It’s sort of frightening to consider that even Nirvana is considered classic rock now. A band with songs on the cutting edge of a new music movement in the early 90s is now relegated to history. Normally we would consider bands like Def Leppard, Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin in this category. But, on second look this isn’t necessarily a band thing. Moving from grunge rock pioneers to classic rock icons isn’t a sign of a band losing its place in history, but rather cementing it (and finding whole new audiences via FM radio and satellite airplay).
So what makes classic rock ‘classic’ anyway? Is it a specific time-frame, fashion or the dated sound of over-dampened drums? There’s actually no concrete answer, except to say that there are bands from that period who had some popularity, who we rarely hear in heavy rotation all these many years later.
In the end certain acts and songs stand the test of time because of great songwriting and performance. Again, that’s pretty subjective, but when you have dissimilar bands like The Police being spun on the same radio station as Def Leppard or The Fixx, an obvious question arises: What do all these bands have in common?
A band like The Police had great melodies, impeccable vocals and world-class instrumental performances that all led to one thing: a great song. Similarly, a band like Def Leppard had killer guitar riff performances, high-octane vocals and unbeatable melodies and harmonies which led to one thing: a great song.
Certainly there are some songs that come across classic rock radio which are a bit dubious in terms of song quality. But, on the whole, the bands you hear in heavy-rotation have connected with an audience across time, not because of a great guitar solo or cool fashion or style… but because they wrote or performed a song that resonated across time. This is why Nirvana is now considered classic rock. They created rock music that continues to resonate with audiences all these many years later. And while certain sounds may feel dated or you may roll your eyes at hearing the same ‘hit’ for the thousandth time, the bottom line is that an act created a memorable recorded performance of rock music at one time that continues to move a segment of society on some level years later. And that is what makes classic rock classic.