Friday, 27 September 2013

The Best Of 1997 - part 1

JUMP TO: 100-76 II 75-51 II 50-26 II 25-1

This week's Emmy Awards were described by Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan as the "saddest of all time" - and it was a bit like that in the music world in 1997, with two tribute songs among the year's biggest hits. The first was Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You" (featuring Faith Evans and 112), which was in memory of slain rapper The Notorious B.I.G. The Police-sampling track hit number 1 in Australia, the US and the UK, selling millions of copies in the process.

"Look how young I was!" Usher points out the obvious

The second was the song that would go on to become the highest-selling single of all time: "Candle In The Wind 1997", the reworking of his 1973 classic that Elton John performed at the funeral for Princess Diana. Together with the November passing of INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, it gave the year somewhat of a sombre feel. The good news is it's not so depressing on my list of my favourite songs from that year...

Number 100 "Free" by Ultra Naté
Sticking with the vocal house genre, here's a much more familiar song and artist since this track was a huge record in the UK - a long-running top 10 hit that sparked a brief period of mainstream success for the club singer. One of those artists who notches up one number 1 after another on the Billboard dance chart (seven, to date) without most people being any the wiser, Ultra (apparently her real name) released her most recent album, Hero Worship earlier this year. 

Number 99 "You've Got A Friend" by Brand New Heavies
Mentioned in Part 4

Number 98 "Never Ever" by All Saints
Mentioned in Part 2

Number 97 "I'm A Man Not A Boy" by North & South
With Take That broken up and East 17 winding down for the time being, the onslaught of British boy bands really picked up steam in 1997. This group was formed by pop svengali Tom Watkins (Bros, East 17, Pet Shop Boys) for BBC kids' series No Sweat, a fictional show about some school kids getting a band together. I didn't see a single episode of the series, but I did like this song, which hit the top 10 in the UK. Subsequent singles weren't as big (follow-up "Tarantino's New Star" was particularly awful) and so, despite a second season of No Sweat airing, North & South were over and done with by 1998.

Number 96 "Gimme Gimme" by Whigfield
One of my very first phone interviews was with Danish pop star Whigfield (real name: Sannie Carlson). She told me she was topless in a hot tub at the time, which is obviously how all press interviews should be conducted. Anyway, the phenomenon that was her debut single, "Saturday Night", had completely passed Australia by - and it wasn't until "Sexy Eyes", the seventh and final single from her debut self-titled album, that anyone here realised she existed. She followed the top 10 success of that track on the Australian chart with another hit, "Gimme Gimme", which launched her second album, imaginatively titled Whigfield II

Number 95 "All Cried Out" by Allure featuring 112
Back in 1986, freestyle group Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam slowed things down with the original version of this quiet storm classic. Eleven years later, four-piece vocal harmony group Allure, the first act signed to Mariah Carey's Crave record label, gave the track an R&B update with a little help from male quartet 112 and even the big boss herself, who provided backing vocals. And, if you didn't like the ballad version, there was the obligatory Hex Hector remix instead.

Number 94 "Moment Of My Life" Bobby D'Ambrosio featuring Michelle Weeks
Mentioned in Part 2

Number 93 "Barrel Of A Gun" by Depeche Mode
This isn't the highest song on this list from Depeche Mode's Ultra album, but since I've talked elsewhere about "Home" and "It's No Good" (which will appear in Part 4), I thought it worth giving the album's lead single a mention. A darker sounding track than anything they'd released as a single in some time, "Barrel Of A Gun" was also the first release by the new three-piece group (Vince Clarke's replacement, Alan Wilder, left the band in 1995). In the UK, the song surprisingly equalled the peak of DM's highest charting song, "People Are People", by reaching number 4 - but like most of their singles since then, it's time in the British chart was incredibly brief.

Number 92 "Home" by Chakra
Mentioned below

Number 91 "Shine" by The Space Brothers
Two back-to-back appearances here by Rick Simmonds and Stephen Jones - known alternately as Chakra and The Space Brothers, Lustral and various other aliases. Trance music was really starting to make its presence felt in 1997 and although there were plenty of instrumental tracks around towards the end of the decade, it was always the ones with vocals (like these two) that I preferred.

Number 90 "I Was Born To Love You" by Worlds Apart
Mentioned in Part 4

Number 89 "Don't Change" by Worlds Apart
Mentioned in Part 4

Number 88 "Don't Speak" by No Doubt
"Just A Girl" put them on the map, but "Don't Speak" was the song that turned No Doubt into major players on the music scene. The single, initially released in early 1996 in the US, had a long road to the top in Australia and the UK, where it hit number 1 in February 1997. Written by singer Gwen Stefani and her brother, Eric (who'd left the group by the time the song was a smash), it dealt with Gwen's breakup with No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal.

Number 87 "Shelter" by Brand New Heavies
Mentioned in Part 4

Number 86 "Arms Around The World" by Louise
The first singer to bail on Eternal moved on to her second album, Woman In Me, in 1997. As well as visiting the UK top 10 on a regular basis, Louise was the epitome of a well-rounded pop star, proving to be a popular cover star for lads' mag FHM and even snagging her own football star boyfriend in the form of future husband Jamie Redknapp. I always thought "Arms Around The World", with its mentions of various global locations and use of sitar was a complete rip-off of Janet Jackson's "Runaway", but it was still a step in the right direction for Louise, whose music had often been on the wrong side of bland.

Number 85 "Do You Wanna Funk" by Siona
Only an extended mix (and not a very good one) of this remake of the Sylvester disco classic appears on YouTube, so you'll have to use your imagination here. The radio version of the track was a laid-back affair in which Siona, to borrow an overused phrase from The X Factor, "really made the song her own". Meanwhile, dance fans were looked after by a storming Hi-Lux mix.

Number 84 "Gotta Love For You" by Serial Diva
Another track that only appears on YouTube in extended mixes that I don't like, this was the follow-up to 1995's "Keep Hope Alive". A British house production/remix team, Serial Diva featured among its members Darren Hill, the brother of Mark Hill, one half of future hit-makers Artful Dodger.

Number 83 "You Make Me Wanna..." by Usher
Yep, it's really been 16 years since the breakthrough hit for possibly the most successful R&B solo artist of the past two decades. In fact, it's actually been two decades since Usher's debut single, 1993's "Call Me A Mack". That track and his debut self-titled album might not have set the world on fire, but "You Make Me Wanna..." changed all that and the abs-bearing teen danced his way into the US, UK and Australian top 10. Two further singles from second album My Way would perform just as well in America, but it would take until 2001 for Usher to score another hit elsewhere.

Number 82 "The Real Thing" by Lisa Stansfield
It's no wonder Lisa took three years before releasing her self-titled fourth studio album in 1997 - she must have been exhausted from the relentless release schedule she'd maintained throughout the early '90s. After a remix of the song that made her a star, Coldcut's "People Hold On", was issued at the start of the year, this first single proper from Lisa Stansfield returned her to the UK top 10 for what would turn out to be the last time. Not even a cover of Barry White's "Never, Never Gonna Give You Up" could progress beyond number 25 in the UK later that year. Lisa has continued to record, and has a new album, Seven, due out in October.

Number 81 "I'm Kissing You" by Des'ree
Before she went and killed her career with the ridiculously worded hit "Life", Des'ree provided one of the standout moments from the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. The beautifully romantic "I'm Kissing You" played during the movie's memorable fish tank scene and was a top 20 hit in Australia.

Number 80 "Hold Your Head Up High" by Boris Dlugosch presents BOOOM!
A collaboration with Mousse T and Inaya Day, this vocal house track was the first I'd heard of the German DJ/producer, but he'd be instrumental in giving Moloko an Everything But The Girl-style career shift in the coming years.

Number 79 "Alright" by Jamiroquai
Another single from Travelling Without Moving, and this time, Jamiroquai even managed to break into the Billboard Hot 100. "Alright" reached number 78 and remains the band's only US chart hit.

Number 78 "I Have No Fear" by Le Monde
Here's another vocal house track that's only on YouTube in inferior remixes (although this one is OK) - and the only thing I know about this song is that the vocalist is Annette Taylor. "I Have No Fear" was included on one of those Mardi Gras compilations that came out in the '90s and I've been keeping an eye out for the CD single on eBay for years.

Number 77 "I Will Be Released" by Up Yer Ronson featuring Mary Pearce
The third and best single by the dance act named after a club night at Leeds venue Music Factory followed 1995's "Lost In Love" and 1996's "Are You Gonna Be There?", which also featured Mary Pearce on vocals. The mix below is by Alex Party and Livin' Joy member Alex Visnadi, and although it's not my favourite mix, it's as close as I could find on YouTube.

Number 76 "Stay" by Sash! featuring La Trec
Mentioned in Part 3

In Part 2: five bad boys with the power to rock you, four girls who gave Spice Girls a run for their money, a song that a toy company tried to shut down and the least likely dance star of the year.

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