The Rules of Classic Rock

Classic Rock band logos.

I grew up listening to 105.7 WAPL, “The Rockin’ Apple”  in Neenah, Wisconsin. It wasn’t exactly my station of choice but it was the station of choice for a lot of the teen boys and college dudes who worked at my dad’s store/produce farm during the summer months.

Ted Nugent, the Rolling Stones, The Who and Aerosmith all provided the soundtrack to which I washed cucumbers, beets and carrots or bagged potatoes or popcorn. I put together bunches of asparagus while listening to Jim Morrison wail about an L.A. Woman and heaved crates of sweet corn onto flat carts while Sting pleaded with Roxanne.

This was a long time ago now. All those teen and college guys have long since become adults with jobs, families, houses of their own.

What hasn’t changed, it seems, is “Classic Rock.”

Recently, while driving back from a hike, Keith and I flipped to  92 KQRS, the “Classic Rock” station in the Twin Cities, and  and it occurred to me that I was hearing the exact same songs I’d listened to, oh, 20 years ago. You could listen to a Classic Rock station everyday for years and emerge from it like Rip Van Winkle coming out of his slumber, with no idea what day, week or year it really is.

You would say things like, “What’s Twitter?” and “Who’s Barack Obama?”

This is probably the entire point of Classic Rock – duh, it’s the classics. But it’s a closed genre and it’s not admitting any new members, unless Steven Tyler vouches for you. Somehow 1980s Butt Rock made the cut and sometimes Nirvana shows up, unannounced and wearing wrinkled clothing, but otherwise it’s the same dudes as in 1989.

Classic Rock stations draw their repertoire from music roughly from 1966 to 1994. Keith firmly believes the outer edge of the Classic Rock universe is Collective Soul, most notably the song “Shine.”

Once I started to think about it, I realized that the rules for success in Classic Rock radio are both stringent and arbitrary at the same time. You might think you know the top bands, but do you? Rush? Nope. Mettalica. Nope. Grateful Dead? Ha ha ha Boston? Forget it. The Beatles? Surprisingly, not top tier.

I worked it out to the best of my ability. Here are the top bands of Classic Rock along with their most-played songs. The next time you’re on a long car ride, flip around on your radio dial and see how often you land on a Classic Rock station playing one of these songs.

If you’re traveling in Wisconsin, this should only take about an hour.


  1. ZZ Top, “Legs”
  2. Aerosmith, “Love In An Elevator” (Yeah, you thought it would be “Sweet Emotion” but Classic Rock stations love that late 80s/early 90s Aerosmith resurgence.)
  3. Lynyrd Skynyrd, tie between “Freebird” and “Sweet Home Alabama” (Nothing can beat the 1970s Southern Rock sound + Rock Tragedy of this band in Classic Rock lore.)

And now the rest of the TOP TIER. These are the artists and specific songs you’d want to have if, say, you were living in a cave and trying to start a ham radio classic rock station:

(In no particular order)

Rolling Stones, tie between “Satisfaction” and “Start Me Up”

Steppenwolf – “Magic Carpet Ride”

Eric Clapton – “Layla”

Van Halen – “Panama”

Scorpions – “Rock You Like a Hurricane”

The Doors – “Break on Through (to the Other Side)”

Eagles – “Hotel California”

Todd Rundgren – “Bang The Drum All Day” (Note: Rundgren enjoys Classic Rock God status in Wisconsin)

Ozzy Osbourne – “Crazy Train”

Def Leppard – “Pour Some Sugar on Me” tied with “Photograph”

Gun N Roses – ALL the 80s classics and please play at least one per hour.

Eddie Money – “Baby Hold On”

Jimi Hendrix – “Purple Haze”

Led Zeppelin – “Whole Lotta Love”

AC/DC – “Back in Black” tied with “You Shook Me”

Pink Floyd – “Comfortably Numb” DJ, please make pot joke before playing.

Bad Company – “Feel Like Making Love”

Queen – “We Will Rock You” segueing into “We Are The Champions” or “Bohemian Rhapsody.” What matters most is that Queen lasts for at least 10 minutes.

Journey – “Wheel In the Sky”

The band lynyrd skynyrd performing in England.

One thought on “The Rules of Classic Rock

  1. Ok so a guy on Youtube has this picture on all of his videos; I was wondering if you know the name?

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