Why People Are Still Nuts Over Classic Rock Artists

Actually, the accepted terms are “heritage” artist or “legacy” artists.  Why are performers in their 60s and even 70s still attracting amazing attention and huge crowds?  I have some theories.

1.  The music industry has done a lousy job of creating superstar acts over the last decade.  Outside of Coldplay, Muse, Linkin Park, Jack White and maybe Gorillaz, all the other major acts of the Oughts have roots in the 90s, 80s and even 70s.  Might as well stick with the originals, right?

2. The tastes of music fans are far, far more ecumenical than they’ve ever been.  If you grew up in the 70s, 80s or 90s, chances are you turned your nose up at your older siblings’ music.  And if it was rock that dad liked, forget it.  Even amongst peers, music tastes were very tribal.  For years, it was socially unacceptable for an alt-rock kid to admit to liking Led Zeppelin and vice versa.  Today, most of those silos are gone.

3. The Old Masters are masters because they made some incredible music.  Who wouldn’t want to see/hear Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Neil Young or the Rolling Stones live at least once?

But it gets a little more complex from there.  Check out what Francois Marchand writes in the Vancouver Sun:

For Gage Averill, Dean of Arts and musicologist at the University of British Columbia, the current wave of “retro act” mega concerts is rooted in our memories.

“Rock was originally structured as the music of a generational rebellion,” he says. “So there’s a good question as to why that persists: Why you have a 60-year-old genre — an ever-evolving genre — and within that you continue to produce nostalgic movements, from ’50s doo-wop to ’80s hair bands.

“Everyone will have a different reading of this. Some of these bands and individuals are still doing credible performances. Some are not. If it’s not just nostalgia, it’s also about the aura of the artist — the sound, the image, the power associated with that artist.”

That’s just one aspect of it.  He continues:

We don’t pore over the music the same way we used to, dissecting liner notes and foraging to discover the inner workings of our favourite artists’ lives. Everything is readily accessible online and most artists are open books via social media.

Consequently, music has become disposable.

Fans generally don’t hang onto the music they love the same way they used to, and the trend has caused the old music industry model to collapse. Sifting through the rubble, labels have scrambled to cash in on that “community centre” connection legacy artists have built with their fans.

I agree completely.  When it comes to new music, people are so wrapped up in researching and searching for it that they have little time to actually savour it.  But when it comes to heritage artists, all the winnowing has long been finished.  All that’s left are the greatest hits.  And there are plenty of them.

Finally, this fascinating bit:

While researching barbershop music of the early 1800s, he came across ads from the 1820s-30s for a group taking Revolution-era music on tour in staged performances that were essentially saying, “Think back to the good old days!”

And you thought musical nostalgia was a modern thing.

Read the whole article here. It’ll put a lot of things into perspective.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

5 thoughts on “Why People Are Still Nuts Over Classic Rock Artists

  • November 3, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    I've wised up to what Rolling Stone magazine is doing. Every issue, the first 30 pages gives more coverage to classic rock artists. So they know what's up.

  • November 4, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    In addition to the changes in the music industry, there's also demographics to consider. Several years ago I read that people stop listening to new music at about age 25. After age 25 or so, they begin to revel in the music of their youth instead of discovering new artists (I wish I could find a source on this, but it was a long time ago that I heard it).

    The popularity of classic bands from the 60s to 80s makes sense from that demographic perspective because the oldest boomers were about 20 in the 1960s, and the youngest boomers were in their late teens and early 20s in the 1980s.

    Boomers have always dominated culture, so it makes sense that the bands of their youth dominate culture now.

  • November 4, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    I'm in my mid-30s and I continue to explore what's current. If there were bands out there that were just as good as the "classic bands from the 60s to 80s" then I'd listen to them, but unfortunately the reality is there isn't. So even though demographics might play a part in it, I think it's more a statement of the quality of music that's coming out.

  • November 5, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    There's plenty of good music out there right now…people just like to rebel against everything that is current.

    In 15 years people will look back at this year and say how great music used to be with The Foo Fighters releasing an 'epic album'; how Green Day was able to release 3 albums at once; how Mumford & Sons revolutionized folk rock; how the Black Keys popularized the 'hipster culture'; and how Muse and Coldplay rejuvenated the British music scene.

    And that's just the Rock Music scene.

    It's all perspective and taste.

  • November 6, 2012 at 2:11 am

    I believe there are a few contributing marketable factors. GA was bang on with the disposable point. This was a consumerism effort to speed up the marketability, turnover to yield higher profits faster. And what do most disposable/cheap products or services have in common – high quotas of ‘junk’ ingredients with easy-to-throw-away aspects.

    The last 20 years have also paved way to formatted MTV visuals. Can this face/body look attractive on a 40’x90’ ad space while pulling in sales? Personally, I’m still a fan of the ugly and credible musicians. Throw in some twitches, social awkwardness and a general lack of people skills and you have a formula for someone who will prefer to stay indoors, listen to and research a deeper level of music. Then, struggle to communicate via music, playing their findings and in addition modifying their own versions.

    And the extinct dinosaur philosophy. During the popularization of 80-90’s era music, the industry was still run by outdated executives and professionals who did not know what was considered good and poor quality music. As a result, EVERYTHING was pressed. Lost money on that last record? Next. Into the millennium, we have had a turn over with more younger and qualified personnel who know what’s up. BUT…they now closely monitor and dictate what is ‘cool’ for us, the listener, and control the ebb and flow based on the rules of consumerism.

    This marketing strategy has put us, the listener’s, into a runner’s stance. As soon as a regulated ‘hit’ has been released, we, like Pavlov’s dog, are all over it. In the meantime, continue to pump out high doses of that sugar-coated ‘product’, limiting the artistic merit and only when the time is right, release that ‘one’ that seems comparatively mind-blowing. Also, remove that current pop-sensation from the spotlight right now. Return him/her from their hiatus under the ‘do-something-else’ contract clause, ensuring another 5 years of potential ‘triumphant’ short-term chart toppers.

    Lastly, much like heads of state, these artists are simply representatives to a greater backing team of decision makers. It’s no secret the music business has become a highly organized means of musical profits. Add to it the fact that corporate-owned radio isn’t introducing nearly as much new material as it used to. Then lock it all in by establishing the ‘If you can’t play by the rules, get out of the game’ factor.

    My guess is that twenty years from now, music producers will not be acknowledging many of today’s current ‘artists’ with as much credible contributions as with past generations. Go ahead. Timeline the ground-breaking styles. We need a new vibe.

    Solution – Keep digging to find the real gems.


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