Modern Rock Programmers Ponder What They’ve Done In 2007


Since many people find it hard to tell the great from the godawful when it comes to 21st-century mainstream rock, welcome to “Corporate Rock Still Sells,” where Al Shipley (a.k.a. Idolator commenter GovernmentNames) examines what’s good, bad, and ugly in the world of Billboard‘s rock charts. This time around he takes a look at Billboard‘s Top 40 Hot Modern Rock Songs Of 2007 to see just what “rock” meant to radio this year:

Billboard‘s end-of-year lists, as always, provide a feast for those of us who care to painstakingly analyze not just popular music, but exactly what was the most popular and why. While Chris Molanphy made a meal out of the stats–including the Modern Rock numbers–last week, he left plenty of meat on the bones for me to dig into. And the Top 40 Hot Modern Rock Songs of 2007 chart is a mix of the usual suspects with some intriguing surprises.

As is generally the case with Billboard‘s year-end charts, which start in December of the previous year and end in November, this one heavily favors hits from the first half of the year and holdovers from 2006. Pretty much the entire Top 10 had impacted radio by the spring, giving the shaft to songs that have been inescapable over the last few months like the Foo Fighters’ “The Pretender” and Paramore’s “Misery Business,” which had to settle for Nos. 14 and 25, respectively. Unsurprisingly, if depressingly, the top spot is held by Linkin Park’s “Another Version of ‘Numb,’ This Time Without Jay-Z,” with Finger Eleven’s unlikely dance-rock smash “Paralyzer” (a personal favorite) taking runner-up status.

By far the most unexpected and inexplicable stats on the chart are the respective placements of Nine Inch Nails’ two hits from Year Zero. “Survivalism” landed at No. 37, with “Capital G” coming in eight spots above it at No. 29. “Survivalism,” the album’s lead single, was out longer and peaked at No. 1 on the Modern Rock chart. But follow-up “Capital G,” released just before Trent Reznor began his very public divorce from Interscope, didn’t have a video or even a remix single with a “halo number”; it peaked at No. 6, making it the first NIN single to not top the Modern Rock chart since 2001. And the song itself, aside from a drum pattern that was eerily similar to Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” sure didn’t smell like a hit, with Reznor’s goofy vocal delivery and heavy-handed indictment of the Bush administration. I’m totally open to any theories on how this song, which I scarcely remember hearing on the radio at all, not only racked up more airplay than “Survivalism,” but apparently became one of the biggest rock hits of the year. Perhaps it became a favorite on West Coast stations I don’t listen to, or a few liberal DJs got a kick out of playing the song as much as possible during graveyard shifts? I’m stumped.

What the list demonstrates most is that modern rock radio in 2007 operated in its own sphere, with a limited amount of pop culture crossover. Fall Out Boy may have been crowned by media outlets like MTV as the biggest (or at least the most visible) young band in the world this year, but their tabloid-fodder relationships and numerous hip-hop collaborations cemented them as pop stars, not rock stars. Their sole entry on the list, “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race” (No. 26), reflects the fact that this year’s Infinity On High skewed far more pop than their 2005 breakthrough, From Under The Cork Tree. All of Infinity‘s singles peaked higher on the Pop 100 and iTunes sales charts than on rock radio, and only “This Ain’t A Scene” scraped the Modern Rock Top 10, at a lower peak than earlier hits like “Dance, Dance” or “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down.” Meanwhile, FOB was beat out on the year-end list by bands like Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin, Sick Puppies, and The Almost, none of whom you were likely to see on television this year (unless you watch Fuse, maybe).

While a handful of bands land on the list twice, including Muse and My Chemical Romance, only one is there three times, and you probably wouldn’t be able to guess who it is: Incubus. Though their highest spot is a modest No. 12 for “Dig,” the first three singles from the band’s late 2006 album Light Grenades wound up on 2007’s top 40. When Light Grenades debuted at the top of the album charts last November, I figured it was just the usual case of a band’s diehard fans coming out in full force on the release date, coinciding with an otherwise slow week for new releases. But Billboard‘s list reaffirms that Incubus still has a tight grip on Modern Rock radio, even if they’re a long way out from their peak of mainstream popularity in the late ’90s, when frontman Brandon Boyd was the token rocker pin-up on TRL, a spot currently occupied by FOB bassist Pete Wentz. Unless Fall Out Boy plan on completing their transformation into this generation’s Duran Duran with their next album, they might want to consult the guys in Incubus for some advice on how they can avoid losing rock radio’s support entirely.