Why Do Young People Listen to Really Old Rock Music?

What factors might influence music listening habits and preferences?

Posted Aug 01, 2014

I was walking across campus last spring, and blaring out of several dorm rooms was (surprise) loud music. Only this wasn’t current music, but “classic rock” – Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. The music that I, as a 70s college student baby boomer, would have heard blaring our of my college’s dorm windows more than a generation ago. Let’s make a comparison: This music is 40-50 years old. If I had listened, in the mid 1970s to 40 year old music, it would have been the early days of jazz – music that was probably nowhere to be found on the radio, and music that was viewed as so dated that we would never listen to it. So, what might the reasons be behind the “staying power” of classic 60s and 70s rock-and-roll?

Here are five possible reasons:

1. More Involved Parenting. Today’s young people benefited, for the most part, from greater involvement by parents (and step parents) in the rearing of children. In all likelihood, these more involved parents played their music — classic rock — to their kids. The kids grew up listening to it, hummed along, and it feels comfortable and acceptable to them, given their still-close relationships with their parents. [This might explain my fondness for Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, etc. – the music my parents used to listen to.]

2. The 60s and 70s are Culturally Enshrined. In the same way that the Roaring 20s are talked about fondly, the 1960s were considered a time of social and cultural revolution, and the emergence and acceptance of rock-and-roll music by the majority of Americans (rock bands debuted on the Ed Sullivan show!) make this a time that is looked back on as culturally important and a time of positive change and good times.

3. The 60s and 70s Musicians Were Truly Talented. This explanation has been mentioned to me by several millennials. They emphasize the quality of the music of the era, and the fact that most of these rock-and-rollers wrote their own songs and played the instruments. Perhaps the Classic Rock era is akin to the classical Baroque period of the mid-1700s.

4. The Baby Boomers Control the Media World. We recently went to the theatre to see a hit movie with the family, and once again, the soundtrack was full of classic rock songs from the 1960s and 1970s. My 13-year-old and I left the theatre both humming an Allman Brothers song from the film. There is no doubt that Baby Boomers control much of the media, and have a big hand in the kinds of music heard in movies, commercials, and on the radio.

5. Selectivity in What Gets Airplay. Older music has been “filtered” through the years, with only the most popular songs from the Rock Era getting regular airplay. Newer music doesn’t have the benefit of this filtering, and its newness means that it’s less memorable, and the “duds” are played right along with the songs destined to be classics.

Likely the popularity of Classic Rock music to many in the younger generation is due to several of these factors (realizing that there are plenty of young people who can’t stand “Dinosaur Rock”).

Thank you to friends and colleagues for contributing and helping me think through this question. What are your thoughts?

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