Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1999

by Benjamin Ray

By the end of the '90s, frothy pop music, R&B and rap rock had become the dominant musical forms, all sharing space on the radio and Walkmans (Walkmen?). Pop music was filled with boy bands, teenage girl starlets and the usual slate of soft rock one hit wonders, rock music had started revolving around bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit, and perhaps because of both of these, audiences turned in droves to performers like Destiny's Child, Jay-Z and a new white rapper out of Detroit calling himself Eminem.

Em's debut The Slim Shady LP was the year's biggest surprise, a crude, disturbing and entertaining rap album produced by Dr. Dre (who had his own album, 2001). In other rap, Nas offered I Am: The Autobiography, Missy Elliott released Da Real World, Mos Def debuted with Black On Both Sides, the Roots offered Things Fall Apart and Jay-Z put out the hit Vol. 3: The Life And Times of S. Carter

There were those who had Eminem posters on their walls, and then there were those who had Justin Timberlake posters, as this was the year boy bands were everywhere. To wit: the Backstreet Boys' Millennium, 98º And Rising and LFO's "Summer Girls." Three teen sensations also debuted this year: Britney Spears (...Baby, One More Time), Christina Aguilera ("Genie In A Bottle") and Jessica Simpson, while Destiny's Child broke through with Writings On The Wall and "Bills, Bills, Bills." And don't forget the sudden interest in Latin-tinged pop music with the arrivals of Ricky Martin ("Livin' La Vida Loca"), Enrique Iglesias ("Bailamos"), Marc Anthony ("I Need To Know") and Jennifer Lopez (On The 6, with "Waiting For Tonight").


So many pop hits swirled around the radio that listing them would take too much time, such was the depth of the charts this year. Some of the biggest songs included Tal Bachman's "She's So High," Lou Bega's "Mambo No. 5," Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston's "I Still Believe" (and Houston's solo "Heartbreak Hotel"), Celine Dion's "That's The Way It Is," Eagle-Eye Cherry's "Save Tonight," Fastball's "Out Of My Head," Len's "Steal My Sunshine," Savage Garden's "I Knew I Loved You" Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You," Sugar Ray's 14:59 (with "Every Morning") Smashmouth's "All Star" (from the surprisingly good Astro Lounge), Everlast's "What It's Like" and Pearl Jam's dull, annoying cover of "Last Kiss."    

TLC returned after five years with the solid Fanmail and "No Scrubs"; other R&B offerings were Brian McKnight's "Back at One," Monica's "Angel of Mine," Mary J. Blige's Mary, Donell Jones' Where I Wanna Be and Ginuwine's 100% Ginuwine.

Rock music was a mixed bag; caught between the end of alternative/grunge and the garage rock revival, the music had become louder, more self-centered, more aggressive and less culurally significant. Korn's Issues, Limp Bizkit's Significant Other, Creed's Human Clay, Rage Against the Machine's The Battle Of Los Angeles and P.O.D.'s The Fundamental Elements Of Southtown (which had a distinct spiritual element to the lyrics) were among the biggest releases in this style. However, the bigger rock stories of the year revolved around two comebacks: Santana, whose Supernatural was filled with collaborations (like the Rob Thomas-sung and major hit "Smooth"), and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who grabbed John Frusciante on guitar again and scored four hits off Californication, including "Scar Tissue" and "Other Side."

Also in rock was Buckcherry's "Lit Up," Blink-182's pop-punk Enema Of The State, Stone Temple Pilots' No. 4 (with "Sour Girl"), Vertical Horizon's "Everything You Want," the debut of Chevelle, Collective Soul's Dosage, Counting Crows' This Desert Life, the Cranberries' underrated Bury the Hatchet, Filter's excellent Title Of Record (with "Take A Picture," one of the best songs of the year), Incubus' Make Yourself (with "Drive" and "Stellar"), the Foo Fighters' There Is Nothing Left To Lose (with "Learn To Fly"), Lit's "My Own Worst Enemy," Metallica's orchestra rock concert soundtrack S&M and Live's The Distance To Here. The year also saw a solid David Bowie record (Hours...) and a good effort from Sting (Brand New Day).       


In country news, Hurricane Shania was still selling records by the millions, joined by Lonestar (Lonely Grill and "Amazed"), Tim McGraw's "Please Remember Me" and "Something About You," Faith Hill's "Breathe," Martina McBride's "I Love You," debuts from Keith Urban and Brad Paisley, and the Dixie Chicks' Fly. This was also the year that Garth Brooks briefly became a laughingstock by adopting a new identity and releasing an album as Chris Gaines.

Because there was so much music to choose from, because radio stations now focused on a single genre, and mostly because the rise of Napster and downloading could allow listeners to pick and choose their own playlists, it was less likely that a single artist or movement would sweep up the country for more than a few weeks at a time. It was entirely possible by, say, 2003 that one critic's Top 10 albums of the year could include seven albums that no one but a small handful of listeners even knew about.

It is for these reasons that this Year That Was series will conclude with 1999, and thank you for reading these. I strongly encourage you to explore the music of the 2000s with Sean McCarthy's excellent Top 100 list and our own Best Of year-end reviews.

As always, friends, that was the Year That Was in music.
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