The 20 Best Rock/Alternative Radio Hits of 2018

Ah, "rock/alternative," the list whose name makes me cringe every year because it's not as simple and snappy as the others, but I don't change it because it feels like the best available option. Not all of these songs are alternative, and not all of these songs are rock, but those two vague strains aren't big or distinct enough sets to make two lists, and "alternative/rock" looks too much like "alternative rock." 

Most every decade this year, there's been one or two really big alt-rock crossover stories to kind of keep the genre relevant -- Portugal. The Man or Twenty One Pilots the last couple years, or fun. and Gotye to go back a little further. 2018 didn't really have that -- the biggest songs that crossed over to pop radio and the top 10 of the Hot 100 were from pretty established acts like Imagine Dragons and Bastille and Panic At The Disco, while the biggest new band, lovelytheband, just barely cracked Top 40 (and also they totally sucked). 

Here's the Spotify playlist of these songs, and the lists I did for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017

1. The Interrupters - "She's Kerosene" 
#4 Alternative Songs, #8 Rock Airplay
The idea of ska punk making a comeback after its brief faddish '90s moment has been a running joke for 20 years now. And yet, it was strangely refreshing and welcome to turn on the radio and hear a Hellcat Records band playing a track co-written and produced by Tim Armstrong that could very well be a Rancid song if not for the woman singing lead. The singer, Aimee Allen, has been kicking around the music industry since a Mark Ronson-produced solo album was shelved in 2002, and the little bit of would-be pop star sheen she brings to a by-the-numbers 2 tone anthem somehow really works. 

2. Dennis Lloyd - "Nevermind"
#3 Alternative Songs, #5 Rock Airplay
Nor Tibor from Israel spent a year in Bangkok, and when he returned he started releasing music under the excessively ordinary Americanized stage name Dennis Lloyd. And then he remixed one of his own songs, and the hypnotically simple 2 minutes and 36 seconds of "Nevermind" traveled around the world and went top 10 in several countries. When hearing about these kinds of stories, I'm often struck by how often international blockbuster pop hits come to America and kind of get stranded on 'alternative' radio, often never even breaking the Hot 100, even through they're not really that strange or offbeat, they're just not part of the 2 or 3 dominant strains of pop and rap that make up the overwhelming majority of the top 10 at any given time. 

3. King Princess - "1950"
#17 Alternative Songs, #29 Rock Airplay
Another song that hit the pop charts all over the world but got left for minor airplay on alt-rock radio on 19-year-old Mikaela Straus's home turf in the U.S., because our country has become kind of quietly really conservative about what can get big. But "1950" is a really beautiful queer love song, albeit a slightly less explicit one than her follow-up single "Pussy Is God." 

4. The 1975 - "Love It If We Made It" 
#16 Alternative Songs, #24 Rock Airplay
"Love It If We Made It" was the second of five singles The 1975 released in advance of their new album, and it was the one that even fans of the band, myself included, seemed to have to kind of stop and figure out their feelings about. The fact that Matt Healy characterizes it as their "Sign O' The Times" was kind of a red flag to me because that's not even one of the best songs on Sign O' The Times. But the song's weird shrieking verses, which start with "WE'RE FUCKING IN A CAR, SHOOTING HEROIN" and eventually start quoting Trump tweets and shit, somehow reach a payoff in the cathartic chorus that I can't help but get caught up in. 

5. Bastille "World Gone Mad"
#9 Alternative Songs, #13 Rock Airplay
Bastille hasn't released their 3rd album yet or even set a release date for it, but over the course of 2018 they had three songs on the radio, each of which bigger than the last. And the first and smallest of those hits, "Wold Gone Made" from the soundtrack to that iffy Will Smith movie Bright, is my favorite, a kind of regal apocalyptic power ballad. It took me a long time to warm up to Bastille, mostly because Dan Smith sings like the lead in a musical about Robin Hood, but that can be entertaining when he's singing "you don't wanna fuck with us" in a falsetto. 

6. The Glorious Sons - "S.O.S. (Sawed Off Shotgun)" 
#5 Mainstream Rock Songs, #38 Alternative Songs, #11 Rock Airplay
Another song that kind of vaguely evokes the fraught state that everybody's in lately, except this band's from Canada so it doesn't have the Trump/Brexit anxiety of all the pissed off U.S./U.K. rock, it's more a general anthem about poverty and guns and opioids. 

7. Guns N' Roses - "Shadow Of Your Love"
#5 Mainstream Rock Songs, #18 Rock Airplay
Axl and Slash and Duff have grossed about half a billion dollars touring together over the past two and a half years, but there hasn't really been any public talk of them recording new music, and I think I'd prefer if they never did (especially not without Izzy around to contribute to the writing). So I was happy with a 'new' GNR single coming in the form of one of the band's earliest songs being released as a bonus track on a deluxe reissue of Appetite For Destruction. If "Shadow Of Your Love" had appeared on the original Appetite, it would have been the shortest and fastest song on the album, and while it also would have been far from the best, I'm always happy to hear stuff from GNR's punkier side. 

8. Twenty One Pilots - "Jumpsuit" 
#1 Alternative Songs, #16 Mainstream Rock Songs, #1 Rock Airplay, #50 Hot 100
If not for the fact that Tyler Joseph raps on about half of their songs, and when he sings he has that annoying pouty voice, I'd probably really like Twenty One Pilots. There's so much variety in instrumentation and texture from song to song, no two of their hits so far have really sounded alike. So I thought it was cool that one of the most popular bands in the world returned from their huge breakthrough album with a song that boasted a loud distorted bass riff and whiny vocal melody that could pass for a Primus song when you hear it in passing, even if that probably did them no favors as far as remaining one of the most popular bands in the world. 

9. Florence + The Machine - "Hunger" 
#11 Alternative Songs, #8 Rock Airplay
My wife's love of Florence Welch has rubbed off on me gradually over the last few years, so the point that when I took her to see Florence + The Machine in D.C. on their last tour, I was almost as excited as she was. And the way Welch ran back and forth across the stage during 'Hunger" while still hitting every note will always stick with me as one of my enduring memories of probably the best show I saw in the last couple years. 

10. AJR f/ Rivers Cuomo "Sober Up"
#1 Alternative Songs, #3 Rock Airplay
2018 was Weezer's 25th year of alt-rock ubiquity, and their most insufferable one yet, with a couple of insipid minor hits called "Happy Hour" and "Can't Knock The Hustle" and a horrid blockbuster cover of Toto's "Africa" becoming their biggest hit in a decade. But Rivers Cuomo had one bearable moment, singing a catchy little refrain on the sibling trio AJR's rock radio breakthrough, which came after a couple years of minor success as a Top 40 act.  

11. James Bay - "Pink Lemonade" 
#25 Alternative Songs, #26 Rock Airplay
After the transatlantic success of his pop ballad "Let It Go" a couple years ago, I thought James Bay was poised to become the next big Ed Sheeran/Shawn Mendes-type Top 40-friendly singer/guitarist. Instead, he released his fucking awesome second album Electric Love to staggering international indifference. Like, seriously, I love this album and it bricked, hard. The one small commercial victory of the album was that its catchy uptempo new wave rocker "Pink Lemonade" broke him through to U.S. rock radio for the first time, which I could see being a path for success for him in the future. 

12. Dorothy - "Flawless"
#8 Mainstream Rock Songs, #28 Rock Airplay
Roc Nation is the home of several of the most famous rappers and singers in the world, but their token rock acts appear to be pretty much screwed, judging from how a pretty great track went relatively nowhere in the case of Dorothy's "Flawless." 

13. Jukebox The Ghost - "Everybody's Lonely" 
#22 Alternative Songs, #26 Rock Airplay
The blockbuster success of the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody has reminded me how rare it is to hear contemporary bands actually effectively channel a Queen influence outside of a handful of over-the-top hard rock bands. So one of the reason's I really liked Philly power pop trio Jukebox The Ghost's radio breakthrough is that it had a bit of that piano-and-harmonies side of Queen to it, a little "Somebody To Love." 

14. Bastille & Marshmello - "Happier"
#1 Alternative Songs, #1 Rock Airplay, #3 Hot 100
Marshmello is an EDM producer who wears a giant marshmellow-shaped helmet in all public appearances that looks so stupid that even Deadmau5 would feel ashamed to wear it. And his collaborations with Anne-Marie, Selena Gomez and Logic were among the worst Top 40 hits this year. So I was pleasantly surprised that his latest and biggest hit is irresistibly catchy, a bit brighter and shinier than Dan Smith's full band Bastille hits like "Good Grief" and "World Gone Mad" that I prefer but still pretty enjoyable. I always picture a boy band performing this song, so it makes sense that Steve Mac, a UK songwriter who got his start with Westlife, worked on "Happier." 

15. Foo Fighters "The Line"
#30 Alternative Songs, #4 Mainstream Rock Songs, #19 Rock Airplay
Despite general diminishing returns, Foo Fighters still manage at least one really good single per album, and I'm annoyed that this time it took until the third single, when most of the commercial momentum had dissipated. 

16. Manchester Orchestra - "The Gold"
#12 Alternative Songs
This Georgia band that you inevitably expect to be British has been on the precipice of mainstream alt-rock stardom for a decade now, and this year they notched their biggest radio hit since 2009. This song is really lovely, I don't know their albums but I would definitely root for them to be on the radio more. 

17. Vance Joy - "Saturday Sun"
#8 Alternative Songs, #5 Rock Airplay
I kind of expected Vance Joy to be here today and gone tomorrow after "Riptide," but he keeps making singles that grow on me when I least expect them to. 

18. Panic! At The Disco - "Say Amen (Saturday Night)"
#1 Alternative Songs, #4 Rock Airplay, #60 Hot 100
I didn't like Panic At The Disco that much to begin with, and like them even less in their bafflingly popular current incarnation as a Brendan Urie solo vehicle. But in light of the blockbuster success of the cheeseball "High Hopes," I will give some props to the far more tolerable single that preceded it. 

19. Imagine Dragons - "Natural" 
#1 Alternative Songs, #20 Mainstream Rock Songs, #1 Rock Airplay, #13 Hot 100
When it's all said and done Imagine Dragons will most likely have been the biggest alt-rock band of this decade, which really bums me out. But occasionally they make a song I enjoy, and this one really feels like a relative breath of fresh air just by setting the loud bombastic sound of "Believer" and "Radioactive" at a slightly more brisk tempo. 

20. Billie Eilish - "You Should See Me In A Crown"
#9 Alternative Songs, #18 Rock Airplay, #93 Hot 100
16-year-old Billie Eilish is in that weird moment of ascending fame where you can't really say she's a household name at all but the media has generally agreed she will be, and she racked up almost a billion streams before Interscope worked any of her songs to radio. And it kind of hints at some kind of schism in their approach that the song currently getting radio airplay, "You Should See Me In A Crown," is her 8th most played song on Spotify (like every other major label starlet these days, her biggest song is a Khalid duet). It also sounds a little like they told her to rewrite "Royals," but be a royal in this one. I kind of expect that they're routing her through alt-rock radio for 'cred' and then will never bother promoting her there again once she gets big enough, like Halsey and Lana Del Rey. 

The 10 Worst Rock/Alternative Radio Hits of 2018: 
1. lovelytheband - "Broken"
2. Weezer - "Africa" 
3. Bad Wolves - "Zombie"
4. Imagine Dragons - "Whatever It Takes"
5. grandson - "Blood // Water" 
6. Sir Sly - "&Run"
7. Greta Van Fleet - "When The Curtain Falls"  
8. Muse - "Thought Contagion"
9. Panic! At The Disco - "High Hopes" 
10. Stone Temple Pilots - "Meadow" 
« Home | Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »

Post a Comment