A hit parade is a ranked list of the most popular recordings at a given point in time, usually determined by sales and/or airplay. The term originated in the 1930s; Billboard magazine published its first music hit parade on January 4, 1936. It has also been used by broadcast programs which featured hit (sheet music and record) tunes such as Your Hit Parade, which aired on radio and television in the United States from 1935 through the 1950s.
Hit tunes were originally published in sheet music format, so many artists were encouraged to introduce or promote the tune in different styles, formats or areas of popularity. Up through the late 1940s, the term hit parade referred to a list of compositions, not a list of records. In those times, when a tune became a hit, it was typically recorded by several different artists. Each record company often promoted its own product through the airtime it purchased on commercial stations, as in Europe's Radio Luxembourg. Most non-commercial stations, like the BBC, were required by national regulations to promote local talent, and were also limited in the amount of needle time given to recorded popular music.
In later years, a re-recording of a tune originally introduced or popularised by a certain artist was called covering a song. In the US, regardless of copyright, covers were an automatic option – since the Copyright Act of 1909 – enabled by compulsory mechanical licenses. Covers were often rejected by fans of the particular artists because it produced unfair competition to their favourite version. Covering a tune was, therefore, not offering an alternative rendition, but of producing a copy as a direct alternative to compete for airtime, sales and placement on the hit parade charts.
Rock and roll period
As rock and roll became popular, it was more difficult for generic singers to cover the tunes. It is said that Your Hit Parade was nearly cancelled after many weeks of unsuccessful attempts by big band singer Snooky Lanson to perform Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" in 1956. The program finally ended in 1959.
The term is still used, as in the title of the popular magazine, Hit Parader and the Canadian record label Hit Parade Records. The British indie band The Hit Parade has taken its name from the US TV show.
The title Hit Parade also became familiar during the late 1960s and early 1970s through a popular automated music format produced by the Drake-Chenault Co. and featured on hundreds of radio stations. Originally called Hit Parade '68, then Hit Parade '69 and Hit Parade '70, the format title was eventually modified to simply Hit Parade.
United Kingdom and Europe
The term "hit parade" was commonly used in the 1950s and 1960s in the UK to refer to the then-current chart, but rapidly fell out of favour and came to be seen as archaic and very old-fashioned, only used in jest and self-mockery by older people (much as with popular beat combo). It is still, however, commonly used in the present tense to refer to current charts in the 21st Century as a loan word in several countries and languages of mainland Europe.
- Battistini, Pete (2005). American Top 40 with Casey Kasem: The 1970s. Authorhouse.com. ISBN 1-4184-1070-5.
- Durkee, Rob (1999). American Top 40: The Countdown of the Century. New York: Schriner Books.