What is AOR?
Posted by: The Other Joe ()
Date: March 06, 2001 06:58AM

Well, in the beginning AOR was something sweet and simple. It was simply an abbreviation to describe a type of radio station that played a format termed "Album Oriented Rock." The term "album-oriented" meant that the station did not play only singles. The station played any song from any album. AOR, at this time, was a catch-all term. For people who actually experienced AOR radio as it existed in the late 1970's and early 1980's, AOR could have been anything, and it was everything - depending upon the mood and tastes of the disc jockeys on the air and the freedom they were granted by their program directors.

I grew up on AOR radio on the east coast of the US. I was located in a small town in south central Pennsylvania that could receive clear broadcasts from radio stations out of Baltimore (98 Rock), Washington (DC101), Northern Virginia (WAVA 105?), Harrisburg (WTPA - FM 104), and a bunch of smaller towns in that geographical area including York (Starview 92) and Hanover (98YCR). Each of these stations was classified by the local newspapers as AOR. I could rely on these stations to play a mix of classic rock (Beatles, Doors, Stones, etc) as well as a wide variety of the newer styles of rock music at the time: arena rock, more mainstream prog rock, punk, heavy metal (classic and NWOBHM), new wave, "southern-fried" rock, hard rock, soft rock, pop rock, and even some funk just to confuse us!

The music was NOT carefully segmented into different radio markets or different show times. This wide variety of differing styles was actually played in semi-random order. I don't remember a person at the time who ever complained about the variety or that he or she had to listen to crap just to hear an occasionally good tune. Most of the people in my circles were fairly accepting of all these styles of music and even went to shows of different styles. Although this might sound like I was probably in some kind of bizarre open-minded cult, it didn't seem like anyone else was different - even the trendy people. A person whose record collection included Air Supply, Def Leppard, Journey, BeeGees, Molly Hatchet, The Beatles, Flock of Seagulls, UFO, Styx, Yes, The Clash, Rick Springfield, and Parliament wasn't considered to have broad or eclectic tastes. It was considered normal. We just called it all rock. This attitude seemed fairly universal across age groups as well. I never began to encounter the idea of limited or specific tastes until the late 80's. It still strikes me as unusual.

I never heard of the term AOR in any other context until I stumbled across it on the Internet sometime around 1994. That it had taken on an entirely new meaning was both surprising and disturbing. It means adult oriented rock if you like it wimpier. It means melodic hard rock if you like it harder. It means melodic metal if you are a current or reformed hair farmer. What is classified as AOR is still as broad today as it was 20 years ago. I've seen the term used by hundreds of web sites by now, and I no longer believe that there is any kind of a real meaning to the word as it's used on the Internet.

It gets even more difficult when you get into the hundreds of specialized sub-genres. How can anyone tell the difference between "hi-tech aor" and "new wave" or between "pomp rock", "prog rock", and "art rock" or between "pop metal" and "sleaze metal"? Exactly how much does attitude factor into what is what? Is Starcastle a really good pomp rock band or a really unoriginal prog rock band? Is Fifth Angel just an unpopular hair metal band or are they an greatly underrated melodic metal band? Arggggh! How can you tell, and why does it matter?

I think all this division between the sub-genres of rock and metal is self-limiting and self-destructive to both musicians and listeners. It oppresses originality and exploration. It discourages doing or trying something distinct for the fear that it might no longer be easily classified as the type of music that the artist is "supposed" to do or that the listener is "supposed" to like.

When someone says to give them a list and he'll tell you what is AOR and what isn't, what they are really saying is they'll tell you what they like and don't like. Describing something as "not AOR" is generally just a lazy way of dismissing it without reason for unreasonable reasons - like "it's pop, not AOR" or "it can't be AOR with them grungey guitars" or "AOR only has good vocals" or "hey kurt, you big turd. Stop wasting our time with those country reviews."

At the basic level, AOR means rock. Pure and simple. And if you think that metal is a form of rock (as I do), then metal can be AOR also.

Just one teensy weensy opinion from a 30-something American.


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What is AOR?270 The Other Joe 03/06/2001 06:58AM

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