Triple J are currently running a feature that has captured the attention of hundreds of thousands of Australians these past few weeks, myself a shameless participant. Celebrating twenty years of the annual countdown, the Hottest 100, they’re polling the nation to find the Hottest 100 songs collectively over that twenty year span. A best of the best.
The major way in which they’re promoting this vote, is by featuring any one of those years each workday, and playing the top twenty songs from, say, 2005 on Monday and 1996 on Tuesday. It’s brilliant. It’s all nostalgia, baby, and I’m tuning away from the commercial radio stations I work for to specifically listen in. The music fan in me is winning out this month, and the professional me is taking a back seat. No shame.
I made my decision and cast my vote on Friday. I shared it with my younger brother, who asked me to evaluate the release dates of the twenty songs I chose. I knew his reasons for this already. He’d picked up that I hadn’t chosen any songs from the past 5 years, and only one song from the past 9!
Would he expect me to feel guilty? As if I hadn’t considered my votes hard enough? Surely there was at least some music released since I post-graduated from university in 2004 that I considered among the best in my lifetime. How could a 29 year old only vote for one song released after his 21st birthday?
Even when I look at that statistic, it seems mathematically implausible. I’m in the business of music. I specifically chose to work in the radio industry because I love it. I couldn’t bear the thought of being somewhere each day that wouldn’t allow me to have posters on the wall, wear band t-shirts, and listen to music all day, no less sing along whenever I saw fit (and sometimes inappropriately). Is it possible that someone with these passions, wouldn’t have some absolute favourite songs from the most recent third of his lifetime?
I don’t feel bad whatsoever. Songs belong to our hearts and minds, unshakably attached to memories. My heart chooses its favourite songs; not mathematics, statistics, celebrity opinion or even that of my brother.
Years ago, music radio programmers introduced me to a theory known as “formative years”. The belief that the songs you like when you’re growing up, are the ones you’ll always be most passionate about. Formative years theory is why Gold 104.3 play Cold Chisel’s Bow River. The 50 year old listener they’re targeting was paying $3 to see Mossy & Barnsey in pubs when they were 19 in 1982, going home with tinnitus. 2Day FM run the occasional 90s feature, knowing their targeted 32 year old listener was in her teens, and went batshit crazy for Barbie Girl back then. She still does. They’ll turn it up, scream “wow” or “oh my god”, because a chord was just struck deep within their veins. Music does that. And it’s tied with us growing up. At the time of learning this theory, my thoughts were along the lines of “yeah, but I’ll keep loving new music forever”. And I do. But I’m recognising that the bonds built in my adolescence are sticking fat. Not even I am immune to this “syndrome”.
Let’s go back, before the internet was in homes. 1989. I’m 5 turning 6, and one of the nerds who would wake up at 5am on weekends, watch Rage and write down the entire top 60, week to week. I hope these lists are still around somewhere. I know they’re published online now, but I want my notes. I was obsessed with not only the song, the title & artist, but the “this song was number 8 last week and now it’s number one” or “How can this song be number 2 it wasn’t even in the charts last week” analysis. I was watching pop culture evolve week to week even before I knew that adults were purchasing cassettes, going to see these bands in person, or what they meant to people. The music was captivating me before I knew how it impacted the rest of the world.
Fast forward to 1996. I remember, with great fondness, that my parents hooked up “Optus Vision” pay TV. Dad got it for Sports AFL channel, but I loved Arc. Arc was their 24 hour music channel. And it was OK. But it was the following year, when Arc became MTV, that is one of my most exciting memories to this day. As a midweek 6pm approaches and Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy” plays, the screen intermittently cuts out to black, static, or quick slides of other videos, even Beavis & Butthead. It was happening. Transition. The song finally finished, and as a live version of Silverchair’s “Abuse Me” became the first song played on Australia’s MTV, the main element of my concern was the different font they used. Unprepared for it, I couldn’t read it. They even had a fourth line of text: artist, title, album, and now the record company was listed on the credits. MIND BLOWN.
At some point from then I began constantly keeping a VHS cassette ready to record. Just as I did with an audio cassette when listening to the radio doing homework, but this was different. Unlike the radio stations I would listen to with would reference ARIA charts, MTV was playing indie rock. “Alternative” music, that had its own ARIA chart. And not just the new stuff; indie hits from the last few years, too. A flood of new artists came to my attention. I caught up with Butthole Surfers and Fun Lovin’ Criminals. Foo Fighters were all over the place. The seeds of nu-metal were growing. Fiona Apple was showing me her underpants in Criminal, and Live had a whole bunch of barely-clad wannabe-lovers in Lakini’s Juice. Holy crap man, music was opening my eyes, I was growing up, and falling in love. With my wider music scope, that is, not just with the scantily clad.
The Colour and the Shape was just the coolest thing in 1997/8. Monkey Wrench was the most rock’n’roll thing that I’d heard, Dave Grohl had an awesome beard and could scream the whole “One last thing before I quit…” line without stopping for breath. I was 15. My heart can’t turn it off…that is one of my favourite songs in the last 20 years.
Fiona Apple was so damn sultry. Lyrically, Criminal a brilliant song. It’s a confession song, admitting cheating on her lover and begging her conscience for forgiveness. Genius. She won MTV Awards in 1997 and opened her thank-you speech with “This world is bullshit”. JAW-DROPPINGLY AWESOME. Stick it to the man! The only thing I remember her MTV Unplugged performance was her glassy blue-grey eyes. I could’ve stared into them for days. Criminal‘s in.
At the same time as this glorious channel, which my father would chastise me from watching and change the station each time he entered the room, ABC’s Recovery would follow Rage on Saturday mornings. They were everything that was cool. Often a bit beyond my young musical taste at the time, but holy shit was it cool. Champions of Australian music, as Powderfinger, Regurgitator, Spiderbait, Jebediah and the likes all rolled through with live performances and interviews with one of my radio idols to this day, Dylan Lewis. The Silverchair (or should I say “silverchair”) special episode they aired is the stuff of legends! Driving past the adult store, flicking through Daniel’s parents’ vinyls…
Recovery reinforced the Australian artists I love to this day and Powderfinger’s Living Type, and Regurgitator’s ! (Song Formerly Known As…) get a vote straight off the back of that.
The Living End were just coming about at that time, too. Prisoner of Society was one of the first songs I remember loving 100% from the first time I heard it. It represented my angst, man! You ripper! How anyone 15 years old in 1998 couldn’t vote for a song from their self-titled debut album has me totally lost.
They played at the first Big Day Out I attended, in 1999. My mates and I fell over in their mosh pit twice…15 and with no idea how to keep our feet. Those were also the risky days before the D barrier, where punters could push from as far back as the bar. And they did for The Living End that day. The hype was outrageous and they blew our minds. Hole headlined that day. Two days earlier, Courtney Love revealed a breast on stage. We were devastated she didn’t do it again. She mentioned it, but didn’t do it. Hahaha she was the biggest rockstar at the time, along with Marilyn Manson, and Celebrity Skin was one of the songs of the year.
On my radio mixtape, Ugly Phil from Fox FM’s Hot 30 back announced over the end of the song with “Man, I’m so excited”, and now that quote is part of the song for me. Memories. It’s engrained.
All in all, 10 of the songs I voted for were released in the 90s. They were my favourite songs when my passion was blossoming, adulthood is years away and the only concerns I had were school, one or two shifts at Target, and listening to music at home.
Nine other songs then come from the years 2000-2003. Outrageous! Is this a fair reason for my brother’s discontent? Whatever, that’s up to him. This is my prime, baby.
It’s when I was old enough to drive in to Fitzroy, Collingwood or Richmond to see bands. Alone if need be! When I’d pick up Beat or Inpress magazines to read on the bus, tram or train home from TAFE. When music taste was someone’s personality, and you blasted your friends whenever their CD collection differed!
It’s when I discovered Muse. When Something For Kate released Echolalia and broke through to achieve commercial radio play. When Chris Cornell joined the members of Rage Against the Machine to form Audioslave. When Speakerboxxx/The Love Below swayed me so much, I bought my first hip-hop album. When Jack Black and Kyle Gas met the devil and played “the greatest song in the world”.
This is when it was happening for me. A life fully intertwined with music. My TAFE courses were studying Music Business. I was in a garage band for a while, before I took one member and we started our own. I volunteered at music festivals. I discovered community radio and began my own weekly show. Music really was all I lived and breathed. And my favourite songs from that time are my favourites to this day.
I shake my head reading those two paragraphs. They bring so much emotion.
The connection developed with those songs and my life can not be shifted. I’ve loved recent releases from Adele, Alabama Shakes, Arctic Monkeys, and the alphabet continues. I listen to new music every day of my life. But my heart and mind have built such a bond with the songs released previous, that they’re really tough to shake. My favourite songs from the last 20 years are predominantly from my formative years. My lecturers were right. And when the Gold-format radio stations begin playing The Living End in the classic rock section, I’ll unashamedly be swimming in nostalgia.
Are you the same? Are you different? Do the songs you love today, mean as much as the songs you loved in your adolescence? Am I a crazy old man at 29?
Do you remember Arc?
Are you voting in Triple J’s latest poll? What are your choices? Why?
To my brother Andrew, I gladly look forward to seeing the songs you chose.
Oh, and here’s the full list of twenty songs I chose. Including The Presets’ My People, only song released since 2004 on my list! (With bloody good reason too, if you saw me on the dancefloor that year in Darwin…)
(I also may have neglected that I still kind of liked Hanson during the early MTV days, but for the purposes of the article, it’s misplaced information. Where’s the Love was in the Dial MTV most requested daily, but so was Metallica’s One. That’s why I was watching).
[DISCLAIMER: These views are entirely my own and in no way represent those of my employer or any other indsutry collective.]