The songs that saved my life: twenty years of the Hottest 100

Music has been a constant in my life. From the scratchy Billie Holiday vinyl my mother used to play when I was a kid, to digging in crates of second-hand stores for rare 12″ records, to dancing around the lounge room these days with my own kids to the latest Of Monsters and Men YouTube clip, music has always been present.


Music has been a distraction, a saviour, a companion and a connector. As a teenager, music was a bright patina against the grey matte of the outer western suburbs of Sydney where I grew up. Music was hope. It was a journey of discovery.

Retracing the past twenty years of music through voting in the Triple J Hottest 100 has meant rediscovering the tracks that form the soundtrack to my life. It has recalled my biggest milestones, wildest celebrations, happiest memories and my lowest lows.


The soundtrack marks exactly half of my life, from age twenty to turning forty next week (eeek!). Is it really twenty years since Radiohead released Creep, and REM released Everybody Hurts? Yes. In the meantime, I have experienced love found and lost, death, birth, disappointment, elation, sadness and joy. I have become an adult, a parent, and a (mostly) sensible person.

How to whittle down twenty years of music and memory to only twenty favourite tracks? I settled on a few criteria to guide my choices. No two tracks by the same artist. Tracks that blew my mind when I first heard them. Tracks that had high-rotation when I bought them. Tracks that stand the test of time? Maybe not, but they resonate a particular time and memory for me.


There are many tracks and artists who I absolutely love. I feel I have betrayed them in not including them in the final cut. In the words of Morrissey (Rubber Ring):

“But don’t forget the songs
That made you cry
And the songs that saved your life
Yes, you’re older now
And you’re a clever swine
But they were the only ones who ever stood by you”

And so here is my list of my favourite songs from the last twenty years, in no particular order. Apologies to the forgotten songs that saved my life.

– Missy Elliott – Work It
– PJ Harvey – Down by the Water
– The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army
– OutKast – Hey Ya!
– Gorillaz – Clint Eastwood
– The Breeders – Cannonball
– Bjork – Human Behaviour
– Radiohead – Karma Police
– Beastie Boys – Sabotage
– Tori Amos – Cornflake Girl
– Tricky – Black Steel
– Blur – Tender
– Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero
– Massive Attack – Protection
– Arctic Monkeys – Cornerstone
– Nirvana – Heart-Shaped Box
– The Presets – My People
– Chemical Brothers – Block Rockin’ Beats
– Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks
– Beck – Devils Haircut



6 thoughts on “The songs that saved my life: twenty years of the Hottest 100

  1. So true, music is the background to so much and has such a strong sensory memory. Funnily enough Cannonball and Human Behaviour are so strongly tied up in my memories of you and your old flatmate Michelle! Enjoy the countdown, I’ll miss it but will look it up when I get home. Oh and happy birthday for next week, too!

  2. Hi Justine
    I actually got to your site via your new job at SLV, but, being a music fan, I was interested in this post, despite the fact that I am pretty ignorant of most music since the mid/late 90s (in fairness I have heard of, if not heard, most of your choices). I think the music we loved when we were 10 (the Monkees!) we love forever, and music is the soundtrack for the most formative periods of our life. Not sure about JJJ hottest 100, I have never forgiven the old fuddy duddy deejays on JJJ for claiming the Sex Pistols couldn’t play their instruments way back in 1976 (sacrilege – we know every decent band formed since then has been influenced by them). Anyway, food for thought for me.

    • Hi Andrew
      Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment. I’m glad my post prompted you to reflect on music and how it influences. I agree with your comment that music is the soundtrack for formative times of our lives. I feel a bit stuck in the 90s some times!
      Cheers, Justine.

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