Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Classic Distinctions

By Mitch Myers

OCTOBER 4, 1999:  Let's play a game. It'll help if you have some working knowledge of pop music's history, but anyone who's listened to music radio in the last thirty years will do fine. It's a simple game really; all you have to do is pick out which song is a classic and which one is an anthem. For the record, The Concise Oxford Dictionary (9th edition) defines the word classic as meaning a) "acknowledged excellence" and b) "outstandingly important." An anthem, on the other hand, is understood as a) "a solemn hymn of praise," or b) "a popular song that is defined with a person, group, etc."

Now that we've got our basic terms straight, let's get started. First question: The Rolling Stones -- "Satisfaction" vs. "Street Fightin' Man." Which is which? The answer: "Satisfaction" is the classic and "Street Fightin' Man" is the anthem. You may not agree with this judgment, but it's my game so behave. See, not every classic is necessarily an anthem and not every anthem is always a classic. Since neither category consistently subsumes the other, you're really going to have to consider the logic behind your answers. Here's an easy one. Bob Dylan -- "Like A Rolling Stone" vs. "Blowin' In The Wind." Answer? "Rolling Stone" is just a classic while "Wind" is the actual anthem.

I should say that it's possible for a song to be both an anthem and a classic, but anthems can also be quite horrible and some will never attain classic status. Is "We Are The World" an anthem? Maybe, but it sure isn't a classic. The same goes for Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It," and countless other Top 40 hits that I decline to mention. Just because a song has been played on the radio incessantly doesn't mean it has to be a classic or an anthem, let alone both. Also, there's the notorious "Springsteen Principle" to consider. That is, some artists (like Dylan, Neil Young and Prince) are predisposed to write in an anthemic voice and, as a result, many of their songs are anthems or pseudo-anthems. Think about it, "Born To Run," "Born In The USA," "The Promised Land," -- for awhile Bruce couldn't clear his throat without the end result becoming an anthem. Of course, the same goes for all of those other heartland rockers, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp, they just seem compelled to write anthems. So does The Who's Pete Townsend, for that matter. From songs like "My Generation" to "Won't Get Fooled Again," old Pete wrote more anthems than Stephen Foster.

One good way to test out the classic vs. anthem controversy is to play the song in question at a sporting event. If the tune doesn't make it at the United Center, odds are that it isn't an anthem. In this case, the late Freddie Mercury and his group Queen are at the top of the heap with anthems like "We Are The Champions" and "We Will Rock You." Not that all anthems are melodramatic, sloganeering pieces of rock propaganda, some anthems aren't about anything in particular. Even a song with no discernable words like Gary Glitter's "Rock And Roll Pt. 2" rates as huge anthem in the sports circuit. As a result, you'll never hear John Lennon's "Imagine" at halftime, but you could conceivably find cheerleaders shaking their butts to Paul McCartney's "Live And Let Die." Obviously, drug anthems like "Cocaine" don't make it into many sports venues, but I do recall hearing "I Want A New Drug" at a Bulls game a few years ago. Also, it's my civic responsibility to inform you that Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" is an urban classic, while Isaac Hayes' "Shaft" is an ultra-funky anthem.

Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" vs. "Whole Lotta Love." Answer: Both are classics but neither of them are anthems. This goes back to the little-known proposition that Zeppelin damn near invented "classic rock," and thereby avoids the lowest common denominators frequently found in anthem rock (the same goes for Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton).

Which brings us to my final point. You're probably not listening to as much "classic rock" radio as you think you are. In most cases those radio stations clubbing you over the head are actually playing "anthem rock" and don't even know it. As a result, I'm looking for a few serious investors for my new radio station. Naturally, it's going to be anthem rock radio and our motto will be "All Anthems, All The Time." No meager power ballads, no contrived golden oldies, no sentimental dustys, just certifiable rock anthems that are guaranteed to pump you up no matter what. We'll also be looking for a few good DJ's that are willing to play "Freebird" during the morning drive time, but that shouldn't be a problem. Anthems are for the people, right? Just think of the advertising dollars we're gonna haul in. It's enough to make a man stand up and salute. Which reminds me, BTO's "Takin' Care of Business" vs. Pink Floyd's "Money" -- any takers?


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