Alternative Airplay (formerly known as Alternative Songs and Modern Rock Tracks) is a music chart in the United States that has appeared in Billboard magazine since September 10, 1988. It ranks the 40 most-played songs on alternative and modern rock radio stations. Introduced as Modern Rock Tracks, the chart served as a companion to the Mainstream Rock chart (then called Album Rock Tracks), 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 (spearheaded by the grunge explosion in the early 1990s), alternative and mainstream rock radio stations began playing many of the same songs. By late in the first decade of the 2000s, the genres became more fully differentiated with only limited crossover. The Alternative Airplay chart features more indie rock, indie pop, and synth-pop artists while the Mainstream Rock chart leans towards more guitar-tinged alternative rock, hard rock, and heavy metal.
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 expanded to 40 positions on September 10, 1994.
The chart was renamed to Alternative Songs beginning with the June 20, 2009, issue after Billboard fully absorbed Radio & Records, whose similar chart was called "Alternative" and to reflect the music industry's more common use of the term. In June 2020, Billboard introduced the separate Hot Alternative Songs chart, which uses similar methodology as the Billboard Hot 100 by measuring the popularity of songs classified as alternative across all radio formats, streaming services, and sales within the United States. To avoid confusion, Alternative Songs was renamed Alternative Airplay.
The first alternative chart, called Modern Rock Tracks, appeared in the September 10, 1988, edition of Billboard magazine. The first number-one song of the chart 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 the UK, 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, 1990s 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 2007, "The Kill" by Thirty Seconds to Mars set a record for the longest-running hit in the history of the US alternative chart when it remained on the national chart for 52 weeks.Rise Against's "Savior" later broke the record by spending 65 weeks, followed around the same time by "1901" from Phoenix at 57. 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 1990s, such as 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. 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.
On October 11, 2018, Billboard released its Greatest of All Time Alternative Songs 30th-anniversary recap. The Foo Fighters continued its reign as the chart's No. 1 act over the list's first 30 years, after leading the 25th-anniversary recap. Muse's "Uprising" retained its standing as the all-time No. 1 song. Rise Against's " Savior" again ranked at No. 2, while Portugal. The Man's "Feel It Still" entered at No. 3, the highest debut on the 30th anniversary songs list, following its record 20-week reign in 2017. 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. Although the Alternative Songs chart "tends to be heavily male-dominated", Billboard released the list of the top-performing women in the chart's archives on the same day--as part of the 30th anniversary of Alternative Songs chart. Based on their data, Dolores O'Riordan took lead spot, ahead of artists such as Meg White at No. 2, Siouxsie Sioux at No. 3, Shirley Manson at No. 4, and Alanis Morissette at No. 5; the ranking consisted of a 30-name list. O'Riordan was named The Top Female Artist of All Time on Billboards Alternative Songs chart (encompassing soloists, group frontwomen and women in duos).
|Weeks at No. 1||Artist||Source|
|86||Red Hot Chili Peppers|||
|33||Red Hot Chili Peppers|||
The following songs have charted for more than 52 weeks.
|64||"First"||Cold War Kids|||
|58||"Do I Wanna Know?"||Arctic Monkeys|||
|56||"Wish I Knew You"||The Revivalists|||
|55||"Sit Next to Me"||Foster the People|||
|53||"Feel It Still"||Portugal. The Man|||
The songs with 16 or more weeks at number one.
|20||"Feel It Still"||Portugal. The Man||2017|||
|18||"The Pretender"||Foo Fighters||2007|||
|16||"High Hopes"||Panic! At The Disco||2018-19|||
|"Boulevard of Broken Dreams"||Green Day||2004-05|||
|"It's Been Awhile"||Staind||2001|||
|"Scar Tissue"||Red Hot Chili Peppers||1999|||
|1||Dolores O'Riordan (The Cranberries)|
|2||Meg White (The White Stripes)|
|3||Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie & the Banshees)|
|4||Shirley Manson (Garbage)|
|6||Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson (The B-52s)|
|7||Gwen Stefani (No Doubt)|
|8||Natalie Merchant[b] (10,000 Maniacs)|
|9||Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (Of Monsters and Men)|
|10||Hannah Hooper (Grouplove)|