Category Archives: music

Musical Education

Musical EducationOn our longer family drives I take an old iPod crammed with even older music. Usually I take requests, and almost inevitably the children choose They Might Be Giants, and preferably the tracks Fingertips and Particle Man. But, our last trip was different. Instead I took the opportunity to the children some exposure to artists formative in the history of popular music. There is nothing like a grand plan to pass the time on the freeway.

Skimming through the albums, I decided that the best of The Jam would be a good place to start. It went down surprisingly well. Even our eldest, who generally prefers electronica, responded well to Eton Rifles. Marking that up as a success, the next choice was the best of Madness. This was more familiar territory, as they already knew (and loved) I Like Driving in My Car. Again it was successful.

Although this was a good start, it was not systematic, depending as it did on swift scanning through the albums on the iPod. So I have now begun to assemble a playlist on Spotify with a name as grandiose as its aim: Musical Education. The rules are simple but tough:

  1. Four representative tracks each (no more) are selected from major artists in the history of popular music.
  2. Each track must be from a different studio album. If the artist does not have at least four albums, refer step three. Singles not released on an album are also eligible.
  3. Single tracks can be included for important artists lacking the catalogue breadth for four essential tracks.

The playlist has nearly reached 150 tracks and includes artists such as The Doors, The Animals, James Brown and Prince. Inevitably, some choices reflect my own interests. My taste in Krautrock ensures the appearance of Kraftwerk, but in their defence I point to their appearance at the Tate and MOMA in recent years. Other choices may not have the endorsement of the artworld, but surely the sheer persistence of Mark E. Smith in continuing his post-punk aesthetic justifies a place for The Fall (Update: also The New Yorker rates The Fall highly too). As for XTC, well my own obsessions may be tilting the scales of significance. But perhaps not.

For some artists, choosing only four tracks is extremely difficult. Four David Bowie tracks…how? But rules are rules. Fortunately the toughest choice is taken away from me. The Beatles are not on Spotify, so they are ruled out on a technicality.

I have been road testing the list and there have been some surprises. The middle child has developed a strong interest in The Beach Boys, particularly God Only Knows (and that’s not just because of the BBC version), while the eldest has expressed a visceral dislike for James Brown. I did expect some bumps in the road of this musical journey: after all the boys refuse to let me play Nick Drake in the car (maybe one day they will learn they are wrong). Still, I am now getting requests for Hit the North, so something must be working.

This musical education is a work in progress, so I need help from all of you. Are there any big names I have missed? Let me know in the comments. Not all of the lists in the list are my own favourites, so I may have missed an essential track. Comments are open below, so please jump in!


Do Daleks use toilet paper?

I have been watching some (very) old Doctor Who episodes, including the first ever serial featuring the archetypal villains, the Daleks. In this story, the Daleks share a planet with their long-time enemies, the Thal. After a war culminating in the denotation of a neutron bomb, both races experience very different mutations. The Daleks have become shrunken beasts that get about in robotic shells, while the more fortunate Thals mutated into peace-loving blondes.

The Thals hope to make peace with the Daleks, but the Daleks have more fiendish plans and plot to lure the Thals into their city with a gift of food and then ambush them. It is a good plan, but it is the choice of gifts that left me bemused. There is plenty of fruit and some large tins whose contents remain undisclosed. These may be reasonable choices, although I do find it hard to picture the Daleks stacking melons with their plunger hands. But the trap also appears to feature stacks of toilet paper. Granted, toilet paper may be an appealing luxury for the Thal, who have been trekking through the jungle for a year, but the real question here is, why do Daleks even have toilet paper?

Dalek ambush

Where Have All The Genres Gone?

The Mule has returned safely from the beaches of the South coast of New South Wales. Neither sharks nor vending machines were to be seen down there. We did, however, have a guest drop in. none other than regular blog contributor, James Glover. The seaside conversation turned to music and James has distilled his thoughts for a blog post.

It seems timely to have a post with titular reference to the classic ’60s folk protest song “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” written by Pete Seeger, who died this week at 92. But I have been thinking about this question for a while. Not really as a music question but a classification question. (If you are reading this in a pub you might like to take a beer coaster and have a competition with a friend to write down as many musical genres in 10 minutes as you can think. I assure you an argument will follow).

Humans have an enormous tendency to classify things but often on closer inspection these turn out to be imprecise or just wrong. History shows many examples. The classification of the Living Kingdom has gone from two (Plants and Animals) to five. Eukaryotes:Animals, Plants, Funghi and Protistas (e.g. algae); and, separately, Prokaryotes (no separate nucleus). The latter has been since split by some biologists into Bacteria and Archae (e.g. extremophiles). In addition, for example, we can’t agree on the number of continents versus large islands.

The point here is that what at first seemed like a very obvious and useful distinction becomes, as time passes, less distinct and may actually hinder further understanding or be proved wrong and discarded. For example in physics the early 20th century Atomic Model of electrons, protons and neutrons has been replaced by the Standard Model of which only the electron (of which there are now three types) has survived, and protons and neutrons consist of quarks and gluons, as well as neutrinos and Higg’s particles. The racial classification of the 19th century, highly problematic now (so much so we don’t use two of the original terms) but seemingly obvious at the time: Caucasians (Whites), Negroids (Blacks), Mongoloids (Asians), has similarly been shown by scientists to have no significant genetic basis. The term “intersex” (now an official gender classification in some countries in Europe, and Australia) denies the classic (and so apparently “obvious” it really didn’t need explaining or justifying until recently) binary gender classification of male/female.

There are, naturally, two types of “genreism”. The first is based on evolution and radiation from one or a small number of original sources . In biology the classification was originally based on form and function, called “cladism”, whereas now it is based on genetic lineage. This for example, is why birds are now classed as “avian dinosaurs” whereas when I was a child in school we learnt the vertebrates (animals with a backbone) were split into mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles. The second type of genreism is based on differentiation within coincidentally existing groups eg, fundamental particles, they all arose spontaneously (in the Big Bang in this case) rather than evolved from a single particle (or did they?). Ok, I guess there is also a third type of genre as well, which combines both, such as music or continents where the genres can arise spontaneously and then also evolve and split, or even combine. Oh dear.

Back to the music though. In another era circa 1987 I idly wondered if there was room for any more music genres. Trying to imagine a major new musical genre is pretty impossible with my level of musicality but towards the end of a decade that had given us New Romantic and HiNRG I thought maybe it had all been done. Turns out I was a little wrong, as we were soon to see the explosion of Techno/House/Rave music, HipHop and then in the 90s Grunge and Drum’n’Bass. Of course these are arguably not major new genres in the way that Punk and Disco were in the 70s. House music is Electronica (as is Drum’n’Bass) while Grunge is just Garage which itself is Rock music. HipHop is an extension of Rap. A quick search of “Electronica” on Wikipedia reveals several dozen sub genres which would be virtually indistinguishable to non aficionados or experts.

The point I’d really like to make (and I have asked this question online for several years to no avail) is why haven’t there been any new genres since before 2000?

So before considering that question what exactly is a “musical genre”? Given they are quite different, by definition, finding something they have in common doesn’t help. I guess they have different expressions of the following four components:

  1. Instruments, including vocals
  2. Beats
  3. Production/Arrangements
  4. Image

I am no musicologist so this list may not be exhaustive or even the right way to look at it. I added “image” because a lot of allegedly different musical styles at different times really sound quite similar if your remove the clothing and image. Like taste in food, taste in music can be largely down to looks. This is particularly true for Pop. But when it comes to genres it is very much “I don’t know what it is but I’ll know it when I hear it”. Which also means that unless you are “into” say electronica or metal or jazz it may all sound pretty much the same.

So what are the musical genres? You can find various lists on the internet including this graphically useful presentation of genres through time, but here is my list. I have included genres which are derived from the first in the list in brackets but often they are significant (more significant in the case of Disco) that their progenitor. I have also not listed what I consider to be “sub-genres” like Nu Metal, Trip Hop, New Electronica etc. These, arguably, come under derivations, deviations and revivals.

Gospel (Jazz, R&B, Soul)
Blues (R&B, Soul, Rock)
Rock (Folk, Psychedelia, Heavy Metal, Prog Rock Glam, Reggae, Punk, Indie, Garage, Grunge)
Electronica  (Techno, House, Rave, Drum’n’Bass, Chillout)
Rap (Scratch, Hip Hop)
Pop (Folk/Protest, Country & Western, Easy Listening, Indie, New Romantic, World Music, Lounge)
Funk (Disco, HiNRG, Techno, House)

It is not entirely linear of course, Disco (Bee Gees) clearly has more or less elements of Glam (early Bowie) and Funk (Sly Stone) depending if you are in Europe or America. I always thought Blondie was a Pop band, not a Punk (Sex Pistols, Ramones) band as they are often described in the U.S. Pop also contains a myriad of related styles with an emphasis on simple melodies and arrangements, though there are notable exceptions but even when (as in ABBA or Crowded House) the arrangements are actually quite complex they still sound quite simple to most listeners. Indie used to be based on relentlessly non-commercial music (Nick Cave but pick your own favourite who never had a top 40 hit, at least until they sold out) until R.E.M. crossed over and maintained both critical and commercial success. Before R.E.M. it was considered a truism that you could only have one or the other and Indie bands which later achieved major commercial success (Smashing Pumpkins) had invariably “sold out” and “lost cred” in the eyes of their early fans.

So maybe the answer is that there is no longer a need for musical genres. There is certainly plenty of “new” music. And as DIY production becomes possible due to advances in technology and the internet means people no longer need listen to a single local FM radio station which promotes particular bands and genres then the very notion of genre becomes less useful. This is not unprecedented, modern movements in the visual arts (Impressionism, Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism) also have disappeared since the 60s when Pop Art (Warhol), Conceptual Art (Yoko Ono) and Street Art (Basquiat) finished them off. These days many artists work in multiple genres (Australia’s Patricia Piccinini is one) and the concept of “Art Movement” itself, which so majorly defined much of Art History (and coffee table Art Books) is now redundant.

So saluting folk/rock pioneer Pete Seeger maybe it’s time to put classification systems, for music at least, behind us and just recognise genres were “a long time passing” but now they’re a “long time gone”. (I should also point out that there are two types of people in the world, those who like classifying things, and those who don’t.)

Online music renaissance in Australia

A year or so ago, I complained about the dearth of music streaming services available. A couple of months ago, Spotify launched their service in Australia. Now, five long years after they started blocking Australian users from their service, Pandora has finally re-emerged in Australia. In his email to Australians who signed up for the service all that time ago, Pandora founder Tim Westergren wrote:

You can’t imagine how delighted we are to be able to bring Pandora back to you. We have been busy building the service in the U.S., but never gave up hope that we would someday return.

I, for one, am very happy to have Pandora back.

Spotify in Australia

A very short post today!

Finally one of the major music streaming services is available in Australia (I have complained about the limited options for music streaming down under here before). Spotify has now launched in Australia. I have signed up to investigate the service, so it is a bit early to give an opinion on how good it is, but I know it is very popular in Europe and the US.

I would like to see other services opening up in Australia, including Slacker, Rhapsody and Pandora, but given that all of these have been around for longer that Spotify, I will not be holding my breath.

Pressure Drop

On Saturday night I found myself in Melbourne at the first live performance in 30 years of the reggae band Pressure Drop.

The last time Pressure Drop played I probably couldn’t have told you what reggae was. Although I would certainly have heard Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue on the radio, I was a New Romantic at heart and was more inclined to listen to the likes of Adam and the Ants. At this point, in the interests of full disclosure, I should admit that Pressure Drop’s concert was the second of the weekend for me: I also saw Adam Ant at the Enmore Theatre the night before.

Since my New Romantic period, I have learned to appreciate reggae and dub, but that doesn’t explain why I came to be in the audience at the Caravan Music Club. The real reason was that Pressure Drop’s guitarist is Bill Mitchell, macroeconomist, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) pioneer and the man behind Billy Blog.

Bill and I first came into contact in 2008 when we both blogged about alternative Olympic medal tallies (my post is here and Bill’s is here). I then became very interested in Bill’s expositions on the importance a country’s monetary system has for understanding the possibilities for fiscal policy. Bill’s ideas were the inspiration of many of my posts, such as Blame Greece’s Debt Crisis on the Euro and Park the Debt Truck and I eventually came to know Bill in person after attending a couple of CofFEE conferences.

Bill’s academic interests extend from the workings of money, to concerns about full employment and equity (my only podcast to date featured Bill explaining his idea of a job guarantee, which is underpinned by an understanding of MMT). Since reggae has its roots in concerns about social justice, it came as no real surprise to learn that Bill had once played reggae. Then last year the band started rehearsing again and these rehearsals culminated in the release of a new CD, aLIVE 2011. I was keen to hear the results and I suspect I was one of the first to order a copy.

Pressure Drop

Although Bill is based in Newcastle these days, Pressure Drop had always been a Melbourne band, so it was only natural that their return performance should be in Melbourne. I had been planning a trip to Melbourne for some time and fortuitously it coincided with the night of the concert. So it was that I found myself out at Oakleigh RSL on Saturday night.

Bill Mitchell on guitar with Pressure Drop

Before Pressure Drop and after I beat my brother at a game of pool, there was a two piece support act: Ross Hannaford (of Daddy Cool fame) and Bart Willoughby, the drummer from No Fixed Address. I would hate to imagine how many years Brian has being playing guitar, but he is certainly able to coax beautiful sounds from those strings, apparently with no effort at all.

Once Pressure Drop came to the stage, it wasn’t long before dancing began. Bill had plenty of reverb on his guitar, but not so much as to hide the fact that he can play as well as he can blog (more than can be said for me). The band had a house full of enthusiastic supporters and they did not disappoint. The concert was great fun for all of us on the dance floor and it looked as though the band enjoyed themselves just as much. Don’t be surprised if Bill trades his professorial chair for a Fender on a permanent basis.

With the iPhone in hand, I managed to get a few photographs (the band has posted more here) and even a couple of brief video clips which I have crudely spliced.

I’ll be keeping an eye out now to see whether Pressure Drop decide to take the band on the road and play in Sydney. I can’t be sure when I’ll be in Melbourne next.

UPDATE: here is a video of the entire concert (1:40).

More on the Hottest 100

Following on from the last post on the Hottest 100, I received a few tweets from @mjdart demanding a deeper dive into the data. One of his questions was

Of artists charting in at least 5 yrs, are Oz artists higher represented?

I decided to broaden the questions to look at artists with at least five tracks in Hottest 100s (so artists with two tracks in one year and one track in three other years would be in). On this criterion, Australia still comes out on top.

Number of artists with at least 5 “Hot” tracks

In the last post, I complained that 2010 data is currently missing from Wikipedia. It seems that this is because Wikipedia is yet to get permission from the ABC. I have decided to risk the wrath of Auntie and have posted the full chart in the table at the bottom of the post. Having pieced it together, I have updated my original chart to include 2010.

As you can see, 2010 was a good year for Australian artists. It also turns out that the artist with the most Hottest 100 tracks is also Australian: Powderfinger. Here are all the artists with at least 10 Hottest 100 tracks.

Artist Count Country
Powderfinger 22 Australia
Foo Fighters 20 United States
Grinspoon 17 Australia
Silverchair 17 Australia
Muse 16 United Kingdom
The Living End 16 Australia
Regurgitator 15 Australia
Pearl Jam 14 United States
Placebo 14 United Kingdom
You Am I 14 Australia
Green Day 13 United States
Something for Kate 13 Australia
Eskimo Joe 12 Australia
Garbage 12 United States
Red Hot Chili Peppers 12 United States
Hilltop Hoods 11 Australia
Radiohead 11 United Kingdom
Spiderbait 11 Australia
The White Stripes 11 United States
The Whitlams 11 Australia
Wolfmother 11 Australia
Beck 10 United States
Ben Harper 10 United States
Jebediah 10 Australia
Metallica 10 United States
Rage Against the Machine 10 United States
The Strokes 10 United States


@mjdart asked another question which I thought I should also answer:

@stubbornmule If you assign 100 pts for #1 thru 1 pt for #100 each year, is Oz proportion higher/lower? eg Oz filling out top or bottom 50?

To answer this, I assigned 100 points for the top spot, 99 points for the second and so on down to one point for last place. I summed the score for each country and then scaled it by dividing by 50.5. This odd choice arises because 100 + 99 + 98 + … + 2 + 1 = 5050 and so dividing by 50.5 would give a score of 100 for a country that managed to win every spot in the top 100. This makes the score directly comparable to a simple count of places in the top 100. So, how does this weighted score compare to a simple count? The answer, evident in the chart below is not much! So, each country’s artists must be fairly evenly spread through the top 100 over time.

Finally, here is the complete listing of the 2010 Hottest 100, including country of origin. If you are feeling brave, you may wish to update Wikipedia. Just keep in mind, the list may be deleted again if the ABC does not provide permission for the list to be published!

1Big Jet planeAngus & Julia StoneAustralia
2Rock ItLittle RedAustralia
3Dance The Way I FeelOu Est Le Swimming PoolEngland
4PlansBirds Of TokyoAustralia
5Fall At Your FeetBoy & BearAustralia
6Teenage CrimeAdrian LuxSweden
7Fuck You!Cee Lo GreenUnited States
8Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)The WombatsEngland
9Magic FountainArt Vs. ScienceAustralia
10Somebody To Love Me {Ft. Boy George & Andrew Wyatt}Mark Ronson & The Business Intl.England
11ABC News Theme {Remix}PendulumAustralia
13Clap Your HandsSiaAustralia
14Runaway {Ft. Pusha T}Kanye WestUnited States
15Barbara StreisandDuck SauceUnited States
16Mace SprayThe JezabelsAustralia
17Bang Bang Bang {Ft. MNDR & Q-Tip}Mark Ronson & The Business Intl.England
18There’s Nothing In The Water We Can’t FightCloud ControlAustralia
19Crave You {Ft. Giselle}Flight FacilitiesAustralia
20Sunday BestWashingtonAustralia
21Undercover MartynUTwo Door Cinema ClubNorthern Ireland
22JellylegsChildren CollideAustralia
23AddictedBliss N EsoAustralia
24Talking Like I’m Falling Down StairsSparkadiaAustralia
25Eyes Wide OpenGotyeAustralia
26Not In Love {Ft. Robert Smith}Crystal CastlesCanada
27You’ve Got The Dirtee Love {Live}Florence & The Machine/Dizzee RascalEngland
28Radar DetectorDarwin DeezUnited States
29It Can Wait {Ft. Owl Eyes}IllyAustralia
30O.N.EYeasayerUnited States
31Bloodbuzz OhioThe NationalUnited States
32Pumped Up KicksFoster The PeopleUnited States
33Solitude Is BlissTame ImpalaAustralia
34Punching In A DreamThe Naked And FamousNew Zealand
35The Bike Song {Ft. Kyle Falconer & Spank Rock}Mark Ronson & The Business Intl.England
36Opposite Of AdultsChiddy BangUnited States
37Doncamatic {Ft. Daley}GorillazEngland
38Young BloodThe Naked And FamousNew Zealand
39RevolutionJohn Butler TrioAustralia
40Baby, I’m Getting BetterGyroscopeAustralia
41Down By The RiverBliss N EsoAustralia
42On Melancholy HillGorillazEngland
43We No Speak AmericanoYolanda Be CoolAustralia
44BaptismCrystal CastlesCanada
45Rabbit SongBoy & BearAustralia
46Way Back HomeBag RaidersAustralia
47Wild At HeartBirds Of TokyoAustralia
49Easy To LoveThe JezabelsAustralia
50One Life StandHot ChipEngland
51AmblingYeasayerUnited States
52OverpassThe John Steel SingersAustralia
53ReflectionsBliss N EsoAustralia
54Holidays {Ft. Alan Palomo}Miami HorrorAustralia
55Giving Up The GunVampire WeekendUnited States
56Bring NightSiaAustralia
58The SuburbsArcade FireCanada
59Rich KidsWashingtonAustralia
60My EagleChildren CollideAustralia
61Jackson’s Last StandOu Est Le Swimming PoolEngland
62Hold OnAngus and Julia StoneAustralia
63Ready To StartArcade FireCanada
64Jona VarkGypsy & The CatAustralia
65One StepDead Letter CircusAustralia
66Audience =Cold War KidsUnited States
67HolidayVampire WeekendUnited States
68Dog {Ft. Lisa Mitchell}Andy BullAustralia
70Paper RomanceGroove ArmadaEngland
71Piper’s SongGypsy & The CatAustralia
72I Can TalkTwo Door Cinema ClubNorthern Ireland
73Time To WanderGypsy & The CatAustralia
74LucidityTame ImpalaAustralia
75Coming Around Hungry Kids Of HungaryAustralia
76RadioactivedKings Of LeonUnited States
77Shutterbugg {Ft. Cutty}Big BoiUnited States
78Stylo {Ft. Bobby Womack and Mos Def}GorillazEngland
79Slow Motion Slow MotionLittle RedAustralia
80Howlin’ For You Howlin’ For YouThe Black KeysUnited States
81Echoes EchoesKlaxonsEngland
82Tighten Up Tighten UpThe Black KeysUnited States
83Modern Man Modern ManArcade FireCanada
84The Hardest Part The Hardest PartWashingtonAustralia
85I Feel Better I Feel BetterHot ChipEngland
86Queensland QueenslandEvil EddieAustralia
87The Saddest Thing I Know The Saddest Thing I KnowBirds Of TokyoAustralia
88Monster {Ft. JAY-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj & Bon Iver}Kanye WestUnited States
89Barricade BarricadeInterpolUnited States
90Finally See Our Way Finally See Our WayArt Vs. ScienceAustralia
91Northcote (So Hungover)The Bedroom PhilosopherAustralia
92I Can ChangeI Can ChangeLCD SoundsystemUnited States
93Anyone’s Ghost Anyone’s GhostThe NationalUnited States
94Time To Smile Time To SmileXavier RuddAustralia
95The High Road The High RoadBroken BellsUnited States
96Go Do Go DoJonsiIceland
97SleepwalkerParkway DriveAustralia
98Spanish SaharaFoalsEngland
99BigBigDead Letter CircusAustralia
100Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever)MuseEngland

Hottest 100 for 2011

Another year, another Australia Day. Another Australia Day, another Triple J Hottest 100. And that, of course, means an excellent excuse to  set R to work on the chart data.

For those outside Australia, the Hottest 100 is a chart of the most popular songs of the previous year, as voted by the listeners of the radio station Triple J. The tradition began in 1991, but initially people voted for their favourite song of all time. From 1993 onwards, the poll took its current form* and was restricted to tracks released in the year in question.

Since the Hottest 100 Wikipedia pages include country of origin**, I thought I would see whether there is any pattern in whose music Australians like best. Since it is Australia Day, it is only appropriate that we are partial to Australian artists and they typically make up close to half of the 100 entries. Interestingly, in the early 90s, Australian artists did not do so well. The United Kingdom has put in a good showing over the last two years, pulling ahead of the United States. Beyond the big three, Australia, UK and US, the pickings get slim very quickly, so I have only included Canada and New Zealand in the chart below.

Number of Hottest 100 tracks by Country

If you have excellent eyesight, you may notice that 2010 is missing from the chart. For some reason, this is the only year which does not include the full chart listing on the Wikipedia page. There is a link to a list on the ABC website, but unfortunately it does not include the country of origin. Maybe a keen Wikipedian reading this post will help by updating the page.

I make no great claims for the sophistication or the insight of this analysis: it was really an excuse to learn about using the XML package for R to pull data from tables in web pages.


results <- data.frame()
col.names <- c("year", "rank", "title", "artist", "country")

# Skip 2010: full list is missing from Wikipedia page
years <- c(1993:2009, 2011)

for (year in years) {
    base.url <- ","
    year.url <- paste(base.url, year, sep="_")
    tables <- readHTMLTable(year.url, stringsAsFactor=FALSE)
    table.len <- sapply(tables, length)
    hot <- cbind(year=year, tables[[which(table.len==4)]])
    names(hot) <- col.names
    results <- rbind(results, hot)

# Remap a few countries
results$country[results$country=="Australia [1]"] <- "Australia"
results$country[results$country=="England"] <- "United Kingdom"
results$country[results$country=="Scotland"] <- "United Kingdom"
results$country[results$country=="Wales"] <- "United Kingdom"
results$country[results$country=="England, Wales"] <-"United Kingdom"

# Countries to plot
top5 <- c("Australia", "United States", "United Kingdom",
  "Canada", "New Zealand")

# Create a colourful ggplot chart
plt <- ggplot(subset(results, country %in% top5),
    aes(factor(year), fill=factor(country)))
plt <- plt + geom_bar() + facet_grid(country ~ .)
plt <- plt + labs(x="", y="") + opts(legend.position = "none")

Created by Pretty R at

UPDATE: there is a little bit more analysis in this follow-up post.

* Since the shift to single year charts, there have been two all-time Hottest 100s: 1998 and 2009.

** There are some country combinations, such as “Australia/England”, but the numbers are so small I have simply excluded them from the analysis.

Online music going backwards in Australia

We have never been spoiled for choice when it comes to internet music providers in Australia, and things seem to be getting worse not better.

Five or six years ago, I first came across the intriguing internet radio service Pandora which drew upon the painstakingly assembled Music Genome Project to generate customised radio stations. Entering a track or artist on the web site would produce a playlist of “genetically” similar music and the results were impressive. Back then I was able to stream Pandora via my Squeezebox network music player. But it wasn’t long until the music copyright police got onto Pandora and Australians visiting the website would simply see a page explaining why the service was not available. I was lucky enough to still be able to play Pandora stations over the Squeezebox for another year until they discovered that loophole and shut it down.

The on-demand music streaming service Rhapsody has never been available in Australia. Rhapsody’s newer challenger Spotify is also unavailable here and I must admit to a little Schadenfreude when I learned that Spotify is yet to become available in the US. Although I am sure it will be available there before we get it.

With all of these services denied to music-lovers down-under, I had to make do with which generated custom stations based on listening habits of other users whose tastes overlapped with your own. Founded almost 10 years ago in London, was bought by CBS four years ago, which made me nervous for a while, but the service seemed to continue as usual. Until this February when Australian listeners, and listeners in many other countries around the world, found their service abruptly discontinued.

Options for online music should be expanding, yet here in Australia we have fewer services available than we did five years ago.

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.