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Classic rock. There are usually few people who would deny that this genre has some of the best music ever, especially with legendary bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors.

But one debate about classic rock still lingers on... and that is about the actual definition of classic rock. Some people say it's a style of sound. Some people say it's rock music that is older than 25 years old. Its often mentioned on this site, and people often ask my opinion. So I thought I would shed some more light on this long standing debate regarding the definition of classic rock.

To quote Wikipedia, here is their rather too detailed definition of classic rock:

Classic rock is a radio format which developed from the album-oriented rock (AOR) format in the 1970s. The first station to broadcast the format full time, and the first station to use the term "classic rock" on the air was KRBE-AM (Houston) in 1983. Program director Paul Christy designed the format to play only early album rock, from the 1960s and early 1970s, without any current music or Top 40 material. In the United States, this rock music format now features a playlist of songs ranging from the 1960s and 1970s. The traditional classic rock genre usually ends in the early 1980s, with mid-80s additions from the hair metal genre only recently being considered "classic rock." Some stations continue to (wrongly?) include a limited number of current releases.

Unfortunately in my opinion this doesn't address a few key issues with this definition, which I have attempted to address with my very own definition of classic rock.

Here is my very own definition of classic rock which helps clarify things:

'Classic rock is a genre of music that combines a particular guitar-driven rock sound with a particular era of time. The classic rock era began in early 1960's with rock n' roll based bands like The Beatles and Rolling Stones, diversifying into bands like Led Zeppelin and The Doors.

The classic rock era ended in the early 80s, with the rise of modern pop music. It should not be confused with other rock genres like glam rock (e.g. David Bowie), heavy metal (e.g. Ozzy Osbourne and Metallica) and hair metal (e.g. Poison and Motley Crue). Even though new bands sometimes mimic the classic rock sound (e.g. The Black Crowes), they are not considered a true classic rock band because they are in the wrong era (not early 60s to early 80s). However, classic rock bands from the original era who still produce new music outside of that classic rock era (like The Rolling Stones) are grandfathered in and are still defined as classic rock (as long as their style hasn't changed).

To help further define the term 'classic rock', here are some examples of bands and what they should be interpreted as:

Major bands that are definitely considered classic rock:

  • Led Zeppelin
  • The Beatles
  • Rolling Stones
  • The Doors
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • The Who
  • Pink Floyd
  • The Eagles
  • Rush
  • Aerosmith
  • Janis Joplin
  • The Allman Brothers
  • Eric Clapton (including Cream and Derek and the Dominoes)
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Yes
  • Peter Frampton
  • Love
  • Santana
  • Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
  • Steppenwolf
  • Queen
  • Black Sabbath
  • Lynard Skynyrd
  • Deep Purple

Bands some consider as classic rock (due to a varied sound/overlapping era):

  • Bob Dylan
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • The Police
  • Steely Dan
  • Journey
  • Grateful Dead
  • AC/DC
  • Van Halen (mostly heavy metal though)
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • David Bowie (mostly glam rock though)
  • Def Leppard
  • ELO
  • Iron Maiden (mostly heavy metal though)
  • Kiss
  • Styx
  • Crosy, Stills & Nash (and Neil Young)

Newer bands that are wrongly classified as classic rock:

  • Nirvana
  • Pearl Jam
  • Guns 'N Roses
  • U2

Bands from the 60's & 70s that definitely aren't classic rock (wrong sound):

  • The Beach Boys
  • Bob Marley
  • The Clash
  • James Brown
  • Stevie Wonder

Hopefully this article helps clear up some confusion regarding what classic rock is and this long standing debate. Feel free to comment below to debate, so we can fine tune this definition and discussion further.

Keep on rockin'!

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How about ZZ Top; Emerson, Lake And Palmer; Phill Collins; Alice Cooper; And Jethro Tull to name a few?

 Just saying,    Mike Solano


Classic rock is not a genre; it is a marketing term to help perpetuate sales and happy perceptive memories of rock from the 1960s to the 1970s. As John Bonham said " we're nothing tom do with the Beatles," in his interview to the Australian Press 1972 viewed on Led Zeppelin DVD.

This is pretty evident as the Beatles were a pop group defined by choruses and closer in relation to non classic rock contemporaries as the Beach Boys.

Classic rock is too vague for genre definition but it works to differentiate rock from rap. When the term first emerged there was some antipathy toward rap. This was occasionally interpreted by some as a soio-racist idea which holds little water as the "white" rock of Cream and Zeppelin was perfectly acceptable to those who found Albert King and Howlin' Wolf. Yours truly no exception.

There is the progressive rock era, the same as classic rock. There is some divergence there as progressive rock in the early 1970s may include Ten Years After as well as Yes. One is a guitar based band with individual melodies and the keyboard and guitar based idea of rock as concerto or symphonic based on how the individual instruments can broaden the harmony and extend the musical potential; otherwise a little limited when kept to guitar only rock. Just compare the broad expanse of Deep Purple's work (as a unit or fractalized as Fripp may have said...)

The progressive era is also fraught with misinterpretation as the idea of progression i.e. change is so abhorrent to conservative minds, Rock, classical (of 400 years  and counting of hidebound restriction, and conservative position guarding.)  or jazz for example. Take Miles Davis for instance. Marketed now as a rock star he saw the (his) future as contained in rock. His 1970s recordings bear far more resemblance to the highest ideals of progressive rock than jazz. Get Up With It, and the live albums Dark Magus, Agharta and Pangea are as guitar oriented ( 1 - 3 and check the name Pete Cosey) and are well worth checking out for prog (PF and Hendrix fans as any.)

The thing is to just accept whatever gets dumped in the bin as classic rock and leave it. It is interpreted by youth as old rock, Dad, granddad rock. Etc. Rock is youth music, not for those over 25 or whatever the cutoff point is... if there is one - with the advent of classic rock as a term designed to perpetuate rock and stop it dead and those to whom have invested emotion and cash.

Call it establishment rock, call it survivor rock, call it eternal. I hear the guitarists in Pearl Jam and can match their licks to those originated by Hendrix. Rock is no longer just the music of disaffected youth (as it should be) but also includes the music of disaffected (or not) adults.

Grown up legacy band rock. Ease up on the tight definition and let the original bands and artists and their audience say what it is. Punk rock of 1977, 1993 or whatever still is punk. Age is immaterial; attitude and content is all.


Black Sabbath defined metal for example. Look in 1978 a DJ refused to plat Sabbath on the radio as he was worried this would cause offence. Now the same blasted record gets played and it's "The Sabs." How sweet. Classic Rock softens and makes once edgy rock palatable to soft middle age types who have purchasing power and with the help of the markets and media help perpetuate and re-buy / re-sell the same rock. It is a way of people over 25 or 30 to keep the sense of self respect that the same youth obsessed media use to tyrannize people with advancing years and their (the years') consequences.

In the mid 20th Century Bela Bartok and Stravinsky did to classical music what Black Sabbath did to rock. You got to get exact with this. Not be vague. It is all about progressing music and minds. Or not. Either is fine by me. Be happy. It is up to the individual, not me, or the media or their corporations paying them to create words and "thoughts."

Call it 1960s or  1970s (which is dating it and helps to increase the audience aging anxiety it the so I only recommend that in terms of dividing time and rock music up to assess and weigh.)

Classic rock is the music of rock heritage. The renewed roots that can only be assessed in time. After all is Metallica thrash or classic? Why The Beatles and not the Beach Boys as both bands are song oriented and can be related to the Great American Songbook in song writing sophistication. The Beatles were not a blues band as the Stones were for example. Yet the Beratles arer classic rock but not the Beach Boys. Why? Marketing. There are just as many Beach Boys bootleg devotees as Beatles.

I am neither incidentally as first last and all is Led Zeppelin (with Hendrix, Floyd, Purple, Crimson, Yes, Sabbath) who still manage to make thrash and bubble gum Beatles pop sound like the hackneyed dated crapola of record company greed taking commercial advantage of contemporary times it’s pop not rock. Fine. My problem. I'll have to live with it.

Classic rock is that of vision then. Ten Years After continue into their near 50 year long career. Zep ceased nearly 31 years ago, Hendrix 41 years gone. September was pretty bleak for some... Vision may continue even if the band or artist do not. There are newer progressive rock artists such as NeBeLNeST and Indukti, Guapo, Riverside and P Tree all of whom may be palatable yet still challenging to yer older consumer.

I was once stopped on the street and asked what I was listening to. I replied Porcupine Tree. The guy had no idea who this band were. He supposed it was because he was young (and I wasn't...) that I would know who and what was ...and he had no idea. Funny old world. I'd been checking on P Tree since 1997 and it took a while to take.. a bit too close to PF (at first) and I dislike obvious rock derivations. Way too close to incest for my preference. Thankfully P Tree moved on (since 1998...) And I thought there was nothing after King Crimson and Frank Zappa (then) So 20th Century...



20th Century Rock!

Thanks - interesting reply and broader point of view. I certainly agree an element of consumerism and marketability comes into play. One thing though... you mention Beatles and Beach Boys being similar in song writing, with both relying on harmonies and pop elements. This is certainly true of the early Beatles stuff, but if you look at the later half of their career, you can definitely hear more 'classic rock' themes - less 'poppy' sounding and with more of a blues/heavier rock influence common with other classic rock bands. This is particularly illustrated by some of the songs on the White Album, Abbey Road and Let It Be.

The Beatles and The Beach Boys had their Sgt Pepper vs Pet Sounds competition.The Beach Boys had their Brian Wilson brain of the band while the band that travelled across Liverpool to discover the dominant 5th (according to McCartney recently) had the good fortune to have George Martin develop a sophistication for and with them that may not have otherwise happened. That's the way of it of course. Due to being an antidote to depressing times the Beatles had the unique privilege of being able to live in Abbey Road with EMI footing the bill a situation no one else could do.

Instrumentally the Yardbirds were very interesting at developing pyschedelic and heavy rock. The Who with Townshend as writer had music that was astonishing in rock. The only band that could ever be blown off stage by Zeppelin. Ray Davies is / was a superb tune smith. It was just his and The Kinks' bad luck that their US trip pre 1967 had run into problems (they never made it) and made them look like also rans. When really these were the guys that really made rock rock with their first singles. 


But their classic rock/ album rock is the dividing line. Also they could be very poular with Rolling Stone (as was Bob Dylan) as the thing they shared with the writers was being word men. One of the few things I hardly ever saw in general music magazines was actual discourse on say what scales, chords anyone used. The focus was on the lyrics. Bit of a shame.


Rock was changing then and studio capabilities enhanced and enabled ambition.Not absolutely sure about the blues element withh the Beatrles; there was more sophistication which for me culminated with Abbey Road a very mature album. For me this where The Beatles could have begun - this was rock conceived as an album. In that respect it was a shame they quite as the 69 - 73 period of rock was and is often regarded as the most fertile.Their progression from singles pop (which they were very good at) to album rock which IMHO had a longer gestation period and they got right with Abbey Road. But with so much fan emotional investment just about anything from the Beatles would be a success. 

With 'classic rock' just think ... if you were playing a tune in a classic rock style what it is going to be?


How does one explain it that way? Just as a song or a piece? People understand classic rock as being around a while and still current - maybe. It's still played anyway. Classic rock is history rock. It cannot be made, it must already have been done so.


I suppse it can only include rock artists around before 1977 and may still be so.

Nice feedback from uduwudu.  It's enlightening to read about robust contrary opinions that are self-supportive.  But at the end of the day, I guess I'm a traditionalist at heart, and agree with Rich that "Classic Rock" is guitar-based rock and roll (but can also be "progressive" as well as traditionally blues-based) that ended in the early 80's.


Though, rather than try to identify which artists are "Classic Rock", I prefer to simply identify which songs are Classic Rock.  Elton John has "Saturday Night", which is a total classic rock song in its own right (note the prominent rock rhythm guitar in this one song.) Or take the Black Crowes music...while not in the right era, it still is very much more like "classic rock" than some obscure-songs by proper classic rock bands... "The Whisky Song" by the Doors comes to mind.


Interesting. Almost all Classic Rock is album oriented. The covers on the site seem to indicate that. Certainly the sales of albums and the lessening impact of singles (then) indicate the hard rock / folk/ progressive / country rock / blues rock (you see the genre defining problem?) is more album oriented.Are the Ramones and Stooges punk or classic rock? Any punk at all? Boomtown Rats? (I wouldnt have thought so.) Perhaps as a genre it may be best not to think about it too much. Is it music that has it's generation inclined audience to be baby boomer rock rather than Gen X?


I did wonder about Elton John whose music has encompassed the prog rock (Funeral for a Friend, Song For Guy), straight rock (Saturday night) and lots of soul and sophisticated pop.



I don't limit myself to "classic rock" I love music and grew up listening to all kinds of music.

But I prefer rock, and what now is considered as classic, including southern rock, hard rock, heavy metal, etc.

I would not consider grunge as classic but I love it and consider it rock too.

My music taste has evolved and there are great new singers and bands.

Classic rock is music that has transcended and is here to stay.




Classic Rock...The Golden Age Of Music!

And don't forget, Mountain, Savoy Brown, Chambers Brothers, Blue Cheer and Quicksilver.

And Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, Spirit, Grand Funk and Canned Heat.

Classic rock to me is songs that will remain popular until the end of time.  Pop songs come and go but classic rock stays there forever.

Classic rock definition has a  different meaning to each classic rocker .For me theres a small group of bands (Stones;Zepplin;Bad Company;Aerosmith;VH;Doors and a few more .Thats my classic rock   


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