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

Decades, presented by Discogs, is a recurring feature that turns back the clock to critical anniversaries of albums, songs, and films. This month, we dial it back to the top 50 songs of 1997.

Only in the scheme of cosmology, geology, or evolution does 20 years not sound like an awful long time. It’s a generation. Those ’97 babies aren’t babies anymore. Some are parents themselves. It’s nearly two-thirds of my lifetime, meaning I was a young teen consuming radio-friendly fare as readily as vending machine potato chips and candy bars back in 1997. I’m not a baby anymore either, though the baby fat and thin hair have started to come back. My parents, god bless them, used to yell at me to turn down a number of the songs on this list. They’re old enough to be grandparents now, though, and have moved on to hollering at me for other things. Progress of a kind.

Two decades might be even longer in music industry terms. It’s far longer than the average band lasts. If you look through this list, some of these acts are no longer together – or find themselves somewhere in the rinse-and-repeat cycle of breaking up and reuniting – and others are no longer with us period. Some are still capable of turning the music world on its head; others are out there reminding us that they, too, once shook the world if only for a moment. A fistful of trends, movements, and styles have emerged and faded over those two decades. Some of those bands have shaped the new music we listen to today; others stick out in our old CD towers like a pink tutu hanging in a closet of denim and flannel. Neither category of those bands had to seriously consider the prospect of their music being pressed on vinyl or pick-pocketed and shared across the globe at lightning rates. All in good time.

As a music writer, so much of your time is spent on other people’s music. But for your thirtysomething editing staff here at CoS, this list feels like ours. We bought albums for these songs as adolescents, relied upon them to make our terrible teens tolerable, and carried them into adulthood with us not as keepsakes or crutches but as pieces as vital to our makeup as anything can be. Looking back, in most cases, we knew what we had. Hell, kids are smart like that. In some cases, we had no idea. What can I say? We were only kids.

Now, click ahead before your dial-up modem wakes the damn cat.

–Matt Melis
Editorial Director

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marcy playground 547d87debd2be Top 50 Songs of 199750. Marcy Playground – “Sex and Candy”

Marcy Playground

You can usually point to what you like about a one-hit wonder’s hit song, and it’s often something that the rest of their songs lack. In the case of Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy”, I still have no idea why the song climbed the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks – remaining at No. 1 for a then-record 15 weeks – but I also know I’ve never once turned the radio dial during that song. An unlikely amalgam of grunge, melody, slacker ethos, and hippie lingo, John Wozniak and co. dished out enough sex and candy on the airwaves that year to notch our belts down to nothing and rot our teeth to the gums. Maybe it’s as simple as the old saying: sex and candy sells. Plus, I heard the double-cherry pie is orgasmic. Dig it. –Matt Melis

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mariah carey Top 50 Songs of 199749. Mariah Carey – “Honey”

Butterfly


Everything about “Honey” screams 1997: the tasteful piano melody (an earworm of a sample from World’s Famous Supreme Team’s “Hey DJ”), a Mariah Carey vocal at the height of her hit-any-damn-note-imaginable powers, the overlong music video with jetski intrigue and a villainous Eddie Griffin. But what stands out most about the singer’s megahit first single from the 5x platinum Butterfly is the Puff Daddy sound on the production, as Carey became one of the earlier pop vocalists to collaborate with hip-hop producers and incorporate the sound, one of the crucial bridges to rap taking over the music world. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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atmosphere Top 50 Songs of 199748. Atmosphere – “Scapegoat”

Overcast


In 1997, there were few who would’ve suspected that Minnesota hip-hop outfit Atmosphere would still be making such an impact two decades later. At that time, the duo were a trio and their first big single, “Scapegoat”, made them darlings at college radio. But the song eventually became a scene, a label, and a career. On its own, though, “Scapegoat” still ranks as one of MC Slug’s best moments. It’s a laundry list, a snapshot at 1997’s hardships, a peak through a window that hasn’t much changed in the ensuing time. It’s a song that, despite being so rooted in a specific time and place, still manages to resonate 20 years later. Who would’ve thought? –Philip Cosores

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offspring Top 50 Songs of 199747. The Offspring – “Gone Away”

Ixnay on the Hombre



Ixnay on the Hombre was arguably the last time anyone could take The Offspring seriously. Because after that, they’d resort to tongue-in-cheek garbage like “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy”), their 1999 blockbuster single that catapulted them to another era of fame and fortune, the likes of which they’d try to replicate again and again for years thereafter (see: “Original Prankster”, “Hit That”). But that wasn’t the case 20 years ago, when they felt like the angsty, edgier step brother to Green Day, the one who had the brass knuckles and dark past over the bloody fingers and stickered-skateboards. “Gone Away” is the not-so-hidden gem off their fourth studio album, a somber exercise in grief that excels from frontman Dexter Holland’s expressive vocals, particularly in the choruses, where he brings that trademark rasp to a palpable whine and lets it all hang out. That breakdown in the middle is a swift reminder why they were every teenager’s alternative anti-hero 20 years ago. –Michael Roffman

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next Top 50 Songs of 199746. Next – “Too Close”

Rated Next


In a golden age of streetwise soul and grinding loverman jams, Next solidified their place in the 24-carat ‘90s R&B canon by dropping the Symphony No. 5 of songs about erections. The group would later take pride in sneaking a song entirely dedicated to getting wood on a club dance floor onto the radio, but “Too Close” wasn’t exactly throwing feints. “I try but I can’t fight it,” sing T-Low, R.L., and Tweet. While guys like Brian McKnight and Dru Hill made music for the balmiest tantric sex ever blueprinted, Next were getting to grips with biology like a bunch of teenagers.

“Too Close”, though, sleeks into view with dapper poise. The snappy guitar line (lifted from Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin’”) and spotless beat smoothly underpin Next and guest singer Vee’s soulful back and forth — the velvety pop symphony offering a slick counterpoint to the daft lyrics. It takes a lot to make something this goofy and weird sound cool. –Dean Van Nguyen

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puff daddy Top 50 Songs of 199745. Puff Daddy – “It’s All About the Benjamins”

No Way Out


Bad Boy Entertainment founder, Sean “Puffy” Combs marked his solo debut with the 1997 release of the No Way Out LP. Third single, “Its All About the Benjamins”, played up Puff’s knack for monstrous posse cuts with verses from Lil’ Kim, The LOX, and franchise player The Notorious B.I.G. It got a trial run on DJ Clue’s 1996 Holiday Holdup tape before being juiced up and added to No Way Out. Still reeling from B.I.G.’s death months earlier, Puff became the face and voice of Bad Boy with a hard-body single that would punctuate the pre-“bling” excess of the shiny suit era and solidify his place as the author of a rap dynasty. Nevermind Lil’ Kim dropping what might be her hottest verse on the track. “All About the Benjamins” is hit machine Puff in his prime — a force that remains unmatched in rap. –Karas Lamb

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Oasis44. Oasis – “Don’t Go Away”

Be Here Now



Nary a soul would venture to call Be Here Now Oasis’ best album, and only a handful of the most contrarian fans would place it in their top three. Be Here Now is a bloated, jaded thing disappointing upon release, and it hasn’t aged well since. Some might think it was misunderstood back then, what with the hype with which it had to contend and the maelstrom of bad press that swirled around it. But no, it’s just not that good. There are standouts, however: “Stand by Me”, for instance. “My Big Mouth” has a certain energy. But then there’s “Don’t Go Away”, the song that, despite everything surrounding it, serves to remind us just what exactly it was that made the band’s brand of Britpop so satisfying. In a word: Earnestness. It was when Liam and Noel Gallagher could set aside their token sneer, drop the attitude, and offer up plaintive calls for help and connection: In terms of vulnerability, Liam’s cry of “don’t go away” is up there with Noel’s assertion that “you ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out.” Despite its sumptuous orchestration, “Don’t Go Away” still feels sparse, a simple and affecting plea that pierces through the cloud of cocaine dust that obfuscates the rest of Be Here Now. –Randall Colburn

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depeche-mode43. Depeche Mode – “It’s No Good”

Ultra


Depeche Mode’s ninth studio album, Ultra, emerged from a time of great turmoil, marked by Alan Wilder’s departure from the band and frontman Dave Gahan entering rehab to try to kick his drug habit. No wonder the second single from the record, “It’s No Good”, has such an ominous edge. “I’m going to take my time,” Gahan croons, his voice weary and unsettled. “I have all the time in the world/ To make you mine.” The song’s music matches the sinister vibe: Insistent, hollowed-out industrial rhythms and dark synths ebb and flow, creating a backdrop of minimalist seduction that bridges Depeche Mode’s early work and its future directions. –Annie Zaleski

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our-lady-peace42. Our Lady Peace – “Superman’s Dead”

Clumsy



The idea of using Superman as an allegory in pop music died out sometime after Three Doors Down wrote “Kryptonite”. But man, when Our Lady Peace forged the Man of Steel with Mike Turner’s guitar work and Raine Maida’s banshee wails … well, it was a stronger marriage than whatever Warner Bros. has been doing with Kal-El these past few years. The lead single off Clumsy thrives from its lush wall of sound. There’s so much going on, and although this was the age of polished mainstream alternative rock, “Superman’s Dead” felt like an outlier in its ability to sound so dour and yet feel so sweepingly optimistic. And like much of the criticism surrounding today’s onscreen depiction of Superman, the song itself questions the moral ineptitude of the culture at large and how everything has to be so goddamn bleak and morbid, concluding: “But ordinary’s just not good enough today.” As someone who prefers his Kryptonian knight on the sunny side, this writer’s inclined to agree. (On a side note: Given its final line, it’s baffling that Subway hasn’t at least tried to use this song in any of their marketing campaigns.) –Michael Roffman

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dandy warhols Top 50 Songs of 199741. The Dandy Warhols – “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth”

…The Dandy Warhols Come Down



In the ’90s, The Dandy Warhols were irony kingpins, although “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth” comes off more like detached, exasperated commentary. Frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor sounds like he’s rolling his eyes as he sings lyrics such as “You never thought you’d get addicted/ Just be cooler in an obvious way,” as slurring beats, whirring organ, and Stones-esque guitars shake and unfurl around him. Taylor-Taylor’s scorn makes sense, however, when you consider his two inspirations for the song: a girlfriend who became a heroin addict and Brian Jonestown Massacre leader Anton Newcombe. The latter had his revenge on the Dandys, however: Later in the year, BJM countered with the song “Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth”, fueling the band feud so exhaustively detailed in the documentary Dig! –Annie Zaleski

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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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notorious big life after death Top 50 Songs of 199735. The Notorious B.I.G. – “Mo Money, Mo Problems”

Life After Death


It was a melancholic summer atop the Billboard Hot 100 after The Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death was released in the wake of Biggie Smalls’ passing to success and acclaim. “Mo Money Mo Problems” replaced “I’ll Be Missing You” following that song’s 11-week run during the summer of 1997 and arrived atop the charts a few months after “Hypnotize” held the same status. To this day, there’s a rueful disconnect between the upstroking joy of Kelly Price’s voice atop a Diana Ross sample and the irony of the hook that made the song a ‘90s classic: “The more money we come across/ The more problems we see.” Biggie had a lot left to do before his sudden departure, but “Mo Money Mo Problems” stands as a promise of what could have been and was accompanied by one of Hype Williams’ all-time great videos to boot. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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wyclef jean Top 50 Songs of 199734. Wyclef Jean – “Gone Till November”

The Carnival


Though at one point he’s just listing out the months of the year, there’s something absolutely heartbreaking about Wyclef Jean’s “Gone Til November”. The third single on the Fugees founder’s debut solo album, he builds from simple acoustic guitar, strings, and a skipping drum line. The track sounds soft enough, but many have noted that it’s told from the perspective of a drug runner trying to explain why he needs to go out on a big deal and leave his girl at home. But, ever the compelling charmer, the song feels immediate and relatable even to those outside of that particular hustle. The strings swell and tug, but Jean’s understated lilt feels so achingly human, sinking the story directly into your heart. –Lior Phillips

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sarah mclaughlan Top 50 Songs of 199733. Sarah McLachlan – “Building a Mystery”

Surfacing

Long before Sarah McLachlan spent her free time reducing us to soggy lumps of tears on the floor as her songs play over pictures taken at animal shelters, the Canadian singer-songwriter was making a name for herself as both an A-list artist and activist. 1997 proved a particularly pivotal year for McLachlan. Fed up with how the music industry often mistreats women, she co-founded the original Lilith Fair, a touring festival that featured female solo artists and woman-fronted bands. That same year she took home two Grammys, four Juno Awards, and had four hit songs off her best-selling album, Surfacing. And if we could only keep one of those hits, “Building a Mystery” would probably be the one. Minus some mystical-sounding accompaniment, the song about how we hide our true selves from others relies on little more than McLachlan’s straightforward strum, sincere eye-witness delivery, and supernatural-themed lyrical work. It’s a throwback to a time when so many acoustic guitar-slinging and piano-plunking female songwriters seemed to rule the airwaves, too talented to be drowned out by their much louder peers. –Matt Melis

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bjork homogenic large la Top 50 Songs of 199732. Björk – “Joga”

Homogenic


Always a decade or more ahead of the trend, Björk’s “Joga” predicts (and outdoes) the dubstep and EDM music it predates. But more than a predictive genius, the song thrives because of the incredibly cathartic way that the singer connects with her lyrics, pouring her heart into her kinetic “state of emergency.” The Icelandic legend has described the song as akin to a national anthem and is dedicated to her best friend, Jóga Johannsdóttir — quite the honor, considering the explosive, enchanting power of the tune. While the Homogenic centerpiece feels ahead of its time, the epic poetic lyrics, chilly strings, and resonant emotion burn with a primal energy as instinctive and grand as Iceland itself. –Lior Phillips

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radiohead ok computer Top 50 Songs of 199731. Radiohead – “Let Down”

OK Computer


For the most part, OK Computer finds Radiohead awaiting the coming millennium, as well as the existential fog which accompanies it, with pre-emptive shudders. These are expressed both lyrically (“Paranoid Android”‘s fever-dream soothsaying) and compositionally (the minor-key funeral marches of “Karma Police” and “Exit Music (For a Film)”). “Let Down” is the eye of the band’s apocalyptic storm: a latter-day carol so hypnotic and swaddling, Yorke’s dreadful imagery (dead bugs, alcoholics, suburban zombies) scan as the trappings of paradise. Its bridge is a swirling, jangle-pop crescendo that culminates in one of Yorke’s career-defining vocal performances, a devastating one-man chorus, whirling in the void. –Zoe Camp

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spiritualized Top 50 Songs of 199730. Spiritualized – “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space”

Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space


Pressing play on Spiritualized’s landmark Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, listeners are greeted by the familiar. As Jason Pierce layers verses, one set of lyrics is instantly recognizable, an echo of one of Elvis’ most beloved songs, “Can’t Help Falling in Love”. The Presley estate actually protested the use of the song and forced Spiritualized to alter the track, but the two sides later came to an agreement and restored the original for later reissues. With 2017 ears, it’s an essential part that’s hard to imagine the song resonating so strongly without it. Melancholy and nostalgic, it’s an ultimate moment in tone setting, buckling in the audience for the album’s emotional, genre-spanning journey. –Philip Cosores

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grandaddy Top 50 Songs of 199729. Grandaddy – “A.M. 180”

Under the Western Freeway


Be careful with that keyboard melody: Once you let it into your head, you’ll never be able to get it out. One of the best songs of 1997, “A.M. 180” peaked in popularity in 2003 when it was included on the movie soundtrack to 28 Days Later, and it had a resurgence in 2009 when it was used to sell the Dodge Journey. That’s fitting for a perennially overlooked band, the kind that’s more written about than listened to: beloved by critics, ignored by audiences, and coveted by advertising execs who can buy pop tunes at indie-label prices. Granddady frontman Jason Lytle has a gift for off-kilter loveliness. It’s pop without all the sugar, bubbly but not bubble gum, flavored with the kind of psychedelic rock that gives you a gentle buzz instead of a vision-exploding high. –Wren Graves

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usher Top 50 Songs of 199728. Usher – “You Make Me Wanna…”

My Way



It’s that Jermain Dupri sound. Those bells. The guitar. And Usher’s eager voice. This song just makes you wanna … well, you know. That’s the power of a great song. It doesn’t even have to finish its thought for you to know exactly what it’s talking about. What with its blunt yet beauteous yearning, Usher’s soulful, sexy “You make me wanna…” was a hymn to a hungry man, trying to contain his passion for someone else (knowing full well he’s already in a relationship). Oh, the drama. The hot, sweaty humanity. But Usher sings and subsequently sells the minimalist R&B hit with a nervous energy not dissimilar to how we feel when we’re ready to embark on our relationships. Guilt-ridden and ever so arousing, Usher’s fresh voice left the ears of many eager listeners rapt and ready for more. This song’s the definition of a breakout smash. With the power of a saucy music video getting heavy play on MTV, and a performance of “You make me wanna…” on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, among many other places the song popped up, Usher’s single had enormous legs throughout 1997. The tune went gold and platinum, and “You make me wanna…” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (damn you, Elton John). But baby, this song’s still a No. 1 in our fluttering hearts. –Blake Goble

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foo fighters Top 50 Songs of 199727. Foo Fighters – “My Hero”

The Colour and the Shape


Ordinary heroes are popular targets for tribute. It’s lovely to praise the blue-collar Batman or suburban Superman who may walk among us. As one of the mainstream’s most earnest rock bands, the Foo Fighters memorably captured this sentiment with the raucous ballad “My Hero”, The track kicks off with mounting percussion and bass that together lay the foundation for a guitar line that soars so high it might be mistaken for a bird or a plane. Dave Grohl’s vocals are a series of sentimental yowls that never reach full grunge but also take care to simultaneously embrace the sound he helped to form. Most notably, “My Hero” was a single that established the Foo Fighters as a rock band capable of channeling the emotional rawness of a receding grunge scene while also capitalizing on the more relatable side of rock. –Zack Ruskin

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Jurassic-526. Jurassic 5 – “Concrete Schoolyard”

Jurassic 5 (EP)


In hindsight, there was always something meta about Jurassic 5. Often their songs resort to being about their ability to craft rhymes over original beats, taking hip-hop back to its roots. Essentially, the cuts served as evidence for their own lyrics. It’s appropriate then that on their first EP, “Concrete Schoolyard” acts as a raison d’être. The sextet (four MCs and two absurdly talented DJs) flow seamlessly as a unit, passing the mic with smooth ease and evoking not just the DNA of classic rap, but also tapping into its spirit. Sure, raps about being good at rap may not be groundbreaking material, but on “Concrete Schoolyard”, just the act of rhyming to a beat feels miraculous. –Philip Cosores

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discogs Top 50 Songs of 1997

david-bowie25. David Bowie – “I’m Afraid of Americans”

Earthling


David Bowie captured plenty of iconic trends over the course of his career, but no single feels as depressingly accurate as “I’m Afraid of Americans”. Though originally written during the studio sessions for 1995 LP Outside, the song was reworked for 1997’s Earthling, complete with blistering synth explosions and over-the-top drumming. Bowie’s voice marches rigidly while portraying a character of status and self-entitlement. In that, it’s a sardonic breakdown of homogenized culture, pussy grabbing, drug overdoses, and capitalism — subjects that seem rather familiar, no? It marked Bowie’s last appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 (before Blackstar and, in tandem, his death). Now, it seems that’s because the song’s sentiments would never actually go out of fashion, a stabilized trend that’s frightening on its own. —Nina Corcoran

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bob dylan time out of mind 1997 Top 50 Songs of 199724. Bob Dylan – “Not Dark Yet”

Time Out of Mind

Not many artists are reborn at 55. By that time, a songwriter generally sticks to treading the terrain he staked out for himself long ago. But on Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan, who hadn’t released a record of new material in seven years, blew past old boundaries like a Depression-era bank robber racing for state lines. It’s an agitated, pining, and paranoid dirt-road blues album, yes, but it’s also one full of resignation, world-weariness, and a sense of mortality. Many have speculated that the life-threatening heart infection that hospitalized Dylan that year influenced the album’s tone, but the truth is the record had already been written, recorded, and even mixed before Dylan grew ill. “Not Dark Yet” finds Dylan worn down and cynical (“Been down on the bottom of a world full of lies/ I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes”), reflecting on a life that’s taken its toll and knowing that there’s only a little road left to negotiate. Why this gentle-sounding but ultimately doomed and hopeless ballad resonates remains a mystery. Maybe because when the end draws near, straight shooting carries more weight than empty consolation. –Matt Melis

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Deftones23. Deftones – “My Own Summer (Shove It)”

Around the Fur


Ah, summer: short shirts, beach bodies, and soaking up the sun. Many musicians have raised their voices in praise of the summer months; the Deftones raise a middle finger. Lead singer Chino Moreno famously put tin foil over the studio windows during the recording of Around the Fur, and on the lead single from that album, he aims his rage and fury at that burning ball of gas in the sky. “The sun! Shove it, shove it, shove it, aside!” In addition to featuring some of Moreno’s most stunningly poetical lyrics, “My Own Summer (Shove It)” captures the isolation, frustration, and white-hot anger of going through hell while everyone else is off having fun. –Wren Graves

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the-prodigy22. The Prodigy – “Smack My Bitch Up”

The Fat of the Land


Ask somebody what the sped-up apex of ‘90s British rave electronica sounds like, and they’d probably venture that it sounds like a manipulated Kool Keith vocal over a frantic series of samples. The third single from The Prodigy’s breakthrough The Fat of the Land, “Smack My Bitch Up” was a lightning rod for controversy, from Jonas Akerlund’s hedonistic video to claims of misogyny over the song’s repeated titular lyric. These days, it sounds more like a snotty invitation for a fight, or at least the soundtrack to an action movie starring Wesley Snipes. But between all the “clean” mixes and its omnipresence at certain club nights, “Smack My Bitch Up” is a lasting mainstay of a brief, triumphant moment in dance music. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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the-prodigy21. Ben Folds Five – “Brick”

Whatever and Ever Amen

Every year delivers its fair share of anomalies; however, looking back, Ben Folds Five scaling the charts in ‘97 feels more like a miracle than an outlier. In an era of post-grunge and nu metal (ew, gross), how does a piano power pop trio without a guitar to distort conquer the radio waves? Ah, yes, a fourth single piano ballad about driving a girlfriend to have an abortion. Well, that makes sense … wait, what? There may not be a mold or formula that explains the miscounted trio’s success with “Brick” other than to say it’s a quietly beautiful song that understands from experience what it is to be young, sad, and completely in over your head. Who doesn’t need to hear a song like that at some point in their life? As it turns out, we all have some bricks in our closet. –Matt Melis

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sleater kinney dig me out Top 50 Songs of 199720. Sleater-Kinney – “One More Hour”

Dig Me Out

“What’s it like to be three women in a rock band?” It’s a question that Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker, and Janet Weiss have been asked probably thousands of times over the years. In fairness, despite the riot grrrl movement of the ‘90s, women screeching into mics and wailing on guitars was far from a common image in the alt rock mainstream. Still, if given one chance to ask Sleater-Kinney something when their third album, Dig Me Out, came out in ’97, the better question would’ve been, “What’s it like when a rock band totally clicks?” As mind-blowing as their first two records had been – assaults of punk and attitude – Dig Me Out captures the band truly emerging: Weiss solidifies the drums and brings a more rock feel to the skins; Tucker and Brownstein learn to fill the band’s bassless space with bigger guitars that speak to, lean on, and dance with each other; and the vocal interplay between the two evolves into a dynamic that not only sounds utterly unique but adds tremendous pathos to the band’s songwriting. Two decades later, “One More Hour” remains one of the most devastating moments in alt rock. Brownstein – fresh off a breakup with Tucker – doesn’t merely back her up but consoles her ex in the song’s choruses, having the courage to summon compassion and understanding rather than bitterness and scorn. Damn, why can’t all-male bands be this ballsy? –Matt Melis

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blur Top 50 Songs of 199719. Blur – “Song 2”

Blur


“Song 2” is a fascinating example of how a crossover hit can tell an audience something very different about a band from the rest of their work. When Damon Albarn decided to crank up the distortion and snarl about feeling heavy metal, few could’ve expected that “Song 2” would become Blur’s only major US hit, let alone that it’d pop up for years to come in everything from car commercials to vapid action movies to The Simpsons. But it hits on something primal and true about a great rock song: It’s quick, it’s loud, it has as infectious a hook as any major song of its decade, and it cuts through you at speed. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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daft-punk18. Daft Punk – “Around the World”

Homework


Daft Punk have the grooves that even mummies and skeletons can’t deny, as evidenced by the video for the effervescent and inescapable “Around the World”. The tune’s been sampled, remixed, and covered by everyone from Jojo to Snoop Dogg and still gets picked out on jukeboxes everywhere. The deceptively simple beat layers out to an entire party globe, the synths, drum machine, and Heil talkbox fusing into a collage of grand dance repercussions. Before they got the opportunity to reassert the power of Nile Rodgers by actually playing with him, “Around the World” rode a super-Chic bass line into the hearts of dance fans and fun-havers alike. The thing that really sells “Around the World” as a vision of Daft Punk’s future is the way in which they turn the repeated house vocal line into something otherworldly and dystopically cool, a total revelation in 1997 — and today. —Lior Phillips

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Kanye West Graduation17. Harvey Danger – “Flagpole Sitta”

Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?

It’s far too little and much too late to say that Harvey Danger deserved better than the 99-cent bin and being chiefly remembered for a hit song that most people don’t even know the correct name of. Record label reshuffling not only left their remarkable sophomore album, King James Version, in extensive limbo but, worse yet, killed any momentum the band had mustered from chart-smashing single “Flagpole Sitta” and their little ’97 debut that could, Where have all the merrymakers gone?. Still, now ain’t the time for your tears, folks. If you’re going to be remembered for a single song, why not have it be a single as uncompromising, vibrant, self-deprecating, and sardonic as “Flagpole Sitta”? In a year that alt rock radio began trending towards tedium, Harvey Danger captured the alienated snotty spirit of early ‘90s alternative through a song unlike any listeners had heard before or have since. –Matt Melis

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third-eye-blind16. Third Eye Blind – “Jumper”

Third Eye Blind



Could “Jumper” be the most popular emo song of all time? Who knows. But it was everywhere in 1997, and it’s still everywhere 20 years later. Now, it would be easy to say, “Well, it’s in that opening line,” but that’s lazy. The truth is that Third Eye Blind were smart enough to keep their marching anthem compelling enough to warrant its admittedly hefty 4:33 length. Think about it: That’s 27 seconds shy of five minutes, a hell of a risky endeavor, when in less capable hands this could have easily been an intolerable slog. It’s not, though, and much of that credit goes to the change ups, mostly the reverb-glazed valley they descend into midway through the song, the same one that leads to its incredible climb and release. This is where Stephan Jenkins shines, when his inner Morrissey triumphs over his ludicrous obsession with being the lamest white rapper since Vanilla Ice. A song like “Jumper” does a way with any of that nonsense and sticks to the vitals of what made late ’90s alternative so sticky: honest sap. –Michael Roffman

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yo-la-tengo15. Yo La Tengo – “Autumn Sweater”

I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One


More than any other album before it, Yo La Tengo’s 8th LP, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, was a perfect showcase for the musical abilities of this New Jersey trio. The 1997 record found the group expanding on their guitar pop sound with elements of bossa nova, trip hop, and rambling Americana. But on an album that is almost all highlights, the brightest star remains “Autumn Sweater”, an intentionally wobbly and entirely warm love song with shades of downtempo and hip-hop meandering through the mix. What helps this rise to the top is Ira Kaplan’s entirely heartfelt and almost wistful vocal performance that, like the titular piece of clothing, keeps you cozy as it wraps you up in this lovely little tale of a nervous, exciting first date. –Robert Ham

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the-chemical-brothers14. The Chemical Brothers – “Block Rockin’ Beats”

Dig Your Own Hole


Two years after their excellent debut, Exit Planet Dust, The Chemical Brothers needed to make sure they could hit just as hard to keep the UK electronica scene’s attention. And so they came back with another one of those block-rockin’ beats. Charged by a head-rush bass line, tooth-grinding synth, and a sample of rapper Schooly D proclaiming just how hot this track was, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons found the big beat with “Block Rockin’ Beats”, a song that will fill the dance floor or festival field with moshing fervor whether it was 1997 or 2997. The track, like the entirety of the album, crosses throughout the world and back, infectiously approachable even with those corrosive tones and somehow all seamless. –Lior Phillips

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natalie imbruglia Top 50 Songs of 199713. Natalie Imbruglia – “Torn”

Left of the Middle


Sure, “Torn” was already four years old by the time the calendar rolled over to 1997, but it breathed magnetic life when Australian pop star Natalie Imbruglia released her version on her debut studio album, Left of the Middle. That’s right, “Torn” is a cover, the original written by Los Angeles alt rockers Ednaswap. But, in the end, the song will be known for Imbruglia’s version, and Imbruglia will be known for the song — the single sold four million copies, after all. It’s still a major nostalgic bomb to the heart and a top-tier karaoke pick, the emotion in the instrumental and the lyrics palpable from the first moments. Fun fact: Imbruglia’s version was also mixed by Nigel Godrich of Radiohead fame. –Lior Phillips

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modest mouse Top 50 Songs of 199712. Modest Mouse – “Trailer Trash”

The Lonesome Crowded West


The Lonesome Crowded West is an emotionally dense album. There is feverish rage, disillusioned mourning, and moments of tender clarity throughout, often placed side-by-side and difficult to differentiate from each other. A song like “Trailer Trash”, though, is an outlier, with a direct line to the heart and mind of songwriter Isaac Brock. The cut details memories from his own youth, growing up in a trailer park with a complicated family dynamic. But while Brock is sure not to pull punches in his description, there is wide-eyed sincerity when he proclaims, “I know that I miss you, and I’m sorry if I dissed you.” When the song erupts into an outpouring of triumphant guitar work, it’s about as cathartic a moment as exists in recorded music. –Philip Cosores

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green day nimrod Top 50 Songs of 199711. Green Day – “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”

Nimrod


In 1997, Green Day were a highly unlikely candidate to pen a song that would become ubiquitous at high school graduations and sentimental slideshows. And that’s why “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” remains one of the most divisive songs in the band’s catalog, because it seemed so out of character at the time and ushered in an era for the band where nothing was off the table. What no one can deny is how adept Billie Joe Armstrong proved at swapping his typical snottiness for something more sentimental and how his ability to craft a warm melody was just as effective on an acoustic guitar as it was on an electric. Hell, even the violin solo manages to come across as earnest. It wouldn’t be until American Idiot a couple albums later that Green Day would return to their Dookie commercial heights. But with “Good Riddance”, the Bay Area punks proved that a second act for their career was possible. –Philip Cosores

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shania-twain10. Shania Twain – “You’re Still the One”

Come on Over



“You’re Still the One” is still the country song everyone wants to hear. Two decades ago, Shania Twain won over not just everyone’s mothers, but their daughters, their sons, and a few of their husbands, too. Like the best songwriters, she didn’t appeal strictly to the genre, but to the hooks and the melodies, which is why Come on Over was such an unstoppable beast. “You’re Still the One” arguably started the whole ShaniaFest, becoming the singer’s first top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, where it stayed for a record-breaking nine non-consecutive weeks, and eventually nabbed two of its four Grammy nominations in 1998. Commercial success aside, the song’s surprisingly one of the few mainstream hits of the late ’90s that really doesn’t feel beholden to its time, probably because it’s since laid the blueprints for some of today’s biggest artists — ahem, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, and, yes, Lady Gaga — who continue to unfurl her wisdom. To be fair, who ever gets tired of balmy organs, treacly slide guitar, and feel-good choruses? Twain was working with timeless gold. –Michael Roffman

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good will hunting Top 50 Songs of 199709. Elliott Smith – “Miss Misery”

Good Will Hunting OST



1997 saw Elliott Smith release the most beloved album of his career, Either/Or, but it also was a landmark for another reason. Many songs from that record were used in the film Good Will Hunting, which went on to be an unexpected smash hit, launching stars/writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck into the spotlight. And Smith followed them, composing a single original song for the closing credits, and seeing “Miss Misery” nominated for an Academy Award. The image of Smith, still a virtual unknown, dressed in a white suit and playing the song on his acoustic guitar at the ceremony is still remarkable, just one aspect of the underdog story that characterized the entire film. With lyrics that are typically cutting and an arrangement that is slyly grand, the song gave the world at large a chance to see Smith’s glorious comet tail, not too long before it would drift out of view. –Philip Cosores

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the verve Top 50 Songs of 199708. The Verve – “Bitter Sweet Symphony”

Urban Hymns


In the video for “Bitter Sweet Symphony”, Richard Ashcroft walks down the street of London knocking people down and bumping into obstacles, single-minded and impervious to anything in his way — much the way that once the song gets going, it brushes away anything in its path. The massive hook is doubled down with that iconic string sample, and the result is an anthem supernova that takes in anything around it and explodes it into iconic drama (whether that’s a walk through the park or the end of Cruel Intentions). And while the song itself is unstoppable, there’s something that could stop Ashcroft: After a legal dispute, he was essentially cut out of the massive windfall that should have come his way. The song samples the Andrew Loog Oldham orchestral version of The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time”, which after some time in court resulted in Keith Richards and Mick Jagger taking writing credits on the song and royalties went to former Stones manager Allen Klein. While he might not have the financial rewards, Ashcroft at least gets to know he wrote one of the all-time great anthems. –Lior Phillips

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blink 182 dude ranch Top 50 Songs of 199707. Blink-182 – “Dammit”

Dude Ranch


“Dammit” may not have been the first pop-punk song to become a mainstream hit in the ‘90s, but the second single from Blink-182’s breakthrough sophomore album, Dude Ranch, now sounds like the Rosetta Stone for the uptempo, cleanly snotty sound that’d characterize so much of punk’s mainstream wave over the following few years. But where the band’s occasionally struggled with marrying the foulmouthed juvenilia of some of their early material with the inevitable march of aging, “Dammit” is the perfect sweet spot between the pogoing SoCal snark of youth and the wistful reminiscence of old. Those chords might as well be accompanied by video of a high school letting out for the summer, and like the band’s best work, “I’m writing the report/ On losing and failing” is one of those sentiments that doesn’t age. Also, how many songs bit some version of this melody for years after the fact? –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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erykah badu baduizm Top 50 Songs of 199706. Erykah Badu – “On & On”

Baduizm


Erykah Badu emerged in 1997 and promptly disrupted the R&B charts with the release of “On & On” — the lead single from her debut full-length album, Baduizm. The song written and produced by Badu, Madukwu Chinwah, and the god Jaborn Jamal was a booster shot of soul and Supreme Mathematics that felt like water in a desert for R&B fans weary of the polished and heavily programmed fare that was standard by the late ’90s. “On & On” was an introduction to the incense and mysticism that would underscore Badu’s seminal release and her career. Capturing lightning in a bottle, Badu drew comparisons to Billie Holiday while the single preceded a body of work that garnered a GRAMMY for Best R&B album and broke the seal on “neo-soul” — the subgenre turned artistic renaissance that was heavy on the Fender-Rhodes and mainstreamed black counter culture well in advance of Afropunk Festival. –Karas Lamb

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bjork homogenic large la Top 50 Songs of 199705. Björk – “Bachelorette”

Homogenic


While fans spend hours debating which record is Björk’s creative peak, it’s impossible to deny the lasting power of Homogenic’s second single, “Bachelorette”. A self-described “disarming confrontation” where the song’s character, Isobel, returns to the city to confront the people that she loves with love, “Bachelorette” sees Björk perfecting her songwriting skills. Accordion, timpani, and horns thread between bold vocals while a train-like rhythm churns brashly. Though the song’s strings were likely written for the song’s original purpose — to be included in a film by Bernardo Bertolucci — to give an unwritten emotional depth, Björk extends their cinematic qualities by pairing them with the epic lyrics. In true Björk fashion, she took to her website to extend it, writing the whole story that appears in the music video’s book. No detail goes overlooked, in sound or in plot, which elevates her work to the rich timelessness we’ve come to expect from it, even 20 years later. —Nina Corcoran

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notorious big life after death Top 50 Songs of 199704. The Notorious B.I.G. – “Hypnotize”

Life After Death


The biggest rap record of 1997, The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” was the lead single to his posthumous Life After Death double LP. The last song released during Biggie’s lifetime,”Hypnotize” marks his transition from King of New York to rap god — an ascent solidified by the untimely death of Tupac Shakur in 1996. As gangster as it was jubilant, “Hypnotize” was the ballerific anthem that feted B.I.G.’s arrival as a global star, canonized Versace, and found producer Derrick “D-Dot” Angelettie giving Herb Alpert’s “Rise” a hefty shot of steroids. It also put NYC back on top of the world, which was more than just a notion two years after Pac’s compatriots, Tha Dogg Pound, released the video for “New York, New York”; the DPG’s rode on Manhattan, crushing the buildings. A testament to his bravado, resilience, charm, and wealth, “Hypnotize” captured Biggie forever triumphant. –Karas Lamb

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missy-elliott03. Missy Elliott – “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”

Supa Dupa Fly


“Me and Timbaland, ooh, we sang a jangle/ We so tight that you get our styles tangled,” Missy Elliott offers on the hook to “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”, the remarkably mesmerizing lead single off her debut album. Supa Dupa Fly thrilled due to the chemistry of those two longtime friends; Missy and Timbaland had grown up and chased their music dreams together, sharing writing credits for the likes of Aaliyah. But Missy’s debut finally unleashed her undeniable star power, a shine that powered through even the black trash bag that she wears in the video to “The Rain”. Missy tosses rhymes over Timbaland’s thick, rubbery electronic beats and an enchanting sampled hook from Ann Peebles. Sexy and confident (“Chumpy, I break up with him before he dump me”), eccentric and snappy, Missy Misdemeanor thundered through the charts immediately and never looked back. –Lior Phillips

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radiohead ok computer Top 50 Songs of 199702. Radiohead – “Paranoid Android”

OK Computer


It was hard to grasp at the time. The band that gained international attention for “Creep” and then failed to match that song’s commercial appeal on follow-up The Bends (despite winning over critics) decided to precede their third LP with a completely unviable first single. “Paranoid Android” is long at more than six minutes, it’s untraditional with its four distinct sections, and it didn’t sound anything like other music being made at the time. In an age before listening to music on the internet was a thing, it’s crazy to think that MTV actually gave its bizarre animated video a shot in the rotation (even though alternative radio largely ignored it). But both at the time and in hindsight, it was a colossal statement from a band that would grow to become the most important of its generation. Radiohead found a way to root the difficult and seemingly esoteric in a way that still intrigued masses. “Paranoid Android” succeeded in ushering in the Radiohead we know today in spite of the odds stacked against it. If that doesn’t speak to its brilliance, nothing will. –Philip Cosores

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foo fighters Top 50 Songs of 199701. Foo Fighters – “Everlong”

The Colour and the Shape



Dave Grohl hasn’t really said much about “Everlong”, and that’s probably for the best. Like a Rorschach test, the greatest song by the Foo Fighters is best left to your own interpretation, which granted, isn’t too hard. When he sings, “If everything could ever feel this real forever,” it doesn’t take Dr. Drew to figure out that he’s probably singing about someone dear to him, and that’s a very relatable feeling. Because on a long enough timeline, we’re all going to care about someone, and the passion, the energy, and the heart that he packs into this song says as much about the concept of love as it does about the power love has over music. It’s funny, then, that this song became exceedingly popular due to its acoustic rendition, which finds a soft-spoken Grohl at his most tender and most contemplative. Sure, it’s a nice and pleasant moment, but the thunder and lighting that comes with the studio version is paramount to its success. You need that fury, because it’s so indicative of everything that love does to us: it conquers, it informs, it destroys, and it propels. So, when he sings, “And I wonder,” he’s not the only one haunted by that question. It’s a seed that’s planted in all of us, and when it grows, well, pain so often follows. But not all the time, as “Everlong” posits, and that hope is louder than the song’s distortion. –Michael Roffman

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01. Foo Fighters – “Everlong”
02. Radiohead – “Paranoid Android”
03. Missy Elliott – “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”
04. The Notorious B.I.G. – “Hypnotize”
05. Björk – “Bachelorette”
06. Erykah Badu – “On & On”
07. Blink-182 – “Damnit”
08. The Verve – “Bittersweet Symphony”
09. Elliott Smith – “Miss Misery”
10. Shania Twain – “You’re Still the One”
11. Green Day – “Good Riddence”
12. Modest Mouse – “Trailer Trash”
13. Natalie Imbruglia – “Torn”
14. The Chemical Brothers – “Block Rockin’ Beats”
15. Yo La Tengo – “Autumn Sweater”
16. Third Eye Blind – “Jumper”
17. Harvey Danger – “Flagpole Sitta”
18. Daft Punk – “Around the World”
19. Blur – “Song 2”
20. Sleater-Kinney – “One More Hour”
21. Ben Folds Five – “Brick”
22. The Prodigy – “Smack My Bitch Up”
23. Deftones – “My Own Summer (Shove It)”
24. Bob Dylan – “Not Dark Yet”
25. David Bowie – “I’m Afraid of Americans”
26. Jurassic 5 – “Concrete Schoolyard”
27. Foo Fighters – “My Hero”
28. Usher – “You Make Me Wanna…”
29. Grandaddy – “A.M. 180”
30. Spiritualized – “Ladies and Gentlemen We’re Floating in Space”
31. Radiohead – “Let Down”
32. Björk – “Joga”
33. Sarah McLaughlin – “Building a Mystery”
34. Wyclef Jean – “Gone Til November”
35. The Notorious B.I.G. – “Mo Money, Mo Problems”
36. Nine Inch Nails – “The Perfect Drug”
37. The Verve – “Lucky Man”
38. Janet Jackson – “Together Again”
39. Elliott Smith – “Between the Bars”
40. Shania Twain – “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”
41. The Dandy Warhols – “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth”
42. Our Lady Peace – “Superman’s Dead”
43. Depeche Mode – “It’s No Good”
44. Oasis – “Don’t Go Away”
45. Puff Daddy – “It’s All About the Benjamins”
46. Next – “Too Close”
47. The Offspring – “Gone Away”
48. Atmosphere – “Scapegoat”
49. Mariah Carey – “Honey”
50. Marcy Playground – “Sex and Candy”