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Ten Commandments of Classic Rock

Posted: August 13, 2005

By Kevin Forest Moreau, Shaking Through Program Director

Surprisingly, much of the response I've gotten for my recent editorials on Live 8 and term limits for rockers has focused not on Bob Geldof's mega-event or my idea of limiting rock acts to 10 years in any one formation, but on some of the performers for whom I've shockingly expressed something aside from the expected adulation. What have I got against the Rolling Stones, anyway? Or Led Zeppelin? Or the Eagles?

It's a fair question. The answer is that I don't have anything against the Stones or Led Zeppelin per se (the Eagles are another matter). But my appreciation for those and many other artists is tainted by the deification they often receive in the mainstream media. Yes, the Rolling Stones recorded some absolutely great songs 30 and 40 years ago. Yes, I like "Rock and Roll" and "Black Dog" and "When the Levee Breaks" and a few other Led Zeppelin songs as much as the next guy. But I think their contributions are blown out of all proportion. (Note to my new stalker: No, I'm not a hypocrite. Despite what you seem to believe, I don't believe Nirvana to be the greatest band of all time. Get a new hobby already.)

Yes, Rolling Stone bears a lot of the blame for this canonical approach to rock music (see our review of Kill Your Idols for more on that subject). But it's far from the worst perpetrator -- that would be the misguided enterprise known as classic rock radio, which puts an acceptable commercial sheen on those tired AOR (Album-Oriented Rock) dinosaurs -- the 1970s stoner stations that played Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and, yes, Zeppelin on an endless loop.

Yes, most classic rock stations today vary their playlists with newer artists, like the Black Crowes, Sheryl Crow and Counting Crows, who draw a large part of their inspiration from the old school. Many of them even play much newer artists with more tenuous connections to the format's original concept. Still, over the last two decades, the format has contributed greatly to the calcification of rock 'n' roll -- the idea that everything good, influential, important or relevant in rock happened before 1979.

Classic rock drives me crazy because relies on a relatively small pack of artists and treats them like gods, replaying their biggest hits over and over and over and over, which way over-inflates their importance. Hell, if Papa Roach was played every quarter-hour, day in and day out, you'd eventually come to believe that it was the best band in the history of music. So it's no surprise that so many people think the Who were so much better than they really were -- they've been brainwashed by endless repetition.

Yes, yes, I know: If I don't like it, change the channel. Fair enough. It's a free world, and a free market, and as long as people out there enjoy limiting their musical scope to the time of Foghat and Grand Funk Railroad, I can't blame radio stations for making money off of those people. So I realize classic rock isn't going anywhere, at least until it officially becomes the new oldies music (if it hasn't already). But the issue isn't that it exists. It's what that existence means for rock as a whole.

Nobody asked me, but as long as we have to live in a world in which radio stations relentlessly inflate the importance of the past, here are some suggestions to at least make things marginally better:

1. Give Late-Period Aerosmith a "Permanent Vacation" Permanently retire all Aerosmith songs post-Done With Mirrors. That means no songs about dudes who look like ladies, no sappy Diane Warren power ballads, no singing about Janie and her gun. There's plenty of great Aerosmith material to play, just about all of which predates the group's mid-1980s comeback. Stick to "Sweet Emotion," "Back in the Saddle," "Walk This Way," etc. Although I'd like to vote to retire "Dream On," which was never that good a song to begin with.

2. Get the Led Out -- Permanently No more "Stairway to Heaven" -- period. DJs will have to find other long songs to play when they need to take a bathroom break. There are far too many people out there who rank this mediocre track as the greatest hard rock song of all time. We don't need to breed any new morons. We're just fattening the bank accounts of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, two overblown relics who are already far richer than they have any right to be based on their meager musical contributions.

3. Rodgers, Over and Out No Paul Rodgers except "Rock n Roll Fantasy." No Free, no Bad Company, and in the name of all that's holy, please God, no songs from the Firm. And don't even think of playing cuts from his ill-conceived merger with Queen. I know this seems harsh -- hey, I like "Feel Like Makin' Love" as much as the next guy, but you've got to draw a line somewhere. And he's got to learn the hard way that there are consequences to stupid decisions, like that whole Queen thing.

4. Stay in the Waters I'll make this simple: There is no Pink Floyd without Roger Waters. Stuff from The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon gets played to death as it is; we don't need to make things worse by playing stuff from David Gilmour's version of the band. I'm sure some people, somewhere, like that stuff, but we'll just chalk that up to a momentary lapse of reason.

5. Ground the Eagles Seriously. Some of the stuff from The Long Run is decent, but if I never hear "Hotel California" again, I can die happy. You may think you'll miss it, but you'll see -- you'll be better off. You can lead a healthier, more productive life without "Lyin' Eyes." Try it.

6. Stay Out of the '80s You are hereby forbidden to play any song recorded later than 1979. I will grant two exceptions to this rule: You may play songs from the Police, because you really won't hear them anywhere else, and they deserve to be heard. You may also play '80s songs from the Cars. But that's it. Period. You can hear U2 anywhere else you turn on the radio, so you don't need to play them on classic rock radio.

7. No Sheryl Crow That one's self-explanatory. She ain't that good, and she's really annoying. Besides, her career started in the '90s.

8. Oh, God Speaking of Sheryl Crow: Can we talk about Eric Clapton? I've never gotten the fascination. And that whole "Tears in Heaven" thing is just creepy. Play "White Room" once a week if you must, but otherwise, let's significantly curtail the lame cover of "I Shot the Sheriff" and "Pretending" and all that stuff. That people call him "God" is insulting even to atheists.

9. Oh, God Part II Two words: Todd Rundgren. No one really plays "Hello, It's Me" that much anymore anyway, but why take chances? He's a decent enough songwriter, but that "Todd is God" stuff is embarrassing.

10.Use Your Powers for Good As long as you're paying tribute to a specific period in time, why not dig a little deeper? And I don't mean playing "deeper album cuts" from Van Halen and Talking Heads. Try turning your listeners on to Roky Erickson or Jonathan Richman or Gene Clark or even the overrated Gram Parsons. Let your imagination run wild. Do some good for a change. Who knows? After a while, you may not even feel that craving to play "Kashmir" every two hours anymore. And what a relief that would be.

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Archived Editorials
December 03, 2006: Happy Feet
November 22, 2006: Half Decade Anniversary
October 07, 2006: Jessica Simpson
September 30, 2006: New Orleans and SNL
June 2, 2006: Dixie Chicks
May 7, 2006: Are Yahu Serious?
February 16, 2006: Bill O'Reilly & Brokeback Mountain
February 12, 2006: Totally '80s (Grammys)
January 31, 2006: Freyed Oprah
November 27, 2005: To Be Continued... (Bringing back movie serials)
November 21, 2005: Fourth Birthday
November 05, 2005: TV Remakes
August 13, 2005: Ten Commandments of Rock
July 05, 2005: Live 8
May 05, 2005: Term Limits (for Rock Stars)
April 29, 2005: Pearl Jam Redux
January 26, 2005: Oscar Grouching
October 31, 2004: Three More Years!
September 27, 2004: Cleaning Out My Closet
August 25, 2004: Shaking Through Mailbag
June 23, 2004: Summer Reading List
June 11, 2004: World Without Heroes (Bill Murray and Garfield)
April 23, 2004: Sold Out (Bob Dylan, Victoria's Secret, & Iraq)
April 08, 2004: The Day the Music Died (Kurt Cobain)
Mar. 17, 2004: Copping Out
Feb. 27, 2004: The Passion of Howard Stern
Jan. 30, 2004: Sex and the City
Nov. 17, 2003: California Über Alles
Nov. 7, 2003: Not-So-Terrible Twos
Sept. 19, 2003: Magic & Loss (Johnny Cash and Warren Zevon)
Aug. 17, 2003: Those '70s Shows
May 27, 2003: Patriot Games (Darryl Worley)
May 24, 2003: American Idol
Mar. 23, 2003: Non-cents-ical (Dixie Chicks-50 Cent)
Feb. 8, 2003: Where's the Love? (Pearl Jam)
Jan. 1, 2003: High Resolutions
Dec. 16, 2002: All I Want for Christmas
Nov. 27, 2002: Things to be Thankful For
Nov. 8, 2002: Near Wild Heaven (Nirvana)
Oct. 21, 2002: Happy Birthday to Us
Sept. 11, 2002: The Little Things
Aug. 20, 2002: King for a Day
July 9, 2002: Bill of Rights
Apr. 18, 2002: Celebrity Skim
Apr. 15, 2002: We Will Never Lie To You
Jan. 6, 2002: Something to Believe In
Nov. 3, 2001: Who We Are