The Best of all Time

Some people really like music.  It’s like the songs reach right in and mash the emotional cortex of their brain.  The making of top five, ten and hundred lists is a process that forces them to confront their innermost emotions.  It’s like ranking friends and family.  It thrills their heart.  It stuffs them with crippling doubt.  The Australian government encourages it though…

Every year Australia’s publicly-funded independent youth radio network Triple J runs a music poll for the best song of the year, called the Hottest 100.  Its recent winners include Kings of Leon, Muse, Augie March, Bernard Fanning, Franz Ferdinand, and Jet.

Within a yearly poll you get a massive recency bias.  The song everyone likes in the month voting opens often gets a huge run, and is a source of shame ever after  (#1 in 1998 was Pretty Fly (for a white guy) by the Offspring.  Never heard it?  Don’t bother).

This year they are running a best of all time poll.  Last time they did this (in 1998) the top 10 was…

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
Hunters & Collectors – Throw Your Arms Around Me
Pearl Jam – Alive
Jeff Buckley – Last Goodbye
Radiohead – Creep
Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven
Metallica – One
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
Metallica – Enter Sandman
Pearl Jam – Black

Ten years have passed.  The results will certainly be different to the last iteration – I doubt Hunters and Collectors will be up there. The list of songs to choose from got longer, and the voting group has changed. But this poll will excite the oldies who don’t vote in the annual poll, so it might not be so different as people think.

I went on the website and browsed.  It was fun.  But there’s a difficulty with choosing your favourite songs.  People feel a massive connection to bands.  So they choose their favourite band and then select a song.

You can see this on the examples posted on the website when people say things like ‘It wouldn’t be a top ten without a Dylan track.  I’ve gone with…’.  They may prefer the Bob Dylan oeuvre to the My Chemical Romance back catalog, but you can wager they more often listen to Welcome to the Black Parade than Quinn the Eskimo.

One guy on the forums was suggesting that if you vote for a song, every other track by that artist gets a 0.25 vote.  His argument was that bands with a lot of songs were disadvantaged by the way their fans would split the votes.   It assumes bands deserve to make the list, not songs, and he really didn’t want his favourite band to miss out on the top 100.  As you may notice, I haven’t been immune to this trap.

The Triple J website gives you ten votes. Here’s my top 10, current as of … now.

1  Pride (in the name of love)  – U2
2  Flame Trees – Sarah Blasko 
3  Let Down – Radiohead
4  Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
5  Mr Brightside – The Killers
6  Add it Up – Violent Femmes
7  Today – The Smashing Pumpkins
8  Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles
9  Dear Chicago – Ryan Adams
10  neverevereverdid – Architecture in Helsinki

Also in consideration before the final cull were – Hey Ya by Outkast, Under the Bridge by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Do You Realise by Flaming Lips, To Her Door by Paul Kelly, and Sitting on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding.

Will you vote? Who makes your top ten??   

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

3 thoughts on “The Best of all Time”

  1. Apart from the ‘recency bias’, I think you’re forgetting the ‘bogons’, ‘youf’ and ‘idiots-who-like-architecture-in-helsinki’ bias which is proof that nobody should be allowed to vote for anything. Ever.

    Go democracy.


  2. You can’t do a “Top 10” list in this day and age without a witty cross-cultural reference to High Fidelity (the book or movie, take your pick). Also Kings of Leon, Augie March etc might have “won” the Hottest 100, but as far as I know, they don’t actually win anything – other than cred.

    I prefer what missed out on the your final cull, more than your top 10, but that’s my two bobs worth.


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