The 20 Best Rock/Alternative Radio Hits of 2013

I started doing these year-end lists by radio format last year, and the 2012 rock list ended up being a good chance to sum up what was kind of a big year for alt-rock radio. After years of decreasing commercial prominence or influence on the pop charts, the fluke-like 2011 success of Foster The People ended up giving way to a flood of the biggest songs to cross over from rock radio to Top 40 in a long time: Gotye, fun., The Lumineers, Alex Clare, Grouplove, and so on. In 2013, that just kept on happening, with songs by Lorde, Imagine Dragons, Capital Cities, and weirdly, Avicii starting as hits on the rock charts and then getting major traction on the Hot 100 (while rock radio also picked up on pop hits by Daft Punk and Macklemore). Even AWOLNATION's "Sail," which dominated rock radio in 2011 (around the same time as "Pumped Up Kicks") without reaching higher than #80 on the Hot 100, came back as a viral video hit and finally became a multiplatinum Top 20 hit with pop airplay in 2013. That's not to say I thought the pop crossover hits were necessarily the best songs on rock radio this year; in fact a lot of them are in the 'worst' list at the bottom of this post.

Nonetheless, it's a relatively interesting time for a depleted and widely deplored radio format. The indie/Pitchfork-friendly bands that have crossed over to radio to varying degrees in recent years didn't score big on mainstream radio with their new singles this year (The Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, etc.), meanwhile Alex Clare's "Too Close" kicked the door open for more songs to marry mewling folky old man vocals to EDM beats like "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons and "Wake Me Up!" by Avicii. And while there are a few '90s dinosaurs still roaming the earth, the ones that had hits this year didn't rule rock radio with an iron first the way the Foo Fighters, RHCP and Green Day had for most of the past decade. Amidst all of that, there were a lot of newish acts that fit into none of the above categories, from which I ended up drawing most of this list. There wasn't much of a coherent sound in 2013, and I have no idea which ones will continue to be in the mix in 2014 and which ones will disappear, which is about as optimistic a forecast as I can give -- with the other major radio formats, it seems much more obvious what trends aren't going anyway anytime soon. As with the R&B list, I'm using chart placements from the Rock Airplay chart, since Billboard's changes to the main Rock Songs chart in 2012 have made it dominated mainly by streams and downloads of new and old songs by the biggest crossover artists, some of whom don't get played on rock radio at all to begin with.

Here's the Spotify playlist of my favorite rock and alternative radio hits of the year:

1. The Neighbourhood - "Sweater Weather"
#1 Alternative Songs, #3 Rock Airplay, #17 Hot 100
I haven't watched the video, I haven't listened to the album or even the follow-up single, I haven't read anything about The Neighbourhood to know what part of America or some other country they're from or if they have any kind of backstory, if it's a real band or just one guy. I guess that's the mentality that keeps some acts a 'one hit wonder' no matter how much you really enjoyed that one song, but sometimes it's nice to just have the song to enjoy by itself, with no context other than how it sounds on the radio. It dominated rock radio all summer, when it was kind of ironically the wrong season for it, and then in the last month or two crossed over to pop radio, when it finally was sweater weather (albeit with a terrible drum machine track added into the Top 40 mix, much like what happened to Gotye). Love how it's split up into two halves that are in completely different tempos, but it winds back around to that big chorus in a way that makes perfect sense.

2. Pearl Jam - "Mind Your Manners" 
#12 Alternative Songs, #6 Rock Airplay
If I can enjoy something like The Neighbourhood's song in a relative vacuum, then the opposite is the case with a new single by Pearl Jam in the year 2013. I recently declared them my favorite singles act of the 1990s, but I can count on one hand the singles they've released since the '90s that I particularly like. This one is just a beast, though; not a revelation like 2009's uncharacteristically peppy "The Fixer," and awfully easy to

3. Muse - "Panic Station"
#2 Alternative Songs, #6 Rock Airplay
I liked Muse's 2012 single "Madness," which also occupied the same spot on last year's list, but it was overplayed to a pretty incredible degree. When the Alternative chart turned 25 this year, Billboard ran a list of the top 100 songs in the chart's history, the "Madness" was ludicrously right there in third place for the whole list, with another pretty recent Muse song at the top of the list. "Panic Station" wasn't so ubiquitous, but it was easily one of the more entertaining singles yet from modern rock's most shamelessly derivative superstars. They never shied away from sounding exactly like Radiohead or Queen, and here they throw together a joyfully tacky slap bass '80s funk rock Faith No More/Power Station jock jam.

4. Fall Out Boy - "My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light 'Em Up)"
#7 Alternative Songs, #8 Rock Airplay, #13 Hot 100
Fall Out Boy surprised me again and again in 2013 -- a year ago I didn't expect they would surface with a new album anytime soon, and if they did, I figured they'd continue to slip from both rock and pop radio as they'd been doing ever since the "Sugar, We're Going Down" days. And when I heard "My Songs" and registered my initial reactions, I figured this big, goofy tongue-in-cheek comeback anthem would be just a teaser, not one of the biggest multi-format hits of their career. And I certainly didn't expect to hear them make a hardcore punk EP produced by Ryan Adams, or to be tweeted at by Pete Wentz.

5. Frank Turner - "Recovery"
#16 Alternative Songs, #23 Rock Airplay
This British folksy guy is, I dunno, I guess some kind of Billy Bragg for the jam band set, which unsurprisingly makes him disproportionately popular in the Washington area, so the local station DC101 just latched onto this song way more than other markets and played the hell out of it all year, until I started to regard it as an overwhelmingly catchy offbrand Ted Leo anthem.

6. Silversun Pickups - "The Pit"
#3 Alternative Songs, #11 Rock Airplay
Silversun Pickups are an odd case because they're pretty much the most successful band on alt-rock radio that records for an actual independent label in recent memory, if not of all time, but they're not considered aesthetically 'indie.' I've never particularly loved them myself, but they've shown signs of having a little versatility on their recent singles, and this one has kind of a cool Depeche Mode/spaghetti western atmosphere to it.

7. Atlas Genius - "If So"
#8 Alternative Songs, #13 Rock Airplay
One of alt-rock's big breakthrough bands of the year was Atlas Genius, although I hated their big lead single "Trojans." Instead, it was the slightly less successful follow-up that won me over, particularly for the synth riff in the bridge that felt like it could've been the basis for a whole other hit song.

8. KoRn - "Never Never"
#1 Mainstream Rock Tracks, #36 Alternative Songs, #13 Rock Airplay
You know how weird it is that I enjoy a new KoRn song in 2013? I didn't even like them that much in the '90s when they were kind of unique and hugely popular, but this is easily my favorite thing they've done since "Falling Away From Me," and also probably their most brazenly melodic and accessible thing since then, too. And it's their first single since with "Head," the creepy born again Christian who left the band a decade ago, has rejoined his brothers "Munky" and "Fieldy," so hey, good for them. You'll note, though, that for any of the songs on this list that topped Billboard's Mainstream Rock charts peaked much lower on the overall Rock Airplay chart, which is more dominated by alternative hits -- this was not the case even a couple years ago, but so-called "mainstream rock" has finally taken a distant backseat to so-called "alternative rock" in commercial terms, which of course has been kind of a running joke in the '90s that finally came true.

9. Devour The Day - "Good Man"
#33 Rock Airplay
This is the kind of lunkhead active rock that is slowly dying out on the radio (except for the actively terrible Avenged Sevenfold, who are now bona fide arena headliners). Most would say 'good riddance,' but I enjoy this kind of stuff now and again, and this song really caught my ear this year, has a nice crunchy sound, a huge hook, and a cool tempo change towards the end.

10. Nine Inch Nails - "Came Back Haunted"
#6 Mainstream Rock Tracks, #7 Alternative Songs, #6 Rock Airplay
NIN was ostensibly the biggest comeback story of mainstream alternarock this year. But as a fan of later singles like "Discipline" and "The Hand That Feeds" who thought they pretty much went out on top as of their last hiatus, this song never entirely measured up. It's catchy and all, and it's amusingly meta for Trent Reznor to throw a synth he hasn't used since Pretty Hate Machine into the mix on this song, but I'm really hoping the atypically upbeat "Everything" is a big radio hit soon.

11. Paramore - "Now"
#13 Alternative Songs, #26 Rock Airplay
Paramore is my favorite rock album of the year, but I didn't expect that at all when I heard its lead single, "Now," which seemed to continue the band's recent pattern of catering to rock radio with tracks that were aggressive and uptempo ("Ignorance," "Monster," "Brick By Boring Brick") without the kind of massive pop punk hooks of "Misery Business" that broke them through in the first place. In the end, the album spawned a bigger hit on pop radio in "Still Into You" and "Now" was quickly forgotten by rock radio, but the song ended up growing on me big time, particularly in the context of the album.

12. Fitz And The Tantrums - "Out Of My League"
#1 Alternative Songs, #1 Rock Airplay
These guys are some kind of half-assed retro soul group, whose single "MoneyGrabber" a couple years ago was a low key VH1 jam. This year, they released a single that sounded more like a generic indie pop song any number of bands could've released, but a decent one, and it paid off: it set a new record for the longest climb to #1 in the history of the Alternative Songs chart.

13. Beware of Darkness - "Howl"
#4 Active Rock Songs, #6 Mainstream Rock Tracks
The whole bombastic blooz rock baby Zep sound that the White Stripes made big on rock radio and which continued which all sorts of crap bands like Wolfmother got shine off of has mostly petered out, especially with the Black Keys blowing up mainly by going a more timid route. But this song was pretty cool and explosive anytime my local active rock station, Baltimore's 98 Rock, played it, which ended up being pretty often.

14. The Deftones - "Tempest"
#3 Mainstream Rock Tracks, #20 Alternative Songs, #13 Rock Airplay
I've never been as big a proponent of The Deftones as the hip/acceptable nu metal band as a lot of people -- I am found of saying that Chi Moreno sings like Ellen Degeneres talking to whales in Finding Nemo. But this song (their biggest radio hit since "Change") and the follow-up "Swerve City" were welcome anytime I caught them on the radio this year.

15. alt-J - "Breezeblocks"
#9 Alternative Songs, #26 Rock Airplay
When a buzz band from England, still the buzz band capitol of the world, crosses the pond and gets some U.S. radio airplay, I generally expect either shameless, undeniable Coldplay pop smarts or something so obnoxiously British I just can't stand it. But when I started hearing this on the radio, after vaguely being aware of people being annoyed with a band called alt-J for a while, I was surprised that this odd band that sounded like Les Claypool mumbling over toy instruments was British at all, much less massively popular anywhere.

16. Kings Of Leon - "Supersoaker"
#9 Alternative Songs, #8 Rock Airplay
Their commercial triumphs, first in the U.K. and then at home in America, were terrifying at the time. But now that Kings Of Leon are underperforming with one of their most palatable singles to date, they don't seem so scary anymore.

17. Portugal. The Man - "Purple Yellow Red And Blue"
#15 Alternative Songs, #27 Rock Airplay
One of my favorite Radio Hits One columns I did for the Voice a couple years ago was about the sudden ubiquity of ____ The ____ bands on alt-rock radio: Foster The People, Cage The Elephant, Young The Giant, and so on. And now that they've had a few hits, this one being their biggest to date, I can now add Portland-based psych rock band Portugal. The Man to the list. I have no idea what this song is about, even to a greater degree that I could say about most of these songs, but man it's catchy.

18. Halestorm - "Freak Like Me"
#1 Active Rock, #1 Mainstream Rock, #17 Rock Airplay
Their two major label albums have yielded 9 singles on the rock charts, more than half of them pretty significant 'mainstream'/'active' rock hits, making Halestorm one of the few newish hard rock bands that seem to have a lot gas in the tank, and certainly the only female-fronted one. I'm fond of saying they remind me of Crucial Taunt from Wayne's World, but I mean that more affectionately than as a bad thing, although I have much more mixed feelings about their best recent hit being titled "Freak Like Me" while having nothing to do with Adina Howard.

19. Alice In Chains - "Hollow"
#1 Mainstream Rock Tracks, #23 Alternative Songs, #10 Rock Airplay
Although there's something unsavory and Sublime With Rome-ish about Alice In Chains rebooting without Layne Staley, even given Jerry Cantrell's status as the band's true auteur and occasional lead vocalist, their reunion has been pretty consistent, at least from a singles standpoint, this and "Check My Brain" both jam.

20. Soundgarden - "By Crooked Steps"
#1 Mainstream Rock Tracks, #17 Rock Airplay
Since Soundgarden had, in my opinion, the highest peaks of all the Seattle grunge titans, and are the one I'd most often wished never broke up, their underwhelming reunion has been a bitter reality check for me. Alice In Chains, a band I like half as much that has only half of its classic lineup intact, has made better singles lately than Soundgarden. But this song, an unforgiving 5/4 chug, was at least a slight redemption following blandness like "Live To Rise" and "Been Away Too Long."

Bonus bile:
The 10 Worst Rock/Alternative Radio Hits of 2013
1. Imagine Dragons - "Radioactive"
2. Avicii - "Wake Me Up!"
3. Bastille - "Pompeii"
4. New Politics - "Harlem"
5. Avenged Sevenfold - "Hail To The King"
6. Lorde - "Royals"
7. Atlas - "Trojans"
8. Capital Cities - "Safe And Sound"
9. Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington - "Out Of Time"
10. Of Monsters And Men - "Mountain Sound"
« Home | Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »
| Next »

Post a Comment