Explaining Classic Rock Bands to Kids

This past Sunday, The New York Times ran a piece by Paul Greenberg where the author explained how important the Beatles were to music and pop culture to his five-year-old son. The child didn't know that the band had albums, but only knew the Fab Four from iTunes playlists.

"When the Beatles recorded their playlists, did they record them on voice memo?" his son asked, perplexed that at one time music was recorded to tape, and not the kind of tape you use to seal boxes or affix posters to a wall. The piece ends with Greenberg remembering his own Beatles experiences, and it's all really sweet and there are tears.

But it got me to thinking about having to explain the rest of classic rock to small kids. How does one intimate to a still-forming brain how Led Zeppelin could record songs like "Whole Lotta Love" and not cause an earthquake, or the swagger and sleaze of the Rolling Stones? Or how their very existence may have been riding on just the right AC/DC record?

One day I will have to explain the concepts and tenets of punk rock, the 30 forms of heavy metal, and then pop, ska, electronica, hip-hop, rap, jazz, funk and soul that I will need to have in fatherly curriculum, even as technology runs ahead of me rewriting the rules.

My head hurts already and I am not even married, plus it's hard enough trying to sound at least half-ass proficient and knowledgeable in all these things for adults on a daily basis. Once I started to even compile a list of everything a child would conceivably need to know about classic rock and roll, I started to feel feverish.

The Clash, Ramones, the Sex Pistols, The Misfits, Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys? Yes, I want to eventually get to them, too.

But here goes nothing.

The Beatles

You know how chicks at school really like Justin Bieber and One Direction? Imagine if you combined the two things -- stay with me -- and added loud guitars and suits, and kept the Bieber haircuts.

On top of that, you have parents who are still kinda boring and dull and don't get it. It's hard to express how important the Beatles were to your grandparents and parents, but don't let that turn you off from them. You can always show them to friends and look cool later on when they finally "get" the Beatles. Get their album "playlist" Revolver from iTunes, and start from there.

(See also: The Monkees, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr)

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Bob Dylan

"This dude doesn't know how to sing," you may say after you listen to few Bob Dylan songs. He wheezes, he sings riddles and there is harmonica. Sounds like the stuff that you hear in the coffee shop on Saturday mornings when dad reads the paper.

This stuff made your grandparents feel like adults, even when they couldn't drive or even vote. Once you get your heart broken, I mean really bashed in, Dylan will make a whole lot of sense. For now, have fun figuring out what the hell he is trying to say.

(See also: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel)

The Rolling Stones

Johnny Depp's dad isn't in this band, I promise. It would be cool, and make total sense, but no. That's Keith Richards, who did more drugs than anyone ever in existence. He plays lead guitar. Mick Jagger is the lead singer.

Okay, you know that Maroon 5 song "Moves Like Jagger"? It's about being able to dance like him, which is pretty hard but people still try. He was really stealing it all from James Brown....

(See also: The Faces, X, Social Distortion, lust)

**James Brown was this little guy with great hair who wore really tight pants. Pretty much the greatest funk singer and dancer who ever lived. Check him out too.

The Doors

The Doors had a lead singer named Jim Morrison, who sang poems -- weird, huh? -- that his band set to this, like, circus music. He had a big Hagrid-looking beard for a while. Another guy who drank too much and died, though if he had lived, he probably wouldn't have been as cool as he was when he was young, and been playing wacky grandpas on sitcoms by now.

(See also: The Cult, Jane's Addiction, dreamcatchers)

David Bowie

I could sit here and explain every single David Bowie reinvention, but I think it's best that you figure him out yourself. You've heard his stuff in Wes Anderson movies, and "Changes" was in a Lindsay Lohan movie. Lady Gaga and Madonna really wish they could be as cool as him, but they will never be.

Bowie may also make you feel kinda funny in a way that you have never felt before. That's natural. It gets better. You aren't alone.

(See also: Lou Reed, T. Rex, Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, Urban Outfitters)

The Who

You know that song on the beginning of all the CSI shows your mom watches while she folds clothes? That's the Who. They had pretty much the world's second most-badass drummer until he died from drinking too much. Most of the best classic rockers did.

Their early stuff from the '60s was kinda like **well-dressed punk-rock, and then they got older and started using synths and thinking about being young. Worth checking out, especially the album with the dudes peeing on a concrete slab.

(See also: The Animals, The Pretty Things, hearing loss)

**Check out the Kinks once you get through with The Who, led by two brothers who tried to kill each other for more than 30 years. They started out kinda punk, then got into country -- seriously -- and then got really. really awful.

Led Zeppelin

Oh, man, these dudes were the best. Super-loud, lots of slide guitar, drums that sounded like thunder, but with a little folk thrown in. Though Zeppelin has had songs in car commercials, don't count them out. All their album covers had crazy-looking old ruins on them, too, which you can easily draw on the back of textbooks.

They only sang about wizards, mountains and time. If you like The Lord of the Rings or you are lucky enough to get to watch Game of Thrones -- plus you like loud guitars -- this will be your new favorite band.

(See also: Blue Cheer, Mountain, Deep Purple)

Jimi Hendrix

This guy was an alien from a planet billions of light-years away whose only export was rock guitarists. You will never be as great at the guitar as he was if you played for the next **100 years.

**Though the men in your family will tell you that Stevie Ray Vaughan should be in this slot.

(See also: Prince, Santana)

The Beach Boys

If Foster the People and One Direction started a band and stayed at the beach all day, it would be sort of like the Beach Boys. A lot of songs about cars and girls, but they also got a little arty, too. Also, don't do drugs. No matter how cool they may seem. You may never come back.

(See also: The Zombies, The Turtles)

Neil Young

Lately John Mayer -- the guy Taylor Swift dated who is currently befouling Katy Perry -- has been trying to be like Neil Young, who you probably know as the guy with huge mutton chops on VH1 Classic singing about rust, the moon and farming. Sounds lame, but he actually once played with Pearl Jam. Who's Pearl Jam? That's a whole other genre for a whole other blog.

(See also: Gram Parsons, James Taylor, Ryan Adams)


Queen are still around, even though their lead singer Freddie Mercury died over 20 years ago. Adam Lambert from American Idol is obsessed with them, and even sings for them sometimes, so that's probably how you know Queen, plus the rest of the band is always at the Super Bowl or something.

(See also: Electric Light Orchestra)


These guys look like they should have hosted a Saturday morning kid's show. They wear tall boots, makeup, and the bassist guy with the long tongue spits blood and breathes fire. If you like Lady Gaga but you don't like all the girl-power junk, boy, will you like Kiss. It's like anime or something.

(See also: The New York Dolls, Twisted Sister)

Bruce Springsteen

If your grandpa was all fit and handsome and wore tight jeans and sang a lot about America, he would be Bruce Springsteen. I'm not sure why they call him The Boss, other than the fact that he has a huge band and yells at them to play louder all of the time.

(See also: Tom Petty, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bob Seger)


What you will find great about Rush is that they make really complicated music with just three dudes. You would think seven guys were onstage. A bassist who plays like a lead guitarist, so they really have two lead guitarists, plus a drummer with a thousand-piece drum kit. If you get into them now, chances are you will never ever get out of them.

(See also: Dream Theater)

Black Sabbath

You know the kids in school that wear all black and watch movies about zombies? If they were alive in the '60s, this would have been their favorite group. Most of it is pretty goth, I guess, but the songs are sometimes about God actually. Don't let that turn you off. The guitarist was missing the tip of his finger, too.

(See also: Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, MC5)

Ted Nugent

How did this guy get on this list? You know that friend of your dad's that always spams everyone's Facebook feed with pictures of Barack Obama in clown makeup or a turban? This is his favorite dude. He's like his pretend boyfriend. It's crazy.

(See also: Black Oak Arkansas, Hank Williams Jr.)


Every single that AC/DC has ever recorded was about sex, guns or drinking. It's true. I can't rightfully think of one song that's not about any of those in some form or fashion. Which isn't bad, really. You will like their Back In Black playlist, though you may need to Google some of the lyrics.

Apparently a girl's "motor" is her vagina, and the girl in "You Shook Me All Night Long" kept hers clean, though she was in fact a prostitute. (Would it weird you out if I told you that when your mom was a bartender on Sixth Street in college in the '90s, she made a lot of money when that song was playing?)

(See also: Guns 'N Roses, Thin Lizzy, Foo Fighters)

Pink Floyd

You remember that music your parents or teachers would play when you were really little to make you nap or go to bed for the night? Pink Floyd's entire career was that, but with a few songs about politics and animals.

You've heard "Another Brick In The Wall" at least a dozen times, and may not even know it. The "Hey Teacher!" song on the Arrow while you were waiting for mom's oil to get changed? That's Pink Floyd. No one in the band is named Pink or Floyd, by the way.

(See also: Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, cough syrup)

The Eagles

Kings of Leon are sorta like the Eagles but for today. The Eagles sang a lot of songs about breezes, dating crazy chicks, and generally having mellow times and wearing jeans. It's kinda boring sometimes, but the songs with Joe Walsh were fun.

(See also: Jackson Browne, Steely Dan)

Grateful Dead

You've seen that skull with the lightning bolt on it? That's the Grateful Dead logo. Their singer, Jerry Garcia, died in 1995, but there are dozens of bands that sound like them now that took their place.

Beyond that, if you ever get into the Dead, just be careful, Okay? Don't get into strange vans, and if there is a shower nearby, just jump in.

(See also: Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane)

Fleetwood Mac

A lot of the indie bands right now with twentysomething guys and girls in the band steal most of their sound from Fleetwood Mac. This is your grandmother's favorite band, and chances are she used to dress like one of their singers, this witch lady named Stevie Nicks, who danced with scarves.

She may have done drugs, too, but she will ignore the question and instead ask if you want ice cream and a new PlayStation.

(See also: Elton John, Todd Rundgren, Carole King)


Oh boy. A few months ago on American Idol, they had a judge on there named Steven Tyler, who sort of looks like a baseball glove with hair. He sings for Aerosmith, and has for over 40 years. I think they even played one or two songs on Idol.

Anyhow, they had some great albums in the '70s, did a lot of bad stuff and haven't recovered since. In the '80s and '90s, they made some really interesting music videos that your dad used to watch with the sound down. They still play shows, but it's kind of awkward.

(See also: Guns 'N Roses, Van Halen)

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is weird, but not in a Yo Gabba Gabba way. When he was young and in his twenties and thirties, he was in some awesome bands, like the Yardbirds and Cream, and hung out with some pretty rad people.

But then he got soft, went to rehab and has been making boring blues records since at least a decade before you were born. Stick with Cream and you will be good. It's like the Black Keys, but way better.

(See also: Robert Johnson, Jeff Beck)

Van Halen

Now your dad will probably tell you that there are two Van Halens: one with David Lee Roth -- this crazy rich kid who makes up words -- and then there was one with Sammy Hagar singing for them. It's easier to think of them as two separate bands that have nothing to do with each other.

So it breaks down like this: Do you like to drink a lot of Red Bull and jump on trampolines and talk to only the hot girls in class? Listen to Van Halen's first self-titled playlist. Otherwise, find yourself a copy of 5150. What else are you allergic to, besides having a good time?

(See also: Poison, Quiet Riot, Motley Crue)

ZZ Top

You're a kid, so it's hard to explain how awesome ZZ Top is, without mentioning adult...things. Okay, to start off, I am sure you know they are famous for their beards, they are from the great state of Texas -- which you should feel blessed to have been born in -- and if you listen to them loud enough, they can make any day better. It's science.

(See also: Barbecue, sweat, Lightnin' Hopkins)

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