Since many people find it hard to tell the great from the godawful when it comes to 21st-century mainstream rock, welcome to “Corporate Rock Still Sells,” where Al Shipley (a.k.a. Idolator commenter GovernmentNames) examines what’s good, bad, and ugly in the world of Billboard‘s rock charts. This time around he drops science (and graphs) to figure out how pop-punk nostalgia might be impacting Modern Rock radio:
One thing that you’ll find me banging on about in this column, over and over again, is the tall shadow of the 90′s “alternative revolution” boom years that Modern Rock radio now exists under. You can blame it on the rise of nu-metal and other genre–or just about anything, really. But the glory days are, for all intents and purposes, over.
And, as one astute commenter noted in my last installment, many of the Modern Rock stations left standing have been trying to survive by playing more and more music from the “classic” era, switching to what’s been dubbed the “alternative gold” format. One of my strangest realizations once I started writing this column is that it’s really hard to figure out what the hot new songs on rock radio are by actually listening to rock radio. You usually have to sit through up to a half-hour of oldies to hear even one track currently on the Billboard rock charts.
To demonstrate this divide, I decided to pull up some hard airplay stats. And since I caught some (perfectly fair) criticism for the “regional bias” in my last post, which mostly cited the D.C./Maryland rock stations I listen to or grew up listening to, I decided to illustrate my point with a Modern Rock standard-bearer that everyone can more or less agree on, Los Angeles institution KROQ.
KROQ’s official “most played” page lists 30 or so songs, pretty much all of which are less than a year or two old. But Yes.com, an extremely
helpful site for looking up what pretty much any radio station is playing at any given moment, doesn’t filter out the oldies, and the numbers don’t lie: Less than half of the station’s current “most played” tracks (44% when I culled the data) are from 2007 or even 2006. There was also nothing prior to 1990, which was a little surprising considering that KROQ officially became a Modern Rock station back in 1982; most of the East Coast stations I’ve listened to have always kept a healthy serving of Cure and Violent Femmes songs in the mix. And when I employed my rudimentary Microsoft Excel skills and charted the year-of-origin for the pre-2006 songs, in two-year increments, the results were pretty interesting:
The spike in the ’90s is no shock, but where it happened–1995, and especially 1994, which had 13% of the Top 100–is a little surprising. I would’ve expected more from the initial grunge explosion in the early part of the decade, and a less sharp drop-off for later years like ’97. Of course, a lot of this comes down again to a regional divide: KROQ was ground zero for the mid-’90s reign of California pop-punk bands like Green Day and Offspring, who are represented generously on the list, along with considerably less commercially successful scene mainstays like Pennywise and Bad Religion. (My decision to chart all Dookie singles after “Longview” as 1994, when they impacted radio, rather than 1993, the year of the album’s release, definitely helped beef up the ’94 stats.) You can tell pretty easily where KROQ really gets their bread buttered, and it’s not Seattle.
Much as classic rock playlists have slowly shifted their center of gravity from the late ’60s to the late ’70s and early ’80s, to the point that Foreigner now towers over the Beatles in those stations’ esteem, KROQ may be leading the way for the future of alt-rock nostalgia, one that lionizes Cali punk bands as much as Nirvana, especially if Green Day continues its late-career dominance. But I’m hoping the shift towards emphasizing later and later alt-rock eras stops there, because I don’t know if I can handle nostalgia for Hoobastank.