Music Matters for May 27th 2011 Classic Rock: Nostalgic Music or Genre?
Just how powerful is rock and roll? How did this music, over 60 years old, last so long and still acquire new fans every time someone hears it for the first time. From the late ‘40s and through the ‘50’s,‘60’s, and ‘70s to the present day, rock and roll refuses to roll over and die…even though radio and most record labels think (and say) it has.
There has always been too much music. Even a half a century ago, we could not have listened to all the music that was available and wouldn’t have even been aware of what we DID hear if it hadn’t been for radio.
Radio was the discoverer, the gatekeeper, and the church where we met almost every waking hour and listened attentively to hear our favourites and be turned on to songs and artists that we had never heard before. Radio stations were the Source, the mouth of the river that flowed through the air and out of our radios and into our ears, our hearts, our souls, and our loins. Radio was the church, the DJs were the preachers, and rock and roll was the testament, the sermon, and the faith by which we lived our lives.
Why did we put our trust in radio? The simple reason is this; they listened to us as much as we listened to them. All of us, not just a selected few…everybody. And because radio paid attention to us, we paid attention to them. How could we NOT trust the DJs? These bodiless voices, our friends, like mystic pen pals they seemed to know what we wanted to hear, what we were doing, and where we liked to go. If we called them up, they answered the phone (when we could get through…so many of us wanted to connect) and, if we requested or dedicated a song we would hear it (and all of our friends would hear it too) and then they would say our names, or dedication, (“From Bob to Jade, You’re a kitty!”) and we would all smile, feeling special, part of the music, part of the radio station. The DJs played music they thought we would like. Music THEY liked. They brought in records from home, tracks they liked that were brought in by promo men, and the DJs would get behind those they believed in. Was there payola, incentives to play some of those records? Maybe, but any one who understands the power of music can tell you that if a record didn’t have ‘it’, no amount of airplay could help it. Not only that, it was all about the music. Just the music. Passion fueled commitment from both sides. People believed in the songs and the artists. There was no big hype, no National roll-out, no television or sponsors behind the records, that would come much later.
As rock and roll evolved and changed, it became a big business, and started to attract people who weren’t so much interested in the music, as the money it was generating. Suddenly, there were a lot more labels, and with the labels came managers, lawyers, agents, and other middle men. Music started to find itself becoming second fiddle to attractiveness and ‘marketability’. Still, the audience and the musicians didn’t really care about any of this. It was still all about the music.
As an example of the staying power of a great rock and roll song, let’s take a ‘50’s tune that did okay in the R&B market, but barely made a dent in the rock/pop charts of the day. Those of us who were lucky enough to hear it on the radio went out and bought it and it had pockets of regional success across the U.S, especially in San Francisco (the group was from Salinas, California), and Philadelphia..
Here’s the original 1956 track: The Four Dueces – WPLJ:
Over a decade and a half later, Frank Zappa released a version recorded by The Mothers of Invention. After hearing Zappa’s version, New York radio station WABC FM changed it’s name to WPLJ and became a free form outlet, finally evolving into one of the first AOR (album Oriented Rock) stations in America. The core of their playlist (Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Aerosmith, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Elton John, Deep Purple, Rod Stewart, and The Allman Brothers) consisted of what would eventually become the core of “Classic Rock Radio” decades later.
Frank Zappa – WPLJ:
Four decades after Zappa’s cover, the song is still revered by rock artists. Here’s a recent performance from the great internet site, “Daryl’s House”.
Daryl Hall – WPLJ:
What this proves to me is that great music doesn’t always become popular music. There was a time when radio played something because it was good. Popularity, and the public’s fickle interest in fads, appearance and ‘celebrity’ has clouded the playing field immensely. You couldn’t play football on a playing field this foggy.
Back in the mid ‘60s, there came a radio format named after DJ Art Laboe’s series of compilation albums called “Oldies but Goodies”. The “Oldies” format took hold in almost every city and town in North America because people still loved to hear this seminal rock and roll. Unfortunately, as the format matured and radio became more and more focused on popularity rather than the music that inspired and nurtured new artists and galvanized the first rock and roll radio audiences, those with good business sense but limited knowledge of the music and its history began to weed out the truly classic tracks and just play the highest charting songs. You would hear “In the Still of the Night” by the 5 Satins, but not “To the Aisle”. You would hear Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” but not “Almost Grown” or “No Particular Place to Go”. You would hear “Angel Baby” by Rosie and the Originals (a truly God-Awful out of tune song and performance challenged only by “The Bird is the Word” and “They’re Coming to Take Me Away” as the Worst. Record. Ever) instead of “Story Untold” by The Nutmegs, or “My True Story” by the Jive Five.
By the mid ‘70’s the format was beginning to wheeze, and by the 1990’s, it had all but disappeared, What Oldies stations continued to broadcast shifted their attention to Motown and the Beatles, and other ‘early ‘60s mainstays. Oldies as a format was replaced by ‘Classic Rock’.
In an era of ‘Boy Bands’, rap, and young Divas, ‘Classic Rock’ was a great, even genius idea. Rock and Roll fans tuned in in droves, and these stations became a force almost overnight. They still do good numbers, and are well loved wherever they exist. However, like the Oldies format, they are starting to wheeze a bit, and therein lies the problem. By not playing the rock and roll that is still being written and played, drawing crowds, and pleasing audiences, has ‘Classic Rock’ format painted itself into the same corner the oldies format did? Because rock and roll has been all but ignored by radio since the ‘80’s, where (and to who) will they go when those 5 Zeppelin songs and 6 Pink Floyd songs finally wear out their welcome? Will they dig deeper into the classic rock artist’s catalogues and play more obscure tracks as some stations are already doing? Will they delve into the ‘Alternative’ format? And start playing post Nirvana, or will they have to fight the Classic Alt/Modern Rock formats that are popping up here and there?
They may have shot themselves in the foot, certainly not unusual in the radio/record/music business thee days, but oh so preventable and easily fixed.
All they have to do is turn to all the amazingly wonderful rock and roll that has been recorded (and tragically overlooked by most of the radio stations who should have been playing it) since the ‘80s and start keeping up with the current crop of musicians and labels who, like the gazillions of fans that still pack rock concerts and local clubs to hear their favourite genre of music. You heard me…genre. It seems to me that “Classic Rock” should be recognized as a genre of music, like folk rock, and pop rock, and alt rock, and…well, you get the picture. Forget the consultants, the focus groups, the chart positions, and go for the MUSIC! Even some of the biggest classic rock artists are STILL making awesome music that, except when their sold out shows roll through town, are never played in regular rotation. The DJs should be in the clubs, listening to the new rock bands that are playing in their hometowns, bands made up of musicians (and with fans) to whom classic rock is more than nostalgia, more than trying to recapture their youth, hell, almost NONE of them were even alive when the last Led Zeppelin album rolled off the presses, and most of them have CDs and some damn fine music to share. Just this week I heard a band called the Poor Young Things who have moved here to Toronto from Thunder Bay to record and play. They blew me away, just like Courage My Love, Jumple, Blackheath Hounds, Disco Rebels, and those are just a handful of bands I’ve seen at Cherry Cola’s and other local clubs lately. Unfortunately, DJs don’t have any say in what is played anymore. Most don’t hang out in the clubs or present local shows anymore. And unless they are running a contest, I don’t think they can talk to the audience anymore, or take a request they could possibly play, or read a dedication over the air without permission from someone in management. Radio needs to remember where it came from and why it became so powerful. Rock and Roll, the good stuff at least, is all about the music. Just like radio used to be.
Here are some examples of the Classic Rock genre I’m talking about.
This is from last year. It is in my all time top 3 Eagles songs ever. An amazing groove, killer performance, and Joe Walsh proves himself to be as vital as ever, and just as much an Eagle as Don, Glenn, and Timmy.
Eagles – Last Good Time in Town:
We sat onstage behind Greg Allman’s Hammond organ when they played Casino Rama awhile back. Good Lord this band is just transcendental.
This music is so timeless I can’t believe radio can ignore it as well as they do. Still selling out shows whenever they play, still adored by not only the fans that have been with them since the beginning, but all the generations since who value talent over all else. This should have been an anthem in 2004 when it was released. Oh Yeah!
Allman Brothers Band – Firin’ Line:
This band is from Quebec and have been playing and recording for around 15 years. This is from a few years ago and did get some airplay from what I’ve been told, but I never got to hear it on the radio. Pity….
The Respectables – Sweet Mama:
If I was 20 years old, this is the band I would kill to be in. There are influences here from the Everly Brothers through Weezer. In some of their songs I hear The Beatles, the Ramones, and others, but the Research Turtles sound like no one else. This is the first track from an EP being released at the end of the month. Lake Charles Louisiana has given us a great rock and roll band.
Research Turtles – Bugs in a Jar:
Rival Sons are the closest incarnation of all the musicality of the late ‘60s, early ‘70s that embody what has become ‘classic rock’, without sounding like a retread, an homage, or worse yet, like they’re parroting what has gone before. They bring the same style, energy, and passion to their music as the people who preceded them down this path. They are the real deal for all the right reasons. Oh, to hear this on the radio, doin’ 120 kph down the 401 on a warm, clear summer night. Going wherever the music takes me. When you hear Rival Sons’ music it will make you want to be in a band. A great band, like the bands who have inspired these artists, and like these artists will inspire those who will follow in THEIR footsteps. Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll!
Rival Sons – Soul:
The Music Matters Tip of the Week: Discover new music you like. Spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. Find a copy of the Director’s cut of “Almost Famous”. Watch it. Pat the kitties, take the puppy for a walk, and tell your loved ones you love them…and have a great weekend.
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Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, The Segarini Band, and Cats And Dogs, and was nominated for a Juno Award 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), Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop, continues to write, make music, and record.