Alternative Rock originated in the 1980s, with bands such as R.E.M. at
the forefront of the genre.
These bands relied on college radio to broadcast their songs, however
throughout the 1980s, alternative music was mainly underground.
But in 1989, alternative music was mainstream enough for New Order,
Public Image Ltd and The Sugarcubes to go on a US-wide arena tour.
In Britain, alternative rock music tended to be more pop-orientated,
and was played on national radio by dj’s such as John Peel.
Later, bands would branch out into grunge, and noise rock (i.e.
Nirvana and Sonic Youth)
By the 1990s, alt-rock bands were now more popular than ever, with
Nirvana becoming chartbreakers with “Nevermind” and bands like
Oasis, Pulp and Suede breaking the UK charts.
History of Alternative Rock.
These “Britpop” bands wanted to take the UK charts
back from US alt-rock bands like Nirvana.
Oasis’s debut album, “What’s the Story, Morning
Glory?” became the third best-selling album in UK
history as a result of the “Battle of Britpop” between
Blur and Oasis.
Towards the end of the 1990s, Alternative rock
became less popular, something that may be
accounted to the loss of some of the leading artists of
the genre; Kurt Cobain from Nirvana died in 1994, and
Pearl Jam were banned from playing many major
venues as a result of a feud with Ticketmaster.
The original alternative rock artists faded away, while
Radiohead achieved critical acclaim with their debut
album, and bands like Travis and Coldplay became
popular in the charts.
Now, alternative rock is limited to describing a handful
of bands, such as The White Stripes, while most bands
are now referred to as “indie rock” which has
overtaken alternative rock in popularity.
Ska (e.g. No Doubt were influenced by reggae,
ska and rock)
1979 – Joy Division form. They are considered one
of the original alternative rock bands, with
elements of gothic rock.
1980 – R.E.M. form
1981 – Sonic Youth form.
1982 – Alternative rock club “The Hacienda”
opens in Manchester, England.
1983 – R.E.M.’s album “Murmur” is named Rolling
Stone’s best album of 1983.
1985 – Radiohead form (as On A Friday)
1985 – The Stone Roses form
1986 – MTV begins airing “120 minutes”, a two
hour show dedicated to playing alternative rock
1986 – NME magazine release C86, a seminal
Briths Indie Rock compilation.
1987 – R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” becomes and
Top Ten hit on the US Billboard Chart, making
alternative rock more mainstream.
1988 – R.E.M. are named Rolling Stone’s “Best
Rock and Roll band in America”
1989 – Blur form
1991 – Nirvana release Nevermind, making
grunge and alternative rock more popular.
1991 – The first ever Grammy award for “Best
Alternative Music Album” is awarded.
1992 - Alternative Rock becomes fully
mainstream, due to albums by Nirvana, Pearl
Jam and Red Hot Chilli Peppers reaching the top
40 billboard chart.
1993 - Eddie Vedder (lead singer of Pearl Jam) is
featured on the cover of Time magazine as part
of a feature on the rise of alternative rock music.
1995- The Smashing Pumpkins album "Mellon
Collie and the Infinite Sadness" debuts at number
one on the Billboard chart.
1995 - The "Battle of Britpop" between Oasis and
Blur starts when they release "Roll with it" and
"Country House" respectively on the same day.
1996 – Echo & The Bunnymen reform
1996 – R.E.M. sign a record deal with Warner Bros.
worth $80 million. At the time it was considered
the largest record contract in history.
1997 – Oasis’s “Be Here Now” becomes the
fastest selling album in the UK.
1997 – Radiohead “Ok Computer” is released,
which hits in over 1000 charts.
2001 – Manic Street Preachers become the first
major rock band to play a concert in Cuba
2005 – U2 are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall
2007 – R.E.M. are inducted into the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame
2007 – Radiohead release “In Rainbows” over the
internet and allows fans to set their own purchase
2009 – The Dead Weather and Them Crooked
Vultures form, Oasis disband, and Blur reunite.
2011 – Arcade Fire win the Grammy for Album of
Alternatice Rock is a parent genre for several sub-genres of
underground music that differ greatly in sound.
One common style throughout all of these genres is that they
reject the idea of commerical success and mainstream
In the past, alternative artists tended to play small clubs, now
however, they may play large venues also.
Because of the wide difference between the sub-genres,
there is not a set style of music that could be categorised as
But a general theme throughout is guitar-based music.
Topics that the lyrics tend to address could include; social
issues such as drug use, psychological issues, enviromentalism.
The target audience for alternative rock music tends to be
young, perhaps around 16-25.
The demographic Is also made up of a mix of both males and
females, as the artists within the genre are also from both
Listeners of alternative rock could stereotypically be referred
to in popular culture as “hipsters”, a term used to describe
people who tend to reject commercially successful bands
and listen to the more underground artists. They would also
have more artistic hobbies, such as photography, art, or
These people would come from a wide range of economic
backgrounds, with those from less-affluent backgrounds
being able to relate to the lyrics of the songs, however,
realistically, anyone could be a fan of alternative rock.