Visualizing the Hottest 100

by Stubborn Mule on 12 July 2009 · 30 comments

Today radio station Triple J finished broadcasting their Hottest 100 tracks of all time, the first all-time vote since 1998. For those outside Australia and not familiar with the tradition of the Hottest 100, it began back in 1989 and results are determined by listener votes. After two more years the format changed and votes were restricted to tracks released over the previous year, presumably because the top 10 became a list of the usual suspects. Since then 1998 and this year have been the only all-time hottest votes. A traditional favourite, Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division, which was #1 in two of the first three all-time charts only made it to #4 this year, but Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit was #1 in the third and again in 1989 1998 and this year it made it to #1 for a third time.

Thanks to the wonderful collaborative spirit of Web 2.0, this year’s full list is already up on Wikipedia, complete with the year of release of each track. This allows me to indulge in my data mining hobby, which is why I am posting here rather than over on the The Music Blogs. So, inspired by a suggestion from Mark Lauer, a regular Mule reader (and careful sub-editor), here is a look at the distribution of the hottest 100 tracks by year of release.

chart

Hottest 100 Track Ranking by Year of Release

While the density certainly increases after about 1995, reflecting a lot of new entrants since the early charts, there is no clear trend along the 45 degree line (and, for the technically-minded, the R2 is about 0.1%). So, while there are not as many oldies in the chart, those oldies that do make it in are just as likely to rank well as the newer entrants. To make the most of the R code I wrote to produce this chart, here is the same thing showing artist name rather than track name.

artists

Hottest 100 Artist Ranking by Year of Release

To get a better sense of the distribution of rank and year, here is a chart that just shows the location of the tracks by year and rank.

points

Hottest 100 Rank versus Year of Release

Seeing the data just as points like this shows a concentration of tracks released around the mid-90s. A histogram of the year of release confirms this.

hist

Of course, I’m sure this says more about the demographics of voters than the preponderance of true classics in the 90s.

UPDATE: In this tweet, @nicwalmsley suggested an artist scoring system: 100 points for ranking 1st, 1 point for ranking 100th. As he notes, this system puts Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and Nirvana in 1st, 2nd and 3rd place respectively. Here are the top 10 artists by this measure.

Radiohead 343
Jeff Buckley 269
Nirvana 188
Powderfinger 154
Metallica 152
The Beatles 149
The Smashing Pumpkins 139
Pearl Jam 138
Michael Jackson 135
Pink Floyd 13

FURTHER UPDATE: @Warlach has laboured hard to assemble the full Hottest 100 as a blip.fm playlist.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: In case you are wondering about the geographic mix, as expected the list is dominated by the US and the UK.

USA 45
UK 37
Australia 15
France 2
Jamaica 1

The pedants should note that I’ve counted System of a Down in the USA (rather than USA/Armenia) and Crowded House as Australia (rather than Australia/New Zealand). I hope that doesn’t offend our Kiwi cousins!

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 _Soliloquy_ July 12, 2009 at 9:59 pm

“Teen Spirit” could not have won in 1989 as it was not released until 1991.

2 stubbornmule July 12, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Good pick-up! Fat fingers strike. I’ve corrected it to 1998. It won in 1991 and then again in 1998 and now in 2009.

3 Tim July 13, 2009 at 1:01 am

Interesting. I wonder about the demographics though. I don’t know what TripleJ’s audience is these days, but I believe typically it’s under 30.

I, for one, being 33, don’t listen to TripleJ any more, and didn’t hear about the Hottest 100 until after voting had closed. And I would imagine that under-30s would have voted more 2000s songs purely because of familiarity. Under-30s are also tech savvy, so there’s no reason for them not to vote.

So, I wonder if the list says more about music trends instead. Some speculations that feed that notion:

First, the top tracks tend to be emotive rather than fun or just catchy.

Second, times when there’s a strong counter-culture seem to generate more hits – perhaps because it feeds in to the first point.

Third, the late 70s-early 80s has a dearth of hits, possibly because around that time there was a backlash against the counter-culture of the late 60s-early 70s.

Fourth, the 2000s were relatively economically buoyant and gen-Y lacked a strong counter-culture. Perhaps the music of that time was less emotionally charged and thus resonates less today?

4 stubbornmule July 13, 2009 at 7:08 am

Tim: some excellent points there! Like you, I didn’t hear about it until it was too late to vote. I used to be a constant listener to the house of the Js, but that was many years ago now. There is probably one other factor at work for the 200s and that is insufficient time passing. My guess is that to earn a vote as a classic, tracks would usually have some form of nostalgia value (a reminder of major milestones in life, younger days, emotional events, etc) and tracks for the 2000s have not yet had time to accrue that nostalgia value. In 10 years time we might see a higher representation in the hottest 100!

5 stubbornmule July 13, 2009 at 1:35 pm

@Warlach has laboured hard to assemble the full Hottest 100 as a blip.fm playlist.

6 Georgina July 13, 2009 at 2:24 pm

I’m another former JJJ listener who no longer listens. But I did vote. And I’m pleased that most of my top 10 made it to the list (except for Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water … darn).

Really enjoyed this post! And don’t you think the Coefficient of Determination would make a great name for a band?

7 stubbornmule July 13, 2009 at 2:34 pm

This post has made it into Crikey’s “Graph Pr0n section. Their summary:

There’s been a bit of discussion about the age of the songs making it to Triple J’s Hottest 100 tracks of all time. Stubborn Mule charts the data — and shows the oldies rate just as well, even if they are outnumbered.

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

8 stubbornmule July 13, 2009 at 2:35 pm

@Georgina: Coefficient of Determination is such a good name, I should pick up my sax again!

9 geojojo July 14, 2009 at 1:54 pm

..so this is what you do whilst we are in the yoga waiting room!! i quite fancy your histograms. is there something you could plot in regards to the number of members in a group and their rankings on the poll?

10 stubbornmule July 14, 2009 at 3:45 pm

In the yoga waiting room it’s all about aligning my chakra not my histograms!

As to your idea of numbers in the group, maybe the score should be divided by the number in the band…that would put Jeff Buckley on top. The only problem this idea poses for me is that I’d have to work out the number in all 100 myself as it’s not listed on the Wikipedia page!

11 geojojo July 14, 2009 at 3:53 pm

that’s not too hard a task.

12 stubbornmule July 14, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Are you volunteering?

13 Mark L July 14, 2009 at 11:56 pm

Dividing by number of band members would put Michael Jackson at No. 2

14 geojojo July 16, 2009 at 10:04 am

so are four piece bands the most successful in the poll?

15 stubbornmule July 16, 2009 at 11:24 am

@geojojo: I am still gradually compiling the band size (althouh some are tricky, like Hunters & Collectors with a continously changing line-up). In the meantime, I have added a count by country to the post.

16 geojojo July 16, 2009 at 11:32 am

good addition. it’s very single white guy isn’t it?

17 Rob July 19, 2009 at 1:47 pm

“Seeing the data just as points like this shows a concentration of tracks released around the mid-90s. A histogram of the year of release confirms this.

Of course, I’m sure this says more about the demographics of voters than the preponderance of true classics in the 90s.”

I disagree. I suggest you compare the concentration of songs in this year’s countdown to that of the 1998 countdown. This year, by my reckoning there were 12 songs from 1997, 9 from 1994 and 7 from 1991. Compare this to what happened in 1998 – 15 songs from 1997, 13 from 1994 and 7 from 1991.

According to the demographic logic, either one of these two things would have happened: (a) there would have been a lot more songs from the 2000′s in this year’s countdown (i.e. songs that are pretty recent) OR (b) there would have been a lot more songs from the 1980′s in the 1998 countdown (i.e. songs that were 10-20 or so years old at that time).

Instead, what actually happened seems to be this – 1991 you can thank Nirvana for, 1994 you can thank Jeff Buckley for, but 1997 you can’t really thank anybody for, which just goes to show what I’ve always said: that 1997 was the best single year of music ever!

The countdown also goes to show that music (at least the stuff Triple J plays) has been on the downward spiral ever since, as demonstrated by the low number of recent songs in the countdown!!

Being 26 years old myself I am going to be somewhat biased, as the 90′s is the music I grew up with, but Triple J listeners aren’t all 26 years old, nor are they all 15 as I was in 1998! At some point the masses have seen the light!!

18 stubbornmule July 19, 2009 at 8:46 pm

Rob, you make an interesting point about 1997 rating so well in the list. I make the top years as follows:

1997: 11 (of which 2 are Radiohead)
1994: 9 (of which 4 are Jeff Buckley)
1991: 7 (of which 3 are Nirvana)
1995: 5 (of which 1 is Radiohead)
2000: 5

So, once you count for the high ranking acts, 1997 is a standout winner. But, the best single year of music ever? Now that’s a big call. According to Radio 2 listeners in the UK it was 1967. Being a bit older than you, I’d probably pick a year in the late 70s or early 80s. But, I’d have to agree that there’s certainly something to explain there about 1997. For those wishing to reflect on that question, here is the list, complete with Hottest 100 rank:

5. Paranoid Android, Radiohead
9 . Everlong, Foo Fighters
14. Bittersweet Symphony, The Verve
15. Karma Police, Radiohead
34. Prisoner of Society, The Living End
36. Into My Arms Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
57. Forty-Six & 2, Tool
58. Around the World, Daft Punk
61. Song 2, Blur
67. Brick, Ben Folds Five
75. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), Green Day

Meanwhile, here is a mini-poll on best year of music ever.

19 stubbornmule July 24, 2009 at 10:32 pm

For a different sort of demographic, I’ve analysed the Guardian’s 1000 songs to hear before you die.

20 Carlos Ortega August 20, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Hello,

I’d like to know if you could post the code you used at R to program the graphics in this post, because I need a graph like the one you did with the names of the songs but I don’t know how to do it.

Thanks so much

21 stubbornmule August 20, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Carlos: I have been meaning to add this code to my github repository. I will do it as soon as possible.

22 stubbornmule August 20, 2009 at 7:11 pm

The code for the charts is now in github.

23 nabha November 14, 2009 at 9:46 pm

i hate nirvana
i want to die

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