Here is a deep discography that lists much of the well-known alternative rock from its roots in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s through the 1990s and early 2000s. The discography includes rock music that was played on freeform stations and continues to shape the sound of "AAA" or "Adult Album Alternative" radio formats known as "Triple A." Also, read about these stories tracking the development of alternative music:
History of Freeform Radio
Rise of Alternative Radio
1990s Alternative Top 100
Cool Indie Songs
Alternative music has a wide definition once you step away from the music or radio industry definition of the format. In fact, it almost has no definition anymore in an industry sense other than the edgier side of the rock format. At one time throughout most of the 1990s alternative radio was much more diverse and ranged from Enya to Nine Inch Nails. Corporate mergers changed the sound of the format by the late 90s and the number of gatekeepers shrank. In the 2000s Clear Channel became the biggest radio company after a series of mergers, which had a huge impact on the entire radio industry. If a song didn't get played on Clear Channel stations it was unlikely to become a national hit in any format, including alternative.
Some people might believe that "alternative music" should not have anything to do with the mainstream. But during the mid-90s the format was actually poised to challenge mainstream radio as the most viable and popular music in America. Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Green Day and Offspring all outsold most pop artists. Alanis Morrissette and Hootie & The Blowfish were closer to pop artists yet it was the alternative format that broke both acts, who both had albums that even outsold Pearl Jam.
Prior to the rise of alternative radio stations in the 1990s, there were only about a dozen alternative stations in major markets. These stations included KROQ in Los Angeles, 91X in San Diego, Live 105 in San Francisco and WHFS in Washington DC. The stations were very diverse and their playlists included many up and coming artists. Ultimately, they helped take college rock to a broader audience.
The key artists that helped shape the alternative format in the late 70s included puink acts like Sex Pistols, Ramones and The Clash along with new wave artists such as Blondie, Talking Heads and Elvis Costello. Innovative acts that were hard to categorize such as The Police were also embraced by the format. By the 1980s new wave and electronic music helped expand the format with acts such as Depeche Mode, New Order, U2, INXS, The Cure, Simple Minds and Tears For Fears.
In many ways alternative just became an industry buzz word that got overused by the end of the 90s. In the 2000s the radio format fizzled while many fans gave up on it to purse online indie music. As alternative stations began to disappear many critics pointed out that groups like Nickelback weren't really alternative to anything yet were over-played in heavy rotation. Today alternative music lives on more as an ideal and relates more than indie music rather than music on the radio.
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