Classic rock  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Classic rock was originally conceived as a radio station programming format which evolved from the album oriented rock (AOR) format in the early-1980s. In the United States, this rock music format now features a large playlist of songs ranging from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, with some stations including a limited number of current releases.


The classic rock format evolved from AOR radio stations that were attempting to appeal to an older audience by including familiar songs of the past with current hits. In 1980, AOR radio station M105 in Cleveland, Ohio began billing itself as "Cleveland's Classic Rock", playing a mix of rock music from the mid-1960s to the present. In 1982, radio consultant Lee Abrams developed the Timeless Rock format which combined contemporary AOR with hits from the 1960s and 1970s. By 1986, the success of the format resulted in oldies accounting for 60–80% of the music played on album rock stations.

WYSP in Philadelphia became the nation's very first "classic rock" station in the spring of 1981, when Frank X Feller, then general manager, received a suggestion and a reel to reel tape with a sample of what the "Classic Rock" format would sound like from account executive Jim Sacony. The featured artists on the reel to reel were The Yardbirds, The Zombies, Young Rascals, Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Steppenwolf and The Byrds. Frank then directed program director and midday jock Dick Hungate teamed up with station consultant Lee Abrams to more effectively compete with two traditionally programmed and very entrenched competitors... WMMR and WIOQ. The actual on-air describer "classic rock" was thought of in a strategy session at WYSP's then One Bala Plaza offices, in which other adjectives such as "timeless" and "vintage" also were discussed by Hungate and Abrams. In this pre-PC age, it fell upon Hungate to create the universe of all-old-rock tracks based upon his previous Philly experience as MD of WMMR in 1978-79, e.g.: using metal file boxes and color-coded 3 X 5 index cards to manually rotate within each age/strength category the on-air playlist. WYSP would abandon that approach for all new hard rock, only to try classic rock once again a few years later (but, ultimately, to switch back to a current, hard-rock format once and for all). WAOR in Niles, Michigan bills itself as the first AOR classic rock station in America.

KRBE, Houston was another 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.

Typically, classic rock plays rock songs from the mid 1960s through the 1980s. Some of the songs overlap with those played on oldies stations, but classic rock also focuses on bands and artists that aren't considered radio friendly and therefore are usually not played on oldies stations. Unlike AOR radio stations, which played all tracks from albums, classic rock plays a much more limited playlist of charting singles and popular album tracks from artists and bands. Some classic rock stations devote time to lesser known bands, album tracks and B-sides, paying homage to their AOR roots. Classic rock stations typically fit into one of three categories: traditional/early (60s-80s), late (70s-80s with some songs from the 90s and early 2000s) and active (a mixture of new songs with classic rock hits; these stations typically aren't considered classic rock). Classic rock is mainly tailored to a male, adult demographic, but also has a significant fan base in the female and younger (primarily teen) demographics as well.

Classic rock in recent years has been expanded to include glam metal and progressive rock acts. These artists are often put on "late classic rock" stations (such as XM Classic Rewind) while the more traditional artists are put on "early classic rock" stations (such as XM Classic Vinyl). Even "late classic rock" stations, for the most part, have avoided playing 1990s rock such as early alternative rock and grunge because of the dramatic change in the tone of rock music during that time frame (Music Choice's "Retro Rock" is a notable exception to this, although even that channel separates 1980s and 1990s music into their own blocks). At the same time, some classic rock stations have started focusing on classic alternative and modern rock hits as well as traditional classic rock songs (such as KLOS in Los Angeles), adding bands and songs typically avoided on classic rock stations such as Nirvana, Sublime, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Even though new bands sometimes mimic the classic rock sound (e.g. The Black Crowes, The White Stripes), they are not considered a true classic rock band because they are in the wrong era (not early 1960s to early 80s). However, classic rock bands from the original era who still produce new music outside of that classic rock era (like The Rolling Stones) are grandfathered in and are still defined as classic rock (as long as their style hasn't changed).

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Classic rock" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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