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 / modern rock radio stations, most of which are alternative rock songs. 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.
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.
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.
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 alternative rock, indie rock, indie pop, synthpop and punk rock bands while the Mainstream Rock Songs chart favors more hard rock, post-grunge and heavy metal.
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 August 19, 2017, is "Feel It Still" by Portugal. The Man. 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.
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:
- Artists with the most cumulative weeks at number one:
- Artists with the most top 10 songs:
- Three songs have debuted at number one on this chart:
- "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)
- No single act has replaced itself at number one, although "All My Life" by Foo Fighters replaced "You Know You're Right" by Nirvana on November 23, 2002, giving back-to-back chart-toppers to musician Dave Grohl.
- Dave Grohl has made the top of this chart with a record of four different bands: Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, and Nine Inch Nails.
- Linkin Park's 2003 album Meteora has generated the most number one modern rock hits, with five.
- Red Hot Chili Peppers' album Californication and Linkin Park's album Meteora have generated songs with the highest total number of weeks spent at number one, each with thirty weeks total.
- 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, and "Wasteland" by 10 Years (27 weeks) in 2006.
- Jane's Addiction has had the longest time between number-ones (13 years), with "Been Caught Stealing" (1990) and "Just Because" (2003).
- The band to have the most charted songs without reaching number one is Korn, with 21.
- The band with the most charted songs is U2 with 41, followed by Pearl Jam with 39. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters and Green Day are tied for third with 31.
- Any song with 20 or more chart weeks to not see any significant gains to chart below No. 15 are retired to recurrents (prior to December 2009, the threshold was at No. 20). Any song with 52 or more chart weeks to chart below No. 10 with no significant gains are retired.
- The following songs have charted for over 52 weeks on the list:
- "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)
- "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.
- The following songs have spent 52 weeks on the list:
- "The Kill" by Thirty Seconds to Mars
- "Face Down" by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
- "Paralyzer" by Finger Eleven
- "Feel Good Drag" by Anberlin
- "Animal" by Neon Trees
- "Trojans" by Atlas Genius
- "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons
- "Safe and Sound" by Capital Cities
- "Sweater Weather" by The Neighbourhood
- "Out of My League" by Fitz and The Tantrums
- "Pompeii" by Bastille
- "Dangerous" by Big Data featuring Joywave
- "Stolen Dance" by Milky Chance
- Sixteen 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 and "Cleopatra" by The Lumineers.
- 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.
- 36 songs have spent 10 weeks or longer at number one. These are:
- 19 weeks
- 18 weeks
- 17 weeks
- 16 weeks
- 15 weeks
- 14 weeks
- 13 weeks
- 12 weeks
- 11 weeks
- "My Own Worst Enemy" – Lit (1999)
- "Kryptonite" – 3 Doors Down (2000)
- "Pork and Beans" – Weezer (2008)
- "You're Gonna Go Far, Kid" – The Offspring (2008)
- "Lay Me Down" – The Dirty Heads featuring Rome Ramirez (2010)
- "Lonely Boy" – The Black Keys (2011–12)
- "Sweater Weather" – The Neighbourhood (2013)
- "Fever" – The Black Keys (2014)
- "Renegades" – X Ambassadors (2015)
- "Heathens" – Twenty One Pilots (2016)
- 10 weeks
- "The charts" (fee required). The Sun Herald. 2005-08-25. Retrieved 2008-01-18.
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- Gary Trust (2009-06-10). "Chart Beat: Pink, Black Eyed Peas, Shinedown". Billboard. Archived from the original on 14 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-13.
- "Red Hot Chili Peppers' 'Dark Necessities' Only 4th Song to Top Mainstream Rock, Alternative & Adult Alternative Charts". Billboard. Retrieved 2017-08-08.
- "Alternative Chart 25th Anniversary: Top 50 Artists, Most Top 10s, Most No. 1s & More". Billboard. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
- "Siouxsie & The Banshees". www.popradiotop20.com. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
- "Radio-Friendly Unit Shifters | Pitchfork". pitchfork.com. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
- "Nirvana - Chart history | Billboard". www.billboard.com. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
- "Pearl Jam - Chart history | Billboard". www.billboard.com. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
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- Hyden, Steven (2013-10-01). "Indie Rock’s Tuneful Death Rattle". Grantland. Retrieved 2017-08-08.
- "Jangle All The Way: New Acts Soften Alternative Airwaves". Billboard. Retrieved 2017-08-08.
- "Nine Inch Nails Extend Alternative Songs Streak With 'Less Than'". Billboard. Retrieved 2017-08-08.
- "Alternative Chart 25th Anniversary: Top 100 Songs". Billboard. Retrieved 2017-08-08.
- Rutherford, Kevin (January 24, 2017). "Green Day Lands 11th No. 1 on Alternative Songs With 'Still Breathing'". Billboard. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
- Trust, Gary (September 30, 2013). "Chart Highlights: Rihanna Returns, Fitz And The Tantrums Rule Rock, Yandel Leads Latin Airplay". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved September 30, 2013.
- "Rise Against - Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
- Trust, Gray. "Kenny Chesney Scores A Perfect 10". Billboard. Archived from the original on 28 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-29.
- Bush Back Atop Alternative Songs With Self-Released 'The Sound of Winter'. Billboard. Retrieved on 2013-08-25.
- "Modern Rock Tracks". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media. 106 (27): 102. July 2, 1994. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
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- "Lorde First Woman in 17 Years to Top Alternative with 'Royals'". Billboard. 16 August 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
- White, Emily (September 8, 2015). "Elle King Is Just Second Woman to Top Alternative Songs Chart in Two Decades". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved September 9, 2015.
- "Lorde Links Longest Alternative Songs Reign By A Woman With 'Royals'". Billboard. 16 September 2013. Retrieved 17 September 2013.
- "Muse's 'Madness' Rewrites Record For Longest-Reigning Alternative Songs No. 1". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved February 11, 2013.