Billboard‘s Alternative Songs chart is celebrating its 30th birthday. Since it launched in 1988, the chart has reflected trends on American alternative radio stations, ranging from the college rock of the late ’80s, to the grunge of the ’90s, to the nu-metal of the early ’00s, to the format’s synth-happy sounds of today, which actually have a lot in common with where it all started.
Red Hot Chili Peppers have had more songs top the chart (13) than any other artist, followed closely by Linkin Park and Green Day with 11 apiece. But plenty of successful alternative bands you’d expect to have at least one No. 1 have strangely never reached the apex. A few are household names who had greater success on different charts; a few are critical favorites who came up short on the commercial side; others were just plain unlucky.
Here are 15 bands from the past 30 years who’ve somehow never scored a No. 1 hit on Billboard‘s Alternative Songs chart, despite their vaunted status in the genre.
Alongside Oasis, Blur was half the royal family that ruled England’s Britpop movement of the mid ‘90s. This scene defined British music culture at the time, and though it wasn’t nearly as pervasive on Alternative Songs’ American dominion, it’s still surprising Blur never had a No. 1n– mainly because it landed just one mammoth U.S. crossover. If we’re talking sustained cultural impact, “Song 2” is probably one of the ten most iconic ‘90s rock songs, but it tapped out at No. 6 on Alternative Songs in 1997.
For the record, Blur’s highest-charting Alternative Songs hit is “Girls & Boys”: No. 4 in 1994. Notably, Blur frontman Damon Albarn logged his first No. 1 via Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc” in 2005.
Breaking Benjamin ranks at No. 50 on the Alternative Songs chart’s all-time top 100 artists list, though the Pennsylvania band is one of just two in the top 50 without a No. 1 on its résumé (Rise Against is the other). The act’s long career is filled with hits (four top fives and six top 10s on Alternative Songs), but, alas, no single has peaked higher than “So Cold” and “Breath,” both at No. 3, in 2004 and 2007, respectively.
Over on the Mainstream Rock Songs chart, where its hard rock sound is a little more at home, Breaking Benjamin does have six No. 1s to its name.
The Georgia rockers were alternative radio mainstays throughout the ‘90s, when tracks like “Heavy,” “The World I Know,” and “December” (their biggest hit, at No. 2) all went top 10. Today, most would call “Shine” Collective Soul‘s signature song — it’s by far its most streamed track on Spotify — but the fact it was their debut single probably prevented it from snagging some spins away from grunge’s more established heavy hitters back in 1994, when it wound up peaking at No. 4.
Dave Matthews Band
Dave Matthews Band‘s legacy as a touring titan is obviously legendary, and its commercial success remains stellar, if underrepresented (this year’s Come Tomorrow opened with 285,000 albums sold, the biggest sales week for a rock band in over four years, according to Nielsen Music). Still, no Alternative Songs No. 1s for Dave and co. “Don’t Drink the Water,” “Too Much,” and “I Did It” all went top five during the jam band’s late ‘90s and early-aughts heyday.
As most alternative radio playlists moved away from harder rock sounds in recent years, groups like Disturbed have lost clout on the format, but throughout the ‘00s, the long-running Chicago band was among its surest bets. It registered five top Alternative Songs 10s over this period, peaking with “Prayer” at No. 3 in 2002.
Over on the heavier-leaning Mainstream Rock Songs tally, Disturbed boasts eight chart-toppers, including the current No. 1, “Are You Ready.”
Fall Out Boy
Fall Out Boy is a rare case in 21st century radio: a rock band that’s often fared better on top 40 stations than rock. Smashes like “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” and “Thnks Fr th Mmrs,” both from 2007’s Infinity on High, actually peaked higher on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 than on Alternative Songs. The band came closest to an Alternative Songs No. 1 with “Dance, Dance” (No. 2) and “Sugar, We’re Going Down” (No. 3), both off 2005’s From Under the Cork Tree.
Like Disturbed and Breaking Benjamin, Godsmack is an absolute giant over in the mainstream rock universe, with eight No. 1s a the format, including this year’s “Bulletproof.” The Massachusetts band has done well for itself on Alternative Songs, too. It qualified for our top 100 Alternative Songs artists list to mark the chart’s 30th anniversary, backed by top 10 hits like “Voodoo,” “Serenity,” and “Straight Out of Line.” But even with all the success the group has had in the rock radio universe this century, it has yet to top Alternative Songs.
During nu metal’s biggest years, Korn was a staple on the Alternative Songs chart, with tracks like “Here to Stay,” “Freak on a Leash,” and “Make Me Bad” hanging alongside the much more radio-friendly post-grunge and and pop-rock of the era. As iconic as they are, Korn has not collected an Alternative Songs No. 1, hitting a No. 4 high with “Here,” one of its five top 10s, in 1999.
Early in its career, primarily through 2000’s Return of Saturn, No Doubt zoned in on alternative radio play. This made sense, as these were the days when the ska-punk side of its sound was more in the forefront; “Don’t Speak” and “Ex-Girlfriend” were the band’s biggest Alternative Songs hits at this point, both peaking at No. 2. Considering No Doubt’s lasting impact on alternative culture as a whole, it’s kind of crazy at least one of these (or say, “Just a Girl”) never got enough alt radio play to top Alternative Songs. The group did, at least, get to have its moments in the mainstream sun, once its sound moved more firmly into pop (after “Speak” spent 16 weeks at No. 1 on the all-format Radio Songs chart), as a trio of No Doubt singles went top 10 on the Hot 100 in the new millennium.
For all the love Paramore got for its 2017 album After Laughter and continues to receive for its aughts output, Hayley Williams and the band has never drawn enough alt radio airplay to score a No. 1 at the format. Two singles from 2007’s Riot!, “Misery Business” and “crushcrushcrush,” peaked at Nos. 3. and 4, respectively (the act’s biggest hits to date), and After Laughter’s killer lead single “Hard Times” stalled at No. 13. Like labelmates Fall Out Boy, Paramore did enjoy some Hot 100 success when it set its sights on pop. “Ain’t It Fun,” “Still Into You,” and “The Only Exception” all went top 30 on the Hot 100 without even charting on Alternative Songs.
The most acclaimed rock band since the Alternative Songs chart began in 1988? There’s a case to be made. But the number of Radiohead No. 1s on the ranking? Exactly zero. As cool as it would’ve been, it’s not exactly surprising that nothing off Kid A or The King of Limbs went to No. 1, but “Creep” getting marooned at No. 2 and “High and Dry” at a measly No. 18? That’s a bummer. We don’t imagine it’s keeping Thom Yorke up at night these days, though.
If you’ve been following alternative radio over the years, Rise Against’s inclusion here should be a true shocker. And if you peeped our all-time Greatest Alternative Songs list, you’ll be even more baffled; Rise Against’s 2009 single “Savior” is the 2nd biggest song in the history of the chart, yet it never advanced past No. 3 during its 65-week reign. 2011’s “Help Is on the Way” actually peaked higher, but couldn’t get past No. 2. All in all, the band has charted 17 songs and sent almost half of them (eight) to the top 10, but a No. 1 still eludes the Chicago punk band.
The So-Cal punk band built itself into a radio force in the ‘90s while maintaining its hard-earned cred. But unlike contemporaries like the Offspring or Green Day, Social Distortion never sent any of its singles to the top of Alternative Songs. “Bad Luck” came the closest, hitting No. 2 in 1992, though between 1990’s self-titled album and 2011’s Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (the act’s most recent album), it has maintained a steady presence on alt radio. For that, it earned a coveted spot on the chart’s all-time top artists list (No. 98).
This one’s a big surprise. Even as inner-circle idols of the grunge movement, Soundgarden has never topped Alternative Songs. Three singles (including “Black Hole Sun”!) got to No. 2, but nothing from the chart’s 55th-biggest all-time artist reached the summit. Frontman Chris Cornell eventually got his first No. 1 on the chart via Audioslave’s “Like a Stone,” and we’d be remiss to mention Soundgarden has attained much greater success over on Mainstream Rock Songs, which it topped six times.
The Strokes are New York City icons and leaders of a bona fide rock’n’roll renaissance in the early 2000s. This was well-documented in the popular 2017 book Meet Me in the Bathroom, and stories of their glory days should endure well into the future. Despite all their influence, the Strokes were never quite the commercial force many hoped they’d be. Chalk it up to being too cool for the mainstream; chalk it up to other bands following their lead to greater success. The Strokes registered just two top 10 hits on the Alternative Songs chart, peaking with “Last Nite” (No. 5) in early 2002.