It’s been like what, over a year now? You didn’t think I’d let the year end without composing my signature article, did you?
It’s really crazy to think we’re getting down to the end of the decade and are about to put decade behind us. More importantly, we’re winding down on the 1990s and reaching the new millenium in music. It really is interesting how much noteworthy music there was in the year 1998. Whether it’s pivotal records, debuts from musicians that are still being brought up in conversation today, or prolific artists who first hit the charts, helping to define the last 10 years, this was a very significant 12 months in the realm of music. Shall we?
Nu-metal’s prominence was heating up in 1998 with the release of Korn’s landmark third record, Follow the Leader. While keeping their detuned, funk-metal sound, it also further embraced the group’s influences of hip-hop featuring collaborations with Ice Cube and SlimKid3. The album is best known for Freak on a Leash which is synonymous with the nu-metal genre, becoming one of the more recognizable metal songs from its era. Its groundbreaking music video, a depiction of a speeding bullet as it transitions through multiple scenes, was directed by Spawn creator, Todd McFarlane (who had a busy 1998 as we’ll explore later), who also designed the album’s cover. He was joined in co-directing duties by the duo of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who would go on to direct the Oscar-nominated film, Little Miss Sunshine, in 2006. Back to Korn, The LP also features Got The Life and All in the Family where Limp Bizkit frontman, Fred Durst, supplied guest vocals. The connection there being Korn helped Limp Bizkit sign to a major label and toured with them in their formative years. The Bakersfield rockers were shot into superstardom following FTL’s release becoming of the most popular acts at the end of the decade, inspiring many bands to follow suit. Get ready because in the following years, you’ll see just how big Korn’s influence had come to be, for better or worse.
After the very divisive reception that Load and Reload received, Metallica decided to take a little break from recording original material in 1998 and instead released a variety of cover songs entitled Garage Inc. The double album consists of one album of covers the band recorded in the 1980s and another of newly-recorded songs. The record shows the vast array of influences that the band has taken from over the years. You’ll immediately notice the obvious ones such as the Misfits, Motorhead, and Black Sabbath but then there’s some that might surprise you such as Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Bob Seger, the latter of which originally composed the album’s first single, Turn the Page. If you recall, I talked about that song’s video in an article I wrote a few years back and how racy it was, eventually being banned from MTV. While their cover of Queen’s Stone Cold Crazy earned them a Grammy in 1991 (the year Freddie Mercury passed away), it was their re-imagining of the timeless Irish drinking anthem, Whiskey in the Jar, that earned them the prestigious award in 2000.
Last year, I mentioned The Offspring’s 4th album, Ixnay on the Hombre, and how it was seen as a bit of disappointment (despite being a fairly good record) following their breakthrough record, Smash. Going back the drawing board, the band returned a year later with Americana, their most commercially accessible record to date. While their punk roots were still intact, a lot more of the humor that was first heard on Ixnay was expanded on. This is evident on tracks like Pretty Fly (For a White Guy), a satire of wannabe rappers/gangsters that were prominent in the world at the time, and Why Don’t You Get a Job? which shamelessly samples the Beatles’ Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (a connection I embarrassingly didn’t make until years later). More serious tracks like The Kids Aren’t Alright (whose title is a play on the Who classic, The Kids Are Alright) and Staring at the Sun prove that the band still had the edge showed on previous released like Ignition and Smash. The title track is actually a social commentary on the changing American landscape that was occuring in the late 90s.
In recent years, it seems that Lauryn Hill’s personal problems have overshadowed her music. That said, her amazing input with the Fugees can never be replicated. With the group’s future in limbo, in 1998, Hill decided to further carve her own legacy in the music world. Boy did she ever with her smash solo record The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Mixing hip-hop reggae, and R&B, it features Doo Wop (That Thing) which won Video of the Year at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards as well as Best R&B Song at the Grammys. Tracks featured appearances by Mary J. Blige, D’Angelo and for a little flavor, guitar legend, Carlos Santana. To date, it’s Hill’s sole studio effort, going on to sell over 20 million copies worldwide. She would follow this up with an MTV Unplugged special before falling from the public eye several years later and would even serve time for tax evasion in 2013.
One of the biggest music programs in television history aired its first episode on MTV two decades ago. Emanating live, Monday through Friday, from MTV Studios in New York City’s Times Square, the long-running Total Request Live was hosted by Carson Daly and featured the top 10 most requested music videos of that day. Requests were taken by phone or via the internet where fans would cast their ballot hoping their favorite artist would receive the coveted number one spot. Some comments from the live crowd even played over the video itself. In addition to airing videos, different artists and celebrities would stop by and chat. Some would even perform. Two things I distinctly remember from the show are the Backstreet Boys constantly dominating the number one spot and The Offspring performing Original Prankster. Eventually, Carson Daly became so big that he left the show in 2002 to go host his own late-night talk show, Last Call with Carson Daly. Different hosts cycled in and out over the years but it was never the same. The show was officially taken off the air in 2008 after 10 years but was resurrected in 2017. Still, nothing can compare to the aura and energy of its first run.
After losing their two iconic vocalists in David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar, Van Halen decided to trek on in the late 90s with yet another singer, this time in Gary Cherone, formerly of the band Extreme. You may remember them from their minor hit More than Words in 1991. Anyway, with a new album in tow, appropriately titled Van Halen III, fans were eager to hear how Cherone would fare and the results were not so great. The album’s first single Without You is actually pretty decent but it’s really the only enjoyable track here. The song Fire in the Hole was released on the critically panned, Lethal Weapon 4 soundtrack. Overall, the group’s best work was not on display here with Cherone’s bad Roth impression not helping matters and to this day, III is the lowest-selling album from Van Halen. Ouch. Cherone was dismissed not long after.
The storied Seattle rockers Pearl Jam released their fifth album, Yield, in 1998 and their last of the decade. The popular Do the Evolution was accompanied by a music video, significant for being the first that the band had released since the controversial Jeremy back in 1991. The animated clip was directed by Todd McFarlane who kept busy that year between this and working with Korn. The concert favorite Given to Fly was also featured as well as the untitled track commonly referred to as Red Bar, written solely by drummer, Jack Irons. Speaking of Irons, he would quit the band following the tour in support of Yield and was replaced by ex-Soundgarden drummer, Matt Cameron, who remains with the band to this day.
The year 1998 was especially kind to a little band from Texas called Fastball whose sophomore record, All the Pain Money Can Buy, was released that spring. Their surprise hit The Way was constantly played on rock radio and is a staple on 90s rock playlists to this day. The record also featured a track called Out of My Head which helped the trio escape the “one hit wonder” label but you might recognize it for a different reason. The song was sampled by rapper Machine Gun Kelly in 2016 for a duet with ex-Fifth Harmony member Camila Cabello entitled Bad Things which contained an interpolation of the chorus. It became a radio hit and led to a brief resurgence in popularity for the trio that year.
Every 90s girl’s favorite rock & roll heartthrob, Brett Scallions, unveiled his rock band, Fuel, to the world in ‘98 with their debut album, Sunburn, which put the mainstream rock audience on notice. Nothing really genre-changing or experimental on this no-frills album which begins with an untitled track before going into Bittersweet. Now we get the real star here, Shimmer, which I have no problem admitting is one of my favorite singles of the decade. It’s just a catchy, addicting rock tune. Other notables include the title track, New Thing, and Song For You making it one of the stand-up radio rock records that year.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, Eve 6 were actually one of my favorite bands growing up. They were never anything specially musically but lyrically, I found them interesting and the fact that they secured a major record deal before they even finished high school meant that they had something special in store for the world. Their debut self-titled release contained the singles Inside Out and Leech, two pristine pop-punk tunes containing catchy riffs and off-beat lyrics. My particular favorite though is the one track that wasn’t accompanied by a music video, Superhero Girl. A shout out goes to Open Road Song and I only remember Tongue Tied due to actor Barry Watson’s appearance in the video. My fandom of the group culminated in 2009 when I saw the then newly-reunited trio live in concert.
In 1998, Shirley Manson set out to prove that she was the Queen of Rock. To achieve that, her band, Garbage, decided to go into a new direction with the 1998 release of their second album, Version 2.0. The group took a lot of liberties with pop music which can be prominently heard on When I Grow Up whose music video features a dance number from Manson which is something I wouldn’t have expected after their self-titled debut in 1995. It also contains clips of the Adam Sandler flick Big Daddy whose soundtrack features the song. The video for Special was pretty groundbreaking at the time and was directed by Dawn Shadforth who also worked with Bjork and Kylie Minogue.
Following the success of Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness, the Smashing Pumpkins parted ways with longtime drummer, Jimmy Chamberlin, in 1996 and subsequently released Adore, two years later. The album marked the heavy use of industrial music in the new trio’s sound. Chamberlain’s signature drumming wasn’t showcased which was upsetting for a lot of fans but hey, Matt Cameron stood behind the kit for For Martha. Despite the shift in focus, Adore was generally well-liked by critics and fans. Two singles Ava Adore and Perfect, spawned from the record. Thankfully for fans, Chamberlain re-joined the band later that year.
One of the biggest metal bands to come around in the past two decades first burst onto the scene in 1998. While it was their second record, Toxicity, that catapulted them to multi-platinum success, System of a Down’s self-titled debut was what first got them noticed. The record spoke of many social and political issues, such as war, which the band would become known for. The opening track Suite-Pee gives a great preview of what the listener is in store for with killer guitar work (courtesy of Daron Malakian) and harsh vocals. The first single Sugar was a hard-thumping banger while Spiders was equally as impactful. I remember shortly after this record came out, there was a free SOAD concert that aired on the pay-per-view channel. Curious of what they had to offer, I watched it and have hooked on the band ever since.
NYC’s own Beastie Boys.followed up 1994’s Ill Communication with Hello Nasty in 1998. The live instrumentation on their two previous releases, the aforementioned Ill Communication and Check Your Head, isn’t featured here but the furious rhymes that the hip-hop group is known for sure are. The first single Intergalactic is a furious track whose music video parodies various Japanese monster films such as Godzilla. The song earned them a Grammy. There’s also Body Movin’ (I actually prefer the remixed version later found on their 1999 compilation record, The Sounds of Science) and Three MCs and One DJ.
Eagle Eye Cherry, the son of famed Jazz musician Don Cherry produced one of the more under-appreciated one hit wonders of the 1990s. The song Save Tonight peaked at #5 on the Billboard Top 100 and charted even higher in Cherry’s birthplace of Sweden. He’s seemingly disappeared off the face of the planet since then and I’m waiting for Todd in the Shadows’ review of the song in One Hit Wonderland.
The demise of White Zombie in 1998 led to its frontman, Rob, trying to make it on his own. Fortunately, the shock-rocker scored a homerun with his solo debut that same year. Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe draws from the same influences that his former group did with cult-horror flicks and B-movie cheese. The first single is an ode to classic monster flicks called Dragula which shows the singer cruising around in the eponymous vehicle. The setlist staples, Superbeast and Living Dead Girl can be found here as well. The record was a hit and lengthened Zombie’s presence in the music world where he’s still as big as ever. He would later take the brutal images he created in his music and transition into directing no-so-great horror films years later while balancing recording and touring.
Shirley Manson wasn’t the only female rocker at large in the late 90s. Courtney Love, along with her merry misfit rockers, Hole were hoping to create some more lasting memories. After the success of 1994’s Live Through This, it looked like Garbage weren’t the only ones interested in making more radio-friendly music. 1998 saw the release of Celebrity Skin, a more accessible record compared to their earlier input. Get ready for some deep emotions as the song Malibu is supposedly about Courtney’s frequent trips to the rehab facility late husband Kurt Cobain was occupying in the early 90s. Another interesting thing to hear here is that Billy Corgan, who Love had an on-and-off again union for many years, actually laid down bass for some tracks. This would be the final Hole recorded with all four original members. Can you really blame anyone for not putting up with Love, though?
Rob Zombie wasn’t the only shock-rocker to score a hit record in 1998. His future touring buddy, the always controversial Marilyn Manson would dig deeper into his bag of tricks to score his band’s first number one album. As the years went by, Manson just seemed to get weirder and weirder which was especially apparent with his band’s third album, Mechanical Animals. Here, the group expanded their horizons and experimented with different genres moving into a more glam metal phase. Any kid of the 90s remembers The Dope Show for its racy music video, showing off the off-kilter frontman in a Ziggy Stardust-esque getup. The song Rock is Dead was featured in the 1999 film The Matrix.
One of the best alternative rock records of the decade was undoubtedly Goo Goo Dolls’ Dizzy up the Girl. Its upbeat pop sound still holds up after two decades even though you’re tired of hearing Iris at every wedding you’ve ever attended. It starts off by the short, upbeat Dizzy which clocks in under three minutes then goes into the crowd pleasing Slide before going into, Broadway. That’s three recognizable 90s rock tracks right off the bat. My personal favorite though would have to be Black Balloon which is reportedly about bassist Robby Takac’s ex-wife who overdosed on heroin. That’s a shame considering I was planning to have that as my wedding song. Another deep cut is January Friend which features vocals from Takac himself.
Throughout the 90s, it looked like KISS was circling the drain. Previously, in 1996, they announced their Farewell Tour with the four original members: Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, and Paul Stanley. The painted foursome wouldn’t just reunite onstage as they also entered the studio to bring us Psycho Circus, in 1998. This marked the first record from the original members since 1979’s Dynasty (and subsequently, the last). The title track boosted a lot of the energy that KISS is known for in its live performances. There was mounting drama behind the scenes though as Frehley only contributed to two songs on the album while Criss only performed drums on one. It’s also worth noting that the band was sued by Alice Cooper following the album’s release as the song Dreamin’ bore a strong resemblance to Cooper’s I’m Eighteen. Cooper actually wound up winning in court becoming one of the only men on earth to actually take money from Gene Simmons.
You probably didn’t know that one of the most infamous MCs in rap history first hit the radio and airwaves in 1998. Yes, I’m talking about Darkman himself, DMX. Years before his legal problems spiraled out of control, 1998 marked X’s debut, It’s Dark and Hell is Hot which features one of the best hip-hop songs ever, Ruff Ryders Anthem, a tribute to his record label and posse. The music video features labelmates, the LOX and the first woman of Ruff Ryders, Eve. The song’s production was also brought to us by a very young Swizz Beatz at the beginning of his career. X wasn’t satisfied with just one record in 1998 so he released another one, Flesh of my Flesh, Blood of my Blood, becoming the second rapper in history to have two albums released in the same year reaching the Billboard Top 200. You may have heard of the first, Tupac Shakur.
The lovely sounds of ska really outdid themselves in 1998 with a little band named Catch 22 and their debut effort, Keasbey Nights. A delightfully pop-tinged punk album with horns and trumpets in full effect. This, along with Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ Let’s Face It, are my two favorite ska records of the decade. From the opening track Hey Sergio to the closer As The Footsteps Die Out Forever, it’s a wild, uplifting ride that will have you smiling with each track. Unfortunately. The band wasn’t able to re-create the magic of this record ever again as most of the original line-up, including singer/songwriter, Tomas Kalnoky (who was only 18 at the time of the album’s release) quit the group that same year. They would go on to form another group, Streetlight Manifesto, and re-record Keasbey Nights in 2006.
It’s hard to believe that a young Louisiana native named Britney Spears first became known to the world in 1998. Her smash debut, …Baby One More Time may have dropped in early ‘99 but the title track actually dropped a few months prior in October and blew up in short order. I myself have relived the track more times than I can count from various cover bands at 90s themed parties in New York clubs. Anyway, it didn’t take that long for the then 17-year-old to reign as the new Queen of Pop. While the title track is etched in the mind of every 90s kid, (You Drive Me) Crazy inspired the 1999 film of the same name. Oh, remember Sometimes? That was a popular one too. It’s insane to think that Britney is one of the older veterans in the pop game right now and just to make you feel especially old, she recently toured celebrating her 20th anniversary.
Though most didn’t see it at the time, 1998 also saw one of the biggest independent releases of the decade in Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over The Sea. For their sophomore release, singer-songwriter, Jeff Mangum, would compile songs detailing holocaust survivor, Anne Frank and her struggles, evident in tracks such as Holland 1945 and Oh Comely. The strength of the record’s lyrics had such a profound impact on Mangum making it a deeply personal piece. Unfortunately for fans, the band never released a full-length album following this and almost immediately went on hiatus after its release, barely touring to support it. Mangum especially wanted out of the music world. It would be over a decade until the band once again shared a stage together but once they did, it was met with massive fanfare.
Have a very happy new year and I’ll see you in 1999!