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

on March 28, 2016, 1:30pm
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200. Weezer – “Pork and Beans”

Date Reaching Number One: 5/17/08

One of the better songs on Weezer (The Red Album), “Pork and Beans” only becomes slightly annoying when you consider what came after it. That would be Raditude, of course, an album that proved Rivers Cuomo’s dabbling in dorky hip-hop was becoming much more than a novelty. And that’s coming from a Raditude apologist. –Dan Caffrey


199. U2 – “Vertigo”

Date Reaching Number One: 11/6/04

There’s a fine line between poetry and nonsense, and Bono has spent his career wobbling back and worth across that line like a drunk. “Vertigo” is a hodge-podge of anti-capitalism, surreal imagery, drunken romance, the word “Yeah!” repeated several times, and lessons from the first week of elementary Spanish. Nonsense, in other words, and yet Edge’s guitar riff is so eloquent that the point is made anyway. –Wren Graves


198. Primitive Radio Gods – “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand”

Date Reaching Number One: 7/27/96

The first single from I-Rails singer Chris O’Connor’s solo project, Primitive Radio Gods, came out of nowhere to claim the top position on the alternative chart in the summer of 1996 thanks to a spot on The Cable Guy soundtrack and the mid-‘90s zeitgeist’s exceeding patience for pseudo-soulful self-indulgence. “Standing” also made it to #10 on the Hot 100 (and fell just short of #1 in Canada). –Sarah Kurchak

197. Cage the Elephant – “In One Ear”

Date Reaching Number One: 8/7/10

“I’m a phony in disguise trying to make the radio,” sings Cage the Elephant frontman Matthew Shultz on “In One Ear”, and it is the rare occasion where it actually seems true. Unlike their other hits, the song comes across as the big, dumb rock song that populates much of the radio, a task Cage the Elephant mostly rise above. At that, it’s not terrible, but also not indicative of the dynamics that they are capable of. –Philip Cosores


196. Soul Asylum – “Somebody to Shove”

Date Reaching Number One: 12/5/92

“Somebody to Shove” was the song that suggested Soul Asylum would stick around the ’90s a little longer than naysayers thought. The Minneapolis four-piece did what any band craving radio coverage would do: pander to broken-hearted listeners. “I’m waiting by the phone,” frontman Dave Pirner yelps. “Waiting for you to call me up and tell me I’m not alone.” Nailed it. –Nina Corcoran


195. System of a Down – “Hypnotize”

Date Reaching Number One: 1/21/06

It’s hard to imagine a song about Tienanmen Square making it big in 2005, but that was just the case with System of a Down’s oddball “Hypnotize”. While the track was also certified gold, Hypnotize (the album) was the more successful hit overall, debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200. –Killian Young


194. Fun featuring Janelle Monáe – “We Are Young”

Date Reaching Number One: 4/21/12

The vapid, endlessly catchy “We Are Young” was undoubtedly most of the world’s introduction to fun. Led by singer Nate Ruess’ soaring vocals, the song – which would eventually win a Grammy for Song of the Year – was an inescapable fact of life following its massive commercial success, as it was certified five-times platinum. –Killian Young


193. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – “The Impression That I Get”

Date Reaching Number One: 6/28/97

In the late ’90s, alt rock dusted off its zoot suit and went the bygone way of hep cats and daddy-o’s — and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones helped pave the way with their irresistibly fun “The Impression That I Get”. Once the ska-core band made it kosher, even cool, to put horns on the radio again, the full-on swing revival ensued … and petered out about three days later. Knock on wood. –Matt Melis


192. Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Snow (Hey Oh)”

Date Reaching Number One: 1/27/07

Latterday Red Hot Chili Peppers rarely came close to ’90s RHCP in terms of quality, and most of their big singles throughout the new millennium were retreads of earlier hits. “Snow” was the 2006 version of “Californication” or “Scar Tissue”, a passive, stately ballad built around the repetition of one of John Frusciante’s more memorable riffs. One of the band’s more successful singles of the decade, its crowd-pleasing approach made it destined to top the charts. –David Sackllah

191. Pearl Jam – “World Wide Suicide”

Date Reaching Number One: 4/1/06

Nobody can dispute that Pearl Jam are kings of the road. However, the merit of their studio output post-Yield remains up for debate. It’s easy then to see why “World Wide Suicide” marched to the top of the charts in the mid-aughts. A reaction to the ongoing disaster in Iraq and somewhat of a throwback to the rawer sound of the band’s youth, Eddie Vedder and co. tapped into an intensity not seen from them in years. Some would argue not seen since then either — at least not on an album. –Matt Melis


190. Alice in Chains – “Check My Brain”

Date Reaching Number One: 10/3/09

A lot of nerves surrounded the release of Black Gives Way to Blue, Alice in Chains’ comeback album after 14 years of studio dormancy and their first record with William DuVall replacing the late Layne Staley as frontman. While “Check My Brain” may actually be the least interesting song on the entire record, hard rock fans no doubt were grateful to hear that familiar, fuzzy sludge once again paired with those inimitable Alice harmonies. –Matt Melis


189. U2 – “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”

Date Reaching Number One: 6/24/95

When Warner Brothers wants a bigger Batman, and Joel Schumacher’s putting codpieces and rubber nipples on the dark knight, what better way to drum up some good faith and soothe audience bafflement than with a sturdy U2 song? “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” is probably best remembered for being attached to a Bat-movie, but it’s dorky, catchy, and vampish Pop-era stuff. –Blake Goble


188. Death Cab for Cutie – “You Are a Tourist”

Date Reaching Number One: 7/9/11

Death Cab for Cutie’s only career number one single sadly feels like their first alt radio release to pointedly try for success. While early tracks like “Soul Meets Body” and “I Will Follow You into the Dark” found lasting success on the dials, they didn’t pander like this one. “You’re a Tourist” is all one note, its hook an obvious guitar lick and verse that never really finds a chorus, still tasteful and engaging without being remotely special. As such, its reign was hardly dominant, hitting number one for a single week in the summer of 2011. –Philip Cosores


187. Audioslave – “Like a Stone”

Date Reaching Number One: 5/17/03

Kind of surprising that Soundgarden never had a number one hit (though “Black Hole Sun” peaked at number two in 1994 and was the most played song on radio for that whole year). Still, Chris Cornell checks in a couple time with his ex-Rage Against the Machine mash-up band Audioslave (Rage also never had a number one). “Like a Stone” doesn’t have the urgency of the members’ past bands, but Cornell’s strong vocal performance and a killer Tom Morello guitar solo make this a worthwhile entry into the alt-rock canon. –Philip Cosores

186. Better Than Ezra – “Good”

Date Reaching Number One: 4/25/95

The mildly quirky debut single from New Orleans alt pop rockers Better Than Ezra, with its nasal hiccup of a chorus that walked the line between catchy and annoying with all of the grace of a giddy drunk, reigned over the modern rock chart for five weeks in 1995 and peaked at 30 on the Top 100. The title only slightly oversold the quality of the song. –Sarah Kurchak


185. Thirty Seconds to Mars – “Kings and Queens”

Date Reaching Number One: 1/30/10

Cult favorites Thirty Seconds to Mars have recently angled for grand stadium rock, and “Kings and Queens” hit the mark for a triumphant anthem. For fans, it was the first taste of This Is War, showcasing singer Jared Leto’s powerhouse vocals and a nuanced sound that departed from the more hard-edged A Beautiful Lie. The track also peaked at #4 on the Rock chart. –Killian Young


184. Dishwalla – “Counting Blue Cars”

Date Reaching Number One: 6/29/96

This song is deep, man. God as a woman, as perceived through the innocence of a child? California band Dishwalla hit it out of the park with this alt-radio staple; it stayed on the alternative chart for 26 weeks in 1996, topping out at number one, and ultimately reached 15 on the Hot 100. –Katherine Flynn


183. Morrissey – “Tomorrow”

Date Reaching Number One: 8/15/92

On the final song on Your Arsenal, his finest solo album to that point, Morrissey insists he’s human and needs to be loved, just like everybody else does. It’s a point he’d made before and that he’s returned to many times since, though never with the glam-a-billy groove and super-powered shimmer of this, his first alternative #1. It’s either a light pop song disguised as a dark night of the soul or the other way around. Only Moz knows for sure. –Kenneth Partridge


182. XTC – “The Mayor of Simpleton”

Date Reaching Number One: 4/1/89

By the time “The Mayor of Simpleton” got elected to the top of the alternative charts in 1989, Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, and the rest of XTC had long since retired from touring and settled into the band’s middle age as purely a recording act. But while their most groundbreaking work may have already been behind them, any five seconds of this track — lyrically, an update on Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” — will make it obvious, even to a simpleton, that this brilliant British band was far from past it. –Matt Melis


181. Incubus – “Anna Molly”

Date Reaching Number One: 12/23/06

Incubus may have been a hard-rock group on paper, but their most memorable hit came in ballad form on “Drive”. For this bag of wordplay that led off 2006’s Light Grenades, the band found success with a slightly heavier sound that was more akin to their album material. Full of indiscriminate power chords and a catchy chorus, the song soared in an era where a feature in Guitar Hero could help a song as much as radio play. –David Sackllah


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