Carved in Stone

Classic rock radio killed the classic rock star

| October 12, 2006

In its day, classic rock didn't just break down boundaries in music, it took a 'quantum creative' leap right past them. So says Mick Farren in the Los Angeles City Beat as he waxes nostalgic about the days when those rebellious tunes weren't selling cars or repetitively haunting radio stations. Now, classic rock has a decidedly 'unbending conservative spine' and corporate radio, says Farren, is to blame.

Once upon a time, around the dawn of what is now classic rock, DJs ruled the airwaves. 'Listeners were randomly exposed to all manner of weirdness,' writes Farren, 'and all this musical cross-pollination had a direct and profound effect on the bubbling creativity of the times.' As the popularity of the music spread, national advertisers started seeing dollar signs on the FM dial. Market research was conducted, popular bands and songs were noted, and the playlist was born. Creativity shifted from free-form disc jockeys to station managers and salespeople, and listeners were offered a rotation of favorites. This was the end of anarchistic classic rock, writes Farren.

Classic rock giants saw their careers boiled down to a handful of songs. Bob Dylan was stricken from the radio for being too 'Bob Dylan.' A band like the Doors was suddenly a one-hit wonder. And people loved it. 'They had gone so far with rock 'n' roll, but that was as far as they wanted to go,' Farren writes. Classic rock standards morphed from defiant anthems into reassuring salves protecting against the new boundary-pushers of glam, punk, and hip-hop. '[D]espite all its macho posturing,' Farren adds, classic rock 'essentially functioned as comfort radio for the culturally conservative.'

The situation isn't entirely downbeat though, Farren writes. Classic rock radio may indeed be a dead horse on the FM dial, but things are livening up on satellite radio. Sirius radio dedicates an entire channel to the Who, and XM has signed for Bob Dylan to host his own show. DJs are back in control of music selection and, once again, exposing the 'unexpected and eclectic' side of classic rock. -- Rachel Anderson

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