Ongoing History Daily: The origin of the term “alternative music”

For more than 40 years, people have been using the term “alternative” to describe music that’s left-of-centre, underground, independent, otherwise not made for the mainstream, or all of the above. It’s music that’s an “alternative” to what everyone else was listening to. Someone must have come up with that term. But who?

It appears to have Terry Tonkin, a record clerk, music writer, and A&R man from New York City. In 1979, he started writing about new and cool underground bands, describing their style of rock as “alternative music.” Terry later moved on to jobs at a variety of labels while still using that word to explain the nature of the acts he was signing. The more he used it, the more it caught on.

So thanks to Terry Tonkin, the person who helped give a name to a vast universe of non-mainstream music.

More fun was had with musical nomenclature and etymology yesterday. Check it out.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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