Gary Graff is an award-winning journalist and author. He was a music and radio critic for The Detroit Free Press from 1982 until 1995.
One thing I will always remember about the beginning of Classic Rock is getting Fred Jacobs to dress up in clothes he wore 20 years prior. For public consumption. Not only was it a pretty remarkable achievement that he actually still fit in those clothes, but it seemed like a great way to illustrate the newspaper story I was writing about this crazy new format “The Big Chill” had planted in his radio muse. Of course, after cajoling Fred into those colorful denims and goofy little hat, we essentially ran a head shot – defeating my purpose and making Fred feel more foolish than he looked. Or maybe we’re just used to him looking that way…
I actually felt that Classic Rock would be a winner from the get-go. From my vantage point writing about the music scene, I could sense the beginnings of a new generational divide. The counter-culturalists of the `60s did not hate the new wave of MTV rock and pop as much as their parents may have hated the Beatles, Stones, et al, but they were having trouble wrapping their arms, and ears, around the world of New Wave, punk, punk-funk, hair metal and the early traces of rap. You could sense a re-embrace of the music they grew up loving, especially since it was the soundtrack to an enormously popular film that was speaking to them in so many ways.
It was the first real indication that rock was beginning to segment, not into genre distinctions (which would come later) but in a generational way. There was now a body of Rock work that could be defined as “classic” and as the template(s) for styles, attitudes and sounds that would follow. Duran Duran was, after all, David Bowie and Roxy Music and T. Rex. Prince was George Clinton, Love, James Brown and the Beatles. That list goes on. But there was no doubt in my mind there was an audience with an appetite for those original touchstones, and Classic Rock was the vehicle to meet that demand. It will remain a format, probably forever; the fascinating thing will be to see what we consider to be Classic Rock decades from now.