Jake Robinson: 20 Years of The Hottest 100

Posted on May 29, 2013

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Triple J’s Hottest 100 is the world’s biggest annual music poll is now 20 years old and to celebrate Triple J have been compiling a Hottest 100 that covers 1993-2012.

Triple J has a unique place in how young Australians listen to music. In a country so geographically spread out, it’s remarkable that one radio station reaches so far and covers such a diverse spectrum of people. For people all over the land it forms an integral part of their listening habits and hence Triple J holds an incredible amount of power over the Australian alternative music scene.

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To many Australians the Hottest 100 is much more than a simple countdown. Broadcast on January 26, the Australia Day public holiday, the Hottest 100 is the ritual soundtrack to a high summer holiday of backyard booze and barbecues. The countdowns become a marker of where you were at that particular time, and are rooted in a time and a lived place. Looking back at specific countdowns it’s remarkable how I can remember exactly where I was when hearing the winner.

Music is by essence a subjective experience and best-of lists often tell you more about the people compiling them than any of the music incorporated in them. Between individuals it can be a somewhat pointless exercise arguing if one song is inherently better than another, but for a music organization it is a statement of their beliefs and values.

The Hottest 100 has always been a reflection of the zeitgeist of alternative music listening habits in Australia. Was “Thrift Shop” really the best song of 2012? Or were Dennis Leary’s “Asshole” or The Offspring’s “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” really the best songs of ’93 or ’98 respectively? While many would argue that it is unlikely they were the best, they certainly must have been the most popular within Triple J’s demographics at the time.

Considering that in the 2009 Hottest 100 of All Time, 11 of the top 15 were released between1991-97 (and none after that) we have some kind of guide as to what songs are most likely to make a re-occurrence this time around.

While there is no perfect way to distill a voting list I have decided to limit myself to one song from every year of the Hottest 100. Furthermore, each song had to make an appearance in that year’s countdown.

These limitations immediately posed problems since a few outstanding contenders for inclusion surprisingly never made the cut: Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah”, Foo Fighter’s “Everlong”, Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” or “Idioteque”, Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion (Lies)”, Daft Punk’s “Around the World”, The Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition”, The Shins’ “New Slang”, Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida”, Bloc Party’s “Banquet” and many more were out of the running.

Because I was a baby when the countdowns began and really only started paying attention around the turn of the millennium, the years also posed a problem. Certain years I wasn’t fully aware of the entirety of the music scene and hence few songs really appealed. And other years I was absolutely spoiled for choice.

I don’t think that these are the best 20 songs of the past 20 years, but each song had a particular resonance with me at a certain time.

And I guess that’s all the Hottest 100 can ever truly quantify.

’93 #20

Nirvana – Heart Shaped Box

It may be blasphemy but this is probably my favourite Nirvana song. The stark quiet-loud grunge dynamics, the bizarre only-in-the 90s colour saturated video and Kurt Cobain’s most poignant poetic lyricism.

’94 #23

You Am I – Berlin Chair

A quintessential song from one of the defining bands of mid-90s Australian rock.

’95 #38

Pulp – Common People

’95 was the peak of Britpop and the Oasis versus Blur showdown. However away from the show stopping efforts of the Gallaghers and Damon Albarn, it was Pulp and Jarvis Cocker who tapped into underlying class divide, hopelessness and doomed romanticism in a sadly prophetic way.

’96 #13

Smashing Pumpkins – 1979

A perfect distillation of adolescent melancholy through the eyes of middle-aged nostalgia.

’97 #7

Radiohead – Paranoid Android

A towering effort of manic genius that denies all attempts at logical criticism.

’98 #3

CustardGirls Like That (Don’t Go For Guys Like Us)

I have somewhat of a gap in my musical appreciation around here. Regurgitator, Jebediah, Grinspoon, The Whitlams and The Living End dominated the countdown and all are great Australian bands who wrote some amazing songs. However, none of them ever really affected me so I plumped for the sly wit of Custard’s “Girls Like That”.

’99 #1

Powderfinger – These Days

No band has had such long lasting success in the Hottest 100 as Powderfinger and “These Days” and the subsequent album Odyssey No. 5 launched them into the rarefied pantheon of great Australian bands.

’00 #6

The Avalanches – Frontier Psychiatrist

An effort that stills sounds remarkable today. It’s just sad that after so many years of hints, Since I Left You remains The Avalanches’ sole album.

‘01 #12

The Strokes – Last Nite

The infectious lead single from one of the best and most influential albums of the decade.

’02 #62

Silverchair – Across the Night

I bought Silverchair’s Diorama because a shop assistant told me I wasn’t old enough to purchase an Eminem album. I switched on my stereo and Diorama’s first track “Across the Night” sounded unlike anything I’d ever heard before.

’03 #3

The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army

Instantly recognizable and one of the riffs anyone can play on guitar.

’04 #1

Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out

A skinny-jeans-and-suits pop song to beat them all. I use to listen to the intro on repeat.

’05 #50

Arctic Monkeys – I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor

It’s frankly ridiculous that four teenagers could experience as meteoric rise as the Arctic Monkeys did. But, if you too were a teenager at the time than you could empathize with Alex Turner and his tales of growing up and going out.

’06 #8

Gotye – Hearts a Mess

He may have become a worldwide superstar on the back of “Somebody I Use to Know”, but this song has a devastating sadness that few others could match, yet alone it turned into an anthem.

’07 #8

Muse – Knights of Cydonia

A song so flat-out ridiculously awesome that it’s named after a crater on Mars.

’08 #4

Empire of the Sun – Walking on a Dream

I mused previously here about my relationship to this song and it is hard to tip against it now.

’09 #64

The Middle East – Blood

“Blood” with flashes of quiet domestic life evokes memories of another band hailing from rural Queensland The Go-Betweens and their classic “Cattle and Cane”.

’10 #42

Gorillaz – On Melancholy Hill

Damon Albarn writes melancholic ballads better than just about anyone else and this may be the best example. Originally intended for his side group’s self-titled ode to London, The Good, the Bad and the Queen, it instead found its way to Gorillaz.

’11 #92

James Blake – The Wilhelm Scream

“The Wilhelm Scream” defies easy categorization, lying somewhere between dub-step and old fashioned singer-songwriting.  Wherever it lies it’s an incredible song.

’12 #9

Tame Impala – Feels Like We Only Go Backwards

I love the way this song folds back in on itself, as in a perpetually reoccurring dream. The production is a work of genius, just listen to how the vocals swim and slide across the spectrum.

Jake Robinson is You’re Dripping Egg’s music columnist. His fortnightly column, Stereo In A Forest, premieres every second Wednesday.

What are your favourite Hottest 100 song? Tell us in the comments.

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