Number Ones: Jason Derulo ft. 2 Chainz - 'Talk Dirty'

The latest #1 single in Australia is ‘Talk Dirty’ by Jason Derulo ft. 2 Chainz. Which, I guess, means that stuff that sounds like Timbaland and the Neptunes from a decade ago is cool again? And which also means 2000 words from me, in which I am most appalled about the fact that the eight credited songwriters, between them, seemed to not be aware of the basics of lyrical aesthetics.

(Billy Joel had a #1 single in 1993, so I was posting about Billy Joel in general for the podcast blog that’s now on hiatus for a bit.)


Billy Joel - Still Rock And Roll To Me

When I was a Year 12 music student in NSW, we had the HSC exams, where basically you played your pieces for a touring team of markers who’d never seen you before. I played piano, and, honestly, I was about ten times as technically proficient as I am now (albeit, I’m about ten times better at playing in bands and at coming up with good parts now, etc).

You had to play 4 pieces, and they had to be from different genres (‘film music’ or ‘rock’, etc). I…erm, actually forget a couple of the songs I did - maybe a ragtime-y ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’? Or possibly a Bill Evans-y ‘All The Things You Are’? I remember two quite vividly though: I do remember playing ‘Philosophy’ by Ben Folds Five - mostly because I was accepted into the Encore concert based on my performance, and because I put my feet up on the keyboard at the end during the HSC performance, which they asked me not to do at the Sydney Opera House. And the other was ‘Still Rock And Roll At Me’.

I said on the podcast that I’d never learned ‘Piano Man’ and that was pretty much true; however, I did somehow inherit a book of super simplified easy sheet music of Billy Joel songs, most of which I didn’t know well enough to work them out (I was always bad at reading sheet music, because I had such a good ear and could figure out things from listening to my piano teacher play it).

After I’d played that one, I remember the examiners asking, “oh, do you like Billy Joel?” I think I basically shyly shrugged. Which was probably an accurate reaction at that time; I actually knew quite a lot of Billy Joel, but I knew better than to admit to liking Billy Joel in 1999. I mean, I was a Radiohead fan! 

I did really like ‘Still Rock And Roll To Me’ though. I don’t think, in 1999, that I had much of an idea of where it was meant to sit culturally, that Billy was trying to do Elvis Costello in the verses and Elvis Presley in the bridge (as he really obviously signposts in the video), and I had no idea about how he came across as a phony with his faux-New Wave thing. What I dug about the song (apart from it being catchy) was the message in the lyrics about how music is all basically the same. By 1999, I was coming out of an alt-rock haze, discovering quite twee stuff like Belle & Sebastian (I remember someone pulling my headphones off when I was listening to Belle & Sebastian, listening for a bit, and then saying “oh, sounds like 60s music…why are you listening to that?”) and starting to listen more extensively to older music that I would have thought was terribly daggy 2-3 years previously (it was Napster time, so I could download and listen to all sorts of stuff that I’d downloaded over the magical internet).

And so I related to ‘Still Rock And Roll To Me’. Music was kind of all the same. Once you figure out the inner thread of music - which I was definitely starting to do by this point - you can listen to music of all genres and, before long, instantaneously hear what they’re trying to do. And that’s sort of what Billy’s saying here, right? That he hears the inner thread between Elvises Presley and Costello, even if Elvis Costello was trying to pretend he didn’t care about Presley.

It was ‘Philosophy’ that I ended up playing at the big Encore concert at the Sydney Opera House (I headbutted the piano at the end of the song instead). But my suspicion was that the 40-something women who marked my pieces were Billy Joel fans, and so even if they thought my arrangement of ‘Philosophy’ was the better performance, it was the Billy Joel that converted them to me.

I suspect it was 2003-2004 before I actually listened very much to Billy Joel - I would have downloaded Glass Houses and probably the best of around then. Before then ‘Still Rock And Roll To Me’ was the one song I liked. Oh, and ‘The Longest Time’. And maybe ‘Anthony’s Song (Movin’ Out)’ though it was the kind of song I forgot about until I heard it again. And then there was…


Music Reader: Taylor Swift, Guns N' Roses, Robin Thicke, Sugar Ray, more

Writing about music which I discovered this week on the interwebs and then wrote about for the Vine. Writing about writing about music! Maybe I should write a song about writing these columns. 

Number Ones: Avicii 'Wake Me Up!'

I compare the current #1 single to ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ by Rednex, which I think says it all (NB: Rednex had a #1 single in Sweden is 2008!). Dear America: the Australian charts have been a month or two ahead of the US charts recently. You may well have this to look forward to in the near future. 

90 Percent Hits: Episode 15


Episode 15: Billy Joel, Meat Loaf, Culture Beat, Ace of Base, & Bryan Adams

In this episode we discuss 5 #1 singles in Australia from the end of 1993! Featuring:

  • ‘The River Of Dreams’ by Billy Joel (#1 for 1 week, 28th August 1993)
  • ‘I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’ by Meat Loaf (#1 for 8 weeks, 4th September 1993)
  • ‘Mr Vain’ by Culture Beat (#1 for 1 week, 30th October 1993)
  • ‘All That She Wants’ by Ace Of Base (#1 for 3 weeks, 6th November 1993)
  • ‘Please Forgive Me’ by Bryan Adams (#1 for 7 weeks, 27th November 1993)
As ever, make sure to check the tumblr over the next week as we’ll be posting more stuff about these songs and related things. Feel free to comment underneath the podcast tumblr post to tell us about your experiences with the songs, or to drop us a line at twitter, Facebook or the gmail (all of which have the username 90percenthits, of course). And it looks good if you rate us or review us on iTunes. And we’re always keen to hear other people’s experiences with these songs!

In 90 Percents Hits land, we’ve made it to Episode 15 now, at the end of 1993. This one is oddly highbrow, with discussion of Rashomon, the philosopher Daniel Dennett, and the essayist Joe Queenan.  Oh, and we discuss the songs! We also discuss the perceived ambiguity of ‘that’, what exactly it is that Ace of Base’s ‘she’ wants, and a video clip directed by Michael Bay.


Tim Byron’s Pick: Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen

Bohemian Rhapsody positively reeks of Shakespearean tragedy. There’s echoes of Lady MacBeth in the lines about “mama just killed a man”. You can imagine Shakespeare’s hunchbacked Richard III cackling out lines like “so you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?”  Shakespeare’s character Shylock is almost certainly based on Pantalone, the Venetian merchant that was a recurring character of the contemporaneous-to-Shakespeare Italian plays the Commedia dell’arte, and plenty of plays with Pantalone in them would have also featured Scaramuccia, who may well have done the fandango in a play or two. 

And, of course, the song, as a whole, is essentially Shakespeare’s famous “To Be Or Not To Be” speech in song form. Hamlet, with that speech, is contemplating the point of life; maybe the world would be better off without him, maybe his life isn’t worth living. He’s contemplating suicide, in other words. And Freddie Mercury - whatever in his life ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was actually about - is doing the same in his lyrics here. It’s not quite a suicide note, I think, but it’s a song about contemplating the idea. He sometimes wishes he’d never been born at all, sure, but he’s trying to figure out what to do seeing as he definitely appears to have been born.

One way or another, the different sections of the song represent different moods, different ways of responding to the “to be or not to be”: whether ‘tis better to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or whether ‘tis better to shuffle off this mortal coil. While he sounds broken, a shuffler, in some parts of the song - “nothing really matters, anyone can see” - other parts of the song show him railing against the slings and arrows - “so you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?”. 

The famous operatic bit in the middle, with all the different voices, with the tug of war between the lead and the choir, represents the debate in his head, represents the doubt and confusion in his head. That section has a distinct air of schizophrenia; maybe the only way to deal with a horrific world with no good options is madness (and Mercury, living in London in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was likely aware of the psychiatrist RD Laing - a schizophrenic himself - who argued exactly that). 

In the end, the line about “any way the wind blows”, almost whispered at the end, sounds like a resolution, but it’s not a resolution that we, the listener are privy to; it lets us interpret his final decision however we want.

As to why ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is so well-loved, as to why it got to #5 in 1992, 17 years after it originally appeared to the world, well…it’s probably not that the public can see the parallels to Shakespearean tragedy. But I think that Queen had a phenomenal ability to translate emotional feelings in music; each of the sections so nails the emotional feelings it’s trying to represent. The intro sounds spooky, otherworldly, and it gently alludes to other parts of the song, from the operatic bit, to the outro to the main couple of verses. The way the verses build up to a crescendo. The way that, instead of getting the burst of rock that you expect after that crescendo, you get…opera? The way that the headbanging rock and roll sounds spiteful, vengeful. The way that every single bit of the song is catchy in its way, with just enough repetition to make the melodies seem fully formed, but never enough to even remotely come close to boring you.

In other words, Queen are so good at music that they never need to beat you over the head with the Shakespearean stuff. Even if the average person can’t articulate what the song is about, they don’t need to. It’s a song that you feel on the emotional level. You listen to the song and you feel the struggle. You feel the building despair, you feel the way the indecision leads to madness, you feel the vengefulness, and you feel the final resolution. 

As an 11 year old, in 1992, I certainly felt all that, anyway, even if I didn’t know what a scaramouche was.



Another thing what I wrote for the tumblr for the podcast I talk on, 90 Percent Hits, where we discuss the #1 singles of the 1990s. Which I think we’ve definitely hit our stride on - people do tell me that they look weird laughing on public transport because of the podcast?

Anyway, no idea whether my “Shakespeare!” angle on ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is original (probably not, what’s not been said about the song?) but I liked it. Also, Tim Coyle’s posts, in particular, on the tumblr are great; take, for example, him eviscerating UB40’s ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, or coming to terms with his early-1990s love for ‘November Rain’ and realising as an adult that Axl Rose is about as nice a person as Chris Brown.

Music Reader: Thom Yorke, Vampire Weekend, LGBT in hip-hop, more

After two weeks when Jake Cleland manned the Music Reader ship while I wandered around the UK having fun (Museums! Seeing the Duckworth Lewis Method at Lords! Beatles tours in Liverpool! Do you want photos?), I’m back! Featuring links to a whole bunch of good writing! (Amusingly, by the time I got to linking to it, Chris Molanphy’s piece on the Slow Music Movement is quite old. But still relevant and good!) 


#1s: Achy Breaky Heart - Billy Ray Cyrus

Before London got serious about fixing its sewerage system in the 19th century, well, let’s just say that human faeces piles up pretty fast in enormous cities like London. And so dealing with excrement was actually a thriving industry. They called it ‘Nightsoil’. People known as ‘gong farmers’ were employed to walk around London in the middle of the night and collect human faeces from various cesspools, privies, and streets. They’d then eventually cart their nightsoil to the old ‘Dung Wharf’ to be shipped off to people who wanted it (the Mermaid Theatre in London apparently is built on the site of the old ‘Dung Wharf’).

Being a ‘gong farmer’ (or ‘nightman’) wasn’t exactly a pleasant job; you could only work between the hours of 9pm and 5am, and you were in danger of asphixiation from the noxious fumes that shit sometimes gave off. And even if you did make loads of money from gong farming, you were officially banned from living in certain upmarket areas of the city; I guess the emphasis on the phrase “stinking rich from gong farming” should be on the word “stinking”.

So why was nightsoil such a lucrative business that men would work in the middle of night? Basically, excrement makes great fertiliser. Plants love having warm human excrement; they grow faster and taller and stronger with it. So farmers really do pay good money for a huge stinking pile of shit sometimes. 


We’re up to 1993 at the podcast for 90 Percent Hits (there are people we don’t know writing reviews on iTunes now, so apparently it’s fun to listen to?), and so I wrote some educational sentences about a #1 single. 

Does a feminine face lure more men to cheat?

The latest in my series of actually analysing the research behind run of the mill science-journalism-based-on-press-release pieces. There are two bugbears I’m aiming at here: evolutionary psychologists who seem entirely unaware that modern Westerners may be very different to other cultures, and the media (and many psychologists) confusing a “statistical significant effect” for “a large effect”.

Music Reader: Kanye, Robin Thicke, Oasis, NKOTB, More

A week’s worth of awesome things to read about music.