This chart began with the March 21, 1981 issue of Billboard. It was originally named simply Rock Tracks, and was accompanied by a Rock Albums chart, which was discontinued in 1984. (A new chart with the same name has recently been introduced). Before this, Billboard did not compile a chart specifically for rock songs. The closest thing to it was an Album Radio Action page which named some of the albums (but not songs) receiving airplay on album-oriented rock stations. The Rock Tracks chart originally listed 60 songs. The first number-one song was "I Can't Stand It" by Eric Clapton.
The chart changed its name to Album Rock Tracks in April 1986. In order to give more recognition to modern rock radio stations, Billboard began a separate Modern Rock Tracks chart, beginning with the September 10, 1988 issue. Within two months of the first Modern Rock Tracks chart, the song "Desire" by U2 became the first song to reach number-one on both of these two Rock Tracks charts.
In 1996, Album Rock Tracks once again changed its name, to Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks. This occurred soon after Billboard established the Adult Top 40 chart. Like Hot Modern Rock Tracks, Adult Top 40 also had some songs in common with Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks. Ironically, Adult Top 40 has often featured artists who were once prominent on the Rock Tracks charts, but were now considered too "soft" for rock radio.
Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks was published in the print edition of Billboard for the last time in its July 26, 2003 issue. The chart is still compiled, but it is only available through the magazine's website. In recent years, there has been more crossover between the Mainstream and Modern Rock Tracks charts. For six and a half years, following "Jaded" by Aerosmith in 2001, every number one song on Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks also appeared on Modern Rock Tracks. This string was finally broken by Ozzy Osbourne's "I Don't Wanna Stop" in July 2007.
The Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks has had 308 number one hits. The current number-one song on Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks (for the week ending October 18, 2008) is "The Day That Never Comes" by Metallica.
Shown below are some songs which have spent ten or more weeks in the number one spot. Most of these songs are from recent years, in part because the top spot experiences much less turnover than it used to. Prior to 1994, only three songs had spent ten or more weeks at number one: