Thursday, May 31, 2007

Oldies Versus Classic Rock

A recent post about a rock station top 350 countdown had a reader wondering what's the distinction between oldies and classic rock.

The concept of oldies in the rock era obviously couldn't start until the music had been around a few years. Still, teenagers have a high turnover rate, and Little Caesar & The Romans had a hit with ''Those Oldies But Goodies (Remind Me Of You)" in 1961.

By the end of the 60s, oldies compilations were being released. Even amid all those extended jams, there was a revival of 50s music; remember, Sha Na Na played Woodstock. By the early 70s, there was a huge nostalgic movement for early rock and roll (helped along by American Graffiti) and radio stations adopted the "oldies" format. At the time, oldies essentially meant rock music up to around 1964, when The Beatles conquered the world (and, to some, changed music for the worse). Meanwhile, "classic rock," as we'd call it today, was still being created.

As the 70s wore on, oldies stretched out a few more years--Beatles, Beach Boys and Motown were heard more often, for example. But at a certain point, "classic rock" started. The most convenient line of demarcation would be 1967, when The Beatles changed music yet again (for the worse, yet again, according to some oldies fans) with the Sergeant Pepper album.

By the late 70s, the "classic rock" format--The Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin--became prevalent. These stations didn't play much music from before 1967, and almost nothing past the mid-70s. Certainly no disco or punk. Furthermore, the playlists of oldies and classic rock station had little in common.

However, as time moves on, eras start to run together in people's minds. (I've written about this before regarding movies--I keep hearing about the great screwball comedies of the 1940s). By 1990, it wasn't unusual to hear stations advertise music from the 50s, 60s, and 70s--which would have seemed like three very different eras 15 years earlier.

So it's true, there's been plenty of leakage. What wouldn't be played by an oldies station in 1975--"Imagine"--can make the top ten list of all time today. In fact, oldies, which use to be almost all 50s stuff, has less and less music from that period. (Kids who grew up listening to Elvis are now retirees.) And those who program "classic rock" allow more and more recent stuff as well--though you're still unlikely to hear any doo-wop.

"Oldies" and "classic rock" are still terms that have meaning, but I wouldn't be surprised if someday, the top ten of both include "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

ColumbusGuy adds: Nice post. This is the thing LAGuy does very well. Still, I find myself unable to stop thinking of Phil Spectre's angus.

31 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's true that by 1961 you already had a doo wop revival underway. The Marcels' #1 hit "Blue Moon" was the second coming of that style, not part of the original wave.

6:38 PM, May 30, 2007  
Anonymous Lynette said...

Thank you for yet another compelling point to ponder. The thing is, there ISN'T a defined line of demarcation either in time or in styles between "oldies" & "classic rock", since it all depends on the age and tastes of the listener (or radio program director). In my mind, "oldies" means 50's & pre-psychedelic 60's, and "classic rock" is everything on the rock track from Sgt. Pepper through the early 80's, remembering to separate out the pop stuff (because you can't classify "I Think I Love You" as classic rock),and further separating out disco, r&b/funk, and punk/new wave into their own tracks.

And let's not forget "dusties", which I believe are pop tunes which aren't quite "oldies" by the 50's/60's definition yet not rock (think "Betcha-By-Golly-Wow" and "Sister Golden Hair Surprise"). Some say "dusties" are only old r&b tunes, after Motown and before hip hop, so the Stylistics would still count.

When we were kids, the music our parents listened to DID seem very different and "old" compared to what we listened to on the radio. Nowadays kids' parents have cooler music collections, and they teach their kids about the early rock bands by sharing their music (I hide the ones I'm embarrased by, like my K-Tel collections and my Foghat album). Many kids today are just as likely to have Beatles, Stones, Aerosmith or Queen songs on their i-Pods as they are anyone modern because the music is more similar to modern rock and pop, and in most cases, better.

If you're not already familiar with it, the XM satellite system has come up with the near-perfect solution. They have broken some of their stations down by decade: a 30's station, 40's, 50's, etc. thru 90's. Of course, this gets complicated in the 1960s, which started and ended in completely different musical worlds, so the XM people have genre-specific stations as well, breaking down general categories into more specific ones. For example, rock is divided into separate stations for heavy metal, stadium rock, big hair bands, punk, new wave, old alternative, new alternative and others. Country is divided into new, old, bluegrass, etc. If you don't feel like listening to one genre or time period, they have stations with standard mixes or ones with "eclectic mixes". There are stations that play movie scores, Broadway numbers--you name it.

(No, I don't work for XM, but I'll tell you, it's nice to have such a choice in music, and better yet to get UM football on the radio during the fall no matter where or when I'm driving!)

1:06 PM, May 31, 2007  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I agree that the biggest change in popular music over the past 100 years has been the rise of rock. It splits the last century down the middle. Other big changes include the spread of jazz and, much later, hip hop, but to me, there's nothing like the difference between the pre- and post-rock worlds.

Not unlike satellite radio, my cable TV system offers a bunch of music channels. (Not that I take advantage of it much--I guess when I'm at home I figure I can always play my own stuff.) Here's the list: Classic Disco (there's such a thing?), Today's Country, Classic Country, Bluegrass, R&B And Hip-Hop, Classic R&B, Smooth R&B, R&B Hits, Rap, Metal, Rock, Arena Rock, Classic Rock, Alternative (when it took over, they should have stopped calling it Alternative), Retro-Active (which is sort of post-punk), Electronica, Dance, Adult Alternative, Soft Rock, Hit List, Party Favorites, 90s, 80s, 70s, Solid Gold Oldies, Singers & Standards, Big Band & Swing, Easy Listening, Smooth Jazz, Jazz, Blues, Reggae, Soundscapes (that's gotta be new age, or as my friends say, newage, rhymes with sewage), Classical Masterpieces, Opera, Light Classical, Show Tunes, Contemporary Christian, Gospel, Radio Disney, Sounds Of The Seasons (holiday tunes) and four channels of Latino music. There's gotta be something in there worth hearing.

3:13 PM, May 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You would think with those choices, there would be litttle room to complain but that won't stop me- they used to have a station which I left on in the background called "New Wave" which inluded punk, and postpunk (MTV before Michael Jackson & the corporate types figured out how to cash in on it)- this is now broken down into "Retro-active" (which i can't quite figure out the category for) and the "80s" which has some good stuff but a whole lot of Def Leppard, "Gloria" (not the good one) and "He's So Shy". I don't know where actual late 70s punk landed.
Call it the impossibility of the perfect mix.

NE Guy unsigned on

7:51 PM, May 31, 2007  
Anonymous Lynette said...

I know June 1 isn't over yet, but I haven't seen any Sgt. Pepper 40th anniversary references yet on the blog. Is the subject exhausted?

1:29 PM, June 01, 2007  
Blogger LAGuy said...

We rarely celebrate anniversaries here.

3:10 PM, June 01, 2007  
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