Every year across Australia, Triple J’s Hottest 100 inspires countless boisterous celebrations, passionate debates and social media firestorms that set the inevitably controversial winner ablaze.
His fellow countdown — run by ABC Classic — usually doesn’t.
As the name implies, the Classic 100 is typically a more understated affair. Unlike its drunken, bombastic cousin, ABC’s classical music station broadcasts the top 100 over several days. And since its inception in 2001, the annual countdown has been themed around certain genres or forms, asking listeners to vote for their favorite operas, symphonies and, for a year, French compositions.
This year, the Classic 100 might sound a little different. It may sound… younger.
This year’s theme is Music for the Screen and covers everything from film and television to games. In a countdown traditionally rife with the polysyllabic maestros of music history, it’s less Beethoven than Babe; less Rachmaninoff than Ratchet & Clank.
“Screen music has become such a growing part of ABC Classic over the years,” said Dan Golding, who hosts the station’s Screen Sounds show. “Even 10 years ago, when the Music in the Movies countdown ended, it was a bit radical for a classical music channel to choose to focus on film. Today it has shifted from ‘edgy’ to ‘how could you not’. I think for a younger audience, maybe my generation and below – I’m 35 – it reinforces that they are welcome on a classical music radio station.”
While official statistics have yet to be released, early whistleblowers for the Classic 100, set to take place over two days this weekend, may point to an abnormally high turnout. An Instagram announcement co-signed by Triple J — complete with clips from Star Wars, Studio Ghibli and the lucrative video game franchise Halo — became ABC Classic’s most interactive post of all time.
“One of my friends said, ‘I finally feel like a listener,'” said Meena Shamaly, host of ABC Classic’s Game Show, which is devoted to video game music. “That really lets me know that this countdown speaks to more people and — for lack of a better word — legitimizes the art form [of] screen music.”
Top 100 Predictions
The fervor to this year’s countdown stems in part from the sheer accessibility of screen music: think Kate Bush’s unexpected renaissance via Stranger Things, or Bridgerton’s string quartet reinterpretations of everyone from Robyn to Nirvana—which, admittedly, are cringe-inducing at times. , though their outrageous impact on streaming classical music is undeniable.
This could mean that the heavy hitters are likely to dominate the top ranks. Music in the Movies’ 2013 countdown included John Williams’ score for Star Wars, which is in the brains of every “kid in the ’70s, ’90s, and early 2000s,” Golding says. Other highscorers likely to return include Vangelis’ rousing piano sounds on Chariots of Fire, Howard Shores’ Arcadian vision for The Lord of the Rings and Ennio Morricone’s virtuoso western soundtracks.
This year’s list will feature TV scores for the first time. “Great themes date back to the 60s, [but] the idea of creating a soundtrack as a detailed, artistic thing that responds to what’s happening on screen is much more recent, simply because TV budgets weren’t that big until recently,” Golding says. Expect favorites from the last decade such as The Crown, Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones – Golding’s predictions – all the way to “more recent shows like The Mandalorian”.
Will games win?
Perhaps the greatest unpredictability in this countdown is the placement of video game scores — a field Shamaly sees less as a break than a continuation of the classic line. “Video game music is a storytelling device in the same way that operatic music is telling stories,” he says. “The same way early Gregorian chant told stories.”
Recording game music may not please all ABC Classic listeners, but Shamaly has his answer ready for opponents. “And what I’ll say is: Stravinsky. At the premiere of [1913 ballet] The Rites of Spring, there were riots because people couldn’t fathom this music,” he says. ‘If you want to accept Stravinsky, who was rejected in his day, are you the one who enjoyed Stravinsky the first time? Or are you the one who rebelled?”
There is also a certain intimacy in game soundtracks, perhaps even more so than movie and TV scores. “It’s domestic, it lives in our homes,” Golding says. “When people listen to the Super Mario soundtrack, they remember sitting in front of the TV—perhaps alone or with a sibling.”
Super Mario is one of Shamaly’s props, as is The Legend of Zelda – already a popular chill-out soundtrack on YouTube – and Halo’s sinister battle song. He personally holds hope for Assassin’s Creed, “a series that has gone to every culture on Earth — you hear things from the Middle East, Renaissance Italy, revolutionary America.”
He also hopes listeners will celebrate the Hottest 100 style — or close enough. “Maybe some of our… listeners are at least having a drink on the porch with the radio on,” he says. “At a time when you can listen to podcasts or Spotify, the fact that there’s something on the radio that really resonates with you on a classic station is what many might write off as irrelevant to their current lives – that’s brilliant.”