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     Classic rock was originally conceived as a radio station programming format which evolved from the album oriented rock (AOR) format in the early-1980s. In the United States, this rock music format now features a limited playlist of songs ranging from late 1960s through today with more emphasis on the earlier hits by artists associated with the loosely-defined "classic rock era". It is often erroneously referred to as a specific genre of music.

Origins of classic rock radio

The origins of the classic rock radio format can be traced back to The Beatles' groundbreaking album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which would forever change several courses of the rock and roll format, especially with the slow rise of FM broadcasting, even though a majority of people were still listening to AM radio. Since Sgt. Pepper did not spawn any singles, both AM and FM stations began to play select tracks from the album in an attempt to retain listeners. Soon both stations and artists realized that album cuts rather than Top 40-oriented singles could be a major source of radio airplay and artist visibility.

Taken to the furthest level, this created what would be called progressive rock radio in the late 1960s and 1970s. This format was associated with elements of freeform radio, where disc jockeys controlled what was played. Soon a more commercially-oriented variant called album oriented rock (AOR), or "album rock", emerged in the mid- and late 1970s. This format concentrated on album cuts as well, but on a more structured, playlist-oriented basis.

AOR would continue to be popular in the 1970s and early 1980s, but by the end of the 1980s, as "albums" had been supplanted by compact discs and as station playlists largely stopped keeping up with developing musical trends (including new wave music), "album rock" evolved into "classic rock" on many of these FM radio stations.

The first station to call itself "classic rock" on-air was WYSP, Philadelphia in January of 1981. Program director/midday jock Dick Hungate teamed with legendary radio consultant Lee Abrams in a brain-storming session during which such alternate on-air describers as "timeless" and "vintage" also were considered. Hungate created the playlist and achieved a manual song "rotation" in that pre-personal computer age via color-coded 3x5 index cards, sorted and separated according to age and perceived song popularity. He had worked across the street at competitor WMMR as music director and midday personality, so Hungate knew the local tastes for all-old-and-"classic" album rock. After this first successful switch, KQRS in Minneapolis (led by late program director Doug Sorensen) tried the classic rock format next, also in '81.

The format took hold when radio consultant Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media launched it in Dallas, Texas on an AM station. Another early "Classic Rocker" was in Lansing, Michigan (WMMQ) followed in quick succession in Kansas City (KCFX), Washington D.C. (WCXR), Buffalo (WHTT), New York (WXRK) and Phoenix (KSLX).

Classic rock is similar to oldies radio in that the format is based upon music of the past, hence the playlist and artists featured are relatively stable in comparison to Top 40 or other contemporary formats which are based primarily on current releases. However, various bands and songs will come in and out of style on classic rock radio, and regional favorites may be featured in a particular market. Additionally, in the process of jockeying for position and listener share in competitive markets, stations will often add songs and artists only marginally associated with the classic rock era, and some stations combine the classic rock format with other formats, including modern rock in an attempt to increase popularity. The hybrid of classic rock and modern rock is also referred to as active rock.


Key artists and albums

The core albums, artists, and songs most often represented in classic rock radio represent a subset of the albums and artists that were actually popular during the so-called "classic rock era". The most enduring classic rock songs and artists have proven to appeal to new generations of listeners as well as older listeners who knew the music when it originally appeared.

British hard rock and progressive rock bands make up a central pillar of classic rock artists; significant among these are The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Deep Purple, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd and Cream. Many different songs from these acts are likely to appear on the playlists of classic rock stations. Certain American rock artists are also classic rock mainstays, including Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, The Doors, the Eagles, Steve Miller Band, Jimi Hendrix, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Arena rock bands (such as Styx, Boston, Journey, REO Speedwagon and Supertramp) also often appear on classic rock stations. In many areas, Southern rock, notably that of Lynyrd Skynyrd, .38 Special and The Allman Brothers Band, forms a significant subset of classic rock playlists as well.

Many other bands may appear occasionally on classic rock stations; however, this presence may be limited to a few familiar songs. For example, while the band Steppenwolf recorded over a dozen studio albums, only two of their songs ("Born to Be Wild" and "Magic Carpet Ride") are likely to be heard within the classic rock format.

Concept albums indirectly led to the album-rock format and remain a major component of classic rock. Notable are the four Pink Floyd concept albums, including The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon, as well as The Who's two major rock operas: Tommy and Quadrophenia. The Who's 1971 album Who's Next is one of the most often-played classic rock albums of all time.

The 1970s "arena rock" era is perhaps of the largest subset of the classic rock format, though in most cases artists are represented by only a few of their largest hits (often Top 40 "crossover" singles) and a few popular album cuts. Acts such as Styx, Grand Funk, ELO, Kiss, Bad Company, Queen, and Peter Frampton are all part of classic rock playlists, as is the era's Southern rock superstars such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers. While the '70s works of singer-songwriters like Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, and Elton John are popular within the classic rock format, their later works are usually not.

Some classic rock playlists may include hard rock/heavy metal bands who scored hits in the '80s such as AC/DC, Rush, Guns N' Roses and Van Halen. Particular songs or eras from these acts may be more appropriate for the format than others, and nearly every station fine-tunes its playlist by adding or deleting songs and artists to differentiate itself from competing stations.

Classic rock radio artists are almost exclusively white (African-American Jimi Hendrix being the primary exception) and predominantly male (with Heart, The Pretenders, and Janis Joplin as exceptions). Little of the diverse funk, disco, soul, blues, or singer-songwriter styles that co-existed with rock music survives in the classic rock format, though they may have been played contemporaneously on AOR predecessor stations.

An example of one radio station's classic rock playlist may be found at KHKK, and an example of another station's top classic rock songs of all time is also illuminating.


Classic Hits format

Main article: Classic hits

A variation on the classic rock theme is "classic hits", which provides most of the playlist of classic rock with the addition of contemporaneous R&B and pop hits as well, striking a balance between the mostly '70s-focused classic rock format and the more broad-based oldies format.

Symphonic "classic rock"

Classic rock is also the name of a series of albums by The London Symphony Orchestra featuring orchestral arrangements of classic rock tracks. These albums featured "classical" arrangements of hits by such artists as Frank Zappa, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Harry Nilsson, 10cc, Procol Harum and others.

The “Classic Rock” series began in 1979 on the RSO label and inspired two additional series on RCA, including the famous “Hooked On Classics” series, conducted by Louis Clark of Electric Light Orchestra, and one of symphonic albums dedicated to the works of specific bands conducted by David Palmer of Jethro Tull. Symphonic albums in that series included ones dedicated to such bands as Jethro Tull, Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, Queen and The Beatles.

This was a reverse twist on symphonic rock, in which it had long been the practice of many of the more sophisticated rock bands to interpret the classical repertoire.

See list of popular songs based on classical music.

See also

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