Sunday, August 28, 2011

College Rock: Genre of the Moment

Dave from Oklahoma Lefty suggested I do a post on the College Rock genre for my next installment of Genre of the Moment, a column here on Otter Limits that I have not visited since January's Psychobilly post. So here it is, the next genre of the moment, college rock.

Before I even began to read anything about this genre, what I thought about the genre was not much. In fact, I really feel like the term college rock is as meaningless as the term alternative rock. It's just another name for a genre that the industry made up so they wouldn't have to saddle a band with a boring label like rock music and to make a band sound more interesting. That's my own theory anyway.

So, I dug in and started reading about college rock.

Interestingly enough, according to the Wikipedia article on College rock, the term itself was used prior to the term alternative and referred to the music that was played on college radio stations. It is supposed to mean a type of rock music that blends post-punk, New Wave, and melodic pop. In fact, when you pull up college rock in Wikipedia it comes up as simply a sub genre of alternative rock.

Some of the main examples of college rock include R.E.M., The Smiths, 10,000 Maniacs, and U2.

Besides Wikipedia, here are some places that you can research college rock if you are interested enough:

All Music Guide
About.Com 80s Music


  1. I actually like the term college rock (but then again I don’t really have a problem with the term alternative either). To me college rock is a term that covers music from a specific era, basically 80s underground music. Quite a few of my favorite bands come from this era.

    What’s really sad is that college radio in this sense is a thing of the past.

  2. Anonymous11:37 AM

    Yeah it's sad that college radio is a thing of the past. For some reason whereas college radio used to be one place where upcoming underground bands built a community and reached an audience that actually wanted to hear interesting original music, it now has often turned into a weak imitation of the boring corporate radio stations out there.

    One really cool college radio station in my area is KGRG, who still play local and underground punk bands on a regular basis. Even they have become less interesting over time though and seem to enjoy playing corporate record label bands and pushing big Ticketmaster concerts more and more.

  3. I certainly don't think that the term "college rock" is used quite as often as the term "alternative" but to me, if the label does not really describe the music to me, it is meaningless.

    Much like I mentioned in my original post about music labels ( and how alternative does not describe the music itself, to me, college rock does not really describe what the music sounds like.

    For instance, I do not think that music of U2 and the music of The Smiths are at all similar, yet they are both considered college rock?

    It's the same with grunge rock. There are a bunch of bands that got saddled with that label exclusively because the band hailed from the Seattle area but none of which even sound remotely similar.

  4. Steve – I think that the term college rock, like alternative, are/were catch-all terms that referred to the various genres that developed out of the 1970s punk scene. You are correct in that neither really describe a sound, but instead are blanket terms. Originally the term grunge did describe a specific type of sound (Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr., Nirvana, etc.) but thanks to the success of Nirvana it was incorrectly used to describe a slew of different bands (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, etc.).

    Scott – Agreed. We have one radio station here locally that supports a lot of local music, but it is only available online now (see