Forget the #Tay4Hottest100 fiasco for a minute, as well as the reality that frequency radio in the Internet-era isn’t the centralized God of taste it used to be. But in 1993, Triple J's Hottest 100 was actually HOT. It was everything.
If you loved alternative music in the 90s, you listened to Triple J religiously. You phoned in to vote even if it meant cutting class, and you learned what to like and buy based on Triple J - all of which meant that the Hottest 100 made Australia Day national mixtape day of the year.
After a couple of false starts from 1989 – 1991 - where voters could vote for any song from any year, which unintentionally meant Joy Division and Nirvana would top every list - the Hottest 100 was pulled in 1992 while the station repositioned the goalposts. It was then re-launched in 1993 in its current form: voters had to pick songs released as singles specifically in that year. Looking back, it’s interesting how most of those voted in that year went on to become all time alternative legends.
Without getting teary eyed, we decided to go through the top ten of that first list to remember who was on it, what became of them, and where they are today.
10. Atomic Swing – "Stone Me Into The Groove"
One of the defining characteristics of the firsts lists was that they were largely informed by what was on rotation. There was no Spotify, no Pitchfork, no Hashtags, no iTunes, no nothing. You listened, and voted based on what you heard.
One song that stood out in rotation that year was Swedish band Atomic Swing’s "Stone Me Into The Groove". No one outside of pothead philosopher circles really had any idea wth the song meant, but in 1993 this uplifting strummy guitar hit made ‘wicked’ driving music. It’s doubtful anyone under 30 would know or care about this gang of alternative Swedes now, but apparently lead singer Niclas Frisk went on to produce a variety of lesser known Swedish records. The other members still don’t have Wikipedia pages.
9. The Cruel Sea – "The Honeymoon Is Over"
The only Australian act that made it to the top ten that year, The Cruel Sea were Australian alternative music’s 1993 version of an All Star Band, with each member hailing from semi-famous underground bands in their own right. Triple J was huge in championing national and international bands they wanted people to like, and 1993’s "The Honeymoon Is Over" was The Cruel Sea’s big break into national consciousness. Having them break the Hottest 100 aroused Aussie alternative bands to aim to break the American dominated lists (three national bands including Silverchair broke the top ten in 1994).
Now best known for their 1995 song “Better Get A Lawyer”, Cruel Sea members went on to have successful solo careers, and had a couple of recent reunion tours, much to the appeasement of aging Gen X’ers.
8. Pearl Jam – "Go"
By 1993, Nirvana-mania was beginning to fade, and bands like Pearl Jam were quickly filling up that gap with their much more macho-baritone take on punk rock and melody. Pearl Jam’s 1991 album Ten solidified them as alternative heroes, and "Go" was the leading hit from their 1993 follow up Vs. When "Go" came on, it meant that flannel was still kicking hard.
Pearl Jam’s influence eventually became forever tainted by the fact that they inspired dozens of insufferable Christian baritone rock groups. But Pearl Jam have pushed on, being one of the few Seattle bands to never break up, and still play shows that fans consider their best ever.
7. U2 – "Lemon"
It’s weird to look back and see it chiseled into stone: there was a time that U2 were actually considered Alternative. By 1993, they were well established, still surfing around the shoreline after the tidal wave success of their last SEVEN albums. Following 1993’s Zooropa, which featured "Lemon", the group declined on the alternative scene, winding up, quote: “reapplying for the job of best band in the world,” a goal that naturally led to much more commercially focused success – resulting in things like Chris Martin’s jumpsuit and last year’s nonconsensual attempt to backdoor 500 million copies of Songs of Innocence into people’s iTunes.
6. Rage Against The Machine – "Killing In The Name"
Holy shit. This was massive. Rage’s sound tore into the airwaves like a clawing beast with an axe to grind with the ether. It sounded like nothing before, and subsequently compelled thousands of Aussie white kids to start rapping their lyrics and/or filling up high school music practice rooms with their own bands busting out poorly executed covers all lunch break. Rage was politically charged, and completely epic on the radio.
Alas, in some American suburbs, Rage’s sound ended up being infused with Pearl Jam’s, creating cultural aberrations like Fred Durst who rap-rocked hard as hell about nothing at all. But at their peak, Rage were killer and ‘real, man.’ Members like Tom Morello went on to form other super-groups like Audioslave, while lead singer Zak de la Rocha continued with various political activism endeavors. They’ve also reunited for some epic tours and gigs.
5. The Breeders – "Cannonball"
That Bassline. That Intro. NOBODY turned the volume down when this came on. By 1993, The Pixies were publically and messily over, and Kim Deal was getting her due as an independent artist, a source of much tension within the band. "Cannonball" was the unofficial celebratory soundtrack of The Breeders moving on.
With Kim’s songwriting/lead vocals, they were instrumental in inspiring female-led alternative rock bands like Veruca Salt and Australia’s Spiderbait, and they’re still around, inspiring bands, touring, and making albums. Kim Deal, who just quit the Pixies for good in 2013 (after a reunion), continues to be awesome.
4. Blind Melon – "No Rain"
Ah yes, the indispensible one hit wonder. It’s aged like a nice piece of cheese, but in 1993, “No Rain” was an anthem that signified the softer side of alternative radio in a way similar to what Smells Like Teen Spirit did for heavier music. No Rain was actually released in 1992 (re-released in 1993), but Triple J/listeners seemed to let that slide, which is testament to how big it was. Tragically, also similar to SLTS songwriter Kurt Cobain, the band’s lifespan was cut short when lead singer and principal songwriter Shannon Hoon overdosed on cocaine and died shortly after their 1995 follow up, Soup.
3. The Cranberries – "Linger"
After a couple years in obscurity, an international tour with Suede brought The Cranberries to a much wider audience, sending “Linger” into heavy rotation on Triple J (first single "Dreams" was later re-released). "Linger" was super catchy, great for rainy car drives, and became immensely popular, particularly with female listeners. The Cranberries’ success seeded many female fronted groups/hits that followed in the mid-late 90’s – like Alanis Morrisette’s "Ironic" or No Doubt’s "Don’t Speak" – as they popularized mixing distinct female vocals, and a combination of heavy rock, indie pop, folk, with alternative sensibilities like naming their debut Everybody’s Doing It, So Why Can’t We? "Linger" served as an appetizer for 1994’s "Zombie", which topped the next Hottest 100 list.
2. Radiohead – "Creep"
“Creep” was not only huge in 1993, it was huge on Triple J for almost a decade. And although by 1993, the formula of self-deprecatory, soft verses loud choruses had already been milked, Radiohead executed it in a more subdued, British, proficient and arguably, radio friendly manner, that clearly hinted how huge they were going to be. Today, Radiohead are by far the most important and relevant group from this list, having gone on to release a series of landmark albums after 1993’s Pablo Honey.
In 1993, “Creep” was the track that alternative music fans truly considered number one, as what ended up taking the top spot was a controversial novelty song. It sparked endless drunken debates about what the list meant and how voting didn’t really reflect ‘truth’ and all of that hullabaloo that means everything at the time yet no one even remembers, which brings us to…
1. Denis Leary – "Asshole"
Supremely funny amongst teenagers/twenty-somethings at the time, many of whom thought it’d be crazy-cool to mass call in and vote it into number one. Everyone listening to the countdown that Australia Day laughed, got angry and sang the chorus to "Asshole" when it came on. But, as a joke song, it didn’t age well, or end well for Mr Leary. The asshole routine became better known for being a Louis CK rip-off, and the album it was featured on, Cure for Cancer, became infamous as the comedy routines were plagiarized - often word for word - from Bill Hicks, who actually developed and died of cancer shortly after Asshole was released, which downplayed the funny and upped the asshole. But for a day in 1994, it was the soundtrack to a population of Australian teenagers, who relished in the idea that they had control voting over what was alternative and hot. #Tay4Hottest100
Steven Viney is a Melbourne based writer - @stevenviney