How HERC redefined Classic Rock

For millions of music fans of HERC's generation - Generation X, the one that followed our parents' generation, the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) - Classic Rock is musical comfort food, readily available on the radio dial in just about every corner of this great nation.  All of those familiar songs and artists from the albums we grew up listening to on vinyl while memorizing the liner notes.  Or the 8-track tapes we shoved into the players of our muscle cars and cranked up the volume.  To paraphrase Wooderson from Dazed and Confused, we got older but the music stayed the same age.

A few of the many bands heard on Classic Rock radio.

The term Classic Rock emerged in 1980 when, according to Wikipedia, a former AOR station in Cleveland, Ohio, switched formats and began playing rock hits from the mid 60s through 1980 and billing itself as "Cleveland's Classic Rock".  Other stations followed their lead and in March 1981, Billboard introduced the Rock Albums and Top Tracks charts ranking airplay on AOR and classic rock stations across the U.S.  In 1982, national radio consultant Lee Abrams developed his highly influential Timeless Rock format, which combined contemporary AOR hits with rock hits from the 1960s and 1970s.  It was an refined extension of his previous SuperStars format, designed to appeal specifically to white males between the ages of 12 and 24, a demographic that included young HERC.  In 1983, Houston station KRBE became the first station to actually use the term classic rock on air, popularizing the term which came to be the standard term used by the listening public for early album rock from the Sixties and Seventies.  It marked the beginning of the end of radio stations that played all genres of popular music as more and more stations began focusing on specific audience demographics and the music that research determined they wanted to listen to.  And then there was MTV...

Flash forward thirty years and Classic Rock is omnipresent in popular culture.  The songs are used in commercials, video games, TV shows and movies.  The acts are still touring and recording.  And, amazingly, an entire new generation of fans, Generation Y, featuring those who were born beginning in the early 1980s through the early 2000s.  But the format hasn't remained stagnant; as the years pass, the threshold for what constitutes Classic Rock music has changed and it is not uncommon to hear songs from the mid 80s to the early 90s on Classic Rock stations.  But how are songs admitted into the Classic Rock pantheon?

You can't play Classic Rock without playing this song.

Through the years, radio stations have relied on listener feedback to fine-tune their programming.  In the 80s, computer technology was introduced into the feedback equation, allowing researchers to gather even more information about the targeted demographic including how they listened to radio and what they liked to listen to.  Success was measured in Arbitron ratings, which in turn allowed the more popular stations to charge more for advertising, the lifeblood of any commercial, terrestrial radio station.

Or this one...

Although HERC rarely listens to the radio nowadays, his favorite two local stations are still broadcasting Classic Rock, although one has a somewhat harder playlist with less music from the Sixties and the other has a softer, traditional Classic Rock playlist.  By pure chance, HERC answered his land line about six weeks ago without first checking the caller ID.  The lady on the phone explained that she was conducting a music survey and asked him if he was interested in participating.  HERC answered  affirmatively and she continued the questioning: 
her:  "Are you between the ages of 35-50?" 
HERC:  "Yes"
her:  "Do you listen to either station A or station B?"
HERC:  "Yes"
her:  "Which one?"
HERC:  "Both"
her: "Would you be interested in listening to music for two hours and taking home $70 for your time?"
She then gave HERC the details, took some personal information (Taurus, walks on the beach at sunset and eyes) and said a mailing would arrive about a week before the actual session, confirming the details.  The company actually called again to confirm the mailing had arrived and asked if HERC had any questions.  The date of the session rolled around and HERC drove to the nearby hotel where it was being held.  As he pulled in and parked, he noticed a large group of men smoking out in front of the building.  As he got out and approached, he could see each and every one of them had an envelope similar to the one he had - they were all there for the survey as well.  HERC spoke to a couple of them and found out one of them was a veteran of the survey sessions and was a little bummed that they were only getting $70 this time because just last year he took home $120 for one two hour session.  The guy then explained to HERC what was going to go down once they got inside:
"They're gonna play short snippets of songs, all less than 10 seconds long but easily recognizable, and we punch in one of six preferences from 'hate it' to 'love it'.  There's one break about an hour in but it's only 5 minutes so take care of business now."
HERC followed the herd of similar looking graying or balding men into the conference room, signed in and took a seat at a table near the front of the room, on the aisle.  There were three columns of tables, each six deep with four chairs at each table.  A projector and screen were set up at front of room with the projector connected to a laptop.  A small mixing board which had a red iPod Nano jacked into it sat atop an amp that was connected to two speakers mounted on 4' stands on either side of the screen.  Against one wall were coffee and hot tea and all the trimmings while water pitchers and glasses adorned each table.  Most of the smoking men were grabbing coffee, too.  HERC poured himself a glass of water and within five minutes, the session had begun.

This song recently topped a Classic Rock list

A gentleman with a slight German accent introduced himself and explained what was going to happen - it was just like the guy outside had told HERC.  There were four handheld computers, each about the size of a brick, on every table.  He explained how to use them and guided everyone through the initial five or six questions which were multiple choice: this age group or that age group, station A or station B or both, etc.  Then the man with the accent, which was now starting to sound French to HERC,  guided everyone through the first three songs, pausing the Nano after each one and making sure everyone successfully input their preference of the song - several men were having a hard time grasping the simple task of pressing a numerical button and then pressing ENTER and one defective unit was swapped out.  There were indeed six possible responses for each song, which were displayed on the screen throughout the session for reference:
  • U - unfamiliar, never heard it before, whether you liked it or not
  • 1 - used to like it, before it was played to death
  • 2 - don't like it
  • 3 - it's okay
  • 4 - like it
  • 5 - a personal favorite
Then he let the iPod play, shouting out the number of each song so the group could match the number on handheld computer screen.  Each song snippet was between 5-8 seconds according to HERC's precision counting skills and each one was made for maximum identification, usually the part of the chorus that contained the song's title or the song's signature guitar riff or the instantly identified drum break from Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight".  One or two guys even sang along to every song - even the instrumentals.  None of the songs were unfamiliar to HERC and he doesn't believe in "played to death" so he entered no Us or 1s.  Or 2s.  Most of his entries were 4s and the 3s probably had a slight advantage in total numbers over the 5s he entered.  After the first 320 songs, the break was called.  Everyone left the room except HERC, who refilled his water glass and cracked his back.  Counting people as they filtered back in, he came up with 66, including himself.   Someone asked how many more songs there were and Mr. Accent said they were a little over halfway through the playlist.

Most of the songs and artists played were undeniably Classic Rock: Zeppelin, Floyd, Aerosmith, Ozzy, Deep Purple, Sabbath, Kiss, Van Halen, Scorpions, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, Eagles, Beatles, The Who, AC/DC (probably had most songs played with nine), Tom Petty, Stones, Kinks, Heart, Kansas, Frampton, ELO, ELP, Yes, Seger, Rush, Foreigner, James Gang, Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, The Band, Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, Genesis, Nugent, Springsteen, The Doors, Steve Miller, The Guess Who, Alice Cooper, Blue Oyster Cult, Bad Company, Steppenwolf, Clapton, Neil Young, Queen, Boston, CCR, BTO, Cheap Trick, Bowie, Doobies, Wings, ZZ Top, Triumph, Thin Lizzy, etc.  

Occasionally, a (hair) metal band from the mid 80s snuck in: Twisted Sister, Autograph, Skid Row, Great White, Poison, Queensryche, Whitesnake, Motley Crue, Judas Preist, Dio, Quiet Riot, Bon Jovi, Guns N Roses and Def Leppard (HERC counted six Lep songs).

A few new wave-ish acts were played: The Fixx, The Knack, Tommy Tutone, The Romantics, INXS, Billy Idol, Talking Heads, The Police, The Cars, Loverboy, The Clash and Blondie.

Some of the grunge bands from the Nineties appeared - HERC counted four Nirvana songs and two each from Soundgraden and Alice in Chains.  

Also heard were Metallica, Pearl Jam, Collective Soul, R.E.M., U2, Kenny Loggins, Jackson Browne, Pat Benatar, Golden Earring, Phil Collins, Night Ranger, Foghat, Head East, Black Crowes, Georgia Satellites, Rod Stewart, Billy Squier, Don Henley, April Wine, Red Rider, Joe Walsh, Red Hot Chili Peppers, T. Rex, Asia, Supertramp, Bryan Adams, John Mellencamp and Santana.

And then there were these odd songs: "Sunglasses At Night" - Cory Hart (which a couple of guys actually booed) and "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" - Gordon Lightfoot (which HERC loves but felt it was out of place in Classic Rock format).  Two other surprise favorites for HERC were Aldo Nova's "Fantasy" and Billy Thorpe's "Children Of The Sun".

No Dylan, Creed or Nickelback were played.  But this Extreme song was.

The next session lasted 315 songs and finished up with 10 questions about listening habits and preferences: Do you prefer harder/faster songs or softer/slower songs?, What is your ideal mix of hard/soft songs?, Do you listen to morning shows?  Late night shows? Weekend shows? etc.  And then he said thank you and pick up your money outside the door where you checked in and there was a stampede - once again, HERC stayed in his chair, sipped his water and listened to the rest of the men complain about work, women and their lives.  With three men left in line after about 10 minutes, HERC stood up and joined them and was promptly asked by the guy standing in front of him, if he could have a ride home which HERC politely declined with a lie: "I have to pick my son up from ballet."  HERC signed by his printed name a second time and was handed a small white envelope.  He hopes there is $70 bucks in it - he didn't open it. 

As he walked out through the hotel lobby, there were small groups of men opening their envelopes - several even headed into the bar.  On his way through the exit door, HERC was once again asked by two different dudes if he could give either one of them a lift; one guy lived in the opposite direction from HERC but the other guy was on the way home - HERC lied again: "I have to meet with my parole officer."  He made it to his car and drove straight home.  MRS. HERC greeted him and yoinked the still unopened envelope before going back to bed.  HERC stood in front of the keyboard and typed this up before calling it a night. Two hours, $70?  He'd do it again.  And again.

And that's how HERC redefined Classic Rock.  By listening to 635 songs in just under 2 hours.  You're Welcome.


Do you ever find yourself bored with Top 100 Classic Rock Songs lists that are dominated by the same handful of bands? Well, we’ve put an interesting twist on the format here at Ultimate Classic Rock — you’ll still find all of the expected legends, from Aerosmith to ZZ Top, as our countdown unfolds over the coming days, but each band only gets one song on our list.
It’s a high-stakes poker game of sorts; everybody puts their best hand on the table, and then we run down the rankings.

Top 100 Classic Rock Songs
[Rock-Songs.com site has list of Top 500]

Classic Rock Hits [EMI US]


  1. Here in East Texas, we have 2 kinds of classic rock: Led Zepplin and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

    From Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

    John McClane: Creedence Clearwater Revival? Classic Rock?

    Matt Farrell: I know what it is. It's OLD rock. That doesn't make it classic. What sucked back then still sucks today.

  2. The first two Die Hard films are classics - never had any desire to watch the other five or six or however many.

    And if Warren Cheswick isn't trying to sell me a Mac or sleep with Drew Barrymore or Carol Vessey, then I have no use for him as an Actor - yeah, I capialized it.

    Just watched the Moonlighting episode where David Addison (Bruce Willis) walks past a window with a Die Hard poster displayed. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

    [HERC yells CLASSIC ROCK RULES! out the open moonroof of the Blueberry and then peels out.]