A hit parade is a ranked list of the most popular recordings at a given point in time, usually determined by sales and/or airplay. The term originated in the 1930s; Billboard magazine published its first music hit parade on January 4, 1936. It has also been used by broadcast programs which featured hit (sheet music and record) tunes such as Your Hit Parade, which aired on radio and television in the United States from 1935 through the 1950s.
Hit tunes were originally published as sheet music, so many artists were encouraged to introduce or promote a tune in different styles, formats or areas of popularity. Through the late 1940s, the term hit parade referred to a list of compositions, not a list of records. In those times, when a tune became a hit, it was typically recorded by several different artists. Each record company often promoted its own product through the airtime it purchased on commercial radio stations. Most non-commercial stations, like the BBC, were required by national regulations to promote local talent, and were also limited in the amount of needle time given to recorded popular music.
In later years, a re-recording of a tune originally introduced or popularised by a certain artist was called a cover version. In the United States, regardless of copyright, covers were an automatic option – since the Copyright Act of 1909 – enabled by compulsory mechanical licenses. Covers were often rejected by fans of the particular artists because it produced unfair competition to their favourite version. Covering a tune was, therefore, not offering an alternative rendition, but of producing a copy as a direct alternative to compete for airtime, sales and placement on the hit parade charts.
As rock and roll became popular, it was more difficult for generic singers to cover the tunes. It has been said that Your Hit Parade was nearly cancelled after many weeks of unsuccessful attempts by the big-band singer Snooky Lanson to perform Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" in 1956. The program finally ended in 1959.
The title Hit Parade also became familiar during the late 1960s and early 1970s through a popular automated music format produced by the Drake-Chenault Co. and featured on hundreds of radio stations. Originally called Hit Parade '68, then Hit Parade '69 and Hit Parade '70, it was then entitled simply Hit Parade.
The term hit parade was commonly used in the United Kingdom around the 1950s and 1960s to refer to the current chart, but rapidly fell out of favour and came to be seen as archaic and old-fashioned, today the term hit parade is usually used by people when referring to the success of oldies and schlager hits from around those times. It is also still commonly used to refer to current charts in the 21st century as a loan word in several countries and languages of mainland Europe.