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One of Billboard‘s biggest recent chart records was set last week, when Katy Perry marked 52 consecutive weeks in the top 10 of the Hot 100. She became the first artist to stay there for the entire year thanks to four singles from her sophomore album Teenage Dream, all of which peaked at No. 1. That’s a feat of serious magnitude, but not necessarily longevity: lots of successful albums keep spinning off hits for a full year, and time will tell if Teenage Dream‘s fifth single will keep her hot streak going much longer. Meanwhile, on one of the trade publication’s genre-specific charts, there’s a smaller but also impressive accomplishment being achieved.
The Jacksonville, Florida rock band Shinedown released their third album, The Sound of Madness, in June 2008. When its lead single, “Devour,” made its first chart appearance–in the issue of Billboard dated May 31st, 2008–George W. Bush was still president, Michael Jackson was still alive, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had just tarnished your childhood memories. Three years later, that album’s sixth single, the ridiculously titled “Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom)” is currently at No. 10 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. That string of hits would be a rare accomplishment at any point in chart history, but at a time when popular music seems to be moving faster than ever, and labels only mount prolonged singles campaigns for the very biggest superstars, it’s virtually unheard of.
At least one Shinedown track has been on at least one of Billboard‘s charts for all but about 11 of the 157 weeks since “Devour”‘s debut. Five topped the Mainstream Rock chart, while “If You Only Knew” settled for No. 2. The album itself has logged 126 non-consecutive weeks on the Billboard 200. That’s probably pretty amazing to learn if you have no clue or only a vague idea of who Shinedown are, which is understandable; it’s now been about a decade since any rock band has risen to fame that could be reasonably described as a household name. Linkin Park, Nickelback and the White Stripes have been the only 21st-century acts with name recognition on the level of ’90s holdovers like the Foo Fighters and Green Day. Meanwhile, rock radio playlists are stocked with bands like Shinedown and Three Days Grace, who are treated like superstars on those stations and pretty much nowhere else.
The only other album I’ve been able to find that’s kept its singles on Billboard consistently for three years straight is Shania Twain’s Come On Over, which charted 12 of its 16 tracks on the country chart from November 1997 to November 2000. Along the way, several of those songs became massive crossover pop hits; the album sold 40 million copies worldwide, becoming one of the biggest albums of the ’90s and the biggest country album of all time. By comparison, Shinedown’s The Sound of Madness has gone platinum exactly once, and only one of its singles, “Second Chance,” cracked the Hot 100’s top 40. But in a couple weeks, The Sound of Madness will have beaten Come On Over‘s longevity record, since “Diamond Eyes” is too high on the rock charts to drop off anytime soon.
“Second Chance” deserves a lot of the credit for The Sound of Madness‘s success–the album’s second single, it went double platinum in 2009 after peaking at No. 7 on the Hot 100. It was a catchy little power ballad with an ace pre-chorus, and I was one of the three critics who voted for it in that year’s Pazz & Jop poll. Shinedown always struck me as an especially anonymous post-grunge radio band, distinguished only by the fact that lead singer Brent Smith took more cues from Chris Cornell than his Eddie Vedder and Layne Staley-aping contemporaries. But they won me over a little bit with that song and the follow-up single, The Sound of Madness‘s hilariously over-the-top title track.
And then, the singles just kept coming. “If You Only Knew” built on the crossover success of “Second Chance” with more adult-contemporary airplay, while “The Crow & The Butterfly” catered to rock radio. The strategy of alternating singles that appeal to different formats–one to play to your base, one for pop-crossover purposes–was pioneered by hip-hop’s tradition of releasing “street singles” and “radio singles.” But now it’s common practice for anyone who wants to get played on both their genre’s radio formats and pop stations. Among rock bands, only Nickelback has really mastered that approach, putting out a sleazy rock anthem on the heels of every sappy power ballad. That’s how their 2005 blockbuster All The Right Reasons spun off seven hit singles that stayed on the charts for almost 27 months, one of the longest singles campaigns for a rock album prior to Shinedown’s recent triumph.
By the time “The Crow & The Butterfly” had finished its run, Shinedown had already trumped Nickelback’s run, but Atlantic Records decided to keep on going, issuing a deluxe edition of The Sound of Madness last fall. “Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom)” was initially released last summer on the soundtrack to the action flick The Expendables, but it wasn’t until December that the song was tacked onto the reissue of the album and officially released as a radio single.
That “Diamond Eyes” wasn’t on the original 2008 release of The Sound of Madness puts a little asterisk next to these impressive stats. But these days, reissues keep albums’ momentum going. Even if you count Lady Gaga’s The Fame and The Fame Monster as one album–the latter was released both on its own and as a deluxe edition of the former–Gaga’s Fame hit parade lasted 25 months, which was lengthy but hardly record-breaking.
Shinedown’s run can’t help but highlight how relatively unknown they are to anyone who doesn’t listen to an “active rock” station regularly, and how differently the little niche they’ve dominated operates from the rest of popular music. The Sound of Madness was released the same month as Lil Wayne’s blockbuster Tha Carter III, which spawned four big hit singles, and several other charting songs. But they all came in a blitz of overlapping chart runs, and in under six months, Carter III‘s singles had dropped off all Billboard‘s charts. Since then, of course, even a year in prison hasn’t stopped Lil Wayne’s ubiquity; he’s released two more albums and is prepping a third, and guested on countless hits by other artists. By comparison, when Brent Smith recently guested on Apocalyptica’s “Not Strong Enough,” Shinedown’s label actually prevented it from being released as a single that would compete with “Diamond Eyes” for airplay. So Apocalyptica re-recorded the song with Hoobastank’s Doug Robb and released that version to U.S. radio (which is what most stations are playing, despite Smith being credited on the Billboard entry).
Regardless of genre, marathon singles campaigns have become more common than they were before the ’90s, when artists started spacing out albums to every two or three years instead of an annual grind. Sure, an album like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon could stay on the Billboard 200 for years and years, but that was a result of word of mouth, touring and reccurent AOR radio play, not a sustained effort by the band’s label to keep releasing singles. Occasionally, songs from older albums do become late-breaking surprise hits, but not without a long absence from the charts in between. Even some of the albums most famous for spinning off hit after hit–Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Def Leppard’s Hysteria–came and went on the singles charts in under two years.
In the last couple of decades, however, things like videos and remixes have enabled artists to keep generating excitement about the fifth single from an album their hardcore fans all already own. After Guns ‘N’ Roses dropped the two Use Your Illusion albums in the summer of 1991, they released a staggering eight charting singles, with a few videos for non-charting songs all over MTV as well. The campaign lasted until early 1994, when the last single “Estranged” peaked on the rock charts.
In the decade between Shania Twain’s three-year run and Shinedown’s, only a handful have gone well beyond the two year mark. Maroon 5’s 2002 sleeper hit Songs About Jane lasted on the charts well into 2005, and Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway kept five singles on the charts for a duration of almost 28 months. Incubus’s 2006 album Light Grenades finally dropped off rock radio 31 months after its release, but there was a year of no chart action between its third single “Oil And Water” and the late-breaking surge of popularity for the fourth single, “Love Hurts.” In fact, the closest any album has come to Shinedown’s run in recent memory was the self-titled debut by Daughtry, which stayed on the singles charts for almost 34 months from late 2006 to late 2009. And that band, of course, is fronted by former American Idol finalist Chris Daughtry, a Shinedown fan who sang the band’s song “I Dare You” during one of his last weeks on Idol.