One of the most public ways in which popular music is remembered is through lists. Journalists love them, and music magazines (and now their online counterparts) have made them a routine way of assessing and representing perceptions of 'value' and 'importance'. Sometimes it's not just journos who compile lists of 'the best' or 'most influential' songs or albums, and consecrate them into the canon of popular music. Think of the annual Triple J Hottest 100 as an example.** In this annual event, listeners are asked to vote for their favourite songs of the year, and a list of one hundred songs is the result, which comes to stand in as an abstracted representation of the 'hottest' songs of that year. The list is then counted down, 100 to 1, on Australia Day each year. It has become something approaching a tradition, as people around the country hold parties to listen in to the broadcast, and debate the contents of the list.
In this annual event, it seems to me that the audience of Triple J is effectively deciding with their votes which songs are worth remembering from a given year; in the logic of this list, you might say that everything else could reasonably stand to be forgotten, or at the very least, are the songs that were not 'hot' enough for enough people. A compilation album is also released each year, which whittles down this list even further, and only a selection of the Top 100 are reproduced for posterity in this format. At present, Triple J is hosting another vote, this time on 'Australia's Hottest 100 Albums of All Time'. These lists are always contentious, and incite a lot of debate about what's in and what's out; this debate is important not least because of the questions such exercises raise about the value judgements that motivate individuals to choose this example over that example. Furthermore, if such lists are going to represent 'the past' to future audiences, then arguing over how they are constructed is essential.
But what about your personal list, one that isn't determined by radio playlists, genres, year of recording, origin or nationality, format, or (and this might be harder) what's deemed 'hot' or, if you'd prefer, 'cool'? What would you nominate to be your favourite, or most important, or most influential albums or songs of all time, the things that find an important place in your life and the way you remember its story? Maybe it's something you don't even like, but which you remember for some reason. I have a particularly strong memory of being trapped at a terrible party, aged 15, when the Red Hot Chili Peppers' song, 'Under the Bridge', was played over and over, literally for hours. CD players were not long on the scene, so someone must have been exploiting the newfound pleasure of the 'repeat' function. I had, and still have, a vehement dislike of that song. It was an incredibly popular song in 1991 and 1992, and hard to avoid at parties like that one. When I think about that song now, I think of it as providing an important moment of differentiation for me -- I didn't want to like what was popular. So for that reason, that song might actually make a list of Top 10 songs that have been important in my life, even though I could do without hearing it ever again, and it reminds me of such a terrible party.
What about you? What might be on your personal list of most important songs, albums, or musical experiences? Write to us and tell us about it at: firstname.lastname@example.org
** For our international readers, Triple J is Australia's 'youth' radio network, run by the public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), and began the 'Hottest 100' tradition in 1989. The radio countdown has a longer tradition, though: Brisbane community station, 4ZZZ, began counting down a 'Hot 100' on New Year's Day 1977. See 4ZZZ's website for more information.