1997 appeared to be a decent year, as OJ Simpson lost the civil lawsuit in which Ron Goldman’s family sued the former star running back for the wrongful death of Ron, whose criminal trial ended in the acquittal of Simpson. Additionally, Timothy McVeigh, the ultra-right wing radical who was the mastermind behind the bombing the FBI Building in Oklahoma City, was convicted in the bombing and sentenced to death. And 1997 was the year of the film Titanic, although Good Will Hunting is the one remembered today.
The music world was still in an all-comers phase, meaning there was no clear leader nor leading trend. Anything and everything was up for grabs. All of a sudden, magazines and the radio were full of one-hit wonders like Chumbawamba, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Corrs, Savage Garden, Ma$e, to name a few artists. Perhaps, 1997 was a much better year for singles on the charts than perhaps albums. Or, and hear me out, we were beginning to witness the technology behind creating music ripping the soul out of the whole creative process. No longer were mistakes acceptable magic moments during the recording process. Suddenly, those human moments could be easily excised from the recording, along with any out-of-tune vocals straightened out by a new program called AutoTune.
With the new technology came perfection. If perfection was not met by one producer, another may be called in to “improve” the sound of the single. Now, instead of a producer or two and the band working together with the singer to create a magical studio performance in one take with some touchups added in the overdubbing process, several producers will have the fingers in the pie in order to obtain pop perfection and hopefully an immediate hit song.
Beginning around this time in musical history, the whole songwriting process began to be flipped. Once again, in the place of a band jamming to create and sound that surrounded some lyrics, producers are able to create tracks from sampled beats, basslines, horn squawks, background singers’ “ooohs” and “aaahs,” along with added instrumentation from studio professionals or themselves. It is not uncommon these days for the tracks to be completed and passed around current artist until someone decides to add some lyrics to said track and have their treated vocals added at a later date. When the track is released, the label will have maybe half-a-dozen producers and another dozen or so songwriters listed. Nowadays, you can when a Grammy award and receive a large chunk of change if you have a success hit song that sampled your minor hit from 1978 or 1983.
Basically, an artist in 1997 and to the present can use the technology in a current iPhone to create a whole album in his or her bedroom without ever setting one foot in a recording studio to work long hours in order to discover a new sound from the interaction. So, while this technology has given MORE freedom to the artist, it has also reduced the need for many talented studio and touring musicians as long as the artist has a computer and the necessary programs needed to replicate a near-perfect backing sound for a concert, thus never needing to split profits or the stage with needy musicians.
And, that, my friends, may be just a part of the reason as to what happened to the rock world that we used to know. New technology has taken the place of jam sessions, as well as interpersonal relationships. But, so have other things conspired to change rock & roll. There was Napster, a Supreme Court and FCC rulings allowing one person or group of investors to own multiple radio and television stations in markets throughout the country. In the past, a wealthy person or group could only own a single radio or television station, thus allowing for more diversity and competition. But now, all radio pretty much sounds the same, with only the music slightly tweaked to distinguish a country song (added twang) from a hip hop song (cranked up bass) from a dance song (hyperinflated beats per minute) from a pop song (combine all of those sounds in a mellow, non-threatening minor, better known as Ed Sheeran). Finally, YouTube killed MTV’s original vision as America’s Jukebox, with help from streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora and Amazon Music, which is still a couple of years from taking off in the form of Napster.
I call this the sterilization of rock music. From this point in time, the music will become generally more bland and much less dangerous than just four years earlier during the heights of grunge and gangsta rap.
However, like any other year, there are musical geniuses who broke through with brilliant albums full of terrific music. And, it is those artists and their magnificent albums whom we are celebrating. Of course, it is time for the countdown.
50. Master P – Ghetto D
49. Ma$e – Harlem World
48. Wyclef Jean – The Carnival
47. Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind
46. Eagle-Eye Cherry – Desireless
45. Elliott Smith – Either/Or
44. Chumbawamba – Tubthumper
43. Limp Bizkit – Three Dollar Bill, Y’all
42. The Corrs – Talk on the Corners
41. The Dandy Warhols – …The Dandy Warhols Come Down
40. The Prodigy – The Fat of the Land
39. Spice Girls – Spiceworld
38. *NSYNC – *NSYNC
37. Hanson – Middle of Nowhere
36. Savage Garden – Savage Garden
35. The Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole
34. Mansun – Attack of the Grey Lantern
33. Sarah McLachlan – Surfacing
32. Meredith Brooks – Blurring the Edges
31. Natalie Imbruglia – Left of the Middle
30. Blur – Blur
29. Aqua – Aquarium
28. Everclear – So Much for the Afterglow
27. Janet Jackson – The Velvet Rope
26. Mariah Carey – Butterfly
25. Cotton Mather – Kontiki
24. Daryl Hall & John Oates – Marigold Sky
23. Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind
22. Faith No More – Album of the Year
21. Shania Twain – Come on Over
20. Paul McCartney – Flaming Pie
19. U2 – Pop
18. Missy Elliott – Supa Dupa Fly
17. Green Day – Nimrod
16. Radiohead – OK Computer
15. Will Smith – Big Willie Style
14. Led Zeppelin – BBC Sessions
13. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call
12. Fleetwood Mac – The Dance
11. Whiskeytown – Stranger’s Almanac
10. Puff Daddy & the Family – No Way Out
9. Blink-182 – Dude Ranch
8. Erykah Badu – Baduizm
7. The Verve – Urban Hymns
6. Foo Fighters – The Colour and the Shape
5. The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death
4. Daft Punk – Homework
3. Mighty Mighty Bosstones – Let’s Face It
2. Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out
1. Paul Weller – Heavy Soul