The Disappearing '80s: Is It the End of the World For R.E.M., The Cure and More on Alternative Radio?


This week, Billboard celebrates the 30th anniversary of our Alternative Songs chart. Here, we glance again at a few of these artists who had been large on the chart three a long time in the past, and see which ones -- if any -- are nonetheless receiving play on various radio in 2018. 

The Cure. Siouxsie and The Banshees. Lou Reed. R.E.M.

When Billboard debuted its “Modern Rock Tracks” chart in September 1988, these had been among the many various artists who rapidly grew to become the rating’s top notch, encapsulating a brand new radio format that had made its identify all through the last decade as a house for guitar music past large brother format AOR (album-oriented rock). Stations like KROQ in Los Angeles, WLIR in New York and KCMU in Seattle -- plus a legion of underground school packages -- all spun these songs relentlessly throughout the chart’s infancy, counting on ‘80s post-punk, new wave and goth-rock to assist outline their area on the dial.

But now, because the chart -- renamed “Alternative Songs” in 2009 -- celebrates 30 years of compiling the most popular tunes effervescent just below the radar, what number of of these jams that first characterised the format stay in common rotation on various airwaves? Do R.E.M. and Siouxsie Sioux nonetheless play a task amid at the moment’s indie-pop and electro-rock heroes, or have surviving stations merely moved on?

Program administrators from a number of of the most well-liked alt radio stations within the nation appear to agree that whereas the forefathers of the format haven’t gone utterly extinct, the period is actually endangered in 2018 -- with solely a handful of essentially the most elite alt hits mixing in with newer tracks. Mike Kaplan, Senior Vice President of Programming at ALT 92.three in New York, estimates tunes from the ‘80s to solely comprise about two or three p.c of his station’s whole spins.

“They’re usually the songs which have had the good thing about being a essential mass, virtually prime 40 tune on the time,” says Kaplan, noting The Ramones, R.E.M. and The Cure as ALT 92.three’s go-to retro artists. “That’s what I see working to at the present time -- these songs that both hit prime 40 or hit multiple format are what appears to nonetheless resonate with the lots right here.”

At 101 WKQX in Chicago, Program Director Troy Hanson says his station has largely grow to be Nirvana-forward. “And some guys even hate that,” he notes, as some within the business imagine alt stations ought to solely be enjoying what’s new.

“There nonetheless is ‘It’s the End of the World’ from R.E.M., there nonetheless is The Smiths’ ‘How Soon Is Now?,’ there’s ‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn’ and ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)’ from the Beastie Boys, and if we actually wish to enterprise again, we’ll in all probability have a look at a Clash observe,”  Hanson says of the station’s older programming. “But that’s in regards to the extent of it.”

And at Radio 104.5 in Philadelphia, Program Director John Allers calls the ‘80s stuff not more than “spice at this level.” “Ten years in the past, we had been enjoying a number of tracks from most of the ‘80s bands, whereas in 2018 we don’t go very deep on the ‘80s artists anymore,” Allers says, noting the station does nonetheless sprinkle in some Violent Femmes and Depeche Mode in addition to the aforementioned staples.

This all jives with Billboard’s most up-to-date ‘80s alt knowledge: when diving into the final week of playlists from the 65 or so various stations who report back to the chart, the Top 10 most-played ‘80s songs had been (in line with Nielsen Music):

1. Beastie Boys, “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)”

2. Violent Femmes, “Blister within the Sun”

three. R.E.M., “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”

four. Beastie Boys, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”

5. Beastie Boys, “Brass Monkey”

6. The Cure, “Lovesong”

7. R.E.M., “The One I Love”

eight. The Cure, “Just Like Heaven”

9. Beastie Boys, “Paul Revere”

10. Pixies, “Where Is My Mind?”

But that is, after all, a top-heavy listing, with solely three of the period’s hottest teams — who all scored prime 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 as effectively — comprising eight of the highest 10. And regardless that Beastie Boys’ “Fight” is listed as No. 1 right here, it's really a lowly No. 202 when ranked towards all songs performed on alt radio within the final week which might be thought of gold by Billboard.  

As Kaplan explains, stations stroll a advantageous line between a sturdy retro combine and venturing too deeply in what at the moment are thought of oldies by their target market.

“You exit and the ‘80s are nonetheless very a lot within the thoughts of the millennial client… however there are additionally expectations,” he says. “People are coming to you in a sure temper and so they know what they need and in the event you defy the expectation and play an excessive amount of of a throwback sound [you lose listeners]. With various at the moment, in the event you play a smattering of that I believe it’s wholesome however leaning too far in that route is detrimental to your station.”

But for some name indicators, particularly these not as beholden to what’s climbing on Billboard, this isn’t precisely the case. Owen Murphy, a producer for KEXP public radio in Seattle (successor to KCMU), says their DJs nonetheless make use of a full listing of previous data, from the artists talked about to Kate Bush, Public Enemy, New Order and extra as basis acts that present extra seasoned listeners added context when juxtaposed with new bands on the station.

“For instance, one among our new favorites is the English punk band Idles,” Murphy says. “And there’s no Idles with out The Fall, or The Clash; or there’s no Janelle Monae with out Prince, and one must play the music of each to correctly inform a given story.”

But in most situations, as ‘80s various disappears from stations which might be extra in tune to present traits, the songs that had been as soon as the lifeblood of this format will seemingly proceed emigrate the place their predecessors did years in the past — and the place a lot of them have already gone — additional into grownup modern and basic rock codecs. Yet therein additionally lies an issue. Songs that will now be thought of too rock-heavy for various stations spinning pop-crossover artists like Portugal. The Man or Twenty One Pilots may additionally be too keys-laden or genre-bending for stations depending on extra conventional rock icons like Led Zeppelin or Tom Petty.

"The fashion of 80’s various music dictates whether or not it strikes to basic rock,” Kaplan says. “Much of the indie/synth texture isn’t a match for traditional rockers who rely extra on the guitar-based artists." Hanson provides: “I don’t suppose you're going to see Depeche Mode, Beasties or XTC all of a sudden make their means on basic rock stations, sonically it might not match.”

So, does that depart ‘80s various floating within the radio ether, as a period with no residence format? Kaplan wonders if such a gap may result in “growth for a ‘Classic Alternative’ format” in sure cities.

Wherever these songs find yourself, be it scattered throughout a number of codecs or woven into a brand new fleet of stations, they don't seem to be alone of their departure on fashionable alt radio. Kaplan says most of the ‘90s hits -- as soon as thought of the bedrock of most various stations, and reflective of the format’s most commercially profitable period -- are beginning to be excised from rotation as effectively.

“Our core [audience] is 25-34 -- millennials,” he says. “And they've some urge for food for the ‘90s and a few ‘80s. But they’re actually wanting forward greater than behind.”