30 Years of Modern Rock

The 30th Anniversary of the Modern Rock Chart

1st Modern Rock Chart

Over 30 years ago, Billboard introduced the Modern Rock Tracks which is now known as the Alternative Songs. Billboard Magazine introduced 30 new tracks on the newly compiled Modern Rock Tracks. These songs are based solely on airplay. The airplay statistics were based on reports of Alternative Rock Stations as well as College Rock radio stations. When this chart first began there were about 58 radio stations that participated in this compilation. One very well known station in the Boston area, WFNX 101.7 FM, was included in the participating radio stations. This station went off the air in 2012.

The term, Modern Rock, originated in the 80s. Modern Rock meant rock music that was not considered mainstream and had its own small following. Modern Rock had a free form style that varied in sound. The music styles could have a punk sound, an acoustic jangle rock and ranged to more adventurous experimentation. This sub genre served as a basis for rock music that was not commercial or in the mainstream. However, that would certainly change in the ’90s. Popular Grunge bands like “Nirvana” got their start on this chart. Alternative Rock was a growing market in the ’80s and this chart served as a playlist for the genre. Some artists who were regulars on the Modern Chart were U2, REM, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Cure, Sonic Youth, Muse, and Depeche Mode. Since its inception, there has been considerable cross over from the Modern Rock Tracks to the Mainstream Album Rock tracks.

On the week of September 10th of 1988, the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks made its debut. Siouxie and the Banshees had the honor of the 1st Number 1 song on the Modern Rock Tracks with “Peek-A-Boo”. The chart was on the same page as the Billboard Album Rock Tracks and it served as a companion to the Album Rock Tracks. The listing featured 30 tracks.

Peek a Boo

Modern Rock Tracks chart from 1990
Modern Rock 91
Nirvana at the # 1 position on the Modern Rock Tracks

Beginning on June 19th of 1993, the Modern Rock Tracks started its transition to a revised way songs were reported to Billboard. The chart compiled its data from a hybrid of national samples of airplay from BDS (Broadcast Data Systems), radio track service and reported radio playlists. The changes were incremental from a handful of monitored stations for a few months. By December 18th, 13 more stations were added to monitored panels. This airplay monitor was also used towards the Hot 100 Airplay.

On January 22nd of 1994, The Modern Rock chart got a major reconfiguration to sample data from an expanded radio panel using the Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems. The BDS system is compiled from a national sample of airplay supplied by Broadcast Data Systems’ Radio Track service. Modern rock stations are electronically monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Songs were and still are ranked by the number of detections and spins songs receive from monitored radio stations. The number of Modern Rock Stations increased during the ’90s and thereafter. Nirvana’s, All Apologies, was the first # 1 song of the BDS/Nielsen era. All Apologies actually rebounded from the previous week’s position at # 9 on the list to # 1. The song stayed at # 1 for 2 weeks.

Six years later on the same week of its debut in 1994, the Modern Rock Tracks increased to a top 40 listing. During this time, the Modern Track had some overlap of other musical styles such as Metal and in the late ’90s, Electronica and even a combination Rock/Hip-Hop songs.

In 2009, the Modern Rock Tracks became the Alternative Songs chart. This name is still in use today. The chart was later shortened to 25 tracks. The popularity of Rock music in general has dwindled over the years but there is still an audience for the music. Much of what music charts in the Alternative Songs list are usually Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Synth Pop Bands or whatever is out of the ordinary in today’s musical landscape.

Two Alternative Charts from 2013 and 2014 listed below



During it’s time on Billboard, the Modern/Alternative tracks had its share of milestones. Here is a top ten compilation of the longest running # 1 songs on the chart.

  1. Madness – Muse, 18 Weeks at # 1, 2012
  2. The Pretender – Foo Fighters, 18 Weeks at # 1, 2007
  3. Feel It Still – Portugal. the Man, 17 Weeks at # 1, 2017
  4. Scar Tissue – Red Hot Chili Peppeers, 16 Weeks at # 1, 1999
  5. It’s Been a While – Staind, 16 Weeks at # 1, 2001
  6. Boulevard of Broken Dreams, 16 Weeks at # 1, 2004
  7. Uprising – Muse, , 15 Weeks at # 1, 2009
  8. What I’ve Done – Linkin Park, 15 Weeks at # 1, 2007
  9. Sex and Candy – Marcy Playground, 15 Weeks at # 1, 1998
  10. By the Way – Red hot Chili Peppers, 14 Weeks at # 1, 2002

The following 5 songs spent the most weeks on the Alternative Songs chart.

  1. Savior – Rise Against, 65 Weeks, 2008
  2. First – Cold War Kids, 64 Weeks, 2015
  3. Do I Wanna Know – Arctic Monkeys, 58 Weeks, 2013
  4. 1901 – Phoenix, 57 Weeks, 2009
  5. Wish I Knew You – The Revivalists, 2016

So congrats for the Modern Rock tracks, the chart has come a long way. There is still an interest in cutting edge music and new, emerging artists. Today the chart has expanded to even more radio participants. The chart incorporates audience impressions into its chart data. The audience impression is based on the number of spins (a.k.a. the number of time that it is played). The chart still has a place in today’s musical tastes.








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