Stuck Between Classic Rock and a Hard Place

I’m briefly breaking my hiatus from blogging to share an interesting conversation I had this morning at work.

It started with a story:

I was in Spanish class my senior year of high school and somehow, in an otherwise incredibly boring class, the subject matter had switched to music (that’s música in Spanish). I don’t remember exactly how we ended up at the subject of Queen, but it happened nonetheless. Have you ever had one of those moments when you’ve made a comment and every single person in the room turns to eye you in judgement in unison? Well that’s exactly what happened to me when I asked, what I thought at the time, innocuous question:

Who is Queen?

Every cliché you can possibly think of occurred in 5 seconds. A pencil dropped on a desk, a girl gasped and covered her mouth in awe, even the teacher, probably mid to late 50s, took off her glasses and shook her head in disappointment. I can’t even remember the actual grade I received in this class at the end of the year, but this particular day, it was an F.

After what seemed like an eternity, I’m sure some soccer player (they were/are the most popular kids in my high school with no football team) said:

“Dude, are you serious?”

And the simple answer is yes, I was.

Now, don’t get me wrong, had I heard We Are The Champions? Absolutely, I mean how do you call yourself a D2: The Mighty Ducks fan without knowing that song belts during the end credits? You know, the movie where they add some black kids to the team so they can beat Iceland? And I definitely knew Bohemian Rhapsody as “that weird song where they kind of don’t speak real English,” so I was sitting high. The problem was, I couldn’t tell you what the name of the band was, nor their song library. Is this my fault for not understanding what a good amount of my friends would call “universal” music? Perhaps. But what I found this morning was that it opened up an entire discussion about race, musical preference, and one’s upbringing.

Anyone who knows me will know that my first response to this was:

“Black people don’t listen to Queen?”

This is unfounded and a complete generalization, but sadly carries with it some truth. If I asked the friends that I grew up with, I would say that a good amount of them wouldn’t be able to name a Queen song without being given some clue such as, “you hear this a lot at sporting events.” Queen was never played in my house growing up (excluding the aforementioned end to D2). Was it a generational difference that kept me from appeasing my work friends with a wider range of musical knowledge? I had to know.

So I got curious. And went to

This is the Top 10 Classic Rock Bands of all time (according to this website I googled):

  1. The Beatles
  2. The Rolling Stones
  3. The Who
  4. Pink Floyd
  5. The Kinks
  6. The Hollies
  7. The Beach Boys
  8. The Monkees
  9. The Doors
  10. Van Halen

Analysis (besides the fact that all but two are a “The”):

If I hadn’t known The Beatles I would understand the scrutiny, regardless of the fact that I can only say I like a few of their songs. Also despite an odd obsession with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (I mean the song, not LSD, come on you’re better than that). However, a good number of these can be classified as “heard the name, couldn’t name their songs, but probably have heard their songs”. I know that’s a long category name but bear with me here, I haven’t had my afternoon coffee. Within that category would be 2, 3, 4, and 9.

5, 6, and 8 I have no idea who they are and haven’t even heard of the names.

Van Halen (10) I know partially because of an absolutely shredded guitar solo in Michael Jackson’s Beat It (we will get into MJ later), as well as the fictional character Valhallen from Dexter’s Lab growing up. Don’t ask me how I put two and two together, I just did.

At this point I bet you’re wondering, “what about number 7, the beloved Beach Boys?” Well, when you steal your music from a talented black guy named Chuck Berry, you don’t get dignified with a response in Top Classic Rock Bands of all time. But let’s all just turn a blind eye.

Or not:

To sum it all up, Queen came in at a solid number 92, so here’s to not feeling so bad for myself.

Back to the issue at hand.

Let’s think about who was listening to what.

I remember my mom once told me that there was white radio and black radio right around the tail end of the 60s, 70s, and even in some ways, the 80s. Given the tail end of the Civil Rights movement, it’s understandable that that might have been the case. It wasn’t done on purpose, there was no Jim Crow radio, that was just how things were.  What I’m trying to get at is that “classic rock” would not be considered a part of our generation’s music. It is a genre that simply maintained popularity and was passed down over time. If that is the case, knowing that radio was not universal, it would make sense that I was never made privy to the stylistic playings of Deep Purple. (I chose a name from the list whom I had never heard of)

So then how do we bridge the gap?

My argument would be that Michael Jackson was one of the most, if the the most unifying musical artist of all time. I wholeheartedly believe that there would be a significant difference between the amount of people (of all races, creeds, and nationalities) that know who Michael Jackson is than say the guy my baseball team loved to exalt, Bruce Springsteen.

That’s no knock in Bruce. The reactions I have seen from people when his music comes on are ones of pure jubilation. I only ask that I not be asked to share that same sentiment simply because in someone’s opinion, “everyone knows Bruce is the king.”

Try a social experiment. Sample people from as many races and backgrounds as you can and see which person they find is more popular. Of course, don’t tell people you’re doing this because they will undoubtedly think you’re the weirdest person on the planet, but you get my point.

Also, be glad I kept Michael Jackson to one paragraph. I could’ve gone on for days. I wasn’t given a choice except to love him considering the first song I heard out of the womb was Billie Jean (my mother made sure of that).

Our generation (for the sake of this let’s say age 15 to 30)

I work with some exceptionally smart people (who probably think I’m an idiot). Yes, now everyone on the internet knows that I didn’t know what a cherub was or what abridged meant (the latter much more foolish), but hey you win some and you lose some. Or in life at an agency, you win some and you lose most.

That being said, the comparison was made between classic rock and rap music. When asked to name some rap groups or individuals integral to what rap is now, I was impressed to see that most people in my corner either knew or had heard about each group or individual, barring the Kurtis Blow’s of the world.

So then, what the hell, Cam? You should know more about classic rock.

I probably should know more about Classic Rock music, but I don’t think it makes any one person more cultured than another.

It could be argued that rap music is the most universal type of music of our generation. In my opinion, certainly more universally accepted than classic rock is, was, or will ever be. It would be interesting to see what a simple random sample from our generation would come up with when asked to make a playlist of their favorite 25 songs from 1965-1985. However, I don’t think it will be surprising that those preferences will be based on a great number a variables including race, generation, and upbringing.


At the end of the day, preference wins over all. To be completely candid, most of the classic rock songs that I hear just simply don’t elicit any emotion in me. Guitar Hero 2 helped bridge that gap a little, I even added an Avenged Sevenfold heavy metal song (Beast and the Harlot) to my iPod simply because of that game. But, it takes a very particular sound to excite me in the world of classic rock. The odd thing about it is that is a very wide range of particular sounds (again, bear with me on the fact that that previous statement BARELY made sense, I feel like I’m in the beginning of a 5 Hour Energy commercial).

People are allowed to say that don’t like rap music because they don’t like how it sounds, so I should also be able to say that classic rock sits further down my list of musical genres for the same reason.

Now Playing: Black or White by Michael Jackson




8 responses to “Stuck Between Classic Rock and a Hard Place”

  1. Erin says :

    This list from for the he 10 best rock bands ever is way better
    1. The Beatles
    2. The Rolling Stones
    3. U2 (Ugh, but okay)
    4. The Grateful Dead
    5. Velvet Underground (Hell Yeah)
    6. Led Zeppelin
    7. Ramones
    8. Pink Floyd
    9. Bob Marley & The Wailers (Classic Rock?)
    10. Sly and the Family Stone


  2. David says :

    Isn’t the joke that all of Kanye’s fans are white? Black culture might be more essentially conservative, seeking to define itself as opposite to its clingy antithesis (white culture), which is forever co-opting, stealing, imitating and generally just trying to look as cool as black culture usually is. So yeah, most white people are studied fans of hip-hop and rap, but you’ll almost never see the opposite. But I may have found somebody who does bridge the gap [the fact that he’s an immigrant probably plays some part in his (at least partial) dissociation from the dichotomy]:


    • camsquires says :

      I like the guy you found and will look into his work. I think that’s an interesting thought as well. Perhaps black people are less open to white culture than vice versa. That being said, I think a lot of it has to do with the beats themselves and what is catchy to each group is fundamentally different. Which then would lead to how, like you said, open one is to the other side of things. Even funnier than that is getting called white by white people for having certain music on my iPod.


  3. camsbury says :

    Kingsbury here.

    Valhallen could be a mix of Van Halen and Valhalla?

    Also, pretty sure we listened to Floyd on the college trip at some point… Comfortably Numb and Learning to Fly are my favez.

    I like that you point out how Michael Jackson is a sort of unifying node in music where pop meets funk meets classic rock meets etc. This is why he was a game changer.

    I would also like to point out that your experience in Spanish class is an example of what I call the biased relative majority effect. Simply put, you were in a group of people that were in no way representative of the diversity held within the overall population, the population of “cool people,” or the population of “smart people.”

    When you are in a town where you only have 2 people to hang out with who are both obsessed with guacamole, it doesn’t make you a freak for not liking it. The fact is that you are faced with a biased relative majority. They don’t REALLY represent the majority of whatever group you want to associate with. They are just the current majority in your situation. This is why we live in NYC and LA. More diversity.


  4. Danbino says :

    Interesting read – I feel like I owe most of my musical perspective to my parents, specifically my dad – my first album was Zepplin IV, on road trips growing up we listened to American Beauty and a Crosby Stills Nash and Young CD and most of the stuff I play and write now has a super folksy vibe to it, probably due largely to my upbringing. I hated Country until I lived in Nashville for four years, and now have a selective appreciation for Garth Brooks, George Strait and the like akin to your relationship with Classic Rock by virtue of simply having a lot of great nights listening to talented musicians cover their music.

    Anyways, to your Chuck Berry point above – who I’ve always viewed predominantly as a guitarist because I was exposed to him while learning how to play the instrument (and while the BBs certainly owe a tremendous debt to Chuck and rockabilly, I personally don’t think that diminishes Brian Wilson’s songwriting ability, or the fact that the the band’s greatest triumph is, and they surpassed even The Beatles in this, their oft imitated but never bettered use of near perfect vocal harmony) – I think you can go a lot deeper with the analogue of “white” music owing a tremendous debt to “black” music and culture in classic rock. To illustrate my point, check out this NPR interview with Peter Guralnick, a music historian who just came out with a book on Sam Phillips, the producer who discovered Elvis. Super awesome music history and really illuminating stuff:

    Liked by 1 person

    • camsquires says :

      Thank you for this! I will check this out for sure. I didn’t delve too far into the analogue because I wanted to stay lighthearted but I agree with everything you said here.


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