In the wake of the 1,600-guitar performance of “Smoke On The Water” in Kansas City, Deep Purple is touring the U.S. behind its 2005 album Rapture Of The Deep, and apparently the fact that they’re now in the Guinness Book of World Records has caused lead singer Ian Gillan to speak out about the radio landscape in this country, specifically as it pertains to the “classic rock” format:
You have this thing called classic rock radio over here,” says singer Ian Gillan in a recent phone call. “It’s been a death sentence for all sorts of older bands. They don’t play anything of ours other than Smoke on the Water and Highway Star. “
Gillan even addresses the problem with a song on Rapture of the Deep, called MTV. The song was inspired by a real-life incident in Buffalo, N.Y.
“I heard (Purple bassist) Roger Glover doing a radio interview, trying desperately to talk about a record we did in 2003 called Bananas. I was listening to it and my jaw just dropped, as this deejay ranted on about 1973. She wasn’t the slightest bit interested in what he had to say, or anything that had happened in the last 30 years,” he says.
Now, of course part of the problem may be unimaginative titles on the level of “MTV” (seriously, where were all these people when their writing teachers gave the “don’t tie your writings to a time too closely, because things might sound dated” lesson), and another part of the problem may be the scourge of the brain-dead DJ, but I do think that Gillan has a shred of a point; when I was in high school, I read a piece claiming that classic rock may be “the most conservative radio format out there,” and I still think that writer has a point. After all, “classic” implies “canonical,” and you don’t get much more canonical than focusing exclusively on rock that was played before the guys with funny haircuts and patterned jackets started weaseling their way into the rock world. And its super-rigid canon formation is especially apparent now, when relentless playlisting among the format’s stations–and the near-complete decimation of the DJ who wasn’t afraid to play a deep cut or two–do, in a sense, rewrite music history for listeners, particularly the casual fans who flip around the radio while in their car.
In a sense that playlistism almost turning the classic-rock (né album-rock) landscape, which did have its traditional radio trappings but was, at its core, all about enshrining the album and going deeper, into a weirdly singles-driven genre driven by mostly one- or two-hit wonders and a few “tentpole” deep-catalog artists–Led Zeppelin, the Stones, um, Led Zeppelin,–much like the rest of radio. More evidence behind why the medium’s influence as a whole is dropping like a stone and the album market is drying up? Could be. But watch the powers that be at radio stations say that what they really need is more Lovemarks in their “branding strategy.”