Gift Guide For Music Nerds: The Best Records of 1997

by Raffi Youssoufian on December 16, 2009

This is how you would have had to search for music in 1997.

This is how you would have had to search for music in 1997. It's easier now.

Have no clue what to do? Has a large green creature come and snagged all the good presents away? Don’t fret because the Spinning Platters elves have present ideas to fill up Santa’s sleigh…

It seems it’s that time of the year when the days in number
seem to fall off the calendar into slumber.
And there is only one thing you could possibly find,
that wouldn’t be on kind people’s minds.
It’s better than socks.  It’s better than butter.  It’s better than delightful hot cocoa with a candy marshmallow ring.
It rocks so hardly in summer,
maybe even some with a mutter,
and it’s let you go along, allowing you to dance and sing.
It’s pure but complicated, not dirty or replicated.
It’s as tasty as fresh warm bread
even those that are of leaven,
it’s just what you always thought it was, it’s the music of 1997!

Here are the Top 15 most important reasons…or in some cases, non reasons, to buy your loved one, or enemy for that matter (the holidays don’t discriminate) an awesome gift from 1997!

1.  Radiohead – OK Computer

I can’t think of a better word to use here than “Duh.”  Without a doubt, regardless of what anyone says, this is the best thing to come out of 1997.  Released to such orgasmic acclaim by everyone, and I mean everyone, it was immediately thrust into the top 10 albums of all time, yes all time, by every critic from the largest magazines to the smallest of newsletters from the North Pole to the South Pole.  I imagine penguins even loved Radiohead.  I can’t say enough about this album, so I won’t.  There are hundreds of great articles about it, so go read them!

2.  Bjork – Homogenic

After releasing two fantastic solo records, which Bjork called her “greatest hits,” she went to the tip of southern Spain overlooking Africa, to record an album that was to replicate the feeling of Iceland’s rocky and beautiful terrain in a manner focusing solely on strings, beats, and specific noises to all coexist with her audaciously stunning voice.  Organic in production, these ten songs, all “homogenic” if you will, brought us closer to a singular experience of Bjork that we could hear and experience in her pure emotive brilliance.

3.  Celine Dion

There was no way to keep this woman off this list.  After all, she is “The best singer in all of the world,” (thank you Ana Gasteyer from SNL).  Celine technically released four albums in 1997! (If you count the Titanic soundtrack.) The woman was on top of a mountain, got bored, then hopped straight to the peak of an even bigger mountain.  No matter how much people wanted to sink this ship, she sailed the Titanic further than anyone else could have.

4.  Sarah McLachlan –  Surfacing

If this didn’t start Lilith Fair, it propelled it with a rocket power engine.  This clearly wasn’t as strong an overall record as her previous Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, but the three billboard singles more than helped fill each femme-fronted destination with fans, both women and men alike.  Countless female artists can attest to the importance of this record and the three very successful years of Lilith Fair, because the state today’s music could have turned out a little different, (the Spinning Platters Top 15 of 2009 list incidentally happens to be female voice dominated), if not for Sarah McLachlan.

5.  Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole / Daft Punk – Homework

Electronic music really may not be part of the mainstream anymore, but for a time it was! Some may say that Prodigy brought the torch, but the Chemical Brothers had a larger effect on electronic music.  Combine that with the fantasmic galore that is Daft Punk, and in 1997 you had the birth of a “new” genre.  If someone said they couldn’t name one electronic music song, play Around the World, and then see how much they blush.

6.  Spice Girls – Spice
7.  Hanson- Middle of Nowhere
8.  Backstreet Boys – Backstreet Boys

This three part pop mini-series brought pop music back from obscurity to the forefront with all of the teenage girl hysteria that came along with it.  First the Spice Girls invaded America with sassy personalities, fun-loving attitudes, and catchy tunes.  Then using a highly scientific formula after studying boy groups from olden times, Hanson came up with one phrase “Mmmbop” that sent young girls into a frenzy reminding them why they should like boys who sing.  Finally climaxing into the madness that resulted into the Backstreet Boys selling 14 million copies of their first album in the U.S. alone.  If not for these three, there is no telling how big or small N’Sync, Britney, or any pop act would have been.

9.  Puff Daddy/Faith Evans – “I’ll Be Missing You” from No Way Out / Missy Elliot – Supa Dupa Fly

Probably reaching the pinnacle of his blatant process of lifting a popular old song and rapping over it, with Sting’s approval, this song, in tribute to the late Notorious B.I.G, was everywhere.  No matter where you were that year, or how hard you tried, there was no escaping it.  Missy Elliot found a way to be very catchy, very popular, and in my opinion very annoying in a hurry, (her later albums are much less annoying).  But both of these laid the groundwork for much of R&B and hip-hop in the coming years, however good or bad.

10.  Blur – “Song 2” from Blur

Blur tossed a well deserved flipping of the bird to Oasis and “Wonderwall,” by finally enjoying a huge single in the States.  While the latter had dove into people’s karaoke machines, “Song 2” ended up at sporting events, leading to a pinnacle at the Super Bowl! (Even if it was only in an episode of The Simpsons.)

11.  Erikah Badu – Baduizm

Taking over what NY duo Groove Theory started in 1995, and what Sade began in the early 80s, Badu, alongside Maxwell fore-fronted what was dubbed Neo Soul with a genuine voice and real emotion.

12.  Roni Size & Reprazent – New Forms

A nod to all of you drum n bass heads.  They might have been the only artist to ever achieve a drum n bass track on regular radio in America, as well as having their video shown on MTV during normal hours.  Quite an achievement!

13.  The Verve – “Bitter Sweet Symphony” from Urban Hymns

Completing the Britpop trifecta “takeover” of 1996 and 1997, that started with Oasis and Blur, The Verve closed things off with probably one of best singles of the ’90s.  “Bittersweet Symphony” was most bittersweet because the Rolling Stones took all of its earnings.

14.  Buena Vista Social Club – Various Artists

I’m not sure how cool it would be for young adults to  listen to old guys singing in Spanish if not for this album.  Capturing the essence of Cuba with genuine musicianship, it finally gave people a reason to think they could enjoy music in another language, and who really thought that was possible?

15.  Fiona Apple – Tidal

I know it was released in 1996, but her fame came in 1997, and it was when I spent a great deal of time listening to this very underrated album.  Many cast her off as a one hit wonder, or the girl in the underwear in the video for “Criminal.”  But in reality she is a creative emotive and thoughtful singer/songwriter who put together a mature and complete album as an 18 year old.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone mean every word they sing more than Fiona Apple does while performing live.  Every ounce of her being energizes every note.  She is a riveting and passionate artist that is worth a second look.

In case you want something else from 1997, here are 15 honorable mentions that are  great stocking stuffers, just maybe not as “important.”

Happy Holidays!!!

  1. Portishead – Portishead
  2. Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen
  3. Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
  4. Foo Fighters – The Color and the Shape
  5. Ivy – Apartment Life
  6. Prodigy – Fat of the Land
  7. Jurassic 5 – Jurassic 5 EP
  8. Elliot Smith – Either/Or
  9. Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Forever
  10. Stereolab – Dots and Loops
  11. Hooverphonic – A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular
  12. Modest Mouse – Lonesome the Crowded West
  13. Built to Spill – Perfect From Now On
  14. Sleater -Kinney – Dig Me Out
  15. Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Dakin Hardwick December 16, 2009 at 9:52 am

I am really happy that you did this. Although, your honarable mention list is superior to your main list in nearly every way.


Raffi Youssoufian December 16, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Well the main list is the important events in music of 1997…the honorable mention list are the brightspots of the year after after the importance of the ok comps and homogenics and such…


Marie Carney December 16, 2009 at 10:21 am

I spoke with my minions, the penguins, and they did love OK Computer in 97, but it has since dropped off their list of best records of all time.
Though they are offended for me that blur isn’t higher on the list! Behind Sarah McCrap-chlan? Please!


Vanessa December 16, 2009 at 11:28 am

hey apparently 1997 wasn’t a bad year!


Caroline Hernandez December 16, 2009 at 3:53 pm

I love the 90’s so. I use to spend my summer days watching various VH-1 countdowns instead of doing something productive outdoors. Oh the memories…


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