STAIRWAY TO HELL

OUR LIST OF THE MOST OVERPLAYED CLASSIC-ROCK SONGS OF ALL TIME.

Woodstock isn't the only musical entity celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It's also been a quarter of a century since FM-rock radio came of age as a major commercial force--and broadcasters playing variations on this programming style continue to draw big ratings in virtually every city in the country. But what began as an exciting and liberating form of entertainment has evolved into the most predictable format on the airwaves: classic rock. The redundancy of most classic-rock playlists makes the sound of a leaky faucet seem fresh by comparison.

In an effort to determine just how repetitious are classic-rock outlets, Westword surveyed a handful of radio listeners in several metropolitan areas: Denver, Los Angeles, Omaha, Kansas City, Cleveland, Chicago and New York City. In the process, we discovered a few quirks specific to certain areas. For instance, New Yorkers are virtually alone in having Billy Joel shoved down their throats, while Denverites hear a startlingly high volume of Stevie Ray Vaughan, an artist virtually ignored during his lifetime but now being played, um, to death.

Overall, however, classic-rock stations from coast to coast keep spinning the same songs by the same performers until you're ready to find a broomstick and go looking for Jeffrey Dahmer. Moreover, the cuts of choice often have certain characteristics in common. Many of them are pretentious--alleged epics with shifting themes and passages. Many of them make drug references, the better to appeal to former users who'd be using still if not for their employers' fondness for random urine tests. And most of them are long. Our theory? Many classic-rock DJs are incontinent, playing lengthy tracks so they can spend extended periods on the toilet. Better than Depends, dude.

What follows is our correspondents' list of the most overplayed classic-rock songs: four songs apiece by the 25 acts that dominate the stations, as well as the top ten overplayed songs by performers whose other work gets aired less frequently (see sidebar, page 82). These ditties constitute the bulk of many classic-rock stations' libraries: If a law were passed making it illegal to play them, the format would be brought to its knees.

Say, that's not a bad idea.

25. JIMI HENDRIX. The only African-American who made the classic-rock grade--and he barely did so. Obviously, the white people who make up the vast majority of classic rock's listenership know what they want to hear: more white people.

Runners-up. 3. "Fire" (1967): Trust us, this was once hot stuff. 2. "Foxey Lady" (1967): In the Sixties, women thought being called this was a compliment. Say it now, mister, and get a knee to the groin. 1. "Crosstown Traffic" (1968): Often used prior to traffic updates. Clever, eh?

The Winner. "Purple Haze" (1967): The most popular dope-tinged tune by a musician who overdosed on smack and died after choking on his own vomit. Make mine a Coca-Cola, barkeep.

24. DEEP PURPLE. Yeah, we were as shocked as you are that these dinosaurs lumbered onto the list. Proof that Dazed and Confused was a documentary.

Runners-up. 3. "Hush" (1968): Too bad Ritchie Blackmore didn't take this song's advice. 2. "Highway Star" (1972): Also used prior to traffic updates. A brilliant idea! 1. "Woman From Tokyo" (1973): The closest thing to Asian music in classic rock.

The Winner. "Smoke on the Water" (1972): Its riff may be the dumbest of all time. To guitar what "Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater" is to the piano.

23. THE POLICE. A downright contemporary act, by classic-rock standards. Which is to say, it's only been defunct for around a decade.

Runners-up. 3. "Message in a Bottle" (1979): We wish this message was only in a bottle. 2. "Can't Stand Losing You" (1978): The rare Police song that exhibits a sense of humor. No wonder it wasn't a hit. 1. "Synchronicity II" (1983): Popular with classic rockers because it sounds a lot like Yes.

The Winner. "Roxanne" (1978): When this was released, a Rolling Stone reviewer wrote that it sounded like Santana without a lead guitarist. Still does.

22. THE BEATLES. Once a staple of classic-rock stations, the Fab Four have faded of late. Meaning that plenty of music by worse bands is being played more than theirs.

Runners-up. 3. "Come Together" (1969): Considered cool because Aerosmith covered it. 2. "Golden Slumbers" (1969): The concluding passage of Abbey Road; classic rockers like it because it has a drum solo in it. 1. "Birthday" (1968): Played whenever anybody has a--well, you know.

The Winner: "Hey Jude" (1968): One of the few Beatles songs long enough to allow DJs to get a good bowel movement going.

21. CREAM. The Eric Clapton-led trio was known for its endless jams, but today its in-concert offerings are even too snore-inducing for classic rock. Stop the presses.

Runners-up. 3. "Badge" (1969): As brief as any classic-rock regular. That's why it's not played as often as... 2. "White Room" (1968): Trippy and drony, but not what you'd call colorful. 1. "Born Under a Bad Sign" (1968): Yeah--this one.

The Winner. "Sunshine of Your Love" (1968): It's about acid, right? Oh, sorry, we were flashing back.

20. U2. By far the list's youngest band. If you had any doubt that Bono and friends are pompous dolts, check out how well they fit in here.

Runners-up. 3. "I Will Follow" (1980): When they were pompous younger dolts. 2. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (1983): Not bloody enough. 1. "Pride (In the Name of Love)" (1984): This ode to Martin Luther King Jr. would be out of place on a classic-rock station if it weren't for the fact that four white blokes sing it.

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