Bob Stanley Tells the Truth About Classic Rock

Now I enjoy classic rock radio in moderation, and I’m a huge fan of many bands and albums that fall into that category (Derek and the Dominoes…). I also enjoy reading Rolling Stone magazine. Yet this passage from Bob Stanley’s Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé just took my breath away with its rightness.

Classic rock was more of a business model than a genre. The establishment of a canon (by industry and by critics) led to fifties and sixties recordings being repackaged with tags like “Rock Roots,” as if the Small Faces had been nothing more than baby steps for Humble Pie, and the Yardbirds a nursery for Led Zeppelin. By 1975 the huge sales of Humble Pie and Led Zeppelin led the industry to this conclusion (which proved to be lazy, and bad guesswork). There were refuseniks who, very soon, would seem like seers.

Radio also played its part in the emergence of classic rock. The turn-of-the-[70s]-decade switch to stereo FM in the States – without the static of mono AM – had led to a new kind of radio programming, one which was still recognizably pop but wore a lightly furrowed brow – the music had to have its roots, however vague, in hippie. So the Moody Blues were in, but the Osmonds certainly weren’t. Classic rock was music that appealed to advertisers, drivers, and young parents. It was written up in Rolling Stone, which managed to be both countercultural and crushingly conservative. It was also unforgiving, very male, and very straight. Decades later, this really shouldn’t matter. But it does – classic rock’s influence is deep, its hold is vise-like and, without a viable alternative to challenge it in the early seventies, its rules had been set in stone by 1975.”

THIS is why, if you want Buddy Holly or Chuck Berry, you have to look in an ‘oldies’ bin, even though their releases overlapped with the Beatles. THIS is why, with 100,000 Internet radio stations at my fingertips, I can’t find ONE that plays 60s R&B and soul by both black and white musicians. THIS is why, when I do listen to classic rock radio or compilations, I never hear a female voice even from years when Aretha Franklin, for instance, was outselling a bunch of those dudes. (Pace Joan Jett: you’re awesome, but there’s only one of you.)

Read Stanley’s whole book for a wild and swinging overview of ALL the music that was popular in the last sixty years.

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