Correction to This Article
A photo caption with a Nov. 14 Style article misidentified one of the Thomas Jefferson High School students with Ian Anderson of the band Jethro Tull. The student at left was David Zeke.
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'Hey Jude'? Duude.

Ian Anderson
Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson visits with Thomas Jefferson High's classic-rock club, including David Zeke, left, John Sigman and Tom Smilack. (Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)

Says Max Dugan, program director at the Arrow: "It's really come to a head in the last three years or 24 months." He adds: "We're getting all these calls and e-mails, with stuff like, 'I heard a great song today; it started with a guitar and ended with piano and there was something about "Layla." Who is that and how do I download it for free?' " (For the 46 readers who don't know, it's a 1970 song by Derek & the Dominos, featuring Eric Clapton. But please consult your family attorney before pursuing an illegally downloaded copy.)

And the digital data are out there, too. Sort of.

Neither AOL Music, iTunes nor Rhapsody could provide any sort of meaningful demographic information about who exactly has been downloading "Back in Black," "Purple Haze" and "Behind Blue Eyes." But Yahoo Music, which claims more than 20 million users monthly, reports that teenagers, the majority of them male, make up about a third of the "active audience" that's listening to and reading about core classic-rock acts like AC/DC, Hendrix and the Who.

Yahoo cannot provide any historical context to show whether this share has or hasn't grown over the past five years. And online music consumers are generally young, anyway. But still, says Jay Frank, a Yahoo Music executive: One-third is hardly an insignificant fraction.

"When some of these [older] artists show teens reacting at rates of 30 percent or greater, it's quite out of the ordinary," he says.

Consider that teens make up only about 10 to 15 percent of the active audience for popular adult contemporary artists such as Michael Buble and Seal. "They're really responding to the cream of the crop in classic rock," says Frank. (While that cream may include Cream, it doesn't necessarily include the Beatles: The band's catalogue still isn't licensed to any of the digital music services.)

None of this is to say that classic rock is on the verge of overtaking rap or modern alternative music in popularity among teenagers. Not even close. In fact, according to NPD Group, a market research firm, classic rock accounted for between just 1 and 2 percent of CD sales among 13- to 17-year-olds last year. Comparatively, rap and alternative-rock CDs made up a combined 34 percent of teen purchases.

"And they're buying twice as much country as classic rock," says Russ Crupnick, president of NPD's music and movies division. Even sales of religious CDs, at 4 percent, lap classic rock.

But purchasing patterns don't tell the whole story. For one thing, many kids already have classic-rock libraries at home. Basques, the co-president of the Classic Rock Appreciation Society, spent considerable time recently exploring his parents' vinyl collection, which he liberated from a basement storage room -- everything from "Frampton Comes Alive" to "Led Zeppelin II."

And, Crupnick says: "Somebody who's a little bit older, like me, wants to own every Led Zeppelin album. But a teenager might just want 'Stairway to Heaven.' And they can get that off iTunes."

The Tests of Time

Digital downloading, legal and otherwise, is among the keys to classic rock's resurgence, as the oldies are now a mere mouse-click away.

The recent resurgence of guitar rock has also helped, as young music fans who like the White Stripes might be compelled to check out the band's most obvious influences, such as Led Zeppelin -- in basically the same way their parents might have discovered Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry via the Rolling Stones.


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