Oh man, oh man, oh man, I’ve come out of the shadows once again! I just couldn’t let the summer take off without composing my annual 20 years in music article. So far, we’ve conquered 1993 all the way up to 1996, now get ready to really let the wrinkles and gray hairs really settle in with 1997! This was the year before I started middle school and my musical tastes were still blooming. A lot of popular albums were released and a lot of acclaimed artists stepped into the limelight for the very first time that year. Now, put your nostalgia alert on high because we’re about to review the most noteworthy moments and releases in the music world in 1997.
While it would be a number of years before these guys would score a big hit with Pharrell, the mysterious French duo known as Daft Punk’s very first effort in music was the release of their debut album, Homework. The single Around The World is accompanied by a music video directed by their fellow countryman, filmmaker Michel Gondry of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame and is an upbeat Jam to boot. They would eventually go on to have greater global exposure, but it was their inception two decades ago that put the world on notice.
In between the two biggest records of their career (Smash & Americana), The Offspring dropped their fourth LP, Ixnay on the Hombre in 1997. While not as recognized or as well received as some of their other material, Ixnay boasts a lot of really good tunes in its own right. We start off hot with The Meaning of Life before going into the humorous Me & My Old Lady. Track #7, Gone Away, is probably the most deeply personal track in the band’s catalogue and is rumoured to be about lead singer, Dexter Holland’s, deceased ex-lover. We round things up with barely two-minute All I Want, which the band still performs live in concert to this day, Amazed, and the closing track, Change The World. This was actually a great example of the band The Offspring would eventually become. While it maintains the punk rock edge that was first displayed on Smash, it also features a lot the light-hearted humour that would carry over to Americana a year later.
You thought 1996’s Load was the zenith of Metallica’s controversial return to music in the late 90s? Think again. Load’s sequel, Reload was released the next year as a compilation of b-sides to its predecessor. Honestly, I actually prefer this one to the former. It opens with two of the biggest songs of this era of the group, Fuel and The Memory Remains, before trailing off into what is probably my favorite track off either Load or Reload, The Unforgiven II, a companion piece to the The Unforgiven, the second single off the Black Album. It actually may be my favorite ‘Tallica track post 1991. A song that gets virtually no recognition among talk of the metal titans’ work is Low Man’s Lyric, a shockingly soft, ballad-like number featuring violins and strings. Sadly, Where The Wild Things Are does not reference the popular children’s book.
If you’re going to write a big hit, make sure it’s catchy! At least that’s what Britain’s Blur initially thought when they stumbled among Song 2 which can be found on their 1997’s self-titled album (and yes, the track is in fact the second on the record). The generically-titled anthem contains the chant “Woo hoo!” which fans often misinterpreted as the song’s name. Despite that, the two minute and change rocking number was a staple of the decade and can still be heard everywhere today. It still holds a special place in our hearts. But that’s not all the record has to offer. It also features Beetlebum and M.O.R. Two solid songs that don’t get enough recognition. Now speaking of Brit-rock …
While I personally prefer their previous effort, The Bends, Radiohead still put out a very strong effort with their third record, OK Computer, released exactly two decades ago. Most people will recognize Karma Police but the real gem here is Paranoid Android which contains of the finest third acts I’ve ever heard. The most perfect final two minutes of a song. Most fans will undeniably state that this the group’s best album and it would be hard to argue even though I may not agree and yes, they still continue to churn out great tracks to this day.
Finally, no mention of the U.K. music scene in ‘97 is complete without a shout out to the Prodigy who made everyone trip out to their album, The Fat of the Land. The song Smack My Bitch Up caused a great deal of controversy due to music video’s explicit content (more on that here). Still, the album boasts a great deal of electronic dance, hip-hop, and and rock for fans of all genres. Songs like Firestarter and Diesel Power show the record’s power but it’s the album’s second single (and my personal favorite) Breathe that really puts it over the edge. Hey, Matt Cameron of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden fame performs drums on the album!
Fresh off the heels of contributing Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me (the best thing they’ve done in years to that point) to the Batman Forever soundtrack, storied Irish group, U2, dropped their most experimental and divided record in 1997, Pop. Not wanting to release more of the same straight-forward rock on this one, Bono and co. went all out dabbling in electronic and dance genres. The result was one of the lowest-selling LP’s in the band’s history. From the opener, Discotheque and the subsequent Mofo, it just didn’t sound like a progression of U2 to most people but a completely different band. Hey, I didn’t think If God Will Send His Angels was that bad!
One of the most successful debut albums of the 1990s came in the form of a then-unknown alternative rock band from San Francisco. Yes folks, this was the year Third Eye Blind stole our hearts with some of the catchiest tunes ever. I’ve covered this band and album quite a few times on this site so I won’t delve too much but who didn’t have Semi-Charmed Life on repeat all the time in the late 90s? Hell, what about Jumper? Graduate? Freakin’ HOW’S IT GOING TO BE??? Stephen Jenkins and crew flew to the top of the mainstream rock charts in short fashion selling over five million copies of their debut and to this day, live off the strength of this one record. Fun fact: my personal favorite from the self-titled is Losing a Whole Year and was devastated when they didn’t perform it live the sole time I saw them in 2013.
Years before the Jonas Brothers took over the radio and airwaves with their bubblegum pop, another trio of siblings won the hearts of youths worldwide. Long, blonde-haired bros Zac, Taylor, and Isaac Hanson, collectively known by their last name, released Middle of Yesterday into stores which contained the mind-numbing worldwide smash, MMMBop. Even today, I don’t know a single person who can properly recite the chorus (think you can?). Giving credit where it’s due, Hanson wasn’t your typical manufactured boy band. They performed together for years prior, played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. Those are impressive strengths and they enabled them to record and tour to this date. They left their mark on the music world and 30 year old girls still try to bust out that hit.
After their successful initial foray into music, Dave Grohl had officially left his Nirvana days behind and led Foo Fighters to their second release, the Grammy nominated, The Colour & The Shape. The quartet’s signature tune, Everlong, can be found on this record along with Monkey Wrench, the record’s first single. From start to finish, there isn’t a weak song on here. The aforementioned tracks as well as My Hero are always great to hear but let’s not forget the lesser known tracks like Hey, Johnny Park!, My Poor Brain, and See You. Grohl would actually record the majority of the drums on this record as longtime drummer, Taylor Hawkins hadn’t joined the Foos yet. This would also be guitarist Pat Smear’s only album with the group before re-joining them a decade later.
Sean Combs/P. Diddy/Puffy whatever you want to call him is best known as the billionaire entrepreneur who oversees his own record label, clothing line, and several restaurants among other ventures. But before the millions of dollars, he first burst onto the music scene in 1997 with one of the most important albums in hip-hop history. No Way Out featured one hell of an opening track, Victory, featuring Busta Rhymes where he spits his most furious rhymes. The album also boasts one of the saddest songs in rap with the Biggie tribute, I’ll Be Missing You, which samples The Police’s Every Breath You Take. Sting would actually perform this song live with Puffy at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1997. You’ll notice the abundance of 1980s pop samples starting with Been Around The World which borrows from David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and from Lisa Stansfield’s Been Around The World while Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down takes from Break My Stride, originally done by Matthew Wilder, a minor hit from the 80s. Mase is actually really good on that track.
NWO also gave us It’s All About the Benjamins which features Biggie, Lil Kim, and the LOX. I myself prefer the rock remix which features Dave Grohl stepping behind the drum kit once again.
Speaking of Mase, he actually released his own debut record this year, Harlem World. You all remember Feel So Good, right? Mase was actually shaping up to be one of the greats of his generation before stepping away from music in 1999.
It would take four years before she got her freak on and five years before she told us to work it but this was the year Missy Elliott stepped into the public eye for the first time dropping her debut, Supa Dupa Fly. The record and subsequent title track, which features flawless production work from the one and only Timbaland, were both nominated for Grammy awards. The former lost out to the aforementioned No Way Out but that wouldn’t discourage Misdemeanor as she would go on to be one of the biggest names in music. Guests like Aaliyah & Ginuwine shine while Da Brat (remember her?) goes raw on Sock It 2 Me.
One of pop-punk’s biggest acts was still on the rise by the time the late 90s rolled around. Blink 182’s breakthrough record, Dude Ranch, invaded our stereos in 1997. Drummer Travis Barker was still a year away from joining the band so his signature rapid drumming techniques are nowhere to be heard but despite that, Dude Ranch still managed to peak at number 67 on the Billboard Top 200 and produce two hits: Damnit and Josie. Blink still hadn’t become the huge name they still are today so it’s nice to see their progression.
1997 also marked the start of one of the biggest musical phenomenons of all time: the boy band craze.You guessed it, this year saw the release of a couple of pivotal albums in the careers of three key groups of the fad: The Backstreet Boys, N SYNC, and 98 Degrees. The latter two released their eponymous debut albums that year while Backstreet released their sophomore effort, Backstreet’s Back, containing the smash singles, Everybody and As Long As You Love Me. N SYNC’s Tearin’ Up My Heart became one of their most popular songs and one that dominated every grade school dance in the late 90s. While 98 Degrees would go onto greater success with their next record, it was their first release that put the music world on notice. They still had a big song in Invisible Man.
By the time the late 90s came around, there weren’t many singers who were more popular than Mariah Carey and that point was further driven home with her sixth album, Butterfly. The more-hip-hop oriented LP featured production by the likes of Missy Elliot and Puffy. The real shining star on here is the song Honey which contained a guest appearance by actor Eddie Griffin in the music video and featured an addicting piano hook. A remixed version was later released featuring Mase & the Lox with Diddy as producer. Yup, 1997 was definitely Bad Boy’s year.
After a stellar hip-hop career in the late 80s/early 90s with DJ Jazzy Jeff and at the conclusion of his run as star on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will Smith struck back with his first solo effort, the megahit Big Willie Style. I think we all own a copy of this one whether we all want to admit it or not. We all bumped our heads to Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It and Miami back in elementary school. I’ve actually covered Will’s rap career at length here on CXF so for more info on this album, check it out.
Canada’s Our Lady Peace could have very well made a claim to being one of the best mainstream rock bands in the late 90s. It’s hard to argue the greatness that was their second LP, Clumsy. It was their first official release on an American label and they set out to let the world know who they were. The title track is a coming of age tune about messing up and learning from your mistakes and the feeling that things eventually do get better. Superman’s Dead in my opinion is where the album really shine and really shows off the range in lead singer, Raine Maida’s voice. One of the band’s most famous tunes, 4am, also can be found here but honestly, I was never too crazy about that one.
The Boston ska giants made it a point to prove that they were the best at what they do when they landed probably the biggest album of their careers 20 years ago. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ Let’s Face It includes cuts such as The Rascal King, the first single which shows off the horns and trumpets Royal Oil, and The Impression That I Get. The alcohol-fueled anthem, Another Drinkin’ Song, has been an encore fixture on their live shows. Currently, the Bosstones are actually touring for the album’s 20th anniversary.
The international sensation shot back in the public eye with her fourth album, Homogenic, in 1997. This was a much more mature record for the Icelandic musician which can be heard on Hunter and Bachelorette. Comapre that to the darkness of Army of Me or the happy-go-lucky It’s Oh So Quiet.
One year prior, in ‘96, we lost one of rap’s icons, Tupac Shakur, in a shooting in Las Vegas. Less than a year later, another one was taken from us when the Notorious B.I.G. was gunned down in Los Angeles at the young age of 24. This effectively ended the East Coast/West Coast rap feud that has been brewing since the two men blew up in the hip-hop world. Biggie’s second album, Life After Death, was released posthumously that same year which featured Mo Money Mo Problems, a track showcasing Puffy which was actually the music world’s first taste of him before he dropped No Way Out several months later. Of course, we have to give a shout out to Hypnotize, one of rap’s premiere club hits.
Sadly, Biggie wasn’t the only one we lost in 1997. INXS frontman, Michael Hutchence took his own life in a hotel in his native Australia.
1997 also saw the release of one of the biggest novelty hits to come along in years. Euro pop group, Aqua, released Barbie Girl, a spoof on the popular Mattel doll. The band would enjoy a fair amount of success before fading into obscurity.