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What is Classic Rock Music?

By Kathy Hawkins
Updated May 23, 2024
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Classic rock music is a musical genre that relies heavily on popular songs that were produced in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Typically, the term is used to refer to radio stations. Most cities in the United States and in many other countries have at least one radio station that is dedicated to playing music from these decades. However, the term "classic rock" can also apply to musical groups in general.

The earliest form of classic rock music radio station was called album-oriented rock, or AOR. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, these stations played current music as well as music from the past, but in the mid-1980s, most AOR stations stopped playing new music and began to focus exclusively on playing classic rock. The first radio station to call itself a classic rock music station was Philadelphia's WYSP, in 1981; by 1984, more than 40 stations in the United States were using this term.

Some of the bands that are commonly associated with classic rock music are the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Queen, and the Eagles. Though some of the artists played on these stations are still actively recording music, only their earlier hits are represented on the airwaves. Some classic rock stations also include popular hard rock and metal bands from the 1980s, such as Guns 'n Roses and Metallica. Recently, some stations have also begun to incorporate 1990s bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains into their rotation.

Classic rock music is typically most popular among people who were young when the music first came out. Today, that group includes 50 year olds who listened to the Beatles when they were young, 40 year olds who listened to the Eagles, or even 30 year olds who listened to Nirvana in their teenage years. The audience is primarily male, and so are most of the DJs associated with classic rock radio stations. There are also several magazines devoted to this style of music, such as Relix and Uncut.

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Discussion Comments

By anon331219 — On Apr 21, 2013

"the audience is primarily male"

I noticed this as well but never quite understood why. What exactly is it about classic rock that attracts more men than women?

(I'm an 18 year old female so I don't really know that many people who listen to the stuff I like, male or female).

By anon271266 — On May 25, 2012

I think orangey should listen to some Tool. I like classic and modern/90's rock. The lead singer's voice is definitely not monotone, has vibrato, the guitar parts are unique and often complicated, drums and bass clearly drive the music. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, good mix all around.

By orangey03 — On Sep 06, 2011

Classic rock, in my opinion, is the great music that modern day bands cannot replicate. Eighties rock music to me was the epitome of good composition. You had driving bass lines, solid drum beats, easily identifiable guitar rhythms, soul piercing guitar solos, and singers that actually had good vibrato.

Modern rock music tends more toward punk. The beats are too fast, the guitar music is of amateur quality, and the singers have monotone voices without a trace of vibrato. Either they just don’t have enough talent to do what classic rock artists did, or they are trying to be trendy and cool.

By StarJo — On Sep 05, 2011

When I was younger, I hated classic rock radio stations. They seemed to only play stuff from the sixties and seventies, and that was not my cup of tea whatsoever. However, I loved eighties music while growing up in the nineties, so I knew that in a few years, the stations would be playing my favorite music.

I was thrilled the first time I heard Def Leppard on a classic rock station. This meant that the time for eighties music to once again enjoy airplay had arrived. It also meant I had a new good radio station to program into my car radio.

By Perdido — On Sep 05, 2011

It’s amazing how we take for granted that everyone must know classic rock songs. It’s easy for me to forget the age gap between myself and some of my friends, but I am reminded of it when the topic of music surfaces.

I have a friend who is twelve years younger than me. I was telling her how much I loved Bon Jovi as a teenager, and she threw me for a loop when she asked me, “Who is Bon Jovi?” The band just seemed such a natural part of my life and a staple of public knowledge that I could not fathom her unfamiliarity with them.

By wavy58 — On Sep 04, 2011

It is sad to me that groups from the nineties are now considered classic rock. It seriously seems like just a couple of years ago that I was a teenager listening to Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, but in reality, it was about fifteen years ago. A lot has happened since then, yet it doesn’t seem that far away.

My sister’s children will one day be listening to today’s music on classic rock radio. They are so young right now that the music will be new to them. Simultaneously, songs that I grew up listening to will be retired to the oldies stations.

By chivebasil — On Sep 03, 2011

There has been kind of a classic rock revival throughout the 2000s. This started with the garage rock revival that swept bands like Jet and the White Stripes into the spotlight. It continues now with a number of indie bands that favor the jammy guitars popular in classic rock. You could probably even argue that a band like Kings of Leon is imitating classic rock with its anthem sized songs. This revival has produced a lot of great music and I hope they can keep the creative spark going. There is a lot of potential in this sound.

By whiteplane — On Sep 03, 2011

I used to listen to this internet radio station that offered two different streams. One was popular current indie kind of rock and the other was kind of an enlightened take on a classic rock station.

Evey city in the world has at least one classic rock station and by and large they all play exactly the same songs. New one never show up, nothing changes. Unfortunately a lot of great bands are now known for only one or two famous singles, ignoring huge catalogs of great music.

So this radio station played b sides and deep album cuts from a lot of the most famous artists of the 60s and 70s. You could go a whole day without hearing a single new song you knew and you were likely to hear a hundred great songs for the first time. It was such a great idea, resurrecting all this great music that mostly goes overlooked.

By Moldova — On Sep 03, 2011

@Anon102593-I agree with you that the classic rock bands like The Rolling Stones and Queen really were the foundation of many of today’s rock hits. When you listen to classic rock music like this it puts you in a great mood. I love “Another One Bites the Dust” and "You’re My Best Friend” by Queen.

I liked that their songs had great lyrics and an awesome beat. These are really top classic rock music hits that are used over and over again in movies and commercials because they are so memorable.

I usually listen to classic rock music on satellite radio because there are no commercials which is the best way to go.

By anon102593 — On Aug 08, 2010

Classic rock is the backbone of rock and roll music today. Today's bands take much from those bands that came before them. Many of the classic rock bands continue to release "new" material today. There is no radio format that plays these songs. Classic Artists today, a syndicated radio show, does feature the new songs from the classic rock/pop/soul bands and performers.

By anon15018 — On Jun 29, 2008

What is back masking? How is it done?

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