Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Best Of 1997 - part 2

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

In Part 1, I mentioned that 1997 was the year of the tribute record, but there was one death I omitted to mention: the demise of grunge. By 1997, bands like Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots were all on hiatus or broken up and genres like R&B, rap, dance and pop were flourishing.

Abs, Scott, J, Ritchie and Sean stepped in to the boy band vacuum in 1997

One of the biggest pop groups of 1997 was Hanson, who placed three songs in the top 15 highest-selling singles in Australia for the year. In the UK, boy bands and girl groups were sprouting at an unstoppable rate, with many following the lead of Take That and Spice Girls and breaking internationally. Meanwhile, artists like Az Yet, En Vogue, Warren G, Babyface, Keith Sweat and Babyface finally toppled Australia's traditional resistance to rap and R&B music, making the ARIA top 50 the most diverse it had ever been.

Let's carry on with my list of favourite songs, starting at number 75...

Number 75 "Offshore 97" by Chicane featuring Power Circle
Instrumental track "Offshore" had been the debut single for Chicane (real name: Nicholas Bracegirdle) in 1996, but in a move we'd see again and again over the coming years, the song was given a new lease of life when the track was combined with vocals from the Power Circle track "A Little Love A Little Life". What started out as a bootleg mash-up by Australian DJ Anthony Pappa was given the official go-ahead and "Offshore 97" was released for public consumption. That wouldn't always be the case, with many unofficial mash-ups failing to receive the necessary approvals to be given a commercial release.

Number 74 "I Know Where It's At" by All Saints
Here's one of those girl groups I was talking about - and over the coming years All Saints would rival Spice Girls as the UK's favourite all-female combo, with a string of number 1 singles and headline-grabbing antics thanks mostly to Appleton sisters Nicole and Natalie. Interestingly enough, the Appletons weren't originally in All Saints, with the line-up initially consisting of Melanie Blatt, Shaznay Lewis and Simone Rainford, and going by the name of All Saints Simone eventually left the group and the Canadian-born Appletons joined the renamed band. "I Know Where It's At" was the first single by the quartet, and both it and follow-up "Never Ever" (number 98 on this list) quickly establish All Saints as a pop force to be reckoned with.

Number 73 "Young Hearts Run Free" by Kym Mazelle
In 1997, movie soundtracks were still a big thing - and there was no film tie-in bigger than the album for Romeo + Juliet. OK, maybe the Titanic soundtrack was officially more successful, but the Romeo + Juliet album definitely had more cred. Alongside cool rock bands like Garbage, Radiohead and Everclear, were some pure pop tracks, like this cover of the 1976 disco hit by Candi Station (who we'll see later in this countdown). For Kym Mazelle, it was her biggest solo single after years of club hits, guest vocal appearances and collaborations.

Number 72 "Joy (remix)" by Staxx featuring Carol Leeming
This dance track narrowly missed my top 100 for 1993 but was revived four years later for a remix that not only made the song better, but also improved its UK chart fortunes (the original had hit number 25, this remix made number 14). The British group was renamed Staxx Of Joy for the US, while vocalist Carol Leeming (who'd also appeared on Trainspotting track "For What You Dream Of" with Bedrock) received a credit this time around.

Number 71 "Ti Amo" by Gina G
Mentioned in Part 4

Number 70 "You Might Need Somebody" by Shola Ama
Two things I didn't know about British soul singer Shola Ama until now. One, she was a teenager when her cover version of the Randy Crawford hit from 1981 was a success in the UK, and two, her real name is Mathurin Campbell. "You Might Need Somebody" was Shola's second major label release and kicked off a couple of huge years, which included a multi-platinum album and a BRIT Award.

Number 69 "In My Arms" by Erasure
Mentioned in Part 4

Number 68 "Angels" by Robbie Williams
The song that saved Robbie Williams' solo career, "Angels" was the chart hit he desperately needed in the UK after his previous single, "South Of The Border", had missed the top 10 and sales of his album, Life Thru A Lens, had disappointed. Never rising above number 4 in the UK, "Angels" spent 12 weeks inside the fast-moving UK top 10 and remains the highest-selling single of his career. The song wasn't as successful in Australia, where it finally reached number 40 on its third release at the end of 1999, or the US, where it stalled at number 53 around the same time.

Number 67 "Remember Me" by The Blue Boy
A true one-hit wonder now, The Blue Boy (aka Scottish DJ Lex Blackmore) made liberal use of Marlena Shaw's "Woman Of The Ghetto" for this club track - the key samples can be heard at the 1:25 mark and the 8:30 mark. This wasn't the only example of an obscure record being made use of by dance acts in the late '90s, with both Moby and Fatboy Slim finding vocal hooks in long-forgotten soul and gospel tracks.

Number 66 "Did It Again" by Kylie Minogue
So while pop was making a comeback in 1997, one of the biggest pop stars on the late '80s and early '90s went against the flow with the release of her Impossible Princess album. Following her hit collaboration with Nick Cave in 1995, Kylie embraced indie sounds and even drafted in two members of Manic Street Preachers to co-write the album's lead single "Some Kind Of Bliss" (number 33 on this list). I've talked about that song elsewhere, and although I prefer it to this follow-up, "Did It Again" was actually the bigger hit, returning Kylie to the Australian and UK top 20 after "Some Kind Of Bliss" had spectacularly bombed out.

Number 65 "Never Gonna Let You Go" by Tina Moore
1997 was the year UK garage crossed over from the underground to the mainstream with songs like this 2-step classic and Rosie Gaines' "Closer Than Close" (number 145 on this list) proving to be significant and enduring chart hits. Originally released in quite a different version in 1995, "Never Gonna Let You Go" was overhauled by Kelly G and Tuff Jam, their remixes spawning a raft of imitators over the coming years.

Number 64 "Slam Dunk (Da Funk)" by Five
Or 5ive, if you insist. Put together by the same management team that'd formed Spice Girls, Five were the greatest beneficiaries of the absence of Take That and East 17 from the UK charts in 1997. Combining East 17's bad boy approach with Take That's pop sensibilities, Five were signed by Simon Cowell and debuted with this track, co-written and co-produced by Swedish maestros Max Martin and Denniz Pop. "Slam Dunk (Da Funk)" only just made the UK top 10, but it was just the beginning of a huge success story.

Number 63 "Something Goin' On" by Todd Terry featuring Martha Wash & Jocelyn Brown
Mentioned in Part 3

Number 62 "Love Commandments" by Gisele Jackson
Time for another vocal house track that's only on YouTube in extended mixes I don't like. The version that was most prominent in Australia was the Dancin' Divaz mix, which was edited for the local CD single release and appeared on one of the excellent Wild FM compilations.

Number 61 "All This Love That I'm Giving" by United State
A cover of a little-known 1988 soul track by singer Gwen McCrae (whose biggest claim to fame was a top 10 hit in the US in 1975 with "Rockin' Chair"), this house version featured vocals by Mary Pearce, who we saw back in Part 1 on the Up Yer Ronson track.

Number 60 "Outlaw (Space Brothers mix)" by Olive
Mentioned in Part 3
Were it not for Elton John, this tongue-in-cheek Eurodance ditty about the toy doll would have been the year's highest-selling single in both Australia and the UK. The third single by the Danish group (following "Roses Are Red" and "My Oh My"), it was the target of a lawsuit filed by Barbie manufacturer Mattel which would only prove successful in drumming up more publicity for Aqua. In an interesting about-face, Mattel used a lyrically-altered version of "Barbie Girl" in 2009. I guess if you can't beat them...

Number 58 "Star People 97" by George Michael
The singles continued from George's Older album in 1997, with two of them, this song and "The Strangest Thing 97" (number 177 on this list with double A-side "You Have Been Loved") receiving a substantial remix from the album version. As far as "Star People" was concerned, it was a remix of a remix that was most popular - with the Forthright mix (below), gaining most attention. I'm not sure if there was a music video released for this track - I don't recall seeing one and I can't find it online if there was.

Number 57 "Don't Give Up" by Michelle Weeks
And now, a vocal house diva who actually manages more than one appearance on this list. Michelle was the vocalist of Bobby D'Ambrosio's "Moment Of My Life" (number 94 on this list) and appears here in her own right with a track on the Ministry Of Sound record label, which had been launched in 1995 and is one of the few examples of a nightclub spin-off project lasting the distance.

Number 56 "You Said" by Worlds Apart
Mentioned in Part 4
Mentioned in Part 4

Number 53 "Professional Widow (It's Got To Be Big)" by Tori Amos
Who would have predicted back in 1992 when Tori debuted with Little Earthquakes that five years later she'd be involved in one of the biggest dance hits of the year? Granted, in the radical reworking her 1996 single "Professional Widow" received, she'd be all but removed from the song, but she was obviously happy enough with the result to call and thank remixer Armand van Helden. The remix was present on the original release of the song, but six months later, it was elevated to the main mix on a re-release and shot to number 1 in the UK. It would also be her biggest single here in Australia, beating the number 19 peak of "Cornflake Girl" by two spots.

Number 52 "Fresh" by Gina G
Mentioned in Part 4

Number 51 "Black Eyed Boy" by Texas
A band that just about everyone had forgotten about by 1997 staged an impressive comeback with the White On Blonde album, and although I wasn't a fan of lead single "Say What You Want", I did enjoy this third single which sounded nothing like the pop/rock sound for which the Scottish band had been known. Well, when I say "known for", aside from debut hit "I Don't Want A Lover", can anyone name another Texas single from their first three albums?

In Part 3, a UK band makes an unexpected comeback, a global superstar enjoys his final big hit and there might just be the odd dance track or two. Before that, we'll check back in with all the ARIA chart action from 25 years ago.

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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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Wednesday, 25 September 2013

This Week In 1988: September 25, 1988

Originally posted as 25 Years Ago This Week in 2013. Updated in 2018.

Punctuation in song titles is not a subject you see discussed that often, but this week I get to combine my love of music and my editing background. The reason: this week in 1988, a song with a controversial comma appeared on the ARIA chart.

Rolling Stones may gather no moss, but they pick up the odd comma

Besides brackets, which were used quite liberally in the '80s, punctuation doesn't appear that often in song titles. Over the years, there's been the odd comma ("Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car"), colon ("The Key: The Secret"), and, thanks to Britney Spears, a couple of ellipses and an exclamation mark for good measure ("...Baby One More Time", "Oops!...I Did It Again"). Even the hashtag has crept into usage, thanks to Mariah Carey ("#Beautiful") and the punctuation-loving (#thatPOWER).

Then, there's the question mark. How many titles that are actually questions are missing that all-important punctuation mark? "What Do I Have To Do", "Where Do Broken Hearts Go", "What Is Love" (Haddaway, not Howard Jones)... all of those titles are treated as statements. Another song, like Howard's "What Is Love?", that does use correct punctuation is "What Have I Done To Deserve This?", but then Pet Shop Boys are pedants for that sort of thing - as well as writing song titles in sentence case (so, for them, it's "What have I done to deserve this?"). 

ARIA Top 50 Singles Chart - week ending September 25, 1988

Before we get to the story of that comma, at number 1 on the singles chart this week in 1988, Robert Palmer and his band of babes held on for a second week with "Simply Irresistible".

Off The Chart
Number 94 "Don't You Know What The Night Can Do?" by Steve Winwood
Peak: number 94
Steve Winwood was still on a, er, roll in the US, with this latest single from Roll With It reaching number 6, but like the album's title track, the song (with correct punctuation in its title) performed considerably worse in Australia.

"Paint It, Black" by The Rolling Stones
Peak: number 55
Well, when I say the story, I mean the stories, since, over the years, there have been a number of theories about the pesky comma in the title of one of The Rolling Stones' best known songs. Was it a statement about race and the civil rights movement? Was it a direction to someone called Black to paint it?
According to band member Keith Richards, it was an error by the record company, Decca. The comma wasn't part of the title until the artwork for the single was produced and it seems that someone put a comma in where one wasn't meant to be. But, it stuck and has remained in the title until as recently as 2012 compilation album GRRR!
So why was a 22-year-old song back in the charts in the first place? The Stones had TV series Tour Of Duty to thank for the renewed interest in "Paint It, Black" since the Vietnam War drama used the track as its theme song. The track had also been used in the closing credits for 1987 Vietnam War film Full Metal Jacket - and so the song, although not originally about the controversial conflict, became associated with it.
"Paint It, Black" didn't end up revisiting the chart highs it had first time round (the Kent Music Report lists it as a three-week number 1 in Australia in mid-1966). Instead, it seems people were buying the Tour Of Duty soundtrack, which was still in the top 20 on the albums chart after 18 weeks.

"The Race" by Yello
Peak: number 56
The three-year-old "Oh Yeah" was still riding high inside the Australian top 20, but this week a brand-new track by Swiss group Yello started gaining momentum. The first single from the Flag album, "The Race" would do what "Oh Yeah" hadn't in the UK and reach the top 10, becoming their biggest hit there. In Australia, however, it was a very different story and the track didn't qualify for the top 50.

New Entry
Number 40 "Love Changes (Everything)" by Climie Fisher
Peak: number 23
One of my favourite songs of 1988, this UK number 2 hit had originally been released in 1987 only to stall at number 67. But, with the success of "Rise To The Occasion", particularly its dance remix, "Love Changes (Everything)" was re-released to a much bigger reception there. The song did pretty well here, too, but the spurt of success was short-lived and Climie Fisher's subsequent singles didn't fare anywhere near as well. The duo split after a second album, with both Simon Climie and Rob Fisher (who passed away in 1999) writing hit songs for other artists.  

One new entry? That's a bit lame, right? Well, I'm really left with no option but to turn the chart over and look at what was happening on the albums top 50.

Albums Chart

ARIA Top 50 Albums Chart - week ending September 25, 1988

There was a much more satisfying tally of six new entries on the albums chart this week 25 years ago. I won't go through them all, but will talk in general about some of the things happening on the top 50.

The week's biggest new entry came from the latest all-star various artists compilation. 88 The Winners (which included "Doctorin' The Tardis""New Sensation" and recent number 1 "Perfect") had an Olympics theme, since that year's Seoul Games were still running at the time. I don't normally notice catalogue numbers (I'm not that much of a trainspotter!) but that album's number of 1-1 was a nice touch. Luckily, the album was a winner, reaching number 1 and staying there for four weeks.
Meanwhile, the other hits compilation of the day (they always come in pairs) didn't fare as well, despite boasting the week's number 1 single among its tracks. 1988 What's Hot (which also featured "Got To Be Certain""Better Be Home Soon" and "All Fired Up") debuted at a rather dismal number 39, but would end up rallying and peak at number 2 for three weeks.

Above 88 The Winners were three albums by Australian artists, including John Farnham and Crowded House, who held the top 2 spots with their latest releases, Age Of Reason and Temple Of Low Men. Those acts were also responsible for the chart's longest-running albums with previous releases Whispering Jack and Crowded House benefitting from a sales resurgence.

It was a pretty good week for Australian artists all round, with 15 out of the 40 artist albums in the top 50 (the other 10 were compilations or soundtracks) coming from local acts. Even some home-grown pop made an impact with the debut albums by Chantoozies and Kylie Minogue both managing a spot inside the top 10.

And, just for something a bit different, a number of albums in the top 50 were by acts who hadn't been anywhere near the singles chart in recent years or, in some cases, ever. Artists like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Robert Cray, Van Morrison, James Morrison (no relation) and Joan Armatrading all ranked among the week's biggest sellers.

Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1988:

Next week: some more action on the singles chart thanks to one of the most exciting dance acts around and a reunion between two artists who'd previously collaborated on an Australian number 1 single. Before that, I'll make a start on my countdown of my favourite songs from 1997.

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