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Ranking: Every Alternative Rock No. 1 Hit from Worst to Best

"You had better do what you are told. You'd better listen to the radio."

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    Artwork by Steven Fiche (Buy Prints and More)

    As formats have changed from records to tapes to CDs to MP3s to streaming, few things in the music world have remained constant. It’s somewhat surprising how relevant the radio remains, especially considering the wealth of other ways we have to consume music. But a hit can still make a career, and radio stations still get better access to artists than almost any other media outlets. Even some of the biggest technological shifts, like Apple Music, are still channeling the spirit and (in the case of Zane Lowe) figures rooted in radio.

    And likewise, for many of Consequence of Sound’s writers and readers, our earliest experiences with music came from the radio. Be it pop, hip-hop, or rock, memories can be traced back to car rides with our families, fighting with siblings over control of the dial, and eventually getting our own rides with the pre-sets all our own. For some of us older alternative rock fans, we might be able to look back at the early days of alt as a format. Sure, there was punk and new wave and college radio before 1988, but that was the year that Billboard first started tracking alternative rock, initially known as modern rock.

    And since 1988, alternative rock has been the home format of some of the biggest artists of our time and certainly some of the biggest artists within Consequence of Sound’s scope. Among the artists with chart-topping records are Red Hot Chili Peppers for most number one hits (12) and Muse for the longest reign at number one (19 weeks for “Madness”), and consistently high performances have come from acts as wide-ranging as U2, Foo Fighters, Linkin Park, and Cage the Elephant. All in all, 354 songs have topped the chart over 29 years, with the latest being Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still”.

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    And in that time, there have also been many, many questionable turns. In the early days of the chart, the Modern Rock songs were largely separate from what would chart on the Hot 100, allowing for some pretty, uh, interesting material to triumph (check out some Midnight Oil or Jesus Jones for a lesson on what once was and shall never be again). But the commercial viability of grunge rock allowed for a lot more crossover between alternative and mainstream, and this has seen an ebb and flow since the early ’90s. Sure, rock might not be hip with critics right now, but acts from Twenty One Pilots to Mumford & Sons have proven that alternative is still a healthy corner of the marketplace.

    Revisiting the history of alternative rock has proven both educational and nightmarish for us. Ranking these 336 songs has meant having to figure out exactly where each of the 11 Linkin Park number one cuts belong in the history of alt, and for every forgotten gem from the likes of Cracker, The Sundays, and Concrete Blonde, there are also the tortuous sounds of Creed, Nickelback, and Jet. We’ve discovered that maybe acts like Of Monsters & Men and Incubus are better than usually given credit for, and likewise, just because Elvis Costello penned a song doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good. And we’ve also seen that despite alternative’s ability to shift sounds over the decades, it has still been particularly unkind to anyone trying to contribute who isn’t a white male.

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    And so, here they are, every single godforsaken or great number one hit in alternative rock history. Fair warning, we’ve offered the “View All” option, but because there are over 300 YouTube links, it may crash your browser. We suggest going page by page to avoid that problem — trust us, it’s not just for the clicks.

    –Philip Cosores
    Executive Editor


    354. Lostprophets – “Last Train Home”

    Date Reaching Number One: 4/24/04

    Even if Lostprophets lead singer/monstrous child rapist Ian Watkins wasn’t the most genuinely evil figure in rock music this side of Gary Glitter, “Last Train Home” would still be a saggy baby diaper of a hit single, self-important in all of its whining and rallying cries for hope. Worst of all, so many musically snobby college kids bought into this shit back in 2004, passing it off as emo revivalism when it was really just generic nu metal. –Dan Caffrey


    353. Gene Loves Jezebel – “Jealous”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 8/11/90

    One way of thinking of the alternative charts archives is as a time capsule (our very own Wayback Machine) that can transport us back to any week in alternative music over the past 28 years. For instance, we can travel back to that week in the summer of 1990 when Gene Loves Jezebel perched atop the charts: a magical week of cheesy guitars, big hair, and a return to the gallant, impassioned romantic declarations of yore (“I like you a lot/ You are so beautiful, and that is a fact, yeah, yeah”). Or we can always opt to leave the past alone. Yeah, that one please. –Matt Melis


    352. Awolnation – “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)”

    Date Reaching Number One: 5/9/15

    It’s bad enough that their band name sounds like a lost P.O.D. song, but cribbing beats and rhythms from New Order or When in Rome should lead to automatic jail time. Also, wouldn’t “Hollow Moon” suffice? No need for the parentheticals. –Michael Roffman
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    351. Seether – “Fake It”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 1/5/08

    It was almost impossible to go more than an hour without hearing at least one Seether song on the radio for the two years after 2005’s Karma & Effect came out. Their first single to reach number one came from their follow-up, a much weaker album about adjusting to success, with “Fake It” serving as the nadir. (Just watch the video to see the most awkward interaction with models on a plane.) The only single of theirs to hit platinum in the US, the song was a low point for the group, especially with its horrendous choice of lyrics (“I feel so raped”) to describe something other than sexual assault. If you want to look at an example of learning all the wrong lessons from Nirvana, here you go. –David Sackllah


    350. Puddle of Mudd – “Psycho”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 4/19/08

    How Puddle of Mudd managed to snag a No. 1 song for anything in 2007 is an unsolved mystery. That’s a good six years after “Blurry” and “She Hates Me”. Yet, here we are, talking about “Psycho”. Eh, skip the song and rent the movie. –Michael Roffman


    349. Staind – “Believe”

    Date Reaching Number One: 9/13/08

    Regardless of your feelings about the merits of their earlier work, by the late 2000s, Staind had settled into a complacent facsimile of their past selves, and this was most apparent with “Believe”, the lead single from their sixth album, 2008’s The Illusion of Progress. They knew the formula for turning in bland, vaguely inspirational platitudes and took the safe route on this retread of their better earlier work. –David Sackllah


    348. P.O.D. – “Youth of the Nation”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 3/30/02

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and P.O.D.’s “Youth of a Nation”, a tale of teen suicide, parental abuse, and shootings told from heaven … yeah, no, it’s already mawkish and weird in hindsight. Mindful, but maudlin. Jesus, American Christian metal can sound so self-sanctimonious. –Blake Goble
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    347. Rag’n’bone Man – “Human”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 3/25/17

    How are you supposed to take someone seriously if they call themselves Rag’n’bone Man? Should have been a hard sell on that alone, but it turns out the song is also a Hozier and Everlast hybrid monstrosity. –Philip Cosores
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    346. Nickelback – “How You Remind Me”

    Date Reaching Number One: 9/22/01

    When a song’s so bad it becomes a punchline, you know that band has a giant hit on their hands. At this point, making fun of Nickelback is like kicking someone who’s already being kicked while they’re down. But what do they care? Thanks to the thundering guitar, Chad Kroeger’s growl, and presumably the bottom of every bottle, “How You Remind Me” was the most-played song of 2002 and Billboard’s number one rock song of the decade. Ugh. —Allison Shoemaker


    345. 10 Years – “Wasteland”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 2/25/06

    Ah, the years where overly dramatic post-grunge ballads were king. “Wasteland” was a prime example of the overwrought singles that defined the era, and 10 Years were relegated to history as a one-hit wonder that quickly faded away. Their number one position felt like a fluke, an example of a bland alt-rock power ballad storming the charts because it was too inoffensive to be stopped. –David Sackllah


    344. Three Days Grace – “Pain”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 3/3/07

    The group’s third single to top the alternative charts was one of the biggest boosts for self-hatred and sadism since the heyday of Nine Inch Nails. While some of their earlier singles had brighter moments of distilling anger in its purest form into a four-minute single, “Pain” was more an obnoxious earworm that was inescapable throughout the year the group’s second album, One-X, was released. The fact it was the band’s last single to top the charts was surely no coincidence. –David Sackllah
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    343. Linkin Park – “Breaking the Habit”

    Date Reaching Number One: 8/28/04

    The great innovation of Linkin Park was the way they combined two popular but often violent genres — hip-hop and metal — with lyrics approved by everyone’s mother. “I don’t know what’s worth fighting for/ Or why I have to scream,” Chester Bennington sings, so vague that it’s almost a parody of teenage rebellion. And yet the turntable scratches add an urgency to the song and set Linkin Park apart from other bands going for a similar sound. Besides, someone has to speak for the kids whose moms take them to Hot Topic. –Wren Graves


    342. Crazy Town – “Butterfly”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 2/17/01

    The irony of Crazy Town is that their smash hit, “Butterfly”, is the song that simultaneously launched their career and ended it. Crazy Town themselves resented the success of their biggest (and only) charting single, a bubblegum number masquerading as rap rock. The band’s feelings of alienation as a result of the song’s popularity put them in good company with anyone who ever stepped foot on a gymnasium floor for a school dance in the early aughts. –Zack Ruskin


    341. Creed – “Higher”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 10/16/99

    What kind of deal with the devil allowed Creed to make this garbage a hit? It’s a totally sub-par power ballad drenched in sterilized, post-grunge sound, topped off with trite lyrics and Scott Stapp’s lousy Eddie Vedder impression. This piece of shit won a Grammy, for fuck’s sake. —Allison Shoemaker
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    340. Seether – “Rise Above This”

    Date Reaching Number One: 5/3/08

    Whatever angsty post-grunge the group had supplied in their earlier work was eradicated for this single, a more pop-focused attempt at writing vaguely inspirational lyrics about overcoming obstacles. A transparent attempt to crossover to the pop charts, the song was devoid of personality and truly represented one of the lower points of alt-rock chart history. –David Sackllah


    339. Shinedown – “Second Chance”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 2/14/09

    If many popular alt-rock groups of the 2000s represented America’s heartland, Shinedown carried the torch of the South. Coming from Jacksonville, Florida, one of the group’s early hits was a faithful cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man”, and the rest of their music followed suit by fitting in that mold. “Second Chance”, a cookie-cutter ballad about leaving home and overcoming adversity, was their only song to hit the top of the charts, another example that many bands who hit the top of the charts during this time did so with their most bland cuts as opposed to songs that showed any semblance of originality or personality. –David Sackllah
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    338. Capital Cities – “Safe and Sound”

    Date Reaching Number One: 6/15/13

    “Safe and Sound” topped the charts for just one week, a fitting reign for a song that virtually screams, “Oh, hey, I guess the VMAs are back from commercial.” It may also be the loosest interpretation of “alternative” on this entire list. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    337. Chad Kroeger featuring Josey Scott – “Hero”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 6/8/02

    The majority of June 2002 belonged to “Hero”, a three-week champion that saw the frontmen of Nickelback and Saliva joining forces for an especially over-the-top slice of arena rock cheese in celebration of Spider-Man’s release, despite the film’s “watch as they all fly away” chorus not making much sense in context of a superhero who doesn’t actually fly. But who’s counting? –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    336. Three Days Grace – “Animal I Have Become”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 9/9/06

    The alternative charts were often as much a referendum of a band’s prior success as an evaluation of how popular a certain song was. The first single from Three Days Grace’s second album was a natural extension of the band’s sound, upping the tempo and focusing more on self-frustration rather than pure rage, but its quick ascent on the charts was caused more from the anticipation after the huge success of their first, self-titled record. –David Sackllah


    335. David J – “I’ll Be Your Chauffeur”

    Date Reaching Number One: 8/18/90

    As a bassist for both Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, David J has inarguably left a mark on alternative music. For that reason, it’s best to forget the skid marks left when “I’ll Be Your Chauffeur” inexplicably screeched into the chart’s top parking spot in 1990. The extended metaphor of a chauffeur being the man who will make everything alright (he’s “filling that tank with both gas and dreams,” after all) not only evokes cringes but sheer boredom. Couldn’t J have been our pilot, tax professional, or server for the evening instead? Any of those seems preferable. How exactly did this song end up at number one? I can only surmise that chauffeurs secretly run the music industry while we stare at the back of their heads. –Matt Melis


    334. Saliva – “Always”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 2/1/03

    There are a few respects in which “Always” is completely of its early aughts radio rock era: the generic, “hard-charging” production, Josey Scott’s officiously earnest delivery, and the song’s lyrical journey through a broken relationship that ends in a fit of grisly domestic violence. Especially that last one. There was a lot of that during the time. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    333. The Sisters of Mercy – “More”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 12/15/90

    Sisters of Mercy never really saw their full potential, ceasing to make new music following a dispute with their label after their third record. As a result, the precious few singles they did release have a smaller sample size with which to be compared. In this context, “More” is not one of their best singles. It’s also just not very good, in any context. –Pay Levy


    332. Linkin Park – “Burn It Down”

    Date Reaching Number One: 8/4/12

    There’s almost something to like about 50% of this relatively recent Linkin Park hit, with Chester Bennington’s choruses finding a playful, marching cadence. But when Mike Shinoda chimes in with particularly unfortune raps, it serves as a stark reminder that rap-rock still walks among us. Frightening. –Philip Cosores


    331. The Dirty Heads featuring Rome Ramirez – “Lay Me Down”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 5/15/10

    Somewhere above, Bradley James Nowell is having an Oppenheimer moment. –Michael Roffman


    330. Kongos – “Come with Me Now”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 4/12/14

    With an odd blend of accordion, a walloping drumbeat, and woefully generic lyrics, KONGOS’ “Come with Me Now” is the South African band’s biggest, platinum-certified hit. Rocking a cheesy, anthemic chorus, the track was perfect fodder for sports teams’ hype videos throughout the world. –Killian Young


    329. Judah and the Lion – “Take It All Back”

    Date Reaching Number One: 1/7/17

    There’s a lot to hate about this song. There’s the way it begins with its chorus, as if designed for an audience without the attention span to make it through the first verse without it. There’s the arrangement, which raises the question, when did danceable banjo tunes became a smart business strategy? But by far the worst are the hacky moments where singer Judah Akers mentions the banjo or the mandolin and follows with a little solo from that instrument. It’s the kind of idea you wish you could be there for the moment they came up with it, just so you could tell them that it’s literally the least cool move in rock and roll history. –Philip Cosores
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    328. 3 Doors Down – “Kryptonite”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 5/20/00

    In my reimagined cut of Richard Donner’s Superman (1978), Lex Luthor presents Superman with two lead trunks. One contains a glowing chunk of Kryptonite on a chain and the other a CD player and a copy of 3 Doors Down’s chart-topping superhero single. “What’s the difference?” the Man of Steel asks, his powers already draining from his body. “Well, the first Kryptonite will kill you,” chuckles the evil genius. “And the second ‘Kryptonite’ will make you wish you’d picked the first.” –Matt Melis 


    327. Jet – “Cold Hard Bitch”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 5/8/04

    Even back in 2003, the woman-done-me-wrong song was a tough sell, petty in content and already done better by a countless number of classic rock bands. In Jet’s case, fellow Aussies AC/DC had beaten them to the punch several times over. And while Cameron Muncey knows his way around the fret board, he’s no Angus Young. Few guitarists are. –Dan Caffrey


    326. Three Days Grace – “Just Like You”

    Date Reaching Number One: 8/7/04

    While they never reached the same heights of popularity as contemporaries like Staind or Seether, Three Days Grace largely defined the landscape of alt-rock radio from 2004-2007 with their brand of broad, angst-ridden rock. Their debut record was a runaway hit, and while “Just Like You” may have been the only track from it to hit number one (as opposed to the blunter, superior “I Hate Everything About You”), almost every single from it was ubiquitous at the time. While the band’s formulaic trick of big power chords would grow stale quickly, it’s easy to see how their music resonated with fans by tapping into raw frustration. –David Sackllah


    325. The Neighbourhood – “Sweater Weather”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 6/1/13

    There are so many warning signs about how terrible The Neighbourhood is: the unneccesary “u” in their name, their obsession with only being displayed in black and white, frontman Jesse Rutherford’s neck tattoo of the upside down pyramid from the dollar bill. If you conributed to the 111 million streams of the drudge that is “Sweater Weather”, you probably got what you deserved. –Philip Cosores


    324. Velvet Revolver – “Slither”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 7/3/04

    The late Scott Weiland’s star-studded collaboration with the leftover soul of Guns N’ Roses was uninspiring to say the least. (“Fall to Pieces” is still the most laugh-worthy rock ballad in the last 20 years.) Having said that, “Slither” was by far the most tolerable slice of magic in the group’s soupy mediocrity, mostly due to its rallying chorus and STP-throwback refrain. But, there’s so much going on, as if they’re all trying their damndest to prove they’re all still worthy, making this song, and the band itself, feel more or less like a relic. –Michael Roffman
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    323. The Railway Children – “Every Beat of the Heart”

    Date Reaching Number One: 9/8/90

    The real mystery may be how this song got filed under “alternative” in the first place. If The Railway Children’s saccharine chart-topper was indeed alternative at the time, then the mainstream charts must’ve been a surefire sugar coma waiting to happen. Ultimately, “Every Beat of the Heart” registers more like a palpitation than a steady pumping and may leave modern listeners secretly rooting for cardiac arrest. –Matt Melis


    322. Big Data featuring Joywave – “Dangerous”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 8/16/14

    If you could add the ingredients for a song destined for innocuous success on the charts, and maybe an iPhone commercial, “Dangerous” would be a good source to mine. Hell, even the names of the two projects involved, Big Data and Joywave, sound like the reminants of a hundred other band names. –Philip Cosores


    321. Fitz and the Tantrums – “The Walker”

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    Date Reaching Number One: 5/3/14

    When Fitz and the Tantrums’ “The Walker” came out in 2013, I worked at a AAA radio station. On a good day, we played the song every two hours. Each time, I pulled up our website to see who wrote this neo soul, wannabe pop, elliptical motivator of a song. “Oh, them.” It’s the song of every car commercial, every phone plan, every Sprite bottle — AKA every ad willing to pay money so this song soundtracks way too large a percentage of your life. If you want to do a non-annoying whistle, at least take notes from Peter Bjorn and John. —Nina Corcoran


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