Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1998

by Benjamin Ray

If the disaster musical year of 1997 proved anything, it was that alternative rock was dead and audiences were splintering, moving on to boy bands, hard neo-metal groups and R&B/hip-hop. The biggest hits of 1998 bore this out, and by and large it was a far better year than the preceding one.

Probably the biggest rock album of the year was Kid Rock's Devil Without A Cause, a Southern party rap-rock cartoon that still gets airplay on rock radio. Korn's Follow The Leader put them on the map in a big way ("Freak On A Leash," "Got The Life"), Marilyn Manson offered the glam rock "The Dope Show" and Metallica put out the double disc Garage Inc., featuring early songs and a lot of covers. Hard rock debuts included System Of A Down, Candyass and Queens Of The Stone Age, and, of course, there was Van Halen III, perhaps the worst album of the year.

Some of the bands that had defined the early ‘90s were still going, but their music from this year was surprisingly dull, not up to par with the power and passion of before. This applied to the Smashing Pumpkins' Adore, Pearl Jam's Yield, R.E.M.'s Up (their first as a trio) and the Dave Matthews Band's Before These Crowded Streets, which is a fan favorite but was overly long and somehow missed the spark of their first two. Faring better was the Beastie Boys' trippy Hello Nasty, the Barenaked Ladies' Stunt ("It's All Been Done," "One Week") and Lenny Kravitz (5 and "Fly Away").


The one-hit wonders this year were far better, too, such as "Out Of My Head" (Fastball), "Save Tonight" (Eagle Eye Cherry), "Crush" (Jennifer Paige), "Torn" (Natalia Imbruglia), "You Get What You Give" (New Radicals), "Lullabye" (Shawn Mullins), "What It's Like" (Everlast), "Hooch" (Everything) and "Closing Time" (Semisonic). The Goo Goo Dolls changed their approach and scored big with "Iris" and Dizzy Up The Girl, Fatboy Slim hit the scene with You've Come A Long Way, Baby and "The Rockafeller Skank," and Train debuted, for better or worse, with "Meet Virginia." Also of note was Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over The Sea, which was not popular but is a good modern prog-rock record.

The ladies of pop music had a big year, cemented by Madonna's mature, spiritual Ray Of Light, easily her best album. Alanis Morrisette released her anticipated follow-up with Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie ("Thank U"), as did Jewel with Spirit ("Hands") and Cher, who roared back to life with "Believe." Tori Amos dropped From The Choirgirl Hotel, Sheryl Crow scored with The Globe Sessions, Garbage offered Version 2.0 and Hole put out their best song, "Celebrity Skin." Alanis also offered the creepy, moody "Uninvited" from the City Of Angels soundtrack.

Shania Twain pretty much dominated the country charts with the previous year's Come On Over, but in 1998 she was joined by the major-label debuts of the Dixie Chicks (Wide Open Spaces) and Faith Hill (Faith). Garth Brooks also released the very popular Double Live.

In R&B, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill was a huge success ("Doo Wop (That Thing)"), eventually selling 16 million copies and eclipsing debuts from Destiny's Child and the Black-Eyed Peas, who would go on to have more success with future albums. Brandy and Monica collaborated on the hit "The Boy Is Mine," K-Ci & JoJo offered a perennial high school dance favorite with "All My Life" and Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston offered the duet "When You Believe" from the Prince Of Egypt soundtrack.


Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Outkast put out the incredible Aquemini, which would set the stage for their later, even better albums. DMX also debuted with two records, the debut It's Dark And Hell Is Hot and the solid follow-up Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood, while Jay-Z offered Hard-Knock Life Vol. 2 and Goodie Mob the strong Still Standing.

Pop radio was playing much of the above, along with songs from the Backstreet Boys' 1997 debut and two new boy bands, N*SYNC and 98 Degrees, both of who offered their self-titled releases this year and pushed the term "boy band" back into the mainstream. Aerosmith, never one to miss a chance to sully its name even further, had a hit with the godawful "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing," which teen girls loved and most boys, men and Aero fans who own Toys In The Attic hated (and still do). Also, toward the end of the year, a new artist named Britney Spears offered the first single from her debut album, "...Baby One More Time," marking the beginning of a fascinating, troubled and highly criticized career.

Classic rock fans rejoiced with Eric Clapton's Pilgrim and the song "My Father's Eyes," but stopped rejoicing when they heard the actual album. Jimi Hendrix fans got a treat with the BBC Sessions and Led Zeppelin fans were finally rewarded with a new album from Jimmy Page and Robert Plant; true to the spirit of classic artists this year, Walking Into Clarksdale was underwhelming, although to be fair it captured the spirit of the music Plant was discovering and making at the time.

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

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