Music: My top 20 of the past 20 years.

*My top 20 is at the bottom for reference’s sake.

Pre note:

I am a 22 year old male who was brought up on Van Morrison, Cream, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Doors and the Angels through my father’s influence and the Beach Boys, The Skyhooks, Carole King and Rod Stewart through my mother.  I must admit that my formative years in terms of my taste in music begun when I was 15 after years of sitting on the CDs in my living room and the unfortunate top 40 countdowns that influenced us so much as kids.  The satisfaction of breaking out of the stranglehold and developing your own taste is something that cannot be explained in words.  Music has changed so much in my short time on this planet that I can hardly begin to imagine how someone in their 50s can handle such a dramatic transformation.  Being a 22 year old in this day and age has its perks in regard to music.  The live music scene still buzzes with great acts in Melbourne popping in to the many vibrant venues and there are still so many people who would defend the sanctity of this scene until their last breath.  It is becoming a far more formidable task for major recording companies to gauge who is popular and marketable and who is not.  Young teenage girls and the elderly seem to be the major market for CD sales in a flat market however there are still clear performance indicators on what is hot and what is not.  I’ve always loved music and singing as loud as possible so everyone knows what I’m currently into but not until recently have I reaped the great reward of having my own car and trekking to gigs across town.  My days spending hours upon hours in nightclubs are well and truly over and the days (and nights) I spend listening to great music, drinking great beer have begun.  So much so that I have planned a trip to the USA in 2014 to watch and write about the gigs I head to across the country for shits and giggles.  As much as I would love to say that my top 20 of the past 20 years is a compelling list, I do not have anywhere near the experience of my musical elders and for this I state, I will keep working toward such expertise for I am a young music disciple who cannot live without the sounds of Grand Funk Railroad, Nirvana, Van Morrison, Arcade Fire, Otis Redding, D’Angelo and Pearl Jam accompanying the rollercoaster we call life.

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge for his template for the analysis of the 20 songs I see as the best I have come across from the past 20 years.  I completely agree with his sentiments that this concept has been marketed brilliantly in replaying the countdowns for the 20 years of the Triple J Top 100.  To be able to listen to the year 2002 when Dave Grohl was king, or 1993 when Denis Leary unforgivably knocked off songs such as ‘Killing in the Name of’ by Rage Against the Machine and ‘Go’ by Pearl Jam to top the countdown, is an incredible thrill.  I was too young to remember the peak of grunge music when Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and of course, Nirvana were the kings.  And I don’t have the depth of knowledge to highlight how the one hit wonders of the days gone by are just as irredeemable as today.  However, my enthusiasm for catching up should not be underestimated.  Listening to the entire discography of TV on the Radio and Queens of the Stone Age over the past two weeks are examples of how I waste my time in the most beautiful ways. That is the joy of searching and hunting in the depths of music history.  The ability to find something that astounds you and leaves you content for the time being.  Of course, if you are over the age of 25 you will probably be rolling your eyes at my ignorance and readying yourself for a patronising ‘good on you kid’ comment and I’m completely fine with that.  Allowing me to share in the experience of the decadent pleasure of the hunt through history’s past is all I ask for. Having said all this, the other part of my heart belongs to soul music.  The days of Otis Redding, Sam and Dave and the Jacksons all the way through to Nu soul, championed by D’Angelo, Maxwell, Erykah Badu and Mary J Blige.  The glittered emotions that are sprinkled through these pieces of musical majesty never cease to leave me breathless.  Anyway, the list we all choose should tell a story.  A story about our upbringing, our early years, our defining years and remind us of the moments we felt bitter and defeated and the ones we soared through the clouds (alcohol and drug inducement aside).

I know this is an immediate cop out but listed below are my top 10 honourable mentions to illustrate how difficult it was for me to finalise my list.

Top 12 Honourable mentions:

Alicia Keys – If I ain’t got you

Electric Six – Danger! High Voltage

Nirvana – Where did you sleep last night (MTV unplugged)

Silverchair – Tomorrow

TV on the Radio – Wolf like me

Band of Horses – The Funeral

Dan Sultan – Never let you down

Arcade Fire – Keep the Car Running

Modest Mouse – Float on

Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

Erykah Badu – You got me

I won’t go into detail about these ten songs but there is a viable case for each of the songs I have just mentioned.

There are songs that I have a vivid memory of coming across in my pre-pubescent years that have stayed with me throughout my life.  ‘My Hero’ by the Foo Fighters is one of those.  I had no understanding of what Dave Grohl had overcome to create this new act at the time but can remember the exact scenario I saw the video clip for the first time.  The every-man rushing into the burning house, putting his life on the line to save a young family with Grohl and the band watching on.  Now I question why the band didn’t assist the brave young hero but I still view the song as one of my favourite Foo Fighters songs in their discography.  This band I have so many fond memories of, the lead singer that I wish to meet more than any other, the band that has been such a stalwart of the music industry.  From Everlong and Monkey Wrench to Rope and These days, they stay true to something that we are scared will become compromised.  Deliciously real music.

As a kid I remember being forced to watch Powderfinger music clips and interviews in my music class at primary school.  No one liked Powderfinger at our primary school for that simple reason.  Bernard Fanning was the antichrist simply because our music teacher was absolutely obsessed with this seemingly mediocre Australian band.  But one day, probably sometime following the day I was brought to tears after I received Fingerprints: The Greatest Hits for my 14th birthday instead of Confessions by Usher, I listened to Powderfinger’s entire discography.  From the gritty Double Allergic to the brilliance of Odyssey Number Five featuring the anthemic My Kind of Scene and My Happiness to the their final hurrah on Golden Rule, the ‘Finger warm that metaphoric Australian section of my soul that it shares with Cold Chisel, Corey Enright, the Corner Hotel and Byron Bay.  The song I chose to represent them in the Top 20 was, coincidentally, Bless my Soul that was released exclusively for their Greatest Hits album.  Rapturous, victorious and pure ‘Finger, this is one of their finest songs that has the ability to fire up any hot blooded individual.

On the Australian theme, the most recent addition to my list is ‘Why write a letter you never send away’ by the Drones.  The album, I see Seaweed became one of the first albums I reviewed on a music program I do on a community radio station (SYN 90.7FM) and alike my skepticism on Powderfinger, I didn’t think much of the churning voice of Gareth Liddiard at first.  His voice was too laced with cynicism, too gruff, too much of an underlining snobbery of those who fell for the silly little love songs (me).  And then I heard the song ‘Why write a letter that you will never send away’.  I was transfixed.

‘Who cares about the Vatican? Man, everybody knows. And who’s surprised they went away and chose a Nazi for a Pope’.

Dripping with a defeatist attitude of how fucked the world is, the lyrics ring true with how perturbing the decisions beyond our control are from the perspective of one nameless individual who could be any one of the people we cross the paths with on our daily journeys.  It remains one of the most moving songs I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.  I came to scold myself for not giving this band a chance to explain themselves in regard to their ‘we don’t give a fuck if you hate us’ mantra that I thought radiated from their music.  I think the Drones have allowed me to turn a new leaf.  I am not as dismissive of albums on first listen because many of the great albums I have listened to are slow burners that do not immediately strike you in the face with their full, unadulterated brilliance.  Sure, I was absolutely taken by Pet Sounds on first listen and the same goes for Abbey Road and Bon Iver’s self titled first full length, but I felt that was driven by a pretension, an expectation that I would love it.  And thus, when I did listen to Bon Iver, Bon Iver for the first time, I was hardly surprised by how good it was.  It was different but it was still just as magical in my eyes.  However, it was not as rustic as the brilliant ‘For Emma, forever ago’ that had brought Justin Vernon to fruition in the first place with songs of the ilk of The Wolves, Re: Stacks and Creature Fear sprinkled throughout.  The highlight still remains Skinny Love.  It will always be Skinny Love.

And I told you to be patient,
And I told you to be fine,
And I told you to be balanced,
And I told you to be kind,
And now all your love is wasted,
Then who the hell was I?
‘Cause now I’m breaking at the bridges,
And at the end of all your lies.

  A classic tragic love song.  I remember listening to the live version of the song on Late Night with Jools Holland and knew immediately that no live version of a song could ever be better performed.  Maybe my naivety clouded my judgement but having seen the band in the flesh, I was almost disappointed when the rest of the band played with Vernon during the song.  Still, I was moved.   Maybe if we could vote for particular performances of the said song, I would have chosen that rendition and voted 30 more times.

There have been many gaffes during my years of purchasing music.  As a kid I bought albums by the Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls and Ricky Martin.  I was pleased by my first cassette choice of Savage Garden and am certainly still a fan of the music they produced however I can’t say the same (publicly) of the before-mentioned bands.  Sure, Cup of Life is an extraordinary anthem that never fails to move my hips when it comes on but it doesn’t exactly add to my street cred.  The other miserable mistake I made when I was 12 or 13 was the decision to buy The Black Eyed Peas ‘Let’s get Retarded’ single whilst my cousin, clearly the man with the superior knowledge of what was in with the underground chose Outkast’s ‘The Love Below/Speakerboxx’ double album.  The Love Below, the residue of Andre 3000’s sticky genius squealing from every corner of the album, a sexy ode to funk superstars of the past.  Speakerboxx, a darker album dominated by Big Boi’s outstanding flow, highlighted on the incredible ‘Church’ and ‘Ghetto Musick’.  The album, perhaps surpassed by Stankonia in its critical reception, was probably my favourite release of 2004 and remains one of my favourite albums.  There is no moving past ‘Hey Ya’ for its sheer craziness and ridiculous energy as the song from that album.  In fact, I doubt that any sane human dislikes that song.  It is quite frankly, too fucking good to dislike.  The same goes with Jeff Buckley’s Lover you should’ve come over.  Choosing a song from ‘Grace’ is like choosing your favourite after school snack when you were seven years old.  Sure, you love Last Goodbye and Lilac Wine, but what about Hallelujah and Grace?  This probably explains why I was a chubby youngster; everything was so delicious.  And yet, Lover you should’ve come over stands out.  If only Jeff Buckley remained a living musical treasure instead of a silhouette who overshadows every new and precocious huge male voice.  We would have been rewarded with so many brilliant albums championing so many different genres from jazz to hard rock to soul.  Alas, a voice of a generation passed far too soon much alike Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and Elliot Smith, all of whom having dominated our airways throughout the past 20 years.

Soul music is a particularly influential genre in terms of my existence.  Throughout my life, Otis Redding, The Four Tops, Sam and Dave, Stevie Wonder, James Brown and more recently D’Angelo, Frank Ocean and Maxwell have been a domineering force in my life.  The evolution of soul and funk, from gospel classics Wade in the Water and Ray Charles Mess Around to Miguel’s Adorn, is a fascinating story. Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, Prince’s Purple Rain and more recently D’Angelo’s Voodoo Child’s influence on popular music is still as strong as it was when those albums were first released.  If D’Angelo’s Voodoo Child is the pinnacle of soul in the noughties then Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange is the leader of the pack in the 2010s.  I don’t think I’ve focused myself on one album so consistently throughout one year than I did last year with Mr Ocean.  But that isn’t forgetting soul from female songstresses.  Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Mary J Blige and Alicia Keys all feature extensively through my playlists but it was Regina Spektor’s Samson that captured a vote in my top 20.

(Even as a heterosexual man, I can acknowledge how sexy this clip is)

Now, it is difficult for me to ignore the slant toward male leads and bands dominated by males but I didn’t intend it to be so skewed.  I admire the huge female voices in the artists I have previously mentioned and can without hesitation list Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Little Green Cars and Florence and the Machine as three of current bands I am a huge fan of.  Then there are the female folk/indie pop vocalists who I have fallen madly in love with.  Daughter, Laura Marling and of course, Regina Spektor are three women who fill such a criteria.  Regina Spektor’s 2nd studio album, Begin to Hope, features the instant classic, Samson, one of the more delicate and intelligent love songs that I have heard.

And the history books forgot about us and the bible didn’t mention us… not even once… you are my sweetest downfall, I loved you first, I loved you first.’ 

Reminds me of the glistening of long shards of green grass at the beginning of spring, such is the beauty of those lyrics.

Then there are the champions of the broad genre they refer to as ‘alternative’ or ‘indie’.  Of course to classify each of the following as indie would be a grave error but we are all equally confused but what can be consider what these days.  Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Foals, Vampire Weekend and The Strokes are all bands we can chuck into the one box.  I would place Radiohead and Jack White in there as well, but I don’t want to get lynched.  It was actually my cousins who influenced me to start listening to the Strokes as well as bands such as the Arctic Monkeys and Kings of Leon as I really desired their respect when I put my playlists on.  Their adventures in the music world were far beyond mine at that stage in my life.  I had seen The Killers play a bunch of times as a young teenage boy but bar that I was relatively, how shall I say, gigless?  Ungiggified?  I do realise they are both made up words however it sums up how I felt in their company.  ‘Julian didn’t move, just stood at the mic the whole night… but I think that is what adds to his character’, one of them would argue during our Christmas backyard cricket tournaments.  ‘Youth and Young Manhood is the shit’, ‘I’d say Arctic Monkeys are the best live act I’ve seen’.  I became intrigued and when I was 15, I purchased a bunch of CDs with the money I received from Christmas.  I bought ‘Room on Fire’, ‘Youth and Young Manhood’, ‘Nevermind’ and ‘Rated R’ immediately feeling like a far more fulfilled music fan.  At first it was just for the look when my cousins came around from time to time.  And it worked.  I received a few passing compliments.  Then a sneer when they noticed that during the same session I had bought the Essential Michael Jackson and probably some Matchbox Twenty (hey, Push and If you’re gone are fucking tunes).  But after that novelty wore off I began to listen to these albums.  And I liked it.  A lot.  Room on Fire, The Strokes 2nd studio album is consistently underrated.  Sure, Is this it? made the band stars but Room on Fire was a reminder of how they are not just a flash in the pan.  Reptilia, 12:51, Automatic Stop and Whatever Happened are as good as anything they have produced.  However, on returning to Is this It?, I recall how the band combines to create a sound that is tight as fuck led by Casablancas who oozed sex appeal and a disinterested cockiness that I could imagine every 20-something kid tried to emulate when it was released.  Hell, we all try to emulate the brash as fuck (breaching all these aqueducks, shout out to Earl Sweatshirt if you’re reading this) rock stars who seem to attract the eyes of every woman in any room across the world.  I chose The Modern Age as my Strokes representative on the back of the infectious hook featuring the lyrics;

‘Flying overseas, no time to feel the breeze
I took too many varieties
Oh, in the sun, sun having fun
It’s in my blood
I just can’t help it
Don’t want you here right now
Let me go
Darlin’, let me go.’

We’ve all been there Jules.  Kings of Leon have become the villain, viewed by many as chasing U2 dreams and falling on their own sword.  To an extent I agree.  They were the saviours of dirty Southern rock, the Lynyrd Skynryd or Allman Brothers of their time and now sit in that painful point of their road where they don’t know who their real fans are anymore… or even if they have any fans left at all.  However, this is about my experience.  Maybe after listening to a broader and deeper range of bands you start to open your eyes in regard to how unique the sound of your former favourite bands really was but I still listen to The Bucket, California Waiting and Trani and understand why I enjoyed the sounds of their first two albums so much.  It is gruff and unapologetic, perfect for a kid who couldn’t give a shit if their lyrics are misogynistic and hedonistic.  Then they created a cleaner sound and slowly the reason they captured me in the first place started to dissolve.  But that’s music.  Musicians are like friends.  Relationships with even your best buddies can fade if things change or altered even in the slightest of ways but the memories remain.  Arcade Fire, the more reliable friend, have proven themselves beyond petty disagreements.  Each of their albums a piece of musical genius.  Wake up, Rebellion, The Suburbs, Haiti, Keep the Car Running, No Cars Go, My Body is a Cage and Ready to Start are all examples of their hit making ability.  But it really is the fluidity of their albums that make them such a compelling band.  The huge sound, the choruses of ohhs and ahhs, the clever storytelling.  Perhaps they best sum up what I will pass onto my kids, musically of course, not the pessimistic outlook on what will become of future generations.  Actually, I almost certainly will pass that on too.  And then to wrap up this chapter about my friends, it is All my friends by LCD Soundsystem.  The repetitive pounding of the electric keyboard reminds me of the reliability of old friends.  The crescendos just make we want to smash my head up and down and the message James Murphy leaves us just makes me want to cry.  ‘If I could see all of my friends tonight!’ I belt out at the top of my lungs when I drive alone to the McDonalds’ drive thru.

And then it comes to hip-hop.  It’s only been a recent addition to my repertoire but I am rather fond of good hip-hop now.  I thoroughly enjoy the flow of Rakim and Erik B, Run-DMC, 2Pac, NWA, Nas and Kendrick Lamar.  I enjoy their work for their inclusion of themes other than shitting money out of their arseholes and sleeping with ‘bitches’ e’ry day and night.  Sure, that’s part of the profession but come on, produce a sick beat and tell me about the area you grew up in (Straight outta Compton/Crazy motherfucker named Icecube/From the gang called Niggaz with Attitude), the people who live around you (I hear Brenda’s got a baby/but Brenda’s barely got a brain/A damn shame the girl can hardly spell her name) and the problems within your community that you need to make a stand about (Making excuse that your relief/ is in the bottom of the bottle/ and the greenest indo leaf).  That’s probably why I took to Lupe Fiasco so quickly.

Exhibit A, American Terrorist.

‘shorty ain’t learned to walk already heavily armed
civilians and little children is especially harmed
camouflaged Torahs, Bibles and glorious Qurans’

Exhibit B, Intruder Alert.

Thats why he get high enough to go touch the heavens above em
Vividly remembers every pipe
Every needle that stuck em
Every alley he ever slept in
Every purse that he snuck in
Every level of hell he’s been to
And the one that he’s stuck in
The one he cant escape
Even tho it’s of his own construction

Finally, Exhibit C, Dumb it Down.

And I’m mouthless
Which means I’m soundless
Now as far as the hearing, I’ve found it
It was as far as the distance from the earring to the ground is
But the doorknockers on the ear of a stewardess in a Lear
She fine and she flying, I feel I’m flying by’em ’cause my mind’s on cloud nine and I’m a mime

(This one features a special appearance by Kendrick Lamar… it’s pretty sick)

And on top of this, it is well produced.  Which leads me to the Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collaboration released in 2012.  Kanye West has kept me bouncing ever since I heard ‘Kanye’s workout plan’ which has persisted through Gold Digger, Jesus Walks, Touch the sky, Flashing Lights, Can’t Tell me Nothing, Monster and RunawayEveryone has a guilty Kanye pleasure just as everyone has a guilty Jay Z pleasure despite their own reservations of the genre or the human beings behind the music.  Their collaboration, featuring the blistering Niggas in Paris, the woozy Otis, the homage to the trailblazers in Made in America and the ominous No Church in the Wild leads me to believe that it is one of the most enjoyable albums I have listened to on repeat.

I suppose my list shows how sensitive I can be.  Bad Religion, Spanish Sahara, All my friends, Lover you shoud’ve…, Skinny Love, Fake Plastic Trees, This Woman’s Worth and Samson all open up new and old wounds and I enjoy it.  But it also shows the development of me as person.  From a naive kid who cried when he received Powderfinger’s greatest hits to licking up the milk of D’Angelo’s sweet nectar (purely in a non-sexual way, if you can possibly interpret it that way), the musical journey usually corresponds with our journey in life.  The highs, the lows and those commonplace afternoons of effortless monotony.  May there be many more years of self-discovery within the act of discovering great music.

I can’t not single out what was my 21st song… or the number one of my special mentions as it is such an amazing track.

The beauty of music.  Some of your favourites continually change, others just remain the same.

Here’s my top 20!

Top 20

OutKast – Hey Ya!
Vampire Weekend – Oxford Comma
Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees
The Strokes – The Modern Age
Arcade Fire – Wake Up
Regina Spektor – Samson
Lupe Fiasco – Dumb It Down (explicit)
Maxwell – This Woman’s Worth (cover)
The Drones – Why write a letter that you’ll never send away?
Powderfinger – Bless my Soul
Jack White – Love Interruption
Foals – Spanish Sahara
Frank Ocean – Bad Religion
Jay-Z & Kanye West (ft. Frank Ocean) – No Church in the Wild
Bon Iver – Skinny Love
Pearl Jam – Daughter
Kings of Leon – The Bucket
D’Angelo – Untitled (How does it feel?)
Jeff Buckley – Lover, You Should’ve Come Over
LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends



  1. Thanks for the mention! And thanks for reading mine. How did you come across it?

    I must say you’ve done a bloody remarkable job with this yourself. You have a great way with words and excellent music taste 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on The Song Nerd and commented:
    Here’s a piece from another music lover who’s detailed the stories behind his #Hottest100 song choices. I really enjoyed seeing it from another person’s perspective. And nice to see perhaps I inspired this.

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