"Andy, if you met a space alien visiting Earth and he wanted to know what Rock 'n' Roll was, who would you instruct him to listen to?"
Glad you all asked. You certainly would not send him toward ELO, what with the uncommon emphasis on the strings. You wouldn't tell him to listen to The Beatles, either. At the beginning, they have too much of a stripped down pop sound, and towards the end, they venture too far into arcane psychedelia to be considered representative. Warren Zevon is too weird. Elton John is too piano-centric and soft. Journey is too ridiculous.
Instead I'd point him in the direction of Jackson Brown. I'm not familiar with the entire Jackson Brown canon; in fact, my knowledge is pretty much limited to his cover of "Stay", "Runnin' on Empty", and "The Pretender," but I feel pretty comfortable recommending him. See, when you listen to Jackson Brown, the piano does exactly what you'd expect in a rock and roll song. The guitar follows suit. The vocal line doesn't try anything too daring and relies on the singer's warm low baritone to fill out the sound. Some simple but entertaining solos might pop up here and there. The tempo stays at a fair, mid-tempo clip. The lyrics are thoughtful without being shocking or relying too heavily on dumb cliches. The female back-up singers come in at appropriate times and sing the expected words.
In short, the song never deviates from the formula. It sounds exactly as you'd expect a rock and roll song to sound. Not that this is a bad thing; just an example of beauty found within the form.
Anyone have a different suggestion?