Category Archives: music

Love is Old-Fashioned, Sex Less So

Following on from my post on Visualizing the Hottest 100, I noticed that the UK’s Guardian newspaper has published a list of 1000 songs to hear before you die*. The list was assembled from nominations posted by readers. Even before looking at the list, I suspected that the demographic profile of the Guardian’s readers may be a little different to that of Triple J’s listeners. A look at the distribution of year of release in the two lists bears that out.

Hottest 100 Guardian 1000
Minimum 1965 1916
1st quartile 1984 1968
Median 1994 1977
3rd quartile 1997 1988
Maximum 2008 2008

Year of Release “Five Number” Statistics

In fact, fully 14% of the tracks in the Guardian’s list were released before the earliest track in the Hottest 100. Interestingly, that track was Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”, which also features in the Guardian’s list.

While the 1000 songs are not presented in any particular rank order, they are grouped by “theme”. The themes are heartbreak, life and death, love, party sonds, people and places, politics and protest and, of course, sex. This allows us to investigate the evolution over time of these different themes.

The chart below is a “box and whisker plot”, also known more prosaically as a “box plot”. It provides a graphical representation of the distribution over songs in each theme by year of release. The box shows the “interquartile range”, from the 1st quartile to the 3rd quartile. This means that half the songs fall inside the box, while a quarter were released in earlier years and a quarter in later years. The solid band shows the median year, which is the year right in the middle of the distribution. The light grey line shows the average year of release. Since most of the distributions are skewed to the left (early years) right (later years) in the interquartile range [see UPDATE below], the mean is a bit higher than the median. The “whiskers” on the plot extend no more than 1.5 times the width of the box. Any outliers beyond the whiskers are shown as points.

Box Plot (II)

Distribution of Year of Release

So what can be made of these distributions? It looks as though love songs are not as popular as they once were and people and places have fared worse still. But while love may be old-fashioned, sex and party songs have become more prevalent and there is still plenty of heartbreak.

And what of the most popular artists? The three most successful artists in Triple J’s Hottest 100 were Nirvana, Jeff Buckley and Radiohead. Nirvana and Radiohead managed one song each in the Guardian’s list: “Lithium” and “Paranoid Android” respectively (both in the life and death theme). Jeff did not make the list, although his father Tim did, with the song “On Top”. The artist with the most entries in the Guardian’s list was Bob Dylan, and the top 12 features a few who did not make it into the Hottest 100 at all, including Randy Newman, Frank Sinatra and The Kinks.

Bob Dylan 24
The Beatles 19
David Bowie 9
Randy Newman 8
The Rolling Stones 8
Elvis Presley 6
Frank Sinatra 6
Madonna 6
Marvin Gaye 6
Prince 6
The Beach Boys 6
The Kinks 6

It’s hard to read much more than that into these numbers, but importantly it gave me the opportunity to use a box and whisker plot which this blog has been sorely lacking.

UPDATE: As Mark has commented, this is a bit of a dodgy explanation. There is only so much that can be deduced about a distribution from a box and whisker plot (appealing though they may be). This histogram shows the distribution of the year of release for life and death songs.

Histogram: Life and Death Year of Release

Life and Death Theme Histogram

Mark also pointed out that the box and whisker plot does not really show the relative popularity of the different themes over time. I haven’t used pie charts yet, but I am not a fan, so I have come up with a mosaic plot instead.

Mosaic (II)

This confirms the decline in popularity of the love theme, but suggests that, while sex boomed in the 1990s, it has lost ground again in the 21st century. Heartbreak and party songs are the most popular themes of the current decade. The chart also shows that there are more songs in the list from the 60s and 70s than from the 90s, again a departure from the Hottest 100.

I have added this chart to the Guardian Datastore photo pool on flickr.

* To be precise, there are only 988 different songs in the list (and six are duplicated, each appearing in two different categories).

Visualizing the Hottest 100

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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!

Where Music Lives

Over the last few years, I have posted a number of times on the subject of music. These posts have ranged from the subject of Krautrock to a critique of the RIAA. From now on, I have decided to post pieces which are directly about music (concert reviews, genres, etc) over on The Music Blogs, where I am now a guest contributor. Anything about the economics of music or music and web 2.0 may continue to appear here on the Mule.

I have begun this shift with a review of the Lee “Scratch” Perry concert at the Sydney Opera House. Perry, one of the pioneers of dub music, is now 73 so it was a historic occasion, not to be missed. It was a great concert and featured the legendary Adrian Sherwood on the mixing desk, but that’s as much as I’ll say here. To find out more, you’ll have to read the review! Wobbling?

Last year I wrote about the the music/social network combination That post was followed up with one on the demise of muxtape and mixwit in which I said “I hope that does not become the next victim of the RIAA”. While has survived to date, it may only last by significantly changing its laissez-faire approach to streaming music.

A post on their blog last week opens

In the past few weeks we’ve had to make a few difficult decisions that will change the way some things work on  For the majority of you the changes will be for the better, for others they might be less than ideal for the time being.

It goes on to note that music will “primarily” be sourced from the music service imeem rather than broad-based searches of the internet. Users will no longer be able to submit urls pointing to mp3s. Instead, a set of “approved” urls will be used.

Continue reading

RIAA Continues to Stifle Innovation

Back in August, muxtape, a popular music playlist site, was forced to close by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Now mixwit have announced that it is closing too. The only explanation offered was as follows:

We’ve put a year of work into Mixwit so this choice wasn’t taken lightly. I won’t go into the details of our situation but state simply that we boldly marched into in [sic] a position best described as “between a rock and a hard place.”

Reading between the lines, it looks as though they too have fallen at the hands of the RIAA. Under the cover of claims to be protecting artists, claims that do not bear close scrutiny, the RIAA is building an impressive track-record of stifling innovation. While it is possible to take comfort from the fact that attempts to stem the tide of progress always fail in the end, it is nevertheless frustrating to see the suffering of victims of this pernicious organisation in the meantime, whether those victims are single mothers sued for file-sharing or the creators of sites like muxtape and mixwit.

Continue reading

Monetising Microblogs with Music?

In my recent post on the future of Microblogging, I expressed concerns about the viability of twitter given that they are yet to find a business model. But perhaps I just wasn’t thinking laterally enough: earlier this week I stumbled across a novel approach to monetising microblogging. The new site brings music to microblogging in a way that initially had me scratching my head, but it is gradually starting to make more sense. Based on a recent post on the Microblogger’s blog, 140char, others are responding in much the same way.

Continue reading

The Gradual Demise of the Compact Disc

The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA), after taking a look at sales for the first half of 2008, has run crying poor to the Herald Sun. While they have not yet released these figures to the public, they presumably continue the trend evident in published figures for 2006 and 2007.

Australian Music Sales

Continue reading

A Krautrock Sampler

Countdown LogoFor many years, Countdown was an institution on Australian television and I was a dedicated fan, never missing an episode. I even made it into the studio audience once in 1980 (I can pinpoint the year as Ghengis Khan’s Olympics theme song, Moscow, was number one on the charts). It was through Countdown that I had my first exposure to Krautrock when “The Model” was released by Kraftwerk in 1978. Of course, purists would argue that by then Kraftwerk had moved beyond their krautrock roots into electro-pop, but it would be another 30 years before I understood that.

Continue reading

Sonny Plays Sydney

When I started this blog, I expected to focus on my personal interests, such as Sonny Rollinsmusic, technology and science. As it turns out, most of the posts so far have emerged from my work-life, dealing with finance and economics. Seeing Sonny Rollins perform last night at the Sydney Opera House makes for a good excuse to change this with a post with a musical theme.

When I first started a serious exploration of jazz a few years ago, Saxophone Colossus was one of the first classics I added to my collection. Recorded in 1956, it features perhaps the most famous Rollins track, St Thomas which rapidly became a standard and is likely to be familiar even to those with but a passing acquaintance with jazz. But just in case you are not familiar with it, St Thomas is the first track on my Jazz Sampler over on mixwit [Update: with the demise of mixwit, these links no longer work].

Continue reading