Best of 1997

Billboard singles chart position is indicated in square brackets after the text,where applicable.

  1. ONE HEADLIGHT
    Wallflowers
    MCA
    CD: Bringing Down the Horse

    Without any hesitation, “One Headlight” is TD’s Song of the Year for 1997. It takes the premise of lost love and sends the listener back full circle to create a vivid memory of a romance gone right. While the car-radio-ready performance of the band made this an obvious hit, without being released as a commercial single, it’s the natural ability of Jakob Dylan: Songwriter which will weather the Wallflowers through all that it needs to do to become one of the most successful rock bands of the next ten years. “One Headlight” had the visual edge down pat too in one of the best shot videos of the year.  I like “One Headlight” better than I do any Bob Dylan song, and if Jakob has a career with equally long legs, I’ll be there along with the rest of the throng.[CD track]
  2. YOU MAKE ME WANNA…
    Usher
    LaFace-Arista
    CD: My Way

    Cheating on one’s partner has not been a popular theme in recent years. Then, Babyface label signee Usher comes along and pulls fleeting thoughts out of listeners’ heads and creates one of the biggest records of the year? Well, if just the notion of such a song becoming a hit in ’97 shocked you, then you know why so many other people bought it! “You Make Me Wanna…” percolates along to a snappy rhythm with a voice that will only get better as Usher gets more hits. But it’s the story line that holds your interest and teases you until….and then the song ends. Fits like a glove next to Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones”, and then there’s Barry White… [BB: #2]
  3. TURN MY HEAD
    Live
    Radioactive
    CD: Secret Samadhi

    With “Lightning Crashes” such a huge, unexpected hit in 1995, Live has proven that it can create a slow, thoughtful tune and make it into so much more. “Turn My Head” is Live at its most introspective, and shows how such the band has grown over three CD’s. It’s been my fave from Secret Samadhi since day one, and spent all of the summer atop TD’s Top Ten. [CD track]
  4. MY OLD SELF
    Wide Mouth Mason
    Atlantic (U.S.)/WEA (Canada)
    CD: Wide Mouth Mason

    Wide Mouth Mason is a Saskatchewan trio from whose debut album “My Old Self” was the second song to receive national airplay in Canada. With triumphant guitar work, soaring lead vox, and truly creepy lyrics (you tell me: is this song about a werewolf? – “I’m upstairs in the kitchen singing / Daddy’s downstairs digging a grave”), as well as a hard working stage presence in concert, Wide Mouth Mason has “breakout” labelled all over it for international release with their next CD. What I can’t understand is why American audiences didn’t get to hear it. [CD track]
  5. BITTER SWEET SYMPHONY
    The Verve
    Virgin
    CD: Urban Hymns

    To think that the entire melody of “Bitter Sweet Symphony” is based on an orchestral version of the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time” – and that happens to be my fave Stones song of all, which I didn’t find out until after I started to love this one. The Verve came back with a vengeance, after nearly self-destructing two years ago, with this melancholy but ear-lifting tune. It’s one of the few songs of the year which will stand the test of time on its own musical merits, not simply because it’s a catchy song.
    [CD track]
  6. LAKINI’S JUICE
    Live
    Radioactive
    CD: Secret Samadhi

    The most played song from Live’s third CD is at once the most assaulting and the most relaxing. From Chad Taylor’s distorted-sounding guitar grind to Ed Kowalczyk’s storytelling-with-a-point, “Lakini’s Juice” may have not been the most obvious or radio-ready song (see #3 above), but it certainly made its point with listeners, who made it a number one modern rock song. While Live’s albums sound much more matter of fact and better produced each time, a note of caution must be sent out to ensure fans keep coming back to concerts – the guys have got to work on this. I think Live is due for a two year layoff – fans will be truly hungry again by then. [CD track]
  7. INSOMNIA
    Faithless
    Cheeky-Arista
    CD: Reverence

    Many club goers would agree with me: Faithless’ “Insomnia” is the most thought-provoking, hypnotic dance single of ’97. It plays on progressing from the innovative British club sound of groups like Massive Attack, only to find its own sound in the process! “Insomnia” is a true stage play of the night, from the surreal, semi-spoken lyrics (“Makin’ mad love to my girl on the heath / Tearin’ off tights with my teeth”) of the first act, to the relentless cruise and whirl of the mostly instrumental second act. It’s one reason why dance music should never be excluded from the forefront of today’s popular music. [BB: #62]
  8. ANGEL
    Joée
    Popular (Canada)
    CD: Dance Hits Allstars ’97 (Canada)

    Joée DiSimone, formerly of Intonation, released his best record yet in ’97 with “Angel”, a bona fide throwback to early 80’s Europop (to me reminiscent especially of Gazebo’s “I Like Chopin” in keyboard sound). This uptempo song of loss and finding out later what it’s all about has knowing lyrics and guy-next-door voice to draw you in. If international dance markets find out about this song in ’98 watch out. [did not chart – Canadian release only]
  9. TRY
    Michael Penn
    57 Records-Epic
    CD: Resigned

    Michael Penn got the short end of the ’97 stick when Resigned appeared to indifference in the Spring. It’s a beautifully Beatleseque release, led by the perfect hit single that wasn’t, “Try”, which talks about trying and not trying when you’re in a relationship. Penn coins lyrics these days as well as he did seven years ago with “No Myth”. Let’s hope he gets another shot at a comeback within the next two years. We need precious talent like his. [CD track]
  10. WALKIN’ ON THE SUN
    Smash Mouth
    Interscope
    CD: Fush Yu Mang

    “Walkin’ on the Sun” qualifies as the most fun song of ’97. While you’re immediately hooked by the strutting 60’s cooler-than-thou rhythm and the early new wave vocals with snarl, it takes a few listens to catch the lyrics. And by then, what the hell is Smash Mouth talking about anyway? But it sounds so good together – it’s 60’s kitsch matched up with 80’s attitude and 90’s style. “Walkin’ in the Sun” was also subsequently remixed, with a bonus CD circulating among later copies of
    Fush Yu Mang. The bass-laden electro remix is impressive, but might have been more effective released on its own.   It’s anyone’s guess if Smash Mouth can successfully follow up – to me there isn’t much else in Fush Yu Mang that won’t leave radio listeners scratching heads – but “Walkin’ on the Sun” will be blasting on car stereos for the next while. [CD track]
  11. FEMALE OF THE SPECIES
    Space
    Gut Reaction-Universal
    CD: Spiders

    It may have been featured at the end of the Mike Myers film “Austin Powers”, but “Female of the Species” was the first song of ’97 to capitalize seriously on a brief flirtation with 60’s fashion and music. It also had one of the more irresistible choruses of the year (“How can heaven hold a place for me / When a girl like you has cast a spell on me”). The vocals are suitably 80’s-meet-60’s, and it predated #10 above by about six months. A memorable
    modern rock smash, one that will grow in stature in years to come. [CD track]
  12. #1 CRUSH
    Garbage
    Capitol
    CD: “Romeo & Juliet” movie soundtrack

    Another short (two and a half minutes) but hypnotic song, Garbage managed to put across the angst and compassion that one knows from Shakespeare’s play, even if you didn’t happen to see the Leonardo DiCaprio/Claire Danes film. One part Garbage (vocals), one part Nine Inch Nails (the
    throbbing NIN-ish production), plus two parts suitability to the subject matter, it only shows why the soundtrack sold so many copies (also helped by The Cardigans’ “Lovefool”). It’s doubtful you’ll ever find “#1 Crush” on any other CD but this, unless a compilation carefully snaps it up. And by the way, this song quickly blows away anything else that Garbage has recorded to date. [CD track]
  13. TO THE MOON AND BACK
    Savage Garden
    Columbia
    CD: Savage Garden

    While this Australian duo may have caught on with the catchy Top Ten hit “I Want You”, they did even better by me with this otherworldy ballad, which relies more heavily on the lyrical structure of the song than it does its chorus. “To the Moon and Back” may possibly be the most beautiful song of the year because of this, and it won several of Australia’s Grammy-equivalent awards. Cap it all off with a successful worldwide promotion tour (despite only a few live concerts) and the growing fact that members Darren Hayes and Daniel Jones are reportedly two of the nicest guys in the business, and you can expect Savage Garden to have some lasting ability into the next century. [BB: #37]
  14. TUBTHUMPING
    Chumbawamba
    Republic-Universal
    CD: Tubthumper
    “I get knocked down / Then I get up again / You’re never gonna keep me down” – highly charged words that are wonderful when taken out of context from the song, since you hear it at sports stadiums all the time now. Basically “Tubthumping” is about a lonely drinker who proves to have some real spirit left after some reflection. But listeners didn’t care about that nor did they care that Chumbawamba had been around for 15 years on the modern rock fringes. All it takes is one song, a memorable chorus, and the band’s place in history is secure. Guaranteed a place on Rhino Records’ 90’s collection when it comes out within the next 10 years. [BB: #6]
  15. FLY
    Sugar Ray
    Lava-Atlantic
    CD: Floored

    Despite the once-in-a-blue-moon presence of a reggae performer in a rock song – here it’sSupercat, who you heard a few years back in Kris Kross’ “Alright” – “Fly” is so much fun and so lighthearted that this exposure isn’t even a highlight. Rousing lead vocals and an equally energetic overall performance by the band gave listeners a four minute escape whenever radio played “Fly” during the last six months of ’97. The second single “RPM” gives hope that Sugar Ray will not be a one-hit wonder. [CD track]
  16. LIE TO ME
    Jonny Lang
    A&M
    CD: Lie to Me

    I swear that if Jonny Lang had been promoted to the fullest extent to pop radio, he’d be as big as Hanson is now. But it’s better he’s still a bit on the fringe. This 16 year old has an ages old voice which can trumpet the blues. In this song, he’s somewhat overwhelmed by the strong backup vocals at first, but by 3/4 way through, “Lie to Me” sizzles. One of the most memorable songs of the year, on the sheer audacity of combination of the style of music, the age of the singer, and the precise execution. [CD track]
  17. SEMI-CHARMED LIFE
    Third Eye Blind
    Elektra
    CD: Third Eye Blind

    The most-played song of 1997 should rank up there with classics in years to come. At first, I thought this song would go the same way as the Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes” – three albums later the band lost its record contract and split up, but radio still plays the song to death. With subsequent releases “Graduate” and “How’s It Going to Be”, Third Eye Blind, with talented singer-songwriter Stephan Jenkins, shows it has the mettle to stand the test of time. As we all sing “do do do, do de do do” into the new year…. [BB: #4]
  18. STOMP
    God’s Property
    B-Rite-Interscope
    CD: God’s Property from Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation

    “Stomp” is the only song in 1997 that I can think of that should be played really loud to hoards and hoards of people. The effect is stupifying – witness 1997’s “Billboard Music Awards” TV show. I got my first taste of “Stomp” at a wedding – that this was a number one R&B hit without a CD single release is testament to the reaction of the wedding guests – watching a packed dance floor. Sometimes big is better. “Stomp” might be a touch overdone but it unleashes every ounce of power it has. You have no choice but to be taken aback. Good news: a 12″ vinyl remix is apparently available overseas.         [CD track]
  19. TEMPTATION
    The Tea Party
    Atlantic (U.S.)/EMI (Canada)
    CD: Transmission

    While Transmission isn’t the Montreal-based trio’s best CD overall (I still give that kudos to 1995’s Edges of Twilight
    , The Tea Party reinforced the great strides in popularity which it has taken with songs like “Temptation”. This intense and mesmerizing song is only 2:45 – and its pulsating weave leaves you wanting much more. Concert goers ate up the band’s continuous touring throughout the year. [CD track]
  20. BEEN IT
    Cardigans
    Stockholm/Trampolene-Mercury
    CD: First Band on the Moon
    Like “Lovefool”, “Been It” shows the seductive wit of the Swedish quintet. But “Been It” takes an edge over “Lovefool” because of its overtness about its wit, and the clever word play. It should’ve been a big hit – the band’s next album will tell all. [CD maxi-single]
Published on September 20, 2009 at 3:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

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