Led Zeppelin is classic rock. So are Mötley Crüe and Ozzy Osbourne. But what about U2 or Nirvana? As a child of the 1990s, I never doubted that any of these bands were classic rock, even though it may be shocking for many to hear. And then I heard Green Day’s “American Idiot” on a classic rock station a few weeks ago, and I was shocked.
Welcome to the club. When I grew up, “classic rock” was just “rock,” and the stations would play the newest Aerosmith or Rush alongside the older stuff. When the rockers declined, the playlists just froze in place through the late 80s.
Then came the changes. As Bowling for Soup once sang, “When did Mötley Crüe become classic rock?”
Back to FiveThirtyEight:
It was my first time hearing a band I grew up with referred to as “classic rock.” Almost anyone who listens to music over a long enough period of time probably experiences this moment — my colleagues related some of their own, like hearing R.E.M. or Guns N’ Roses on a classic rock station — but it made me wonder, what precisely is classic rock?
That’s a good question. What exactly unites R.E.M. and GnR other than existing in MTV’s heyday?
As it turns out, a massive amount of data collection and analysis, and some algorithms, go into figuring out the answer to that very question.
And that’s where the piece gets interesting, even if it doesn’t tell me why D.C. radio stations play so much Foreigner.