About once a month or so, my pain-ravaged body will go into shutdown mode. I really don’t know when it will happen, but when it does, there is nothing I can do but sleep. I must have slept over half of the day Saturday. Fortunately, it happened when my wife had to meet with her four brothers to decide what to do about her parents’ home and property, so she was gone all day. Of course, I had planned to spend the day finally listening to the 13-LP box set of Prince’s Sign ‘o’ the Times remastered classic. Now, I will have to spread the enjoyment out over several days. Let’s just say that what I have heard on the first album of the newly released material is awe-inspiring. Prince had six LPs worth hit albums recorded during this legendary three-year period of creativity beginning in 1985 and ending in 1987.
So, anyway, we are up to 1998 in my list of My 1000 Favorite Albums. Now, the spring of 1998 was the last few months of my tenure at Alexandria. However, it ended on the highest of highs. In 1998, Alexandria did the unthinkable for a 2A school. They won the first state championships in two sports in one school year, basketball and baseball. And, while many of the sports teams did exceptionally well that year, the next biggest story was my track team.
Like I had said previously, these guys were some of the finest competitors I have ever coached. I only wish they had the coaching staff I worked with at Hamilton Southeastern because I feel like these guys could have had so much more to pull out of them than I could as their only coach. What they accomplished was solely on their own. I gave them their workouts and had to trust they would follow them as I could not be overseeing guys throwing the shot and discuss on one side of the school and jumpers on another, while the sprinters and hurdlers were sharing the front straight of the track, God knows where I had sent my distance runners to run for their miles. But, for some reason, the captains at each event kept the others in line and focused. Eventually, it all paid off.
Once again, Alexandria track had been the laughingstock of the sports program. Whoever had coached in the past never cared about practices or meets much because they were in a word terrible. Then, two years before I became the head coach, a young guy had taken over as head coach. He didn’t know much about track but he hated to loose. And, when I took over cross country, he immediately asked me to be his assistant. Together, we worked to change the working environment and attitude, which was easy because the kids in this small town hated to lose at anything. Unfortunately, that head coach left for an administration position at another school, so I became the head coach in 1997. By 1998, the kids that we focused the future on were now juniors and seniors, so I was expecting big things.
No matter how hard these guys competed, they kept finishing second or third in the invitationals, even though we were beating many of those teams in head-to-head competitions. Big meets are a different animal. Fortunately, I knew how to push these guys’ buttons. And, the biggest button was someone saying they were not good. The day before the conference meet, the local newspaper released its weekly paper. Immediately, I turned to the sports column that was written by a former AD at the school. Now, that man loved his Alexandria sports and was a fine man. I continue to have great respect for him. But, in his column, he slighted the track team basically saying they had a good season but would only finish fourth in the eight-team meet. There it was! I had those guys immediately. I copied that exact quote and handed it out to the team at our team meeting the night before the meet. I told them that according to the times that I had sent in for seeding, which were now two weeks old, said they would finish fifth as a team. But, when I substituted their more recent times, I told them they could win, no matter what happens with Peru’s stud All-State sprinter, who unfortunately was injury-prone.
The next day came, and when the meet started, one of our workhorses was laying an egg on the track. He scratched all attempts in the long jump and did not qualify for the finals in the high hurdles. My team was freaking out, so I gathered as many of them as possible, told them to relax and let the meet come to them. I said this happens all the time and that people will pull surprises as the meet continues. In other words, I bullshitted them.
At the half-way point in the meet, we were in last place in the team standings. And, then it started to happen. In those last events, we flexed our muscles. We went from also-rans to studs in the course of those events. As a matter of fact, when the last race, the 4x400m relay, was lining up, we were in first place by one point. All we had to do in the last race was to finish according to our seed, third, and we would win the school’s first track conference championship ever. And, that’s exactly what happened. Those guys, all of them had competed in three prior events each, were exhausted but dug down to finish a close third place. When the team standings were announced, only 10 points separated the champs, us, for sixth place! As a matter of fact, we finished first, second place was one point behind us, third place was 2 points back and fourth place was 3 points out. It was the craziest meet ever, but my guy prevailed and are now immortalized on the school’s sports wall of fame as the only boys’ track team on the wall. And that is a testament to these guys’ character. Today, all of them have successful jobs and families, so coaching them only made me appear to be good.
Dixie Chicks (now, The Chicks) – Wide Open Spaces (1998). Of course, the trio is known as The Chicks, but I will still refer to the artist’s original name for the sake of this blog. So, when this multi-talented group of women combined their skills, they set the musical world, not just the country world, on fire. Sure, The Chicks were steeped in country, but they also displayed flashes of Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles and other significant artists from the country side of rock. They had their very own sound, with the lyrics written by some tough women. With this album, The Chicks proved they were going to be a musical force for the ages.
Hole – Celebrity Skin (1998). Courtney Love and her band followed up their 1994 breakthrough album Live Through This four years later with a bigger commercial hit in Celebrity Skin. Of course, controversy followed Ms. Love as she attempted to move forward with her life after losing her husband Kurt Cobain. At the time, she was rumored to be dating lead Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan, who was now being held up as the ghost songwriter of the tunes on this album. As if a woman could actually write their own music. Not!
Incubus – Make Yourself (1998). Sure, Incubus were steeped in the alt-metal hybrid that was popular in the late-Nineties. But, this time, the band used R.E.M.-producer Scott Litt, whose work emphasized the moodiness of the band’s songs. This moodiness, along with the cleaner production values, made the band more commercially enticing. Thus, this album put the band on the map, however briefly it lasted. My fondest memory of this album was hearing my older son’s high school garage band learning to play the songs on this album to play in the school talent show.
Korn – Follow the Leader (1998). After Rage Against the Machine broke, it seemed as if there were a million bands with a metal/hip hop fusion sound getting airplay in MTV. Hell, there was Limp Bizkit, Marilyn Manson, White Zombie (and Rob Zombie as a solo artist) and, of course, Korn, leading the way. Korn was next to Manson in the scary sound department. You just felt an uneasiness in the air as their album played or during a live performance. Either way, I always felt as though I should sprinkle some Holy Water on the CD player after my track guys listened to this Korn CD while they were lifting weights. Yet, there was something about Korn that I liked. It was more than “Freak on a Leash” too.
Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998). Recently, Rolling Stone released an updated version of their Top 500 Albums of All-Time list. No longer was the list being dominated by the tastes of Baby Boomers. Now, Gen X and Millennial critics’ opinions were being recognized. So, it should not surprise many out there that this album is in the Top 10 on this list. And, it deserves its placing. Hill was the counterpoint voice in the Fugees, bringing not only a feminine point-of-view to the great band’s musical statements, but she was also the social and personal centerpiece. So, while much was expected of Ms. Hill on her first solo album, no one could have predicted just how focused this album would be. The versatility in her vocals, going from a tough girl rap to a tender lover singing voice within the course of one song, was spellbinding. And, while she made it very clear that her children would come before her career, no one really took her seriously. Now, since she has released very little music in the interim years, this album has taken on a more poignant landmark in her all too brief career.
Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998). Here is another great album by a female artist released in 1998. Lucinda Williams was another terrific artist in the newer Americana scene that was led by Counting Crows, The Jayhawks, Son Volt, Wilco, among so many others. But, what Williams accomplished on this album still resonates to this day in the genre. Ms. Williams definitely hit a home run on this album release, perhaps the best of her illustrious career.
Madonna – Ray of Light (1998). Through the Eighties and early-Nineties, Madonna rarely took time off from her career. But, in 1998, Madonna ended a four-year hiatus with the release of her Grammy winning album Ray of Light. On the LP, pop’s most famous musical chameleon, patterned after David Bowie’s career, Madonna hooked up with techno producer William Orbit in order to give her pop/dance sound a modern overhaul. And, the result was this mesmerizing hybrid of influences that reinvigorated Madonna and poised her for a strong opening at the beginning of the 21st century.
Outkast – Aquemini (1998). You know what the cool thing about modern popular music is? The coolest thing is that the music rarely gets stale. Once that begins to happen, along comes a fresh new artist ready to overturn the applecart of the status quo. At the time, gangsta rap and other tales about thug life were growing thin with some listeners. So, when a rap group pops up from Atlanta of all places, using P-Funk samples and a surrealist, nearly Dadaist, approach to their music and rhymes figured to shake up the establishment. The best example was the duo’s hit song “Ms. Jackson.”
The New Radicals – Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too (1998). I’ve written about this album before, but I will say it again. This album is totally underappreciated. The New Radicals brought took the influences of Daryl Hall & John Oates AND Todd Rundgren. This is just a beautiful mix of power pop and blue-eyed soul. And, the unique thing about this band is that the leader, Gregg Alexander, who never shied away from controversial statements about the state of the music industry to his belief in left-wing politics, broke up the band after scoring a lone Top 40 hit (“You Get What You Give”) in order to be an actual one-hit wonder.
And that wraps up the next-to-last year in the old millennium. We have currently covered 815 albums on my list, leaving 185 LPs over 21 years to go. See you next time. Peace.