Few surprises, some irony at the top of SiriusXM’s Top 1000 Alternative Songs Countdown; plus five tips for listening…

(June 13, 2020). “Four decades of outcasts, misfits and weirdos.”

That’s how SiriusXM is marketing its recurring Top 1000 genre-specific countdown airing in an encore presentation through June 17 on channel 177 – the Top 1000 Alternative Songs, which covers 40 years of countercultural music spanning new wave, indie, punk, post-punk, garage rock, indie, grunge, electronic, emo and any other edgy sounding rock sub-genre you could throw into this potpourri of the musical non-mainstream.

Except much of the music has been rock’s mainstream for more than 30 years, with many of the artists representing not only rock’s best but most commercially successful music since the late-1980s when platinum-selling groups like R.E.M. and U2 broke from being mid-chart dwellers to becoming the biggest bands on the planet. 

It’s no surprise then that both U2 and R.E.M. are heavily represented here, as are many other big-name bands and solo acts, including Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Cure, Green Day, the Clash, Alanis Morissette, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Coldplay, Twenty One Pilots and Linkin Park.

These acts and more represent modern rock’s evolution from the post-punk, college radio days of its underground beginnings to the guitar-driven, chord-heavy era that accompanied its massive commercial expansion.

This countdown, which first aired in April,  is fun to listen to, and like the R&B version that preceded it last week, is a welcome diversion from the issues plaguing the country these days – systemic racism and the Covid pandemic being principle among them.

(Spoiler alert: the blog lists the top 111 songs from the countdown at the bottom of this article, along with some other results in the five tips below.  Stop reading after the five tips if you haven’t already seen the various lists floating around the Internet or want to be surprised during this week’s airing, which you can hear by clicking here)

Here are five tips for listening to this countdown, followed by that listing of the top 111 songs on SiriusXM’s list. 

  1. Be ready to take notes, there are some definite gems in here.  All those classic songs you’ve heard for years but never knew the titles to because the artists rarely said them in the lyrics are included here, from “Seven Nation Army” (White Stripes), “Been Caught Stealing” (Jane’s Addiction), “Just Like Heaven” (The Cure), “Plush” (Soundgarden), “Song 2” (Blur), and many others.  You’ll want to create your own playlist of these songs when the countdown is done.  
  2. Get ready for a testosterone-heavy parade through music’s least diverse genre.  The ladies are few and far between here (and so are the ballads), with long stretches of white male-dominated angst filling hours and days of listening.  This is not an indictment of the countdown, which is simply reflecting the genre’s primary demographic.  There aren’t many minority acts making alternative rock music (Lenny Kravitz is the only black artist in the entire Top 300).  But it does make one wonder why women, at least, haven’t been more successful in the genre, especially when considering the irony that the No. 1 song on Billboard’s first Alternative Rock Tracks chart in 1988 was fronted by a woman: Siouxsie & the Banshees’ “Peek-A-Boo” (No. 430 on the SiriusXM list).  Note there is only one song by a woman in the entire top 20 of SiriusXM’s list. 
  3. Don’t try to take it all in at once.  No one can (or should) listen to any countdown of 1000 songs in one sitting, but this one is uniquely daunting as many of the songs center on dark themes and heavy topics including suicide, depression, questioning one’s own existence or place in this world and other menacing social issues and dilemmas.  It’s not all emo-driven, but it’s enough to make you wanna run out and purchase a ticket to the nearest (or farthest) island resort, pitch an umbrella on the first beach you find, get out some Jimmy Buffett tunes, and just chill with a tequila.  
  4. Be ready for a few left-field entries on the list.  And the irony is that the misfits here are actually some of the mainstream’s biggest hits, like Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls” – a No. 1 pop and dance hit from 1986 that hardly feels like an alternative rock song.  I guess PSB could be considered alternative (without the rock) in the same way that an act like Duran Duran or Eurythmics are (both of those are also represented here), but they all feel out of place alongside some of the genre’s greatest songs by acts like The Verve, Radiohead and Weezer. 
  5. Be glad it’s limited to just four decades.  While alternative music and all of its various hybrids by different names certainly predate the 1980s (some historians take it as far back as The Velvet Underground in the 1960s), SiriusXM decided to limit song eligibility to the last four full decades. Indeed, the oldest album represented here may be by The Clash (London Calling), which was released in December 1979 in Europe but in January 1980 here in the U.S.  It clearly belongs to the ‘80s decade, the first of the four decades embraced by this countdown. As a result, the countdown feels more cohesive, unlike the R&B countdown which tried to please too many audiences with its list while covering six decades of music.  There are very recent entries on this list also, including this year’s Grammy darling Billie Eilish whose Record and Song of the year (for 2019) ranks at No. 93 on SiriusXM’s list, to go with several other songs from 2019. 

There are mistakes, including at least one duplicate entry (Erasure’s “Chains of Love” appears at No. 870 and again at No. 402).  But, as we learned with the other Top 1000 countdowns, quality control only goes so far when you’ve got multiple stations collaborating to put together a list of so many songs. It’s an enjoyable listen nonetheless, and it’ll certainly bring back some memories.  

And with that, here is the cream of the crop, the top 111 of SiriusXM’s Top 1000 Alternative Songs countdown. 

  1. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Nirvana
  2. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” – Joy Division
  3. “Seven Nation Army” – White Stripes
  4. “Under the Bridge” – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  5. “Pride (In The Name of Love)” – U2
  6. “Jeremy” – Pearl Jam
  7. “Just Like Heaven” – Cure
  8. “Creep” – Radiohead 
  9. “Yellow” – Coldplay
  10. “You Oughta Know” – Alanis Morisette
  11. “In The End” – Linkin Park
  12. “Losing My Religion” – R.E.M.
  13. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” – Simple Minds
  14. “Come As You Are” – Nirvana
  15. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” – Clash
  16. “Basket Case” – Green Day
  17. “Mr. Brightside” – Killers
  18. “Wonderwall” – Oasis
  19. “Blister in the Sun” – Violent Femmes
  20. “Everlong” – Foo Fighters 
  21. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – U2
  22. “1979” – Smashing Pumpkins 
  23. “How Soon Is Now?” – Smiths
  24. “Alive” – Pearl Jam
  25. “Ride” – Twenty One Pilots
  26. “It’s the End of The World As We Know It” – R.E.M.
  27. “Black Hole Sun” – Soundgarden
  28. “Pumped Up Kicks” – Foster the People
  29. “Closer” – Nine Inch Nails
  30. “Enjoy the Silence” – Depeche Mode
  31. “Lonely Boy” – Black Keys
  32. “Scar Tissue” – Red Hot Chili Peppers 
  33. “Feel Good, Inc.” – Gorillaz
  34. “Loser” – Beck
  35. “Radioactive” – Imagine Dragons
  36. “Clocks” – Coldplay 
  37. “Heart Shaped Box” – Nirvana 
  38. “Take On Me” – A-ha
  39. “Say It Ain’t So” – Weezer
  40. “With or Without You” – U2
  41. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” – Green Day
  42. “Blue Monday” – New Order
  43. “My Hero” – Foo Fighters
  44. “Uprising” – Muse
  45. “Jane Says” – Jane’s Addiction 
  46. “Sabotage” – Beastie Boys 
  47. “Don’t Speak” – No Doubt
  48. “Lithium” – Nirvana 
  49. “All the Small Things” – blink-182
  50. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” – U2
  51. “Feel It Still” – Portugal. The Man
  52. “Numb” – Linkin Park
  53. “Californication” – Red Hot Chili Peppers 
  54. “Last Nite” – Strokes
  55. “Even Flow” – Pearl Jam
  56. “Buddy Holly” – Weezer
  57. “Welcome to the Black Parade” – My Chemical Romance 
  58. “Head Like a Hole” – Radiohead 
  59. “Stressed Out” – Twenty One Pilots 
  60. “Friday I’m In Love” – Cure
  61. “Royals” – Lorde
  62. “Give It Away” – Red Hot Chili Peppers 
  63. “When You Were Young” – Killers
  64. “Lightning Crashes” – Live
  65. “Everybody Wants to Rule The World” – Tears for Fears
  66. “When I Come Around” – Green Day
  67. “One” – U2
  68. “Tighten Up” – Black Keys
  69. “Bittersweet Symphony” – The Verve
  70. “The Pretenders” – Foo Fighters 
  71. “The Middle” – Jimmy Eat World
  72. “Ho Hey” – Lumineers 
  73. “Zombie” – Cranberries 
  74. “First” – Cold War Kids
  75. “Everybody Hurts” – R.E.M.
  76. “Song 2″ – Blur
  77. “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” – Jet
  78. “What I Got” – Sublime
  79. “Do I Wanna Know?” – Arctic Monkeys
  80. “Just a Girl” – No Doubt
  81. “Interstate Love Song” – Stone Temple Pilots 
  82. “What I’ve Done” – Linkin Park
  83. “Better Man” – Pearl Jam 
  84. “Otherside” – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  85. “London Calling” – Clash
  86. “Float On” – Modest Mouse
  87. “My Own Worst Enemy” – Lit
  88. “Champagne Supernova” – Oasis
  89. “Use Somebody” – Kings of Leon 
  90. “Tonight Tonight” – Smashing Pumpkins 
  91. “Semi-Charmed Life” – Third Eye Blind
  92. “Been Caught Stealing” – Jane’s Addiction
  93. “Bad Guy” – Billie Eilish
  94. “Sex and Candy” – Marcy Playground
  95. “Rock the Casbah” – Clash
  96. “Take Me Out” – Franz Ferdinand 
  97. “Island In the Sun” – Weezer
  98. “Madness” – Muse
  99. “Just Can’t Get Enough” – Depeche Mode
  100. “All Apologies” – Nirvana
  101. “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” – Fall Out Boy
  102. “Karma Police” – Radiohead 
  103. “New Year’s Day” – U2
  104. “Demons” – Imagine Dragons 
  105. “No Rain” – Blind Melon
  106. “Once in a Lifetime” – Talking Heads
  107. “Daughter” – Pearl Jam
  108. “Fell In Love With A Girl” – White Stripes
  109. “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” – Green Day
  110. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” – R.E.M.
  111. “I Will Wait” – Mumford and Sons

So what do you think?  Did SiriusXM come close?  Were you as unsurprised about “Smells Like Teen Spirit” ranking at No. 1 as I was?  What other observations did you make?

Feel free to leave a comment here or on the blog’s social media feeds.

Here’s a link to the complete list: https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.reddit.com/r/siriusxm/comments/gc6prh/top_1000_alternative_songs/

DJRob 

DJRob is an African-American freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus I lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.

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