Alternative Airplay

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Alternative Airplay (formerly known as Modern Rock Tracks (1988–2009) and Alternative Songs (2009–2020)) 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 the late 2000s, the genres became more fully differentiated with only limited crossover. The Alternative Airplay chart features more alternative rock, indie pop, and pop punk artists while the Mainstream Rock chart leans towards more guitar-tinged blues rock, hard rock, and heavy metal, and the Active rock airplay chart focuses more on beat-driven rap rock, hardcore punk, and industrial metal.


The chart is based solely on radio airplay ranked by a calculation of the total number of spins each song receives per week. As of 2012, approximately 80 alternative radio stations across the United States are electronically monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems. [1] The chart had 30 positions when it was introduced in September 1988 and expanded to 40 positions on September 10, 1994. [2]

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. [3] 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. [4] The first number-one song of the chart was Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Peek-a-Boo", which topped the charts for two weeks. [5] 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. [6] 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. [6] 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), [7] 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. [6] For example, "Black" by Pearl Jam peaked only at No. 20 on the former but No. 3 on the latter. [8] [9] 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. [6] 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. [6] 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. [6] [10]

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." [6] 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. [6]

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. [6] 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. [6] 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. [11] Rise Against's "Savior" later broke the record by spending 65 weeks, followed around the same time by "1901" from Phoenix at 57. [12] In 2009, Billboard renamed the chart to "Alternative Songs". [3]

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. [6] 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. [13] 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. [14]

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. [15] 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. [16] 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 the Alternative Songs chart, with Dolores O'Riordan of the Cranberries taking the lead spot. [17] The current number one song is "Boy" by The Killers [18]

Chart achievements

Artists with the most number-one songs

Source: [19] [20] [21] [22]

Red Hot Chili Peppers (14)
Green Day (12)
Linkin Park (11)
Twenty One Pilots (10)
Cage the Elephant (10)
Foo Fighters (10)

Acts who have reached number one in at least three decades

Four decades

Source: [23]

Green Day (1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s)
Red Hot Chili Peppers (1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s)

Three decades

Source: [24] [25] [26]

Beck (1990s, 2000s, 2010s)
blink-182 (1990s, 2000s, 2010s)
Coldplay (2000s, 2010s, 2020s)
Foo Fighters (1990s, 2000s, 2010s)
Modest Mouse (2000s, 2010s, 2020s)
U2 (1980s, 1990s, 2000s)
Weezer (2000s, 2010s, 2020s)

Artists with the most cumulative weeks at number one

Weeks at No. 1ArtistSource
90 Red Hot Chili Peppers [27]
82 Foo Fighters [28]
74 Twenty One Pilots [28]
71 Linkin Park [28]
57 Green Day [28]
46 Muse [28]

Number-one debuts

Artists with most chart entries

42 U2 [32]
40 Pearl Jam [33]
38 Foo Fighters [34]
36 Green Day [21]
36 Red Hot Chili Peppers [35]
33 Weezer [36]
30 Coldplay [37]
29 Linkin Park [38]

Songs with most weeks on the chart

The following songs have charted for more than 51 weeks.

88"Monsters" All Time Low [39]
76"Broken" Lovelytheband [40]
65"Savior" Rise Against [41]
64"First" Cold War Kids [41]
63"Trampoline" Shaed [42]
58"Do I Wanna Know?" Arctic Monkeys [41]
57"1901" Phoenix [41]
56"Wish I Knew You" The Revivalists [41]
55"Sit Next to Me" Foster the People [41]
53"Feel It Still" Portugal. The Man [41]
"Uprising" Muse [41]
52"The Kill" Thirty Seconds to Mars [11]

Songs with most weeks at number one

The songs with 16 or more weeks at number one.

20"Feel It Still" Portugal. The Man 2017 [43]
19"Madness" Muse 2012–13 [43]
18"The Pretender" Foo Fighters 2007 [43]
"Monsters" All Time Low ft. blackbear 2020–21 [44] [45]
17"Uprising"Muse2009–10 [43]
16"High Hopes" Panic! At The Disco 2018–19 [46]
"Boulevard of Broken Dreams" Green Day 2004–05 [43]
"It's Been Awhile" Staind 2001 [43]
"Scar Tissue" Red Hot Chili Peppers 1999 [43]

Songs that have taken the longest time to reach number one

42"Running Up That Hill" Meg Myers
33"Out of My League" Fitz and the Tantrums
33"Novocaine" The Unlikely Candidates
32"Animal" Neon Trees
32"Mountain at My Gates" Foals
31"Toxic" BoyWithUke [47]
31"1901" Phoenix
30"Dissolve" Absofacto
29"Feel Good Drag" Anberlin
28"Tongue Tied" Grouplove
28"Might Be Right" White Reaper
27"Wasteland" 10 Years
26"No Roots" Alice Merton
26"Trampoline" Shaed
26"All My Favorite Songs" Weezer

Albums with at least three number ones

Source: [48]

5 songs
Meteora   Linkin Park ("Somewhere I Belong," "Faint," "Numb," "Lying from You," "Breaking the Habit," 2003–04)
3 songs
Scaled and Icy   Twenty One Pilots ("Shy Away," "Saturday," "The Outside," 2021–22)
Social Cues   Cage the Elephant ("Ready to Let Go," "Social Cues," "Skin and Bones," 201921)
Trench   Twenty One Pilots ("Jumpsuit," "Chlorine," "The Hype," 2018–19)
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)

Top female performers (1988–2018)

Source: [lower-alpha 1]

1 Dolores O'Riordan (The Cranberries)
2 Meg White (The White Stripes)
3 Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie & the Banshees)
4 Shirley Manson (Garbage)
5 Alanis Morissette
6 Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson (The B-52s)
7 Gwen Stefani (No Doubt)
8 Natalie Merchant [lower-alpha 2] (10,000 Maniacs)
9 Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (Of Monsters and Men)
10Hannah Hooper (Grouplove)

Other chart achievements

See also


  1. "The Top 30 Female Alternative Songs Artists ranking is based on weekly performance on the Alternative Songs chart from its September 10, 1988, inception through September 8, 2018". [17]
  2. "Mary Ramsey replaced Merchant in 1993, though all of the band's Alternative Songs entries were in the Merchant era". [17]

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