When Linkin Park's "Minutes to Midnight" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts this week with sales of 623,000 -- the biggest first-week total of the year -- the Agoura Hills, Calif., sextet staked a claim as the most popular rock band in America. But could you pick any of the band's members out of a lineup? Even with three No. 1 albums and countless sold-out concerts to their credit, Linkin Park remain conspicuously low profile. So in the event you encounter a sullen teen in a "Hybrid Theory" T-shirt at a barbecue this weekend and want to make a little conversation, here are 10 things you should know about the biggest American band of the new millennium.
1. After moving through a couple of different lineups and names, the current incarnation of Linkin Park came together in 1999, when Zomba Records artist and repertoire V.P. Jeff Blue put singer Chester Bennington in touch with the rest of the band (Mike Shinoda, vocals; Brad Delson, guitar; Joe Hahn, turntables; Rob Bourdon, drummer; Dave "Phoenix" Farrell, bass). The name Linkin Park is in honor of Santa Monica's Lincoln Park, which has since been renamed Christine Emerson Reed Park. The band has made no indication of following suit.
2. Bennington, the band's lead singer and focal point, went through a terribly grim youth. Molested at an early age, the Phoenix native fell into a haze of drugs by the time he hit his teens. "I was on, like, 11 hits of acid a day," he told Blender magazine. "I dropped so much acid I'm surprised I can still speak! I'd smoke a bunch of crack, do a bit of meth and just sit there and freak out. Then I'd smoke opium to come down."
3. Linkin Park are really, really big. Their debut, "Hybrid Theory," was the top-selling album of 2001 and is certified diamond, indicating sales of more than 10 million. Worldwide, the band has sold more than 40 million albums.
4. Commercial success hasn't translated into critical kudos though. The critical average of the band's albums listed on the Metacritic index is a paltry 59.3 percent.
5. "Collision Course" from 2004 was the first-ever mash-up album released by a mainstream success. Another Billboard No. 1, the album featured rap superstar Jay-Z rhyming over previously recorded Linkin Park material. For a taste, check out their collaboration on "Numb/Encore."
6. One of the weirdest Grammy moments in recent memory came courtesy of the band when Linkin Park repeated their collaboration with Jay-Z at the 2006 award show telecast -- and were joined by Paul McCartney. Seriously.
7. In 2005, Linkin Park threatened to cut ties with Warner Music Group over concerns about the company's ability to properly market their albums, even going so far as to file a lawsuit in hopes of breaking their contract. A new $15 million record advance and a royalty increase quelled the discontent.
8. Mike Shinoda, the band's rapper and sonic architect, recently celebrated his 30th birthday at a neighborhood LaserQuest, shooting infrared beams at 10-year-old adversaries. "It was awesome," he said. "They kicked our asses."
9. The new album's title is a reference to the symbolic Doomsday Clock maintained by the Bulletin for Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago. Established in 1947, the closest the clock has been to midnight (catastrophic destruction) was from 1953 to 1960, when it stood only two minutes away. Citing "the deteriorating state of global affairs," the board of directors for the Bulletin advanced the clock by two minutes on Jan. 17, 2007. It currently stands at five minutes to midnight.
10. You might actually like some of their music. Especially on the new album, tracks like "Shadow of the Day" and "Valentine's Day" have an affecting latter-day U2 big-rock sheen, showing that Linkin Park have moved on from the turgid woe-is-me-isms of their earlier albums.
-- David Marchese