Al Shipley

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What Are The Ingredients In This Nasty Soup We Call “Modern Rock”?

blind-melon-soup-tfLately, I’ve been thinking about the narrative surrounding the ‘90s alternative rock boom, and how oversimplified it’s become over the years. Too often, we get a simple line like “Nirvana changed everything,” and if we’re lucky, a little follow-up along the lines of “Limp Bizkit ruined everything.” So I decided to identify the scenes, subgenres, and trends that most influenced the Modern Rock charts over the past two decades; I figured I’d come up with a dozen or so. Instead, I ended up with almost 30, which I’ve broken down below. (I’m sure in the comments we can argue about which ones I left out, or which bands shouldn’t have been lumped together.) More »

Al Shipley | April 24, 2009 11:30 am

blind-melon-soup-tfLately, I’ve been thinking about the narrative surrounding the ‘90s alternative rock boom, and how oversimplified it’s become over the years. Too often, we get a simple line like “Nirvana changed everything,” and if we’re lucky, a little follow-up along the lines of “Limp Bizkit ruined everything.” So I decided to identify the scenes, subgenres, and trends that most influenced the Modern Rock charts over the past two decades; I figured I’d come up with a dozen or so. Instead, I ended up with almost 30, which I’ve broken down below. (I’m sure in the comments we can argue about which ones I left out, or which bands shouldn’t have been lumped together.) More »

Pearl Jam’s “Ten” Returns To Rock Radio With A Vengeance

Pop quiz: What was the biggest Modern Rock hit from Pearl Jam‘s Ten? The answer is “Jeremy,” which peaked at No. 5 in 1992. But if we brought the recent reissue of the 18-year-old album into the mix, the answer would not be “Jeremy,” “Even Flow,” or “Alive”—it would be “Brother,” a bonus track that was released to radio and has topped the Modern Rock chart for the past two weeks. Surprisingly, “Brother” is only the band’s fourth Modern Rock chart-topper, and it joins an odd lot: 1993’s “Daughter” (also a Mainstream Rock No. 1), 1996’s “Who You Are,” and 2006’s “World Wide Suicide.”

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Al Shipley | March 30, 2009 11:00 am

Pop quiz: What was the biggest Modern Rock hit from Pearl Jam‘s Ten? The answer is “Jeremy,” which peaked at No. 5 in 1992. But if we brought the recent reissue of the 18-year-old album into the mix, the answer would not be “Jeremy,” “Even Flow,” or “Alive”—it would be “Brother,” a bonus track that was released to radio and has topped the Modern Rock chart for the past two weeks. Surprisingly, “Brother” is only the band’s fourth Modern Rock chart-topper, and it joins an odd lot: 1993’s “Daughter” (also a Mainstream Rock No. 1), 1996’s “Who You Are,” and 2006’s “World Wide Suicide.”

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U2 Triangulates The Rock Charts

After Billboard launched its Adult Album Alternative singles chart last year, I compared and contrasted it with the two existing rock charts, Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock, and noted how few bands, let alone songs, would be able to make a dent on all three charts. At the time, I wrote: “I’ll be very curious to see what song, if any, will be the first to appear on all three rock charts; my best guess is that it’ll depend on whether U2 or the White Stripes releases a new album sooner.” Not to toot my own horn, but I was right on the mark; the lead single from U2’s No Line On The Horizon became the first song to achieve that feat immediately upon its release. “Get On Your Boots” has been locked at the top spot on Triple-A for the last four weeks; on Modern Rock it entered at No. 8 and currently sits at No. 5; and while it’s made the Mainstream Rock chart, it has so far only climbed to No. 26.

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Al Shipley | February 25, 2009 10:00 am

After Billboard launched its Adult Album Alternative singles chart last year, I compared and contrasted it with the two existing rock charts, Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock, and noted how few bands, let alone songs, would be able to make a dent on all three charts. At the time, I wrote: “I’ll be very curious to see what song, if any, will be the first to appear on all three rock charts; my best guess is that it’ll depend on whether U2 or the White Stripes releases a new album sooner.” Not to toot my own horn, but I was right on the mark; the lead single from U2’s No Line On The Horizon became the first song to achieve that feat immediately upon its release. “Get On Your Boots” has been locked at the top spot on Triple-A for the last four weeks; on Modern Rock it entered at No. 8 and currently sits at No. 5; and while it’s made the Mainstream Rock chart, it has so far only climbed to No. 26.

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Lil Wayne Just Wants To Rock–But Will Rock Radio Let Him?

The gap between hip-hop and rock, whether musical or cultural, is often greatly exaggerated. There are simply too many people who enjoy large amounts of both genres, too many musicians from either discipline who have crossed that gradually disappearing line. But every time a rapper tries to rock or a rocker tries to rap, we go through the same familiar motions. The artist invariably behaves as if his actions are as bold and groundbreaking as the first time Aerosmith stood onstage alongside Run-DMC; sometimes, fans and critics agree, but more often, the reaction is of the “omg lol wtf” variety, with enough feigned outrage and distaste to make one think none of these people had ever seen peanut butter in their chocolate before. “Why do rappers like Coldplay so much?” may very well be the inane watercooler observation of the 21st century.

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Al Shipley | January 26, 2009 11:00 am

The gap between hip-hop and rock, whether musical or cultural, is often greatly exaggerated. There are simply too many people who enjoy large amounts of both genres, too many musicians from either discipline who have crossed that gradually disappearing line. But every time a rapper tries to rock or a rocker tries to rap, we go through the same familiar motions. The artist invariably behaves as if his actions are as bold and groundbreaking as the first time Aerosmith stood onstage alongside Run-DMC; sometimes, fans and critics agree, but more often, the reaction is of the “omg lol wtf” variety, with enough feigned outrage and distaste to make one think none of these people had ever seen peanut butter in their chocolate before. “Why do rappers like Coldplay so much?” may very well be the inane watercooler observation of the 21st century.

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No. 34: Blake Leyh Makes Us Listen Closer To “The Wire”

On March 9, HBO’s The Wire aired its series finale, and its evocative closing credits theme, “The Fall,” rolled out its ominous bass line and eerie violin for the last time. For five seasons, music supervisor Blake Leyh‘s sole contribution to the show’s score, which followed every episode’s closing scene, was equally fitting to punctuate a shocking plot twist or a character’s slowly sinking realization.

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Al Shipley | December 22, 2008 10:00 am

On March 9, HBO’s The Wire aired its series finale, and its evocative closing credits theme, “The Fall,” rolled out its ominous bass line and eerie violin for the last time. For five seasons, music supervisor Blake Leyh‘s sole contribution to the show’s score, which followed every episode’s closing scene, was equally fitting to punctuate a shocking plot twist or a character’s slowly sinking realization.

More »

No. 40: Max Martin And Dr. Luke Infiltrate Rock Radio

One of the stranger turning points in recent pop history occurred around 2004, when songs like Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” signaled a full shift in white Top 40 toward uptempo guitar rock, completing the trend that had begun a few years earlier with Avril Lavigne’s first hits. It felt like a regime change from the bombastic synth pop of the Britney/Backstreet era, and it would’ve been, if not for the fact that the same producer, Swedish pop mastermind Max Martin, was behind both “…Baby One More Time” and “Since U Been Gone.” Along with songwriter and co-producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, Martin reinvented his signature sound with a campaign of chugging guitar riffs and shout-along choruses that shared more musical common ground with Fall Out Boy than Jessica Simpson, although his hits remained the sole province of Top 40 radio.

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Al Shipley | December 18, 2008 3:00 am

One of the stranger turning points in recent pop history occurred around 2004, when songs like Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” signaled a full shift in white Top 40 toward uptempo guitar rock, completing the trend that had begun a few years earlier with Avril Lavigne’s first hits. It felt like a regime change from the bombastic synth pop of the Britney/Backstreet era, and it would’ve been, if not for the fact that the same producer, Swedish pop mastermind Max Martin, was behind both “…Baby One More Time” and “Since U Been Gone.” Along with songwriter and co-producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, Martin reinvented his signature sound with a campaign of chugging guitar riffs and shout-along choruses that shared more musical common ground with Fall Out Boy than Jessica Simpson, although his hits remained the sole province of Top 40 radio.

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Heartbreak No. 2: The Death Of Baltimore Club Music’s Queen, DJ K-Swift

On the morning of July 21, I woke up to find a text message on my phone informing me that Khia “DJ K-Swift” Edgerton, Baltimore’s most popular radio personality and a focal point of the percolating Baltimore club music scene, had been pronounced dead at a hospital after a swimming pool accident at her home. The shock of the unexpected news was magnified by the fact that I had just seen her perform her second-to-last DJ set at the Artscape festival two nights earlier. But for several years, I had religiously listened to her nightly radio show and hunted down every mix CD she released, much like the thousands of other Baltimore club fans that looked to her to break the latest hits and expose the newest club producers.

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Al Shipley | December 10, 2008 4:00 am

On the morning of July 21, I woke up to find a text message on my phone informing me that Khia “DJ K-Swift” Edgerton, Baltimore’s most popular radio personality and a focal point of the percolating Baltimore club music scene, had been pronounced dead at a hospital after a swimming pool accident at her home. The shock of the unexpected news was magnified by the fact that I had just seen her perform her second-to-last DJ set at the Artscape festival two nights earlier. But for several years, I had religiously listened to her nightly radio show and hunted down every mix CD she released, much like the thousands of other Baltimore club fans that looked to her to break the latest hits and expose the newest club producers.

More »

No. 77: Nine Inch Nails’ Flood of Digitally Distributed New Music

In the decade after 1994’s The Downward Spiral made Nine Inch Nails a household name, Trent Reznor cultivated a reputation as a reclusive perfectionist of nearly Chinese Democracy-level procrastination, releasing just one bloated double album, 1999’s The Fragile. And though 2005’s With Teeth hinted at a leaner and more workmanlike model of NIN, nobody could’ve predicted the accelerated pace at which Reznor would begin releasing music after completing his Interscope contract.

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Al Shipley | December 8, 2008 4:00 am

In the decade after 1994’s The Downward Spiral made Nine Inch Nails a household name, Trent Reznor cultivated a reputation as a reclusive perfectionist of nearly Chinese Democracy-level procrastination, releasing just one bloated double album, 1999’s The Fragile. And though 2005’s With Teeth hinted at a leaner and more workmanlike model of NIN, nobody could’ve predicted the accelerated pace at which Reznor would begin releasing music after completing his Interscope contract.

More »

Mudvayne And Rob Zombie Prove That Corpsepaint Rock Also Sells

The hard-rock scene has long been locked in a power struggle between two warring factions: bands that wear crazy masks, and bands that paint crazy shit on their faces. You’d think they’d be brothers in arms, allied against all the boring bands who never wear any sort of costume or disguise, but there are vicious feuds boiling under the surface. (Probably.) So far this year, mask-wearing bands like Slipknot and Hollywood Undead have had the upper hand on the radio, with both charting regularly on Billboard’s Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks. But guys who prefer to look demonic by painting their faces, David Puddy-style, are making a comeback; new hits by Mudvayne and Rob Zombie are charting right now. Zombie debuted last week at No. 35 with “War Zone,” from Marvel’s latest attempt to reboot The Punisher franchise, and Mudvayne has already peaked at No. 7 with “Do What You Do”:

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Al Shipley | November 19, 2008 1:00 am

The hard-rock scene has long been locked in a power struggle between two warring factions: bands that wear crazy masks, and bands that paint crazy shit on their faces. You’d think they’d be brothers in arms, allied against all the boring bands who never wear any sort of costume or disguise, but there are vicious feuds boiling under the surface. (Probably.) So far this year, mask-wearing bands like Slipknot and Hollywood Undead have had the upper hand on the radio, with both charting regularly on Billboard’s Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks. But guys who prefer to look demonic by painting their faces, David Puddy-style, are making a comeback; new hits by Mudvayne and Rob Zombie are charting right now. Zombie debuted last week at No. 35 with “War Zone,” from Marvel’s latest attempt to reboot The Punisher franchise, and Mudvayne has already peaked at No. 7 with “Do What You Do”:

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Rap’s Resident Martian Gets The Alien Ant Farm Treatment

As I noted when I proclaimed him pop music’s new Prince of Darkness, Lil Wayne has been doing everything possible in the past couple years to act like a rock star. He plays guitar (badly); he got a lip piercing; he joins Fall Out Boy and Kid Rock onstage at awards shows. But while the rock charts are just about the only singles charts his collaboration with Kevin Rudolf, “Let It Rock,” haven’t raced up, Wayne has finally seeped into Billboard’s Hot Modern Rock Tracks–as a songwriter. That’s because the Tennessee band Framing Hanley has recorded a cover of “Lollipop,” Wayne’s No. 1 single from Tha Carter III, and it’s currently at No. 37 in its second week there.

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Al Shipley | November 7, 2008 11:00 am

As I noted when I proclaimed him pop music’s new Prince of Darkness, Lil Wayne has been doing everything possible in the past couple years to act like a rock star. He plays guitar (badly); he got a lip piercing; he joins Fall Out Boy and Kid Rock onstage at awards shows. But while the rock charts are just about the only singles charts his collaboration with Kevin Rudolf, “Let It Rock,” haven’t raced up, Wayne has finally seeped into Billboard’s Hot Modern Rock Tracks–as a songwriter. That’s because the Tennessee band Framing Hanley has recorded a cover of “Lollipop,” Wayne’s No. 1 single from Tha Carter III, and it’s currently at No. 37 in its second week there.

More »


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