Decades
A quarterly report that looks back
on music and film from 10, 20, 30 years ago

Top 50 Songs of 1997

on May 24, 2017, 2:00am

shania-twain40. Shania Twain – “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”

Come On Over


The story goes that Shania Twain’s then-husband Mutt Lange played her the riff for “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”, and she followed by spitting out the lyrics “out of the blue.” When you’ve got a no-brainer crossover hit like this one, there’s almost no other way that it could’ve happened. The seventh single from her third studio album, Come on Over, the track is the kind of blissfully fun pop goodness that you won’t mind having stuck in your head for a few months. While not exactly a touchstone of feminism, Mutt and Shania were really onto something, and her charisma makes the goofy nonsense of the song into satisfying fun. –Lior Phillips

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elliott-smith39. Elliott Smith – “Between the Bars”

Either/Or



When it comes to the music of Elliott Smith, the late singer-songwriter’s vocals traditionally resonate over anything else, namely for that light cadence of his that sounds like a candle if only candles could, you know, speak. That’s certainly the case with “Between the Bars”, the heart-wrenching ballad off Either/Of that doubles as a midnight confession. And like any Moment of Truth, it’s fast and cunning and wavering, feelings that are wired to every word he spells out in the terse two-minute time frame. Rather subtly, the song captures the drunken, late-night realizations everyone has from time to time — our own self-doubts, our own deep regrets, and our own inner demons — and, more importantly, nails how we feel as powerless as we do numb towards their seemingly sobering conclusions. As he sings, “People you’ve been before that you/ Don’t want around anymore/ That push and shove and won’t bend to your will/ I’ll keep them still,” we similarly remain just as stoic. It’s a real pill. –Michael Roffman

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janet jackson Top 50 Songs of 199738. Janet Jackson – “Together Again”

The Velvet Rope


One of The Velvet Rope’s purest moments of shimmering pop bliss, “Together Again” is a dance track with serious reach. It would be enough to simply be one of Janet Jackson’s most memorable vocal performances — she sounds delighted, as if she couldn’t be happier to be singing it — or her purest Diana-meets-Donna disco-inspired missive. All of those things are more than enough to make “Together Again” one of 1997’s most memorable and lasting tunes, but it’s the aforementioned reach that earns it a place in any reasonable person’s pop hall of fame. Written from a place of grief, both for a friend she’d lost to AIDS and in response to a fan who’d sent a letter after the death of his father, Jackson and her writing team turned that sorrow into hopefulness and joy, making a dance classic that’s also somehow a response to one of the most difficult things a person experiences in life. And if that weren’t enough somehow, Jackson donated a portion of the fat cash this single raked in to The American Foundation for AIDS Research. Try listening to it now without smiling or getting just a little misty. –Allison Shoemaker

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the verve Top 50 Songs of 199737. The Verve – “Lucky Man”

Urban Hymns



At their best, The Verve could capitalize on both feelings and smarts. Whereas a song like “Bittersweet Symphony” frames the English rockers as masterminds of rich pop tapestries, oozing with swagger and sex appeal, “Lucky Man” finds them excelling at their fundamentals. That’s not to say this Urban Hymns single is any less rich or dense — the layers to the song are quite comparable to their global hit — but it feels a little more organic. Richard Ashcroft’s use of repetition — specifically, the line: “It’s just a change in me/ Something in my liberty” — swims above the guitar, the strings, the piano, and the cinematic percussion, yanking at the heart strings in an earthly way that’s spiritually in sync with everything we’re given. Of course, it helps that he’s weighing in on timeless themes of happiness and relationships, never leaning on a solution to its many ebbs and flows, but instead unconvincingly insisting he’s a lucky bastard. Truth be told, nobody’s ever really lucky, per se; they’re just in the moment. This is one of them. –Michael Roffman

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the-lost-highway36. Nine Inch Nails – “The Perfect Drug”

The Lost Highway OST

Artists are often their own toughest critics. If you ask Trent Reznor his thoughts on “The Perfect Drug”, he’ll tell you he considers it a rushed disappointment done no favors by a “bloated, over-budget video.” However, if you ask anyone my age, they’ll tell you both the song and music video are among the most memorable of the ‘90s. Originally conceived for David Lynch’s 1997 film Lost Highway – for which Reznor produced the soundtrack – the song’s taken on several other lives. Lyrically nimble enough to be about actual drug addiction or a debilitating romantic infatuation, most of us have come to associate the song with the Edwardian nightmare depicted in Mark Romanek’s music video, in which Reznor indulges in absinthe to deal with the loss of a son. Whatever your interpretation, there’s no denying that driving chorus, inhuman drum solo, or the crushing weight of the song’s coda. Mr. Reznor doth protest too much, methinks. –Matt Melis

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