They Tried To Make Me Listen To Rehab, I Said, “No, No, No”

Al Shipley | July 31, 2008 10:00 am

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 looks at an eight-years-in-the-making hit by an act that was once seen as a rap-rock also-ran, as well as a few other developments on the rock radio charts.

In 2000, a band from Georgia named Rehab was one of the many rap-rock acts flooding the music industry in the wake of Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit. That October, they released their major-label debut Southern Discomfort and scored a minor hit with the simply awful “It Don’t Matter,” which reached No. 20 on the Modern Rock chart. After failing to score any follow-up hits, Rehab was dropped from Sony, deservingly going the way of so many of their peers. The group’s rapper, a walking dirt ‘stache named Brooks Buford, briefly signed to So So Def Records as a solo artist, and resurfaced hosting the short-lived MTV show Trailer Fabulous, which could be described as Pimp My Ride for double-wides. But nearly eight years after the release of Southern Discomfort, one of its tracks, “Sittin’ At A Bar,” has suddenly become a hit:

In the past two months this song, now retitled “Bartender Song (a.k.a. Sittin’ At A Bar),” has reached No. 16 on the Modern Rock chart, No. 26 on Mainstream Rock, and No. 77 on the Hot 100. And it’s still rising. In June, Southern Discomfort was re-released under the name Sittin’ At A Bar by Sony subsidiary Epic, with three new versions of the song appended to its tracklist. When I was searching my soul to come up with an accurate explanation for the popularity of this terrible, terrible song, the best point of comparison I could come up with is Sublime’s “Santeria.” Both songs feature wistful, countryish melodies, wack rhymes, and a healthy serving of curse words and misogyny. And when I conducted a survey of the past six months of alternative airplay for my last column, I noticed that the single most played song of the entire 1990s was “Santeria.” (“Smells Like Teen Spirit” was fourth, behind Blur’s “Song 2” and another Sublime track.)

I’m not sure exactly how “Bartender Song” began this long, tangled road to crossover success. Perhaps Sony re-signed the band and decided to work an older song to radio first, or maybe the song has just been building a grassroots following for the last seven years that the label finally decided to capitalize on. “Bartender” song was also issued as a bonus track on a 2006 pressing of their 2005 independent album, Graffiti The World, so obviously it’s been one of the band’s more popular songs for a while. One thing is clear, however: with the rise of the Flobots and now Rehab, and Atmosphere’s first appearance on the Modern Rock chart in recent weeks with “You,” white rappers are a big look for alt-rock radio in ’08.

Until last week, it seemed like Weezer’s “Pork & Beans” would be the rock radio hit of the summer. The song, which I’ve come to think of as the “Umma Do Me” for the horn-rimmed set, hit No. 1 on Modern Rock in its third week on the chart, and stayed there for 11 weeks, the longest stay at the top since the Foo Fighters’ “The Pretender” 18-week reign late last year. And who unseated Weezer from the spot? The Foos, of course, with their third consecutive Modern Rock No. 1, “Let It Die.”

Even given the band’s ridiculous career momentum these days, I’m a little surprised at the success of “Let It Die,” which I expected would fizzle at radio like previous third singles from FF albums (“Low,” “Next Year”). Last year, when I wrote about the numerous Grammy nominations for the band’s last album and remarked “I just hope Dave Grohl doesn’t feel the need to pander to voters by releasing one of the album’s overly serious dirges as the next single,” this was exactly what I was referring to. Even of the tracks on Echoes, Silence, Patience And Grace that go for the slow build and big rock ending, I’d rather hear “Come Alive” or “But, Honestly” on the radio, but go figure. Incidentally, this fan-made YouTube montage of Nirvana footage set to “Let It Die” is, just on a conceptual level, perhaps creepier than anything I’ve ever seen on Idolator’s tribute-video beat.

I’ve been beating a drum for a while now about how Billboard’s Hot Modern Rock Tracks and Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks are getting harder and harder to tell apart. For instance, right now the two charts are 60% the same–24 of the top 40 songs appear on both charts. But it’s still really easy to tell where a band gets its bread buttered. Nickelback and My Chemical Romance may each get airtime on both formats, but you can probably guess who charts better on which chart every time.

Staind’s new single, “Believe,” however, has been rising up both charts at an almost exactly equal pace, which is rare, if not unheard of. And it’s not a massive hit like “The Pretender” that’s gunning for the top of both charts, it’s just on two steady, parallel paths: It entered the Modern Rock chart four weeks ago at No. 27, then jumped to No. 16, then to No. 11, and currently sits at No. 9; It entered the Mainstream Rock chart four weeks ago at No. 25, then jumped to No. 15, then to No. 11, and currently sits at No. 9.

It’s hard to read any real significance into those numbers, though they are interesting. But it helps that “Believe” sounds just like every other sluggish ballad Staind has made since frontman Aaron Lewis’ accidental solo hit “Outside” changed the course of the nu-metal band’s career. So the music is a control; the variables are the charts. Staind has historically been in the Nickelback category: very big on the Mainstream chart, while more moderately successful on the Modern chart, sometimes charting high but never as high as on Mainstream. So this could be a fluke, or it could be further evidence that the charts are moving toward common ground–particularly Modern, which has fewer big stars to depend on for hits now, and has gradually become more welcoming of groaning frat grunge than it used to be.