Alternative Songs (also called Alternative and formerly known as Modern Rock Tracks and Hot Modern Rock Tracks) is a music chart in the United States that has appeared in Billboard magazine since September 10, 1988. It lists the 40 most-played songs on alternative and modern rock radio stations. The chart was introduced as a companion to the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and its creation was prompted by the explosion of alternative music on American radio in the late 1980s. During the first several years of the chart, it regularly featured music that did not receive commercial radio airplay anywhere but on a few modern rock and college rock radio stations. This included many electronic and post-punk artists. Gradually, as alternative rock became more "mainstream" (particularly spearheaded by the grunge explosion in the early 1990s), the Alternative Songs and Mainstream Rock Songs charts began featuring more of the same songs. However, the formats would differentiate themselves by the late 2000s. Today, the Alternative Songs chart favors more indie rock, indie pop, and synth-pop bands while the Mainstream Rock Songs chart favors more hard rock and heavy metal music.
The chart is based solely on radio airplay. As of 2012, approximately 80 radio stations are electronically monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems. Songs are ranked by a calculation of the total number of spins per week with its "audience impression", which is based upon exact times of airplay and each station's Arbitron listener data. The chart had 30 positions when it was introduced in September 1988, and was expanded to 40 positions on September 10, 1994.
The chart was renamed Alternative Songs beginning with the June 20, 2009 issue after Billboard fully absorbed Radio & Records, whose similar chart was called "Alternative" instead of "Modern Rock".
The first number-one song on the Modern Rock Tracks chart was "Peek-a-Boo" by Siouxsie and the Banshees. The current number-one song, for the issue dated June 9, 2018 is "Thought Contagion" by Muse. The Red Hot Chili Peppers hold the record for most number-one songs at thirteen, a record they have held since 2016.
The first Alternative Songs chart appeared in the September 10, 1988 edition of Billboard magazine, then known as "Modern Rock Tracks". The first song to reach the chart's No. 1 position was Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Peek-a-Boo", which topped the charts for two weeks. In the chart's early years, the chart was closely associated with college rock, new wave, post-punk and electronic genres with a large presence of British, Irish and Australian artists, as only 24 of the chart's first 82 number-one hits were by American acts. Bands including Depeche Mode, Pixies, The Cure, New Order and R.E.M. were amongst the most popular acts on Alternative radio in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Many rock artists do not release commercial singles in the United States. Several popular songs which were not released as commercial singles did not qualify for the Hot 100 before December 1998, but performed very well on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.
In 1991, with the release of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana (which reached No. 1 on November 23, 1991), grunge became a new form of alternative rock to chart. However, grunge did not have a dominating presence on the chart in its heyday; over time, grunge would grow into popularity as a representation of alternative rock in the mainstream. Iconic grunge songs fared decently on the Alternative Songs chart but better on the Mainstream Rock Songs. For example, "Black" by Pearl Jam peaked only at No. 20 on the former but No. 3 on the latter. This was because the college rock and new wave of the 1980s remained the dominant styles of the format, while grunge became an alternative rock style that was popular on the Mainstream Rock format.
In the mid-1990s, alternative rock songs began to crossover to Pop radio, with acts such as Green Day, The Offspring and Alanis Morissette being played on Pop stations after establishing hits on the Alternative chart. Dominant genres included pop punk and softer alternative rock, as grunge acts such as Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots did not reach No. 1, while Britpop, a form of alternative rock from England, was represented only by Oasis. By the late-1990s, the Alternative Songs chart was ruled by relatively lighter alternative rock bands such as Third Eye Blind, Matchbox Twenty and Sugar Ray and a plethora of one-hit wonders.
At the turn of the century, alternative radio embraced nu-metal/rap rock with bands including Korn, Limp Bizkit and most famously, Linkin Park. Chris Molanphy of Pitchfork stated that "possibly the most loathed period for music of the last half-century, the rap-rock years-- when looked through the prism of the Modern Rock chart’s evolution-- are a logical endpoint to a decade when alt-culture steadily de-wussified itself." Garage rock from the likes of The White Stripes and The Strokes also became hits in the early-2000s as a counter to the over-aggression of rap rock.
In the mid-2000s, the Alternative charts were ruled at the top by its most dominant members. From 2003 to 2008, the No. 1 song was by either Foo Fighters, Green Day, Incubus, Linkin Park or Red Hot Chili Peppers 49% of the time - 152 out of 313 weeks. During this time, classic '90s alternative groups such as Nine Inch Nails and Weezer enjoyed their biggest success, while emo (Jimmy Eat World), indie rock (Modest Mouse) and pop punk (Fall Out Boy) also were popular. In 2009, Billboard renamed the chart to "Alternative Songs". In the 2010s, the Alternative charts were led by softer indie pop and folk, and crossed over new acts to pop radio for the first time since the late-'90s; these acts being Foster the People, Imagine Dragons, fun., and Gotye. The chart also began to diverge from the Mainstream Rock chart, as only 10 of 40 songs were shared between the two in November 2012, compared to 23 of 40 in November 2002.
Only six bands have charted in all four decades of the chart's existence - Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, Jane's Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2 and Beastie Boys.
For the chart's 25th anniversary in 2013, Billboard published a list of the 100 biggest hits in the history of the Alternative chart. "Uprising" by Muse was listed at No. 1, having spent 17 weeks on the top of the chart and 53 weeks in total. "Savior" by Rise Against was listed at No. 2, peaking at #3 but staying on the chart for a record-breaking 65 weeks.
Artists with the most number-one songs
- Red Hot Chili Peppers (13)
- Linkin Park (11)
- Green Day (11)
- Foo Fighters (10)
- U2 (8)
Acts who've reached No. 1 in at least three decades
- Beck (1990s, 2000s, 2010s)
- blink-182 (1990s, 2000s, 2010s)
- Foo Fighters (1990s, 2000s, 2010s)
- Green Day (1990s, 2000s, 2010s)
- Red Hot Chili Peppers (1990s, 2000s, 2010s)
- U2 (1980s, 1990s, 2000s)
Artists with the most cumulative weeks at number one
Songs that debuted at number one
- "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" by R.E.M. (1994)
- "Dani California" by Red Hot Chili Peppers (2006)
- "What I've Done" by Linkin Park (2007)
Most alternative songs chart entries
Songs charting for at least 52 weeks
- "Savior" by Rise Against (65 weeks)
- "First" by Cold War Kids (64 weeks)
- "Do I Wanna Know?" by Arctic Monkeys (58 weeks)
- "1901" by Phoenix (57 weeks)
- "Wish I Knew You" by The Revivalists (56 weeks)
- "Feel It Still" by Portugal. The Man (53 weeks)
- "Uprising" by Muse (53 weeks) – Uprising slipped out of the chart the week after its 52nd week, then returned for its 53rd and final week at #10.
Songs with most weeks at number one
The songs with 16 or more weeks at number one.
Albums with at least three Alternative Songs number ones
- 5 songs
- Meteora – Linkin Park ("Somewhere I Belong," "Faint," "Numb," "Lying from You," "Breaking the Habit," 2003-04)
- 3 songs
- Evolve – Imagine Dragons ("Believer," "Thunder," "Whatever It Takes," 2017-18)
- Only By the Night – Kings of Leon ("Sex on Fire," "Use Somebody," "Notion," 2008-09)
- Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace – Foo Fighters ("The Pretender," "Long Road to Ruin," "Let It Die," 2007-08)
- Stadium Arcadium – Red Hot Chili Peppers ("Dani California," "Tell Me Baby," "Snow ((Hey Oh))," 2006-07)
- With Teeth – Nine Inch Nails ("The Hand That Feeds," "Only," "Every Day Is Exactly the Same," 2005-06)
- American Idiot – Green Day ("American Idiot," "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "Holiday," 2004-05)
- Californication – Red Hot Chili Peppers ("Scar Tissue," "Otherside," "Californication," 1999-2000)
- Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette ("You Oughta Know," "Hand in My Pocket," "Ironic," 1995-96)
- Dookie – Green Day ("Longview," "Basket Case," "When I Come Around," 1994-95)
- Achtung Baby – U2 ("The Fly," "Mysterious Ways," "One," 1991-92)
Other chart achievements
- The song that has taken the longest time to reach number one is "Out of My League" by Fitz and The Tantrums (33 weeks) in 2013, followed by "Animal" by Neon Trees in 2010 and "Mountain at My Gates" by Foals in 2016 (both 32 weeks), "1901" by Phoenix (31 weeks) in 2010, "Feel Good Drag" by Anberlin (29 weeks) in 2009, "Wasteland" by 10 Years (27 weeks) in 2006, and "No Roots" by Alice Merton (26 weeks) in 2018.
- Beck has had the longest time between number-ones (12 years, 8 months and 2 weeks), with "E-Pro" (2005) and "Up All Night" (2017).
- Eighteen songs released on an independent record label have reached number one on this chart: "Come Out and Play" by The Offspring, "What It's Like" by Everlast, "Panic Switch" by Silversun Pickups, "1901" by Phoenix, "Lay Me Down" by The Dirty Heads featuring Rome Ramirez, "Little Lion Man" by Mumford & Sons, "Ho Hey" by The Lumineers, "I Will Wait" by Mumford & Sons, "Do I Wanna Know?" by Arctic Monkeys, "Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)" by Awolnation, "The Sound of Winter" by Bush, "First" by Cold War Kids, "Ophelia" by The Lumineers, "Bored to Death" by Blink-182, "Take It All Back" by Judah & the Lion, "Cleopatra" by The Lumineers, "No Roots" by Alice Merton, and "Sober Up" by AJR featuring Rivers Cuomo.
- Although Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" did not hit number one on the chart where it only peaked at number two on July 2, 1994, it actually became the Modern Rock Tracks year-end number one single of 1994, the only song to do so without ever being number one on the weekly chart.
- In August 2013, Lorde became the first woman to top the Alternative Songs chart since Tracy Bonham in 1996 when her song "Royals" reached the top of the chart in August 2013; the second woman to do the same was Elle King with her song "Ex's & Oh's" which reached the top of the chart in September 2015. In September 2013, Lorde surpassed Alanis Morissette to become the woman with the longest-running single at number one on the Alternative Songs chart when "Royals" spent its sixth week at number one.
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