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

Jul 17th, 2008 // 19 Comments


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.


  1. Al Shipley

    BTW much thanks to Dan Gibson for the help with airplay data.

  2. Anonymous

    Wow, so many niche artists on that list. Makes me wonder how modern rock stations get people to fill up amphitheaters for all the X-fests and what not around the country.

  3. Al Shipley

    @2ironic4u: Yeah, true, although I kinda feel like the niche artists on there have a better chance of being an enduring concert draw (Paramore, Rise Against, Flobots, if that’s who you mean) and a dedicated fanbase, whereas more generic bands like Seether and Finger Eleven only seem to be as hot as their last single.

    BTW I still really like your idea of writing about older hits that have disappeared from MR radio from that post the other day:
    Feel free to carry on that thread and suggest more here.

  4. Anonymous

    @Al Shipley:

    Funny thing about Finger Eleven is I’m actually a huge fan. They’ve been around since the late 90′s and I really enjoyed their work. They are one of the rare examples of the late crossover.

    In terms of older hits that have disappeared from MR radio, here are some more:
    Limp Bizkit “Nookie”, “Re-Arranged”, “Faith”, “Rollin”
    Creed “Higher”, “My Own Prison”, “One”, “What’s This Life For”, “What If”
    Unwritten Law “Seein’ Red”
    Deep Blue Something “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”
    The Cranberries “Salvation”
    Bush “Swallowed” (may still get some limited airplay, but not as much as the Sixteen Stone hits which, ironically, spent less time at #1 than this song)
    U2 “Starting At The Sun”
    Fastball “The Way”
    Black Lab “Wash It Away”
    Goo Goo Dolls “Name”
    Morrissey “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get”
    R.E.M. “Bang And Blame”, “What’s The Frequency Kenneth”
    The Lemonheads “Into Your Arms”

  5. Al Shipley

    @2ironic4u: Yeah, “Swallowed” and the other Razorblade Suitcase (lol) singles have disappeared while even one of Bush’s later singles, “The Chemicals Between Us,” has clung to playlists to some extent.

  6. cassidy2099

    @2ironic4u: Oh, how quickly we turn out backs on the Bizkit.

  7. cassidy2099

    @cassidy2099: our*

  8. Halfwit

    @2ironic4u: I remember being a bigger “fan” of the Black Lab single and setting up some type of direct rival in my mind between them and Matchbox 20 (I guess “Push” made my local modern rock station at about the same time). Thought I was the only one who remembered it.

    Also, do you have a thought as to why “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” has disappeared? I always liked the song, but it seems that everyone involved (band and media alike) have almost decided to forget that Monster ever existed. Kind of a shame — they’ve been playing an acoustic version of “Let Me In” on the most recent tour that I find revelatory.

  9. Halfwit

    Also… where have you gone, Tonic?

  10. DocStrange

    Sublime? really? They still play Sublime enough that it gets more plays than a great band like Los Campesinos! or Does it Offend You, Yeah? or Black Kids? really?

    But hey, those Flobots and Death Cab songs are great (even though “Cath…” is obviously the best song on “Narrow Stairs”)

    You know what else you never hear on the radio anymore? “Pure” by The Lightning Seeds. Boy, was that a good song.

  11. Al Shipley

    @Halfwit: I think I actually hear “Frequency” now and again still, especially compared to the rest of the Monster, which had 4 other Modern Rock hits that never ever get played anymore. R.E.M. in general gets a lot less played than I expected they would based on this data of the last six months: 57th most played artist, and the only songs in the top 500 are “End Of The World” and the one from the new album.

  12. Al Shipley

    @DocStrange: Black Kids are #303, and Los barely-heard-of-them-are-they-popular-in-England-or-something aren’t on the chart at all.

  13. Anonymous

    Heheh…terrestrial radio.

  14. How do I say this ... THROWDINI!

    @DocStrange: Sublime? really? They still play Sublime enough that it gets more plays than a great band like Los Campesinos! or Does it Offend You, Yeah? or Black Kids? really?

    You clearly don’t live in LA, where its still all-sublime-all-the-time. I understand that they are/were a local band, and their music was fine for the times, but I get it already, you neither practice Santeria nor have a crystal ball…

  15. Al Shipley

    @How do I say this … THROWDINI!: It’s not just out there, I’m on the East Coast and I hear Sublime constantly.

  16. cheesebubble

    That first list of names is largely nasty but some redemption exists in the second group of bands. Still, overall it makes me sad. There’s so much great music that’s buried under the corporate wake.

    @2ironic4u: Remember when Finger Eleven used to be Rainbow Butt Monkeys in the mid-1990s? Now that was special!

  17. Anonymous

    @cheesebubble: Yup, I actually have the Rainbow Butt Monkeys disc, Letters To Chutney.

  18. othertim

    And the Sublime tracks are pretty much only “What I Got” and “Santeria,” at least on the station I listen to.

  19. Al Shipley

    @othertim: There are nine Sublime songs in the top 500 most played tracks on alternative radio for the past 6 months. I hear other songs like “Wrong Way” and “Caress Me Down” a lot and I was still pretty shocked by that.

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