It was 1997: The Mars Pathfinder had landed on Mars. Harry Potter was published for the first time. Princess Diana was killed in a car accident. And Barrack Obama was the Illinois State Senator for the 13th District of Illinois. The 1990s were marked by social changes and a feeling of unrest, led by Generation X, the Slackers, the original latchkey kids who were tired of their parents’ music and out blazing trails of their own. If there was ever an era when alternative rock went mainstream, this was it. Here is our playlist of the Top Alt-Rock Songs of 1997.
10. “Semi-Charmed Life”
Third-Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” was a huge radio hit that was the perfect emblem of the time, as sad grunge was banished in favor of edgy, upbeat, punk-influenced thrashing.
9. “The New Pollution”
Beck was considered unbelievably eccentric in 1997, and his second album, the double Odelay, was a smash fusion of many styles of music, all put together with impeccable hooks. Odelay foreshadowed what musicians would do in the 21st century by combining Latin pop, hip-hop, punk, rock and jazz. The result is slick, seamless songs like “The New Pollution.”
8. “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life”)
If you graduated from high school in 1997, then Green Day’s acoustic “Good Riddance” became a graduation anthem of sorts. That fact alone tells you all you need to know about Generation X, what with that focus on giving everyone a bitter goodbye rather than pretending we were all best friends. A song is dripping with that much nostalgia ought to be cringe worthy, but this track which didn’t make the cut on 1994’s Dookie wound up holding up rather well.
Those of us who loved grunge hated to admit it was fading fast in 1997. We really hated to admit having a big crush on Ben Folds Five, with its warbling singer and piano backed songs. Still, the album was a huge hit with several songwriting gems. “Brick” is an introspective song about abortion. This probably makes the generation of Gucci Mane groan in horror, but that was how musicians rolled back then. That Folds managed to write this song without mansplaining abortion is something that probably couldn’t have existed in 2017.
Have you ever self-consciously sang the following lyrics?
I’m a bitch, I’m a lover
I’m a child, I’m a mother
I’m a sinner, I’m a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I’m your hell, I’m your dream
I’m nothing in between
You know you wouldn’t want it any other way
If you answered yes (and you know you did), then you are Meredith Brooks’ bitch. The song is an infectious anthem that grabs everyone no matter how much they try to resist the simple premise (which boils down to “I am woman hear me roar.) “Bitch” was an instant radio hit and a force you couldn’t ignore in 1997. Believe it or not, it was also not typical to hear the word bitch on the radio in ‘97 (oh how the culture has fallen).
5. Bittersweet Symphony
Bittersweet Symphony became a literal bittersweet symphony for The Verve, who were betrayed by the Rolling Stones producer on a royalty split. Vocalist Richard Ashcroft wrote the lyrics and the band sampled instrumental back tracks from the Stones’ “The Last Time.” Although the producers agreed on a 50/50 split, once the song was a smash hit, he took the band to court and finagled 100 percent of the royalties. The case is widely regarded as one of the most unjust copyright verdicts ever. The Verve broke up quickly thereafter. But what remains is a real achievement in Brit pop.
In 1997 a battle was raging over what we then called “techno.” Was it real music? Should it be played on the radio? Should it be shunned? This was an actual debate, and it’s one that was one by what eventually became EDM. That would not have happened without Prodigy’s hyperkinetic “Firestarter.” “I’m the trouble starter, punkin’ instigator / I am the firestarter, twisted firestarter” screamed Prodigy, fusing punk with aggressive techno. As promised, this was the song that started the fire for techno, announcing to the world that it would not be ignored.
3. “Karma Police”
There’s been a lot of Radiohead music since 1997, OK Computer still stands as a massive achievement, and Karma Police is its most memorable track. The unusual song structure abandons a traditional chorus in favor of a cryptic warning — “this is what you’ll get.”
In 1997, music fans still weren’t sure what to make of Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters. The band was typically described as “Dave Grohl from Nirvana new band.” All that changed with The Colour and the Shape, largely thanks to “Everlong.” The song chugs along at an electric pace and it immediately found a place in every generation of classic rock.
“I’ve been a bad, bad girl…” announces a gaunt Fiona Apple, tempting you with a bluesy voice that seemed like it could not belong to a 19-year old. But it did belong to a 19-year old singer-songwriter who exploded onto the music scene by melding several genres. The video presaged a generation that would eagerly take pictures of themselves in various states of undress. Of course it’s now painfully obvious that the current generation thinks their nudie shots are triumphant, whereas Apple was interrogating the male gaze, the media gaze, the music business and the entire world.