Rolling Stone vs Triple J

Last month Rolling Stone published a revised list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The last version of the list was published in 2004 and, while the update brings the count of 21st century songs from 3 to 28, there have not been too many significant changes. The top ten songs remain the same.


1 Like a Rolling Stone Bob Dylan
2 (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction The Rolling Stones
3 Imagine John Lennon
4 What’s Going On Marvin Gaye
5 Respect Aretha Franklin
6 Good Vibrations The Beach Boys
7 Johnny B. Goode Chuck Berry
8 Hey Jude The Beatles
9 Smells Like Teen Spirit Nirvana
10 What’d I Say Ray Charles

Rolling Stone Top 10 Songs

The Beatles still have more tracks in the list than any other band.

Artist Song Count
1 The Beatles 23
2 The Rolling Stones 14
3 Bob Dylan 13
4 Elvis Presley 11
5 U2 8

Rolling Stone Top 5 Artists

But what interests me most is what this list has to say about Rolling Stone, its readers and the compilers of the list. A while ago I wrote a post about Triple J’s Hottest 100 of All Time where I noted that the Triple J’s list was heavily skewed to the 1990s. This chart shows the distribution by decade.

Triple J tracks by Decade

So how does the Rolling Stone list compare? Here is its distribution.Rolling Stone by decade

The difference between the two should be clear, but just to labour the point, here are the two distributions side by side (and converted to percentages since the Rolling Stone list has five times as many songs in it).

Rolling Stone vs Triple J by Decade

I suppose it should come as no surprise that the baby-boomers love their 60s and 70s music and the Gen-Ys love their 90s music. But, having spent my formative music-listening years in the 80s, I cannot help but feel that decade is under-represented by both charts. Or is that an accurate reflection of the quality of music in the 80s?

And another question: how likely is it that this post will end up in the headlines of Bubblepedia? Fortunately, not very.

Data: the list was obtained from here, a reference obtained from the Wikipedia entry. I fixed some typos, added years and loaded the data into a Google docs spreadsheet. Let me know if you see any remaining errors.

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10 thoughts on “Rolling Stone vs Triple J

  1. John Carmody

    The Mule advances the plausible hypothesis that these claims of “greatness” are skewed by the repertoire of the youth of the compilers, focussing, in particular on Radio JJJ. Of course, the same point applies to those from “Rolling Stone” — note that there’s really nothing earlier than the 1950s in that list. Yet many might consider that some of the greatest American popular songs (because “popular” or “pop” music is what is really being considered here) were written in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

    Showing my own age and tastes, I’d suggest that it the definition of “songs” were broadened to include Arias in operas, then music by Henry Purcell, Claudio Monteverdi, JS Bach, WA Mozart, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Richard Strauss, Edward Elgar should also be included. My regret about a concentration only on what I might (admittedly disparagingly) term “mass-media” material, throws up the challenge of this question: to what extent to many people’s musical tasted remain essentially determined by what they heard (and liked) in their adolescence, by contrast to their artistic and literary tastes which have, mostly, significantly developed since them. Not to say their political judgements and understanding of the wider world, as well?

  2. Jacqui

    I agree with Dr Jack – my most hated ‘personal’ question is ‘What’s your favourite piece of music?’

    As an early music graduate and performer, but also a ‘young person’, my taste in music spans from 1200 to 2010… Perhaps Triple J and ABC Classic FM so should do a combined top 100 of all time CD collection?

  3. Paul

    While tipping my hat to the point made by Dr Jack – the songs featured during Dennis Potter’s singing dectective and pennies from heaven are the most often hummed around this house – I feel the explanation for the asbence of 1980’s music is that many of the X-Generation spent much of the 1980’s working through the record collections of uncles, older brothers and sisters etc. Combined with the various other problems facing Gen-X (sniff sniff) including being a demographic minority, boomers who wont retire gracefully etc, those Gen-X’s who did listen to 80’s music at the time have had difficulty in pressing their tastes on a broader audience, beyond some usage in the sound tracks of romantic comedies.

  4. Stubborn Mule Post author

    Simon: I do prefer those pre-20th century classics in the original rather than the covers….but it’s so hard to find the CDs these days ;)

  5. Evan

    I love the 80s too, but I’d be hard pressed to find the rock equivalent to Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who or, for the 90s, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, and so on.

    The 80s were huge, but more in a pop sense – Michael Jackson, Madonna, U2, and so on. Sure, there’s probably generation bias in there, but I’m also pretty confident that at least some of the oversight is because of genre preferential bias – the 80s just didn’t have the prog rock or grunge rock pedigree of the 60s, 70s, and 90s.

  6. Stubborn Mule Post author

    Evan: despite my own affection, you may well be right that 80s represents a bit of a hiatus in rock as opposed to pop. There was, however, quite a lot of alternative/indie stuff going on, not to mention the explosion of rap. Here in no particular order is a quick (and far from complete) list of artists that I think helped make the 80s interesting (some I like, some I don’t, some are well-known, some are not):

    Sonic Youth
    The Fall
    Public Image Ltd
    Talking Heads
    The Smiths
    New Order
    The Pixies
    Psychedelic Furs
    The Church
    Husker Du
    Public Enemy
    Violent Femmes
    Depeche Mode
    They Might be Giants
    Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
    Cocteau Twins
    Simple Minds
    Siouxie and the Banshees
    Cabaret Voltaire
    The Jesus and Mary Chain
    Run DMC

    and here are some that started earlier than the 80s, but were still going strong:

    The Police
    Elvis Costello
    The Clash
    David Bowie
    Bob Dylan

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