Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1997

by Benjamin Ray

A major shift occured in music in 1997. Just like that, grunge and alt-rock were yesterday's news. Listeners were rapidly turning to lighthearted pop music, R&B/rap and Shania Twain, who exploded with the country-pop Come On Over. A lot of the rock music of the year was subpar efforts by established bands, both from the ‘70s and ‘90s, who were trying to hang on to the fame that was slipping away. A shift was in the air.

Yes, this was the year of Hanson's "MMMbop," Celine Dion's massive hit "My Heart Will Go On," the Spice Girls' "Wannabe," Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping," Elton John's remake of "Candle In The Wind" in Princess Diana's memory, Aqua's "Barbie Girl" and, worst of all, the Backstreet Boys' debut ("Quit Playing Games With My Heart," "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)." Awful. The Top 40 offered up all of this plus "Semi-Charmed Life" from Third Eye Blind, "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" from the formerly bratty Green Day, and the droll "Sex And Candy" from Marcy Playground.


What were rock fans subjected to? Aerosmith's Nine Lives and Metallica's ReLoad, pale imitations of what those bands had accomplished in the past. Genesis bowed out with the mostly dull Calling All Stations, former Britpop gods Blur released the lo-fi success Blur and fellow Brits Oasis went completely over the top with Be Here Now, a parody of the wonderful albums that had come before. No wonder jaded alt-rock fans turned to Radiohead's OK Computer, an ambitious, thoughtful, critically-acclaimed masterpiece with few peers at the time.

In classic rock, David Bowie's Earthling was an unsuccessful experiment with house music grafted onto Bowie songs (save for the fine "I'm Afraid Of Americans"), and the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney refused to give up, foisting Bridges To Babylon and Flaming Pie, respectively, on a dwindling fan base. Bob Dylan offered the solid Time Out Of Mind (and performed for the Pope!) and Fleetwood Mac briefly reconciled for The Dance, which was fine but hardly necessary save for the stunning acoustic remake of "Big Love." Led Zeppelin also offered the excellent BBC Sessions, at the time the best representation of the Zep live magic on disc.

In other alt-rock-sounding music, the Foo Fighters' The Colour And The Shape was a garage rock hit, free of the pretension and ponderousness of grunge (as evidenced in Live's Secret Samadhi, which was still pretty good, even though it took itself too seriously). Everclear's So Much For The Afterglow had its moments, the Offspring put out "Gone Away," Elliott Smith had Either/Or, Our Lady Peace offered Clumsy and, most important, U2 finally returned with their third electronic pop effort Pop, which is much better than its reputation.

Because rock was in a holding pattern and pop music was pretty bad, R&B and hip-hop continued its rise, evident in Missy Elliott's Supa Dupa Fly, the Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death (released after his shooting death on March 9, and including "Mo Money Mo Problems"), Baduizm and Live from Erykah Badu and Wu-Tang Forever from the Wu-Tang Clan. Usher hit big with "You Make Me Wanna," Will Smith had the theme to the hit movie Men In Black and R.Kelly offered  "I Believe I Can Fly" from the previous year's Space Jam soundtrack.


Busta Rhymes also dropped When Disaster Strikes and Puff Daddy had two big hits with "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" and the Biggie tribute "I'll Be Missing You" (featuring widow Faith Evans). Jay-Z debuted in impressive form with In My Lifetime 1, while Mary J. Blige invited listeners to Share My World and Mariah Carey continued an impressive run with Butterfly, her post-divorce album with the hit title track and "Honey." Oh, and the Insane Clown Posse caused controversy with the juvenile The Great Milenko, which caused them to get dropped by their record label, a move that garnered a lot of publicity.

There were some pretty good one-hit pop wonders, though: "Ready To Go" (Republica), "The Impression That I Get" (The Mighty Mighty Bosstones), "All For You" (Sister Hazel), "I'll Be" (Edwin McCain Band), "Kiss Me" (Sixpence None The Richer), "Sunny Came Home" (Shawn Colvin) and, of course, "Bittersweet Symphony" (The Verve).

Points went to Kenny Wayne Shepherd for "Blue On Black" and Prodigy for The Fat Of The Land, while debut records arrived from Godsmack ("Voodoo"), Smash Mouth ("Walkin' On The Sun"), Incubus (S.C.I.E.N.C.E.), Daft Punk (Homework), Days of the New and, dubiously, third-rate Pearl Jam wannabes Creed (My Own Prison) and irritating rap-metal payola-using frat boys Limp Bizkit (Three Dollar Bill, Y'all).

Pop radio also had Sarah McLachlan's "Angel," Sugar Ray's "Fly" and Savage Garden ("I Want You," "Truly Madly Deeply"), but it seemed Shania Twain was everywhere, where songs like "Man! I Feel Like A Woman," "You're Still The One" and "From This Moment On" were on consistent rotation. Come On Over wound up double platinum by the end of the year and has sold 40 million copies around the world. Prior to that release, country had been dominated in 1997 by Leann Rimes (Blue) and Garth Brooks (Sevens), while Leeann Womack debuted with her self-titled disc.

One final note: 1997 was the first year of Ozzfest and Lillith Fair.

And that, friends, is the Year That Was in music.

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