Indeed, the 75-year-old jazz guitarist and singer makes his Alternative Songs debut on the June 23-dated list, thanks to a featured spot on Gorillaz‘s new single “Humility,” which starts at No. 40. Benson contributes guitar to the sunny, ready-for-summer song, the lead single from the Damon Albarn-led act’s upcoming album, The Now Now.
But Benson is far from the only unexpected artist ever to make the Alternative Songs chart, which began in 1988. Since its inception, the ranking has played host to acts not considered core alternative, from rappers to pop singers with crossover tunes, country veterans and acclaimed DJs, all of whom served up particular singles that caught the format’s fancy.
Here are 10 of the more surprising acts to have hit the Alternative Songs chart.
“Humility,” Gorillaz feat. George Benson (No. 40, June 23, 2018)
The track not only marks Benson’s first foray onto the Alternative Songs airplay chart (and the airplay, streaming and sales-based Hot Rock Songs tally), it also stands as his first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 since 1985. This is hardly the only time that Gorillaz have pulled off this kind of trick, bringing an artist with little-to-no alternative cred to the format. In hip-hop and R&B alone, Bobby Womack and Mos Def plus, via uncredited turns, De La Soul and Del the Funky Homosapien, have all benefited from the band’s curation.
“Hurt” (No. 33, March 22, 2003)
The music of Johnny Cash generally evokes gritty country classics from the genre’s early days, save for one of his most timeless more modern offerings: a cover of Nine Inch Nails‘ “Hurt” (an Alternative Songs-charting song itself, becoming the band’s first-ever top 10 in 1995), which laid the icon’s voice bare with nothing but an acoustic guitar in his hands. The song’s release as a single preceded Cash’s death a few months later at age 71.
“I Kissed a Girl” (No. 27, July 19, 2008)
Bear in mind that Katy Perry once graced the Warped Tour stage (in 2008), so it makes some sense that one of her singles might have gotten pushed to alternative radio, especially before she became established as a centerpiece of pop (and, most recently, an American Idol judge). “I Kissed a Girl” certainly has an alternative spirit lyrically and musically, so while it’s odd to imagine Perry at the format nowadays, it wasn’t so far-fetched 10 years ago.
“A Light That Never Comes,” Linkin Park x Steve Aoki (No. 7, Dec. 21, 2013)
Linkin Park‘s early- to mid-2010s efforts often highlighted collaborators, one of which, rapper Rakim, on “Guilty All the Same” in 2014, is an honorable mention for this list. But then there’s Steve Aoki, who followed in the rock radio footsteps of Skrillex in the previous two years (thanks to the producer’s collaborations with Korn), thanks to his team-up with Linkin Park on the band’s 2013 remix album, Recharged. Given multiple radio formats’ infatuation with EDM at the time, it made sense.
Chance the Rapper
“May I Have This Dance,” Francis and the Lights feat. Chance the Rapper (No. 36, Jan. 6, 2018)
Before George Benson, there was Chance the Rapper on the wait-who’s-on-alternative-radio? scale, as the rapper hopped on a remix of Francis and the Lights‘ 2016 track “May I Have This Dance” that was eventually serviced to radio, making the tally for four weeks in early 2018.
“Hey Ya!” (No. 16, Dec. 27, 2003)
“Hey Ya!” was everywhere in 2003 and 2004 — including alternative radio, where the rap duo’s genre-bending tune reached the top 20, shimmying to No. 16. That pales in comparison to the track’s nine-week run at No. 1 on Pop Songs, but hey, it was OutKast, and seeing them on Alternative Songs at all was a pleasant surprise in itself.
“Justified and Ancient,” The KLF feat. Tammy Wynette (No. 21, Feb. 8, 1992)
Britain’s The KLF surfaced at a time when alternative radio was both guitar- and dance-driven. The avant-dance group has a…fascinating backstory, but for the sake of time, we’ll limit today’s lesson to “Justified and Ancient,” the group’s only Alternative Songs appearance and a No. 11 hit on the Hot 100, which features country singer Tammy Wynette on vocals. It became Wynette’s first Hot 100 appearance since 1976, her highest-charting song on the ranking and her last to make the list before her 1998 death.
“Lights” (No. 28, Aug. 18, 2012)
Months after “Lights,” Ellie Goulding‘s first Stateside hit, first appeared on the Pop Songs chart (where it reached No. 1 in August 2012), the song found a brief life at alternative radio, peaking at No. 28 in a 10-week run on the ranking. Remember, this was a time when Alex Clare‘s “Too Close” was in the Alternative Songs’ top five, and M83 was having a moment at the format, too; the synth-pop of “Lights” was in no way out of place.
“Kiss,” The Art of Noise feat. Tom Jones (No. 14, Dec. 24, 1988)
Within the first year of the Alternative Songs chart’s existence, Tom Jones – yes, he of the 1966 Grammy award for best new artist and an appearance schedule in Las Vegas stretching over four decades – had an entry on alternative radio under his belt. Like Tammy Wynette with The KLF, Jones popped up thanks to an eclectic dance/pop group: on The Art of Noise‘s redo of Prince and the Revolution‘s “Kiss.” Given Jones’ legendary suaveness, what was more fitting that a song called “Kiss”?
“Harder to Breathe” (No. 31, Feb. 15, 2003)
Dear music fans who decry Maroon 5‘s occasional classification as a rock band despite much of its 2010s output being anything but: there was a time, oh so long ago, when Adam Levine and Co. could make it onto rock radio, especially with much crunchier fare. As with Perry, who was likewise yet to blaze a path at pop, the band’s breakthrough single was more of a pop radio hit (hitting No. 5 on Pop Songs), but that didn’t stop alternative programmers from taking to the guitar-driven track six months earlier.