The term “classic rock” has branded a generation of music—not necessarily artists—that typically originate with the rock and roll sounds of the 70s and 80s. Among the top 20 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time are artists and bands such as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Bruce Springsteen. Bands such as these closely define the classic rock genre. All forged their very own sound—not one like the other. At the same time there are British and Americans, the first time this happened in music history. A sub-genre is the kingdom of Southern Rock masters such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers Band, and ZZ Top.
Rock bands like those above gave voice to the generation that followed the Vietnam War era. The boundaries blurred with 60s folksy anthems from bands like Steppenwolf and Bad Company, and on the backside with hard rock and hair-bands—Motley Crue and AC/DC. Other classic rockers that have carved their niche on the eternal playlist include: Kiss, U2, The Who, Van Halen, The Police, and Pink Floyd, to name just a few.
The music? So far the classic rock sound is distinctively devoid of synthesizers and canned beats. Acoustic went electric and the guitar typified the instrument of the day. Also as typical was the innate Blues sound borrowed by both Americans and Brits. The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Skynyrd, the Allmans, and others have paid homage to greats such as Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson.
But “classic” is constantly redefined. What was once modern and cutting-edge at some point becomes part of the classic canon. Who ultimately makes the cut and why?
Only a decade or so ago, in the grunge rock era, bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana (with one of the top 20 best albums of all time) forged the newest and strangest sound; characteristic guttural beatitudes shaken and stirred with equal measures of drum, bass and guitar. From our perch in the 21st century, these bands have endured. Signature singles have become fond rock anthems with wide appeal outside the historical grunge fan base. And the “hits” are not confined to grunge. New rock classics are sure to follow; they define a part of our lives and drag up rites of passage memories, they remind us of our youth and bookmark our spot in music and social history.