Classic Rot

Classic RockI listen to the signals

That the ancient strangers play

What are they doing here?

Something so familiar to my ear

“Classic Rot” —Dramarama

When Dramarama penned that song for their fourth album Vinyl, I thought for sure that they were making a statement about the state of radio—a swipe at their inability to muscle in to traditional rock stations that were too wrapped up in playing the classic rock tunes of twenty-years prior to consider a band like Dramarama. Ironically, Dramarama is a band so attuned to the rock styling of their ancestors that they should have found a nice home on any classic rock station.

But they weren’t, and that was a drag to me.


Not so much for my affection towards Dramarama, but because I was utterly convinced that rock radio was destroying the bands I so revered. Around the time Vinyl was released, I had had it with the Doors, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, and any number of bands that you will hear on any given hour on “The X,” “The Fox,” or “The Incontinent Eagle.”

It wasn’t so much that I despised the bands, but I most certainly hated the few songs that radio programmers seemed to focus on, day in and day out.

Consider Led Zeppelin. Why does radio only seem to focus on two songs from their album Physical Graffiti: “Kashmir” and “Houses Of The Holy?” It’s a double, for Christssake. It has enough material to sufficiently “get the led out.” There’s nothing on that record so out of character that even a novice Zep fan wouldn’t recognize. If even the most unfamiliar Zeppelin listener heard “In The Light” they’d be able to discern it was the work of the band and—most importantly to radio programmers—continue to listen until the next spot break. But programmers seemed intent on playing it safe and focusing on a pair of tracks that will eventually cause them to seek something fresher.

There’s nothing wrong with “Kashmir,” but I couldn’t understand how anyone who’s in the business of entertaining with music wouldn’t think at some point, “Do you think our listeners may be getting tired of hearing ‘Kashmir’?”

For me, the answer was a wholehearted “Yes!” and fueled by a bit of Gen X cynicism, I began rebuking classic rock—now labeled “Classic Rot” thanks to that Dramarama song—and programmed my car radio to nothing above 91 MHz.

Combining this with a virtual admonishment of those needle-burned albums (The Doorsdebut, Pronounced ‘Leh-‘nérd Skin-‘nérd, Boston‘s debut, Frampton Comes Alive, etc.) created an intentional void of all manner of song that I could recite in my sleep.

“What song is it that you want to hear?” asked Ronnie Van Zant.

The sound of all of Skynyrd’s master tapes going down in a stalled Convair 240, please.

The purge was necessary, and it forced me to examine other types of music. My music collection began to drift into rock’s polarizing enemy: rap. It swelled with its stepbrother grunge, got stoned with trip-hop, and stumbled over everything shoegazed.

It also got me to look deeper into the charts from those same periods that spawned classic rock. If I knew that Dark Side Of The Moon began its infinite run on Billboard’s charts in 1973, I looked for the records that it pushed to the wayside on its assent. The road to number one was littered with such awesomeness as Neu! 2, John Cale‘s Paris 1919, and Roxy Music‘s For Your Pleasure. Hell, even some of classic rock’s usual suspects let loose with some nifty under the radar records that A.O.R. programmers deemed too obscure for listener ears.

Fast forward to a few years ago when Brad Delp, the undeniably talented lead vocalist for Boston, decided to grill indoors and silence those enviable pipes. It probably would have been easier to tune to one of the heartland’s endless classic rock stations and wait for the obligatory spin of “Foreplay/Long Time,” but I wanted to make a point with a Soundscan sale that I’d see my Mary Ann walking away again with my own copy of Boston.

I never owned it before, and truth be told, I didn’t need to. When it was released, a kid from the neighborhood brought it over to let me primitively record it with a monophonic cassette deck. I put the recorder against the speaker of my record player, pushed “play” and “record” simultaneously, and quietly left the room for seventeen and a half minutes before doing the same thing for side two.

Take a look at Boston and you’ll understand what I mean about not having to actually buy it. Only “Something About You” is a song not currently in rotation at your local classic rock station, and it probably should be as it’s no different from the album’s seven other tracks. But again, the program director of your local classic rock station is a chickenshit and only refuses to add it because he’s afraid the owners will question “What’s that Boston song that I didn’t know the words to?”

It’s because of him that I don’t tune in to his station, and as a result, don’t pay attention to his advertisers, and it’s why my iPod rocks a better playlist than anything his station auditorium tests could ever muster.

It’s also because of him that I’m able to listen to Boston again. And The Cars. And Street Survivors. And any number of previously shunned titles that I vowed to never play. With that spin of Boston, I heard the band’s debut in a new light, and it had nothing to do with Tom Scholz’s remastering job. It sounded just like it did on the day I stuck a J.C. Penny cassette recorder in front of my record player.

It was a classic rock album again.

There are a few albums that I still can’t take. I picked up Led Zeppelin IV from a garage sale in Bloomfield, Iowa for a quarter about 10 years ago and have yet to play it. A co-worker got me the EaglesGreatest Hits Vol. 1 for Christmas once because he noticed I “liked music.” It never made it out of the shrink-wrap, and the $4 I got for it at the used record store immediately bought a more suitable gift: a pack of American Spirit yellows. And even though there are tons of memories in the grooves of my copy of Born In The U.S.A., I’ll settle for my own synapse visions than wading through another round of “Glory Days.” They’re wrecked—not permanently, as I’ve discovered—but they’ll require a bit more distance to save it from the taphos that is classic rock radio.

16 thoughts on “Classic Rot”

  1. Left on, Todd. My best guess is that the folks who put those playlists together

    weren’t even born when it all went down. It would be like me dj-ing for a swing-era station. I can tell you what the highlights were, but the nuance would not be there. It would take me years of listening and searching to even get it half-right,

    and my mom and dad could still run circles around me. (Mom’s jewelry box

    plays ‘Stardust’). I could call them up and rage against the tide, but what’s the point? Find yourself a decent copy of Charlie’s ‘Lines’ and have a drink on me.

  2. We have two “deep cuts’ classic rockers in this market. But they both play a lot of what I call “hippie shit”–Allmans, CSNY, I heard “Hypnotized” by Bob Welch a few minutes ago. Not my thing. I grew up rocking my head sideways. It sure would be a hoot to hear a radio station play the title track to Toys In thr Attic, Free For All by Uncle Ted, The Zoo by the Scorpions–stuff you used to hear at night 25 years ago. Yes Todd it’s been 25 years. My powerball format even includes “Deuce” and “Strutter>”. But that’s with 2 million extra in the bank to pay my buddies on staff when our only client the ATV dealer stiffs us on the bill. I think you really hit it on the head Todd with the point about the owner hearing a song that he doesn’t know the lyrics. Clients too. Radio has always been a business. But now more than ever it’s about REVENUE and RELATIONSHIPS (with clients.) Ratings are still important for regional and national buys if you’re lucky enough to be in the top 3.

    But relationships with clients are what keeps your employees and the electric bill paid. I hate to tell you this Todd but we are getting old. My wife’s boss is 38 and his favorite band is Tool. Now I’m not here to defend the honor of Tool. But any client would love to have this 38 year old professional guy hear his commercial. And his favorite band is fuckin Tool. I’ve said this before. The great thing about radio is that even glono hipsters see it the same naive way they did as a child. You want to recapture that magic like when you were a kid waiting to hear your favorite song.

    But now the 8 year olds are listening to Keisha honk about “brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack.” The good old days will not return…not even if somebody starts playing deep Zeppelin cuts and the 7th most popular song on Boston’s self-titled.

  3. $4 for a pack of American Spirits?! Try $10 in NYC.

    And yeah, you would think classic rock radio, with the deep reservoir of tracks it has to choose from, would take advantage of the bounty of music at its disposal. Sadly, no.

  4. yeah there should be more classic rock radio stations playing the deep reservoir of tracks. The head shops have no where to advertise now. The classic rockers playing the same 600 songs that test are sold out with car dealers and furniture stores. They have no room for the poor head shops.

  5. Sorry, dude, but you totally misunderstand the function of classic rock radio. My main purpose to provide older folks with an instant channel to those “remember when?” memories (like that wonderful high school crush) and to provide comfortable background music that will keep them from changing the channel. In return, I get paid to run ads that they’ll go ahead and listen to because that hand will never reach for the dial.

    I hate to break this to you, my record-store-clerk friend, but you’re like a guy who doesn’t understand why that girl isn’t the way you’d like her to be. The problem is you, not her; I have always been the same, and I’m living a good life without you, and instead of trying to change me you need to move on.

    Enjoy your iPod.

    CR

  6. I don’t think the point is that radio needs to change. The point is that once you stop listening to the radio, you realize that the music is actually good.

  7. When I was working in AC and country I went 10 years rarely listening to classic rock. Then even “Sweet Home Alabama” sounded fresh. And “Baba O’Riley” made me cream my jeans. Classic Rawk did make his point very eloquently–almost like a page from a media kit selling classic rock. But the truth is that classic rock may have to evolve somehow to survive. Those Zeppelin songs are 40 years old. 60’s and 70’s oldies are dyng out now because the audience is no longer 25-54. Most AC’s have dropped Celine Dion for Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. The surviving AM stations are dropping music for talk, killing MOR(Sinatra stations) in many markets. And some of those godawful active rock stations that play the “no hooks” stuff are actually billing pretty well. I’mma be keep on listening to Rhythmic CHR. This is the longest my CHR phase has ever lasted. I can’t wait for my kid to start listening to this crap. I’ve already got him singing “I’mma Be” by the Black Eyed Peas.

  8. Kiki: that $4/pack price point was years ago. I haven’t smoked in over three years and that was went domestic smokes went from $3.50 to over $5.

    But yeah-Jake is right on. The article has nothing to do with wanting to change radio-it already lost me and there’s not a lot of argument for me to believe that it’s ever coming back.

  9. I get your point, Todd. And that of your piece.

    Personally, I only listen to Classic Rock radio when I occasionally travel in a particular buddy’s ride. Trust me, we would leave the station on if they played deep album cuts. As a matter of fact, we bitch about it every time I ride with him. So, in my case it’s not so much that they’ve lost me for good, it’s that they seemingly don’t want me back.

  10. it’s not the content, CR-it’s the repetition that goes stale.

    along with the cutsey knic-knames you all seem to have.

  11. When I’m in the car and there’s nothing good on NPR, I enjoy the Drive (97.1 WDRV). I don’t listen to it for long stretches, but I’m rarely disappointed in their playlist.

    When I’m back in Grand Rapids, I love turning on WLAV because they are still playing the same 60 songs that they’ve been playing since approximately 1985. It’s comforting to know that sometimes you can actually go home again, ha ha. And that’s obviously what it’s all about.

    My favorite thing about LAV is the Friday song: Jonathan Edwards’ “Shanty.” It’s so great to hear it. Last time I was in town for a long weekend, I heard at 1pm, which was fantastic. “Fill it, light it, shut up, and close the door.”

    Look at this barefoot hippy! He still knows the deal: http://youtu.be/K6vyTM_qJAE

  12. @Jake

    Looks like WDRV does really well in the ratings–everyone over 12. Persons 25-54 is what really counts but I don’t have those numbers. It doesn’t look like Chicago is much of a classic rock town. WDRV is classified as “Classic Hits” because it’s softer. When you look at Men 25-54 classic rock radio probably does better in Chicago but it doesn’t look like anybody else but WDRV is cracking the top ten.

  13. Back in the day, Chgo did support at least 2 (at any given time) true “classic rock” stations: WCKG, WRXR, WLUP in earlier formats. Now, it’s the Drive, the River (out in the ‘burbs), and little else. I don’t know necessarily whether Chicago listener tastes have changed, or if the corporate suits have opted against keeping a classic rock station here.

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