Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published November 11th 2019
Some really strong songs from a 'meh' year
Today's look back is brought to you by birthdays!
I was recently invited to a twenty-first birthday party. It's a long story. However, I couldn't go, so I said I'd put together the playlist for the night as a sort of a gift, and in collating the songs released in 1998, this list was born.
So, 21 years ago, let's look at the songs released in 1998!
All right, the year in general. 1998 was not a year that has really stuck in people's minds. Some stuff happened, as always, but nothing that really left an impact on the world (unless you count the founding of Google). It was just another year, to be honest. And this is reflected in the songs released that year. To give you an idea what the pop culture zeitgeist was like at the time, the film Titanic (which had been released in December of 1997), was the biggest film of the year, and of all-time until Avatar overtook it, subsequently overtaken by one of the Marvel MCU films. I digress. It was generally a bland year.
Still, that does not mean there were not some really good songs released in 1998. This, then, is my list of my favourites from that maligned year.
First, the rules. There were two stunning live albums released – Good Vibrations – A Concert For Marc Hunter featuring the surviving members of Dragon and a heap of Australian artists, and Rockin' By Myself by Brian and Gary Setzer, a collection of classic favourites – but I've made a point of not including live tracks, so you'll just have to track down these albums. And then there is the Bruce Springsteen box set Tracks which features songs recorded over a number of years, so I didn't include any from that set either.
Now, this list is the year the song was first released. If it came out as a single in 1998, but the parent album was released in 1997, then it is a 1997 song. Sorry, but them's my rules.
I have also not included cover versions because that will be a separate column!
Now, first, I normally don't include comedy songs, but The Sensitive New Age Cowpersons in 1998 released 'The New Australian National Anthem', which my (ex-)wife and I both really enjoyed, so here it is for you. (Note: This will probably make no sense to anyone outside of Australia, but it is a series of lines from classic Australian songs strung together. Brilliantly.)
And here is my favourite video of the year – 'Right Here, Right Now' by Fatboy Slim. It's just… amazing.
All right, let's get on with this. As usual, I will start with the honourable mentions: 'A Nation Of Haircuts' (Roger Taylor); 'Across The Waves' (Don Grieve ) (a South Australian folkie whose book I helped him edit); 'Addicted to Bass' (Josh Abrahams and Amiel Daemion); 'An American Hero' (Mark Knopfler) (instrumental from the 1998 soundtrack to the 1997 film Wag The Dog; 'Ava Adore' (Smashing Pumpkins); 'Believe' (Cher) (yes, Cher… leave me alone); 'Celebrity Skin' (Hole); 'Changes' (2pac feat. Bruce Hornsby); 'Closing Time' (Semisonic); 'Deadly Game (Survivor Series)' (James A. Johnston (from a WWF/E wrestling PPV); 'Doo Dah' (Cartoons); 'Dragula' (Rob Zombie); 'Every Dog Has Its Day' (Chris Finnen); 'Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)' (Baz Luhrmann) (no, really – check it out); 'Far Above The Clouds' (Mike Oldfield); 'Ghetto Supastar' (Michael Pras with Ol' Dirty Bastard and Mya); 'Heavy Heart' (You Am I) (ooh, so close); 'I Don't Want To Miss A Thing' (Aerosmith); 'I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock & Roll' (Kiss); 'Intergalactic' (The Beastie Boys ); 'Iris' (The Goo Goo Dolls) (this was so very, very close); 'Music Sounds Better With You' (Stardust); 'My Father's Eyes' (Eric Clapton); 'Out Of My Head' (Fastball); 'Polyester Girl' (Regurgitator); 'Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)' (The Offspring); 'Redneck Wonderland' (Midnight Oil); 'Save Tonight' (Eagle-Eye Cherry); 'The Dope Show' (Marilyn Manson); 'The Impression That I Get' (The Mighty Mighty Bosstones); 'The Rockafeller Skank' (Fatboy Slim); 'Wake Up Wendy' (Elton John) (from the South Park: Chef Aid album); 'When You're Gone' (Bryan Adams feat. Melanie C) (showing that, yes, the Spice Girls could actually sing); 'Yakuza Girls (Cold Chisel); 'You Get What You Give (The New Radicals) (this was also incredibly close); 'You're Still the One' (Shania Twain) (really, it's a good song!). Already, that's quite a list!
The List proper!
'Teardrop' by Massive Attack
This song did not do all that well on its initial release, but one of the girls I was training with during this period introduced me to it and it sounded so different to anything else out there at the time. The voice is beautiful and it is so smooth, and the music is wonderful. Just different, and different is good.
'The Source Of Secrets' by Mike Oldfield
From the critically panned (thought I liked it) Tubular Bells III album, the opening track takes that hauntingly familiar theme used to such eerie effect in The Exorcist and gives it a modern do-over. All in all, it worked to my mind.
'The Way' by Fastball
A song based on a true story (allegedly), about an elderly couple who just got in their car one day and drove aimlessly until they went off a cliff. And yet, it is presented in such a happy sort of tune. Still, I enjoyed the whole album this came from (All The Pain Money Can Buy) despite very few of my friends agreeing with me, and this track is quite the stand-out from that.
'Lullaby' by Shawn Mullins
I've mentioned this song before, but there is no denying that it is a good song with one of those ear-worm choruses that just does not leave you. A tale akin to Dylan's 'Like A Rolling Stone' only with more hope of redemption, it is a strange tale of life in LA.
'Josie' by Blink-182
Ah, Blink-182, a band that really surprised me (pleasantly so) with their latest album, back at the start of their career. It's a love song for the 1990s (and, yes, 1980s) generation, about a guy who really does appreciate his girlfriend and all the stuff she does that really shows how much she cares for him. Actually a sweet song, despite the faux-punk posturing.
'One Week' by Barenaked Ladies
I had a mate who spent a week trying to get all the lyrics of this song. This was in the days before you could "Google" something (yes, young people, that was a real time, and it was called "most of human history") so it was a case of play, pause, rewind, repeat ad nauseam, and he grew more and more frustrated until another mate bought (I think) the CD single and the lyrics were printed inside the cover. The first mate almost had a fit. Strange anecdotes aside, this song was everywhere in '98 and it was such a good song, with references to Sting's sex life, Kurasawa films, chocolate bars, Chinese food and so much more besides. Weird, but awesome.
'The Things I Love In You' by Cold Chisel
Fourteen years after their last studio album, Cold Chisel returned with the phenomenal The Last Wave Of Summer. And this is my favourite track off that album. It was a return to the Chisel of old – tempered aggression in a rock song. Of course, the band members had not been idle in the lay-off, and the time apart, I think, helped the musicianship and song-writing improve. I love this album and love this song.
'Cry' by The Mavis's
Almost a throw-back to the 1980s style of pop music, this track by the Mavis's was just a wonderful piece of music that is all but forgotten nowadays. It would be the group's sole top 20 charting song (I believe), but what a legacy to leave the world. The lead singer's voice is wonderful and the music complements it perfectly. Great pop song.
'Girls Like That (Don't Go For Guys Like Us)' by Custard
Admission time – when it came to the Triple J Hottest 100 for 1998, this was the song I voted for. It is almost two songs, with a jerky, post-punk verse and a poppy sing-along chorus. There is just something about the lyrics as well; they speak to any guy who knows what it's like to not be willing to talk to a girl because "… girls like that don't go for guys like us…" Maybe I can relate to it all too well… Oh well. Great song!
'Shut Up/Kiss Me' by Paul McDermott & Fiona Horne
My favourite song of 1998, and one I've mentioned before, sees Paul McDermott and Fiona Horne together. Originally played on Good News Weekend (the TV show), I spent a week ringing around to see if I could get a copy (pre-YouTube and all that, remember… yes, that was a real time!). Eventually, Channel 10 in Sydney told me it was going to be released as a single because of demand. I pre-ordered it. This is such a beautiful song, with two gorgeous voices and yet such a sad sentiment.
And there you have my favourite songs of 1998. And, I realised as I looked back at the list, the top four are all Australian. Oh well, parochialism doesn't count when the music is this awesome. Of course, when it comes to the list, feel free to tell me what I got wrong, what you would have added, etc. As it is, it's a reasonably eclectic collection, with something for nearly everyone.
Oh, and one more thing about music in 1998. The year also saw the loss of one of the great singers of our (well, my and those older than me) time. Even though his voice was not perfect, and he was prone to anger and had dubious associations, Frank Sinatra will stand as one of music's great voices of the twentieth century. His version of 'My Way' appears in my extended list of favourite songs ever. When he sings it, you think he has genuinely lived it.