Classic Rot

Dramarama had a song on their sublime album Vinyl called “Classic Rot” that neatly sums up my feelings about classic rock radio.

Doesn’t it seem absurd?
Little children learning every single word
And they mimic words and phrases of a
hundred years ago
And observe a moment’s silence for the guy who
wrote Hey Joe

That song hit the shuffle play on my iPod recently and it got me to thinking about classic rock radio. When I was in grade school and started getting into music I listened to the local classic rock stations because, well, everybody else did.

The classic rock stations were programmed by people from a previous generation (I was four years old during the Summer Of Love) with playlists consisting mostly of the songs of their youth. They played a half-dozen or more songs from each artist they played but they played such a small number of artists that you’d hear the same stuff over and over, day after day. I don’t see any reason to listen to the soundtrack of somebody else’s life, and that for me is the whole problem with classic rock as a radio format. The only good thing to come out of my youthful flirtation with those stations is that I became determined to find other music that I hadn’t heard a thousand times before.

I cringe when I hear the classic rock staples, but there are people who can make even the hoariest of warhorses sound fresh.

Sebadoh “Cold As Ice” (Foreigner)
I still like the cover of the first Foreigner album, it has that cool Euro-immigrants-at-a-train-station thing going on. Their music is such bland and calculated commercial “product” that I sometimes have a problem considering it music. But Sebadoh has caused me to reconsider things.

Bohemian Vendetta “Satisfaction” (Rolling Stones)
There’s a smoldering danger to this song that I’ve never heard from the Stones. And I like it.

Sleater-Kinney “More Than A Feeling” (Boston)
I was a Boston fan for awhile in grade school. Even by then I was getting sick of hearing Led Zeppelin every hour on the hour. Boston was new. They weren’t especially different or good, but I hadn’t heard them with numbing frequency. Yet.

Karen Abrams with the Austin Lounge Lizards “White Rabbit” (Jefferson Airplane)
I’ve often snarkily remarked that any song can be a reggae song. The same can sadly also be true for bluegrass music, as those stacks and stacks of “pickin’ on” records have proven. Bluegrass covers of Black Sabbath songs are amusing for a song or two but it’s hard to listen to for an hour straight.

But in this case we aren’t dealing with bored studio musicians strung out on cocaine. We have on our hands a bunch of very sharp performers who genuinely love the music they’re playing. And it shows.

Frank Zappa “Stairway To Heaven” (Led Zeppelin)
This was recorded on FZ’s last tour in 1988. I was apparently fortunate to see him on this tour because the liner notes for his CD The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life say that this band toured Europe and the East Coast and then “self-destructed.” I guess Chicago was as far west as they got.

It was huge amounts of fun to watch them play “Stairway.” Ike Willis was wearing a rubber Ronald Reagan mask, running around the stage waving his arms and wagging his head as FZ made weird noises with his keyboard.

10 Comments

  1. Great entry. I couldn’t agree more as far as classic rock is concerned. So many kids I knew in high school thought classic rock was the only thing good in music, but they just learned it from their older siblings or their parents, they never tried to find something great for themselves. Make your own soundtrack, I like it.

    And I had never heard that Sleater-Kinney cover, very very cool.

  2. Ditto to all the above. I don’t listen to mainstream radio. It’s boring and repetitive. Don’t they know that some of the best music on an album are the non-singles, the stuff that is often the last tracks on the album.

    I hope they all listen to your blog this week.

  3. My local classic rock station has started playing hits from the 90′s. Like Spin Doctors, stuff that doesn’t even sound like classic rock. Yet they still market as classic rock.

    Still if I’m driving in my car, I usually listen to classic rock because it has a highly concentrated and distilled selection of only hit songs. I have a better chance of hearing something good there than if I listen to top 40, hard rock, or the indie stations. (yes, not all indie rock is good) Anyway they play The Police, David Bowie, Talking Heads, stuff like that is still good even if it’s overplayed.

  4. Okay, as you know, I was skeptical. But I actually liked this one. Thumbs up, sweetcakes!

    Mrs. F

  5. Oi, I guess it’s a good thing that classic rock radio stations have expanded their playlists to include the music that’s been overplayed on the “alternative” stations.

    I’m glad that you can listen to classic rock and still get something out of it. I can’t. For me there is no such thing as “good even if it’s overplayed.”

  6. I agree completely with your assessment of “classic” rock and that’s MY era! Rock is supposed to be living, vital music, not museum pieces.

    Thanks for the “White Rabbit” cover!

  7. When I saw the name Dramarama, my heart skipped a beat. One of my all-time favorite bands! Great post.

  8. Thanks for the kind words, JR. Dramarama doesn’t get the respect they deserve and the Vinyl album is criminally under appreciated.

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