Can you think of anything scarier than “Trivia Night” at your local bar or pub, the topic is “music,” and you look across the room and there’s Sean Ross on your arch rival’s team? No contest.
So last week I was reading Sean’s latest missive about radio, music, and formats – “Avoiding A Doldrums: Why Country Needs ‘Now’,” and I got to thinking about his latest format observations, specifically the challenges facing Country. Sean’s argument – as usual – is rooted in a mélange of currents and recurrents – pointing to the “power of now” as the device that can propel formats to mass appeal status and continued success.
Whether Country can recapture that vibe is debatable, of course, and Sean spells out in detail the factors involved in keeping the format vital in the midst of music challenges. But that brings to me how the “power of now” isn’t just about music – it’s a mindset that can impact multiple generations of music listeners in any format. And in Classic Rock, the ability to leverage a sense of freshness and currency has been part of its success elixir for many years. Since the beginning, the challenge for the format has revolved around how to keep the sound crisp and modern in a model where every song is at least 20 years old.
For Classic Rock, the “power of now” isn’t just about legacy brands continuing to tour. It has continually been about the ability of the format and its core artists to stay relevant in the zeitgeist of an overheated, Internet-powered pop culture.
That’s no easy feat because our social media pages and digital sites are dominated by celebrity – especially hot new stars from the music, motion picture, and TV industries. Yet somehow, Classic Rockers have managed to remain mainstream, top-of-mind, and vital in a world of Kardashians, Swifts, and Trumps.
Last week, three of these “power of now” moments occurred – some bigger than others – but all serving to keep Classic Rock's “Mt. Rushmore” artists front and center. Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and the Stones all played starring and co-starring roles.
1. The “Stairway to Heaven” legal battle
OK, it’s not the O.J. trial, and it’s not being televised around the world. But this L.A.-based courtroom struggle over whether Jimmy Page and Robert Plant ripped off Randy California and Spirit continues to make headlines. After all, the song in question is the biggest and best-known rock classic of all time, “Stairway to Heaven.” Page, Plant, and John Paul Jones have all testified about where they were and what they were doing in the late ‘60s – as if they could possibly remember. It's a crazy case with even the Mary Poppins song “Chim Chim Cheree” has made a cameo appearance in court.
Not only is the trial being covered by the news media throughout the world, Stephen Colbert has also weighed in. Bottom line? People are talking about Classic Rock’s most iconic song, originally recorded 45 years ago. Or was it 48 years ago by Spirit? The jury will decide.
2. AC/DC sabotages soccer tournament
And last week, Classic Rock ended up apparently affecting the outcome of a European sporting event. In explaining his team’s narrow victory over Albania last week in Marseille, France's coach, Didier Deschamps, laid the blame on a band sometimes called “the thunder from down under,” AC/DC.
Obviously thunderstruck by the field conditions at the Stade Velodrome and how it apparently limited his team’s goal production, Deschamps offered this lame excuse:
“If you have an AC/DC concert a month before the European Championships – they’re changing the pitch, re-laying the turf.”
Of course his Albanian counterpart, Giovanni De Biasi, had a different view of the graff and its impact on the outcome:
“When you’ve got some good boots, you can avoid slips.”
This would have never happened following a Taylor Swift show.
The AC/DC turf controversy rages on.
3. PetSmart and “Sympathy for the Devil”
We’ve documented the advertising world’s propensity to license Classic Rock mainstays for their marketing efforts over the years. But perhaps the oddest combination of a song and a brand occurred recently by PetSmart.
To promote their tie-in with the soon-to-be-released animated film, The Secret Life of Pets, PetSmart is using the Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil” as the soundtrack to their latest TV spot.
These examples all from last week point to the value of currency, even for a format that plays nothing new. As Sean Ross notes, the worst thing format programmers can do is to turn their backs on the “now.” In the case of Classic Rock PDs, talking about “current events” is a smarter strategy than reminding audiences that Charlie Watts turns 75 years-old this month. Or telling us who was playing lead guitar on “Badge.” And for the sales department, the “now” attribute is part of the story that explains how a gold-based format can retain its relevancy with generations of listeners that weren't born when most of the music library was first released.
It’s always been about Classic Rock’s “power of now.”
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