Friday, February 23, 2007

"Classic" Rock

It so happened that the next three songs to play after those listed in yesterday's iPod rundown were "Why don't we do it in the road?" by the Beatles, "Wild Horses" by the Rolling Stones, and "Wicked Annabella" by the Kinks. I thought, banally, "hey, a classic rock mix". But then I realized that it's no classic rock mix at all, if "classic rock" is basically a radio format. While certainly the Beatles and the Stones, and to a lesser extent the Kinks, are classic rock radio staples, this sequence illustrates one of the many things wrong with it as a format (and with commercial radio in general, by extension). That is, these radio stations always claimed to play "deep cuts", but in reality always played the same songs over and over. The only time you'd every hear "Why don't we do it in the road?" (which, admittedly, is not one of the Beatles hundred or so best songs) would be if a station was playing all of side two of The White Album (if we're being casually pedantic, do we italicize aliases of titles?? better play it safe. . . ). "Wild Horses" was pretty common, of course, but a song like "Wicked Annabella" would never get played. But pulling back even further, yeah, the Kinks were basically reduced to "Lola" and "Celluloid Heroes" and their arena rock hits from the late seventies, like "Come Dancing" or "Do It Again". "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night" and others were generally relegated to "oldies" stations, if I recall. (Classic rock was more likely to play Van Halen's version of the former.) But albums like The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society (which includes "Wicked Annabella") and Muswell Hillbillies were never played. In fact, even for the Beatles and Stones, in general their earlier music was played on oldies stations, while the later, more rockist ("mature") music (and only certain songs) was "classic rock".

I'm sort of rambling here, but the thing is, I have always wanted to like the radio. But even within a given radio format's narrow range, the narrowness is astounding. It doesn't bother me that there is something like a "classic rock" format--where music from a particular era or genre is played. But if they didn't have time for anything but "Tumbling Dice" from Exile on Main Street, or for central classic rock artist Neil Young's "Ambulance Blues", I guess it's no surprise they didn't play Fairport Convention or Richard & Linda Thompson or Captain Beefheart or the Velvet Underground or the Stooges. All of these artists seem like obvious choices for any decent "classic rock" playlist. And yet you'd rarely, if ever, hear them. Perhaps because I listened almost exclusively to classic rock when I first got into music in high school, one of my impulses since then has been to fill in the gaps, to build a massive playlist of what I think classic rock should have been. All of the above artists, plus Blue Cheer, Silver Apples, Skip Spence, Funkadelic, Robert Wyatt, Roy Harper, Love, Syd Barrett (and Barrett-era Floyd, never played on the radio); German bands like Can and Amon Düül II (Faust strikes me as a little trickier, though even they had some actual songs that would have sounded great alongside this stuff); stuff like Pentangle and the Incredible String Band . . . all that music that gets suddenly "re-discovered" by a new wave of indie kids.

Ah, utopian dreams. Stay tuned as I continue to bang the drum for important issues like this.

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