Chart Beat

'Thnks Fr The Mmrs,' Sort Of: Enduring Alternative Classics That Weren't Big Hits the First Time Around

MGMT
Wendy Redfern/Redferns

MGMT photographed in 2007.

Pearl Jam's "Even Flow," NIN's "Closer" & other genre essentials took time to become beloved.

This week, Billboard celebrates the 30th anniversary of our Alternative Songs chart. Here, we look back at some of the formats enduring classics that, perhaps surprisingly, weren't chart monsters in their original runs.

We hear it all the time: songs that weren't major successes in their time but end up being unimpeachable classics, or albums that couldn't sell but a handful copies upon release week but become huge sellers years later.

Conversely, just because a release is a hit in its original run doesn't necessarily slot it into some kind of doted-upon trophy case to be admired for all of time. Take a look at the history of No. 1s on any Billboard chart – you'll see some songs you recognize, sure, but then come now-unfamiliar names and titles, the ones that need either need a quick listen (or more) for you to remember.

Some of that hinges on the role of radio. Airwaves for many formats – pop, country, R&B/hip-hop and alternative among them – focus on the hot new thing for however long it stays ignited. Still, even at radio formats playing new material (along with, of course, classic hits formats) you'll hear some older songs.

Except… some enduring older songs might not have exactly been hits the first time around, in the truest sense of the word. Just as certain No. 1s across all Billboard charts are no longer inescapable, others that weren't hits in their time have taken on more vaunted status, sometimes decades after their initial release. Call them corrective No. 1s, perhaps.

Alternative radio is no different. In a given station's gold programming category (meaning older songs, generally about a year-and-a-half-old or much older), some of the Alternative Songs chart's biggest chart-topping hits, like Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" and Cold War Kids' "First," are played alongside tracks that didn't achieve those heights upon their release. Some didn't even make the Alternative Songs chart, let alone climb to No. 1.

For the list below, we looked at the top gold programming on reporters to Billboard's Alternative Songs radio airplay chart as measured by Nielsen Music, using the seven-day tracking period ending Oct. 7, to determine the most-played past hits on the format right now. We plucked out 30 of the most notable titles – all from before the 2010s – that didn't lead the Alternative Songs chart in their day but have since found a lasting following.

Each of the 30 songs below played at least 90 times in the tracking period. From debut singles that didn't push an act over the hump at first, to album cuts that grew retroactively, to songs that were too loud at the time, to songs that were the opposite sonically, these are some of alternative radio's hits that, eventually, got their due.

Nirvana, "In Bloom"

Current rank among all gold songs: No. 68

Alternative Songs peak: did not chart; it did, however, reach No. 5 on Mainstream Rock Songs

Nirvana, "Lithium"

Current rank: No. 75

Alternative Songs peak: No. 25, Jan. 18, 1992

MGMT, "Kids"

Current rank: No. 78

Alternative Songs peak: No. 9, April 18, 2009

Third Eye Blind, "Jumper"

Current rank: No. 79

Alternative Songs peak: No. 9, Sept. 12, 1998

No Doubt, "Just a Girl"

Current rank: No. 108

Alternative Songs peak: No. 10, Jan. 27, 1996

311, "Amber"

Current rank: No. 116

Alternative Songs peak: No. 13, Aug. 24, 2002

Florence + the Machine, "Dog Days Are Over"

Current rank: No. 139

Alternative Songs peak: No. 8, Feb. 5, 2011

Pearl Jam, "Even Flow"

Current rank: No. 152

Alternative Songs peak: No. 21, June 6, 1992  

Weezer, "Island in the Sun"

Current rank: No. 157

Alternative Songs peak: No. 11,  Sept. 15, 2001

Blink-182, "Dammit"

Current rank: No. 158

Alternative Songs peak: No. 11, March 7, 1998

Stone Temple Pilots, "Plush"

Current rank: No. 164

Alternative Songs peak: No. 9, June 26, 1993

The All-American Rejects, "Move Along"

Current rank: No. 166

Alternative Songs peak: did not chart; promoted to top 40 radio, it hit No. 9 on the Pop Songs chart

Yellowcard, "Ocean Avenue"

Current rank: No. 171

Alternative Songs peak: No. 21, March 20, 2004

Fall Out Boy, "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs"

Current rank: No. 182

Alternative Songs peak: No. 19, June 30, 2007

Pearl Jam, "Alive"

Current rank: No. 200

Alternative Songs peak: No. 18, Feb. 15, 1992

The All-American Rejects, "Gives You Hell"

Current rank: No. 208

Alternative Songs peak: No. 25, April 11, 2009

Sublime, "Doin' Time"

Current rank: No. 212

Alternative Songs peak: No. 28, Nov. 28, 1997

MGMT, "Time to Pretend"

Current rank: No. 216

Alternative Songs peak: No. 23, May 31, 2008

Nirvana, "Dumb"

Current rank: No. 217

Alternative Songs peak: did not chart

MGMT, "Electric Feel"

Current rank: No. 218

Alternative Songs peak: did not chart

Nine Inch Nails, "Closer"

Current rank: No. 240

Alternative Songs peak: No. 11, June 4, 1994

Beastie Boys, "Sabotage"

Current rank: No. 259

Alternative Songs peak: No. 18, July 9, 1994

The Cranberries, "Dreams"

Current rank: No. 273

Alternative Songs peak: No. 15, July 24, 1993

The Postal Service, "Such Great Heights

Current rank: No. 274

Alternative Songs peak: did not chart

Foo Fighters, "Monkey Wrench"

Current rank: No. 282

Alternative Songs peak: No. 9, June 7, 1997

The Killers, "All These Things That I've Done"

Current rank: No. 290

Alternative Songs peak: No. 10, Oct. 1, 2005

Peter Bjorn and John, "Young Folks"

Current rank: No. 299

Alternative Songs peak: No. 22, June 16, 2007

Also, here are three classics that preceded the Sept. 10, 1988, inception of the Alternative Songs chart that rank among the top 300 gold titles among reporters. Although they missed their chance to scale the survey, decades later, they contribute to the format's current mix:

Beastie Boys, "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)"

Current rank: No. 223

(from 1987)

Violent Femmes, "Blister in the Sun"

Current rank: No. 233

(from 1983)

R.E.M., "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)"

Current rank: No. 272

(from 1987)