The Half-Year In Review: Dave Grohl Owns Alt-Rock Airwaves (What Else Is New?)

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Many people find it hard to tell the great from the godawful when it comes to 21st-century mainstream rock. To help figure out which is which, here’s “Corporate Rock Still Sells,” where Al “GovernmentNames” Shipley examines what’s good, bad, and ugly in the world of rock and roll. This time around, he gives the year’s rock charts a midway-mark overview.

It’s time to see what the most-played songs and artists on rock radio have been from January to June. And surprise, surprise, the drummer/singer/guitarist you can’t get away from is in the top 5 of each list–twice. First, the top songs:

1. Seether, “Fake It” 2. Foo Fighters, “The Pretender” 3. Foo Fighters, “Long Road To Ruin” 4. Linkin Park, “Shadow Of The Day” 5. Puddle Of Mudd, “Psycho” 6. Bravery, “Believe” 7. Seether, “Rise Above This” 8. Finger Eleven, “Paralyzer” 9. Paramore, “CrushCrushCrush” 10. Rise Against, “The Good Left Undone” 11. Atreyu, “Falling Down” 12. Weezer, “Pork & Beans” 13. Three Days Grace, “Never Too Late” 14. Linkin Park, “Given Up” 15. Flobots, “Handlebars” 16. 3 Doors Down, “It’s Not My Time” 17. Death Cab For Cutie, “I Will Possess Your Heart” 18. Jack Johnson, “If I Had Eyes” 19. Panic At The Disco, “Nine In The Afternoon” 20. Chevelle, “I Get It”

Almost every song here cracked the top 5 of Billboard’s Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart, and the four that didn’t–Rise Against, Jack Johnson, Death Cab and Panic–peaked elsewhere in the top 10. But these figures are all about longevity, songs that stay on playlists for months and months, not the ones that make a big splash and then quickly disappear. Therefore, we get plenty of the 2007 hits that refuse to die like “The Pretender,” “Paralyzer,” and “Never Too Late.” And songs that broke in the spring and have been unavoidable ever since, like “Pork & Beans” and “Handlebars,” will almost surely rate higher on the year-end list.

“Nine In The Afternoon,” which I predicted would be a flash in the pan airplay-wise, has turned out to have substantial legs based on its placement here. That’s not to say I’m ready to halt my sophomore-slump schadenfreude for Panic At The Disco–their album Pretty. Odd. has still sold below expectations, and the slightly more tolerable follow-up single “That Green Gentleman” failed to chart at all, which may have helped clear the way for the long radio shelf life “Nine” has had.

Now, let’s look at the 20 most-played artists on alternative radio so far in 2008:

1. Foo Fighters 2. Linkin Park 3. Red Hot Chili Peppers 4. Green Day 5. Nirvana 6. Seether 7. Weezer 8. Pearl Jam 9. Stone Temple Pilots 10. Smashing Pumpkins 11. Three Days Grace 12. Offspring 13. Sublime 14. Incubus 15. Nine Inch Nails 16. Puddle Of Mudd 17. Paramore 18. Beastie Boys 19. Alice In Chains 20. Killers

Again, no surprises at the top, where the Foos and Linkin Park take their predictable spots, dominating with multiple singles from their 2007 albums and a comfortable bedrock of earlier hits. And Seether’s two big recent hits get them plenty far up, despite a relative lack of airplay for previous singles. But overall you’ve got an interesting cross-section here, one that demonstrates just how much older recurrents dominate alt-rock radio these days. Less than half of the artists–nine total, four in the top 10–have had new singles out in the last few months. Three of the bands haven’t been together for more than a decade, and the fact that those bands are Nirvana, Sublime, and Alice In Chains, all of whom have deceased frontmen, is a little creepy.

Even some of the still-active older bands get a negligible amount of their chart placement from recent material: Smashing Pumpkins have eight songs in the top 500 most played songs of the year, but last year’s underwhelming comeback single “Tarantula” is the least popular of those; all 10 of Pearl Jam’s entries are from no later than 1994; and even if Stone Temple Pilots came home from their reunion tour tomorrow and recorded a smash hit, it’d struggle to get as many spins as “Interstate Love Song.” Meanwhile, Green Day, RHCP, Weezer and Nine Inch Nails get healthy spins for songs from the ’90s as well as those from this decade.

The enduring popularity of first-wave grunge bands makes the presence of umpteenth-wavers like Three Days Grace and Puddle of Mudd unsurprising. But it’s impressive that a relatively new band like Paramore has inched up so high on the list–especially since its two big hits were released in ’07, and the one single the band released this year, the Idolator fave “That’s What You Get,” pretty much tanked, barely cracking the Modern Rock chart. And though The Killers’ Sam’s Town, released way back in 2006, was widely deemed a disappointment, enough of the band’s singles, including that album’s “When You Were Young,” have remained in recurrent play enough to keep them high up on the list. In fact, they’re up much higher than bands who achieved comparable success around the same time and haven’t had alt-rock hits lately, like My Chemical Romance (59) and Fall Out Boy (74). FOB might wanna keep that “Mr. Brightside” cover in their set for a while, because it might eventually be more familiar to the casual fans in the crowd than any of their originals.