Rock Radio Takes A Number One That Leaves A Puddle


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 experiences some emo-related schadenfreude, ponders the question of crossover ballads, and takes a look at a band you probably know nothing about but that’s topped the mainstream rock chart as many times as some Napster-hating metal heroes.

Perhaps no band epitomizes the dearth of household names in mainstream rock quite like Puddle of Mudd. Sure, you can call Nickelback faceless and bland, but you still probably know what the singer looks like–you might even know that his name is Chad Kroeger. But Puddle of Mudd, whose extra “D” was mandated by law during their Limp Bizkit-assisted rise to fame, back when knowing Fred Durst meant something, have quietly become the most anonymous sure thing on the airwaves.

When Puddle’s current single “Psycho” began its residency at the top of the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart a few weeks ago, I foolishly assumed it was their first time at No. 1 since “Blurry,” their massive 2002 crossover hit, held the spot for ten weeks. But in fact, “Psycho” is the fifth Puddle of Mudd song to top the chart. To give you an idea of what that means, only ten artists have reached that No. 1 spot more than five times, many of them monsters of rock like Van Halen or Aerosmith, and Nickelback is the only relatively recent entrant to that club. Puddle of Mudd are actually now tied with Active rock poster boys Metallica. In fact, they’d have more chart toppers if their last single, “Famous,” hadn’t stalled at No. 2 last year. “Famous” is also pretty much the only song of theirs I’m willing to go to bat for; I’ve got a weakness for that dramatic intro and the Dire Straits-biting chorus. But as for “Psycho,” I find it even more repulsive than any of Puddle’s previous hits, and am kind of mystified by its success.

In my last column, I looked at a few new songs that were going for adds at the time, and now begins the fun part, where I get to see how my predictions are shaking out. And I have to admit that it tickles me a little that one of the bands I thought I was harshest on, Panic (!) At The Disco, have actually fallen short of my modest expectations. As I foresaw, “Nine In The Afternoon” is a canary in the coalmine for their inevitable sophomore slump, but it hasn’t even reachted the Modern Rock Top 10 yet, like I assumed it quickly would. It might get a boost once the album is released in a couple weeks, but for the moment I’m enjoying my schadenfreude.

It’s always interesting to see how rock radio’s core constituency responds when a typically harder-edged band scores a crossover ballad. The latest instance of that is Buckcherry’s “Sorry,” which has been all over pop radio over the last three months, peaking at No. 9 on the Hot 100. But it only recently entered the Mainstream Rock chart after it had already been climbing the big chart for eight weeks, and has so far only slowly risen to No. 34. One might assume this is a standard pattern, but for a close point of comparison, Hinder’s “Lips Of An Angel” absolutely dominated both Mainstream and Modern Rock charts while it was crossing over to Top 40. Meanwhile, Nickelback’s softer material has been fairly hit and miss with rock stations; they embraced “Photograph” and “Savin’ Me,” but ignored “Far Away” and “If Everyone Cared.” It might be a simple matter of labels only activing pushing certain songs toward formats where they know they’ll work, or maybe there are some subtle aesthetic distinctions between these songs that make some more suitable for Active stations than others. All I know is, when Puddle of Mudd drop their power ballad–and oh, they will–watch out.