Radio Hits One: Rock Bands (Kind Of) Return To The Pop Charts
This summer, a total of four songs by rock bands (or, more precisely, pop/rock bands) have appeared in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100: Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks," OneRepublic's "The Good Life," Hot Chelle Rae's "Tonight Tonight," and Maroon 5's Christina Aguilera-assisted "Moves Like Jagger" (which moved up to No. 1 on the Hot 100 this week) all rose into the chart's upper reaches during July and August. That may not seem like a large number, but when "Moves" debuted at No. 8 in July it broke a 13-month drought of rock bands of any kind reaching the Hot 100's top 10. This puts 2011 firmly ahead of 2010, when "Hey, Soul Sister" made Train the only rock band to crack the top 10 for the entire year.
Foster The People.
Obviously, none of these songs are exactly hard rock anthems; the most memorable riffs in both "Pumped Up Kicks" and "The Good Life" are whistled, not strummed on a guitar. And of the four acts, only Foster The People have been played on rock stations, and not adult contemporary and Top 40 charts. But this quartet illustrates just how rare it is these days for any kind of rock band to climb up the Hot 100 these days, and exactly what kind of success it takes to achieve that feat.
The scarcity of instrument-playing pop/rock combos in the Hot 100 is hardly a recent development. The Beatles and their contemporaries may have bombarded the American singles charts in the '60s, but over the past four decades pop, R&B, singer-songwriters, disco, dance and hip-hop have generally ruled the Hot 100, while rock stars have had to settle for multi-platinum albums, arena tours, and domination of the critical discourse. The last decade, though, has been an especially fallow period for the commercial relevance of rock music, with all those other genres horning in more and more on album sales, ticket sales, and attention from critics.
The best time for rock bands on the Hot 100 in the last 40 years probably occurred in the mid-'80s, when hard rockers perfected the power ballad formula and a variety of British and American pop/rock acts adapted to the MTV era with shiny hooks and flashy videos that didn't feel so out of place next to Michael Jackson and Madonna. And that feels like history's closest parallel to 2011's bumper crop of top 10 bands, who sound like they're working hard to fit into a pop landscape dominated by the vaguely rock-derived but decidedly pop stylings of Katy Perry and Bruno Mars.