Hit Parade

The Lost and Lonely Edition

Three decades ago, the biggest alternative rock came with a British accent—and morose lyrics.

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About the Show

Chris Molanphy, a pop-chart analyst and author of Slate’s “Why Is This Song No. 1?” series, tells tales from a half-century of chart history. Through storytelling, trivia, and song snippets, Chris dissects how that song you love—or hate—dominated the airwaves, made its way to the top of the charts, and shaped your memories forever.

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  • Chris Molanphy is a feature writer and critic who writes widely about music and the pop charts.

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Episode Notes

If you were an angsty American teenager in the 1980s—whether in real life or in a John Hughes movie—the rock you loved probably came from the United Kingdom, complete with droning vocals, brooding lyrics, goth hair, and black nail polish. The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Joy Division/New Order, the Smiths: All these U.K. postpunk acts were hard-pressed to score American hits in the first half of the ’80s—the era of fun-loving New Romantic bands like Duran Duran. But to Gen X teens, Robert Smith, Siouxsie Sioux, and Morrissey were icons.

By the end of the decade, however, these bands became American hit-makers, especially after Billboard launched the music bible’s first alternative rock chart. Depeche Mode sold out a California stadium. New Order dominated dance floors. The Smiths’ Johnny Marr became a guitar god, Morrissey an MTV crush object. And finally, in 1989, the Cure—dark, doomy, and moody as ever—were challenging Janet Jackson for the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Just in time for Halloween, Hit Parade tells the story of how spooky, spidery, U.K. mope rock became chart-conquering pop.

Podcast production by Justin D. Wright.