. We’ve been a fan for years, now you can be, too!

Donna Grantis – Keep On Keepin’ On

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Oddly, my favourite Beatle song of all time. Everything they did prior to this is evident in this one track. Beautiful, poignant, and timeless.

The Beatles – Free as a Bird

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Again, this is oddly my favourite Eagles Track of all time. Did this even get any airplay? Anywhere?

The Eagles – Last Good Time in Town

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Those damn Beatles are everywhere. This is so cool. Remember, Love music and it will love you back.

Seacrest Out!

Nine Inch Nails/Beatles – Come Closer Together

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Segarini’s regular column appears here every Monday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonBob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, continues to write music, make music, and record.

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4 Responses to “Segarini: What (exactly) is Classic Rock?”

  1. Interesting read…and I’m loving this playlist! Good to hear Dwight Twilley, Jason & The Scorchers and 20/20 included as “classic rock.” And I also wonder why The Beatles “Free As A Bird” is never played on the radio.

    Keep up the good work.

    Marty

    p.s. I still remember my white vinyl copy of “Gotta Have Pop” that I played endlessly. We interviewed you at the Hotel Vancouver back in the day for a fanzine my friend produced called “Semantic Zilch,” and then we saw your band play at Gary Taylor’s Rock Room (I think you had just released “Goodbye LA”).

  2. Great column. Asks a big question and gives a big answer. Here is a man unafraid to stake out a claim to an original opinion

  3. “Nobody Loves Me and Neither Do I”? Where has this band been all my life! And you can say the same thing about the Indies as you are about “Classic Rock”. I remember when indie meant truly independent. Then the labels came along, saw that they could make money and began signing distribution agreements for what they would term “indies”. I mean, what was independent about THAT? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I noticed a whole pile of videos of bands I’ve never heard of.

  4. Thanks for this article.

    One of my pet peeves is people who say “There’s been no good music since -insert decade here-.” People my age, in their early 30s, who go on about how everything has been garbage since the early ’90s especially.

    If you can’t find good music now, you’re either not try trying, or you simply don’t *want* new music.

    As for the genre itself, Classic Rock, listening to Q107 these days makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s not that I don’t like the music, I love it. A lot. It’s that the mental image I have of their target audience is of middle-aged men who frequent The Beer Store and obsess over the music they drove around to picking up girls in their prime, and the whole “gruff radio announcer” that goes along with that. A sort of conceit that their music is the only music that matters. The musicians are infallible saints of rock, not to be questioned, and everyone that comes after is a charlatan.

    As for myself, I’ve got amazing music from the span of 7 decades (’50s to ’10s) on my iPod, and I couldn’t live without that.

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