Yesterday. we looked at Classic Rock listeners’ definition of the format’s music in terms of the big picture — what makes a Classic Rock song or band “classic”? Today, we’ll get into which performers are Classic Rock, in their opinion, and which aren’t…

But, a quick review: Our analysis is based on a breakout of 320 Classic Rock listeners from a larger online sample we collected earlier this year. We learned that quality — music that stands the test of time — is a key aspect defining Classic Rock. But first and foremost, Classic Rock is defined by erathe ’70s, the ’80s and the ’60s, in that order.  The ’90s??? Not so much.

To further explore “What’s Classic?” we asked respondents to evaluate 160 different bands or solo performers. We asked them: “Are they CLASSIC ROCK, or NOT?”

That’s a lot of questions. Even then, our list was hardly definitive for Classic Rock.  We certainly included many of the obvious choices — The Who, The Stones, The Doors, etc., etc.  But we also included others that were quite OBVIOUSLY NOT Classic Rock, to keep respondents awake and engaged on both sides of the issue.

And we especially wanted to explore ’90s bands that a number of Classic Rock stations have adopted, seeking to evolve the format.

Here’s the top ten percent…the most unquestionably Classic Rock bands:

% naming this band Classic. Rock:
AEROSMITH       95%
QUEEN       95%
LED ZEPPELIN       93%
PINK FLOYD       92%
AC/DC       91%
EAGLES       90%
ALICE COOPER       90%
WHO       90%
DOORS       89%
JOURNEY       89%
ZZ TOP       89%
KISS       88%

I’m a bit taken aback seeing Kiss and Alice Cooper so high here, since I see them more as “showmen” than performers whose music “stands the test of time.” Surprised to see Black Sabbath rank so high too. But enough of my opinions…

Let’s look at the ’90s…bands we tested that became famous or had their biggest success in that decade:

% naming this band Classic Rock:
PEARL JAM      45%
NIRVANA      39%
BUSH      17%

Now, these scores are not at the bottom in terms of “Classic cred”…2000s artists like Incubus, Muse and Paramore are, in single digits. (For the full list, click CLASSIC ROCK OR NOT — 160 Performers Ranked.)

Still, fewer than half of Classic Rock listeners think the best of these ’90s bands qualify as Classic Rock. Which doesn’t necessarily mean “Don’t play Pearl Jam on your Classic Rock station,” but it does exemplify what I referred to yesterday as the ’90s “sticking point.”

Of course, this doesn’t at all suggest that all ’90s music is potentially problematic for Classic Rock stations! For example, 95% of Classic Rock listeners consider Aerosmith Classic Rock…topping our list. So it’s fair to assume that “Livin’ On the Edge” and other Aerosmith hits of the ’90s pose no problem.

No, its the Alt/Grunge ’90s — examplified by Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, STP, etc. — that represents the point of resistance for Rock stations positioned as Classic.

I’ve been looking at this “Grunge on Classic Rock” issue in various ways for years now. And I suspect that if we had used this exact research approach 15 years ago, the results wouldn’t have been all that different. The early ’90s alternative has long been a 50/50 proposition for Classic Rockers. It’s not necessarily that they don’t like the music…it’s that at least half just don’t consider it Classic Rock!

This makes evolution of the format tricky.

Then again, maybe Classic Rock doesn’t need to evolve! After all, it’s playing music its listeners see as “standing the test of time”…music that sounds “every bit as good now as it did decades ago.” Given that, the fact it goes back as much as 40 years doesn’t matter, at least for now.