1998 which is now (or nearly, depending on when you’re reading this) 20 BLOODY YEARS AGO, was a strange year in British music.
Britpop was running on empty with Oasis lying low after the backlash to Be Here Now and Pulp moving on with the dark This is Hardcore. In pop, the Spice Girls were entering their final year before splitting with Christmas chart-topper ‘Goodbye’, while the dance scene offered up little new other than Fatboy Slim’s big beats.
However, despite a lack of an overlying musical narrative, this didn’t mean that there weren’t some absolutely huge bangers bestowed upon us by the musical gods (and just be thankful nu-metal didn’t go fully mainstream until 1999).
Feast your ears on these beauties, which were released as long ago now as Chic’s disco classic ‘Le Freak’ was back in 1998.
Sadly, Des Lynam’s ’If’, which reached number 45 in December, just missed out on the cut.
(There’s a Spotify playlist at the bottom of the article, or here if you cannot wait a second longer to hear ‘Everybody Get Up’.)
1. Eagle-Eye Cherry - ‘Save Tonight’
If nothing else that was good had happened in 1998 - if the world had endured a mass famine ending in a giant nuclear war which wiped out all life on Earth - then when the aliens arrive many millennia from now, they would have searched through the wreckage, pieced together a timeline, put this song on the only stereo which still worked and declared that 1998 must have been the greatest year in the history of the human race, for it saw the general worldwide release of ‘Save Tonight’. It does not need words to explain why this song is amazing, for words will not do it justice. Put a log, on the fi-yah and give it a spin and marvel at its majesty.
2. Ms Lauryn Hill - ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’
Tell you what, the aliens would be pretty impressed with this too. If we didn’t already know that Hill was one of the most talented cats around from her work with The Fugees, she took it to another level (more from them later) with the release of the supreme The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which featured this absolutely eternal jam. Tragically, that record remains her only solo album release which is an absolute disgrace really.
3. Sonique - ‘It Feels So Good’
I have a theory that Capital FM have never gone more than 45 minutes without playing this song, which hit number 24 when it was first released in 1998, not getting the glory it deserved until fully two years later when a 2000 re-release saw it becoming the third-biggest selling track of that entire year. Why is this song still so popular? Well… when you put it on… it… just… feels… so… good.
4. George Michael - ‘Outside’
How to deal with an arrest, in early 1998, for “engaging in a lewd act” in a public restroom in Beverly Hills; an incident which led to his ‘outing’? By unapologetically embracing it, having fun with it, and releasing an amazing slinky disco track which laughed at himself and everyone else. ‘Outside’ channeled the same vibe, musically, as 1996’s ‘Fastlove’ meaning, therefore, that it couldn’t be anything other than amazing. Like most of George’s stuff, this is timeless and would still be a massive hit if was released today.
5. Goo Goo Dolls - ‘Iris’
Ridiculously, upon release, this track only made it to number 50 on the UK chart which goes to show that even the wonderful British public don’t always appreciate greatness when they hear it. And great this track certainly is: a timeless, majestic, beautiful, soaring power ballad with a shout-along chorus, a stunning string arrangement and some of the finest ‘alternate beat 6s in 6/8 time’ single tambourine taps you’re ever likely to hear.
6. Jennifer Paige - ‘Crush’
When all’s said and done, taking everything into account and looking to tick every check box, this is probably the second-best pop song ever recorded (the first is ‘A Little Respect’, obviously). Effortlessly bright, breezy, summery, melodic; just an instant sugar rush of a track which still sounds utterly brilliant today.
7. Massive Attack - ‘Teardrop’
The first millisecond of this track is enough to send electricity crackling up your spine. It has the amazing quality of sounding like a long-lost nursery rhyme, but from the future. And I realise looking at that statement again, it’s absolute nonsense, and yet: that’s exactly what it sounds like isn’t it? While you’re at it, do yourself a favour and dig out the whole of Mezzanine; probably Massive Attack’s darkest and greatest work (OK, it’s either that or Blue Lines, either’s good with me).
8. Stardust - ‘Music Sounds Better With You’
Everyone knows this track, but for those of you who’ve never investigated, ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ - the only track ever released by Stardust - was created by Thomas Bangalter (one half of Daft Punk), fellow French electronic legend Alan Braxe and Benjamin Diamond, with the latter improvising the vocals during a live set from the duo at Paris’ Rex Club. The next day they laid down the track in the studio, and an all-time house classic was born. C’est un banger absolu, et sans se tromper.
9. Billie - ‘Because We Want To’
Yeah, you’d forgotten about this one hadn’t you? While I can never listen to Billie these days without thinking of this classic Fast Show sketch, it’s good to be reminded of just how briefly massive she was - and she was just 15 when this eternal rebel anthem came out. Legions of parents sighed as a million kids declared ‘Why you gotta play that song so loud? Because we want to! Because we want to!’ although any of the dads with any music sense would have thought, well fine, as this is actually an excellent slice of pop. As a side note, I actually bought ‘Girlfriend’, a subsequent single which has been unfairly forgotten in the passage of time, and it was only a quid too (from the Woolworths bargain bin). Anyway, she then went off to marry Chris Evans and pretend to be a prostitute. Be careful kids. Be careful out there.
10. Gomez - ‘Get Myself Arrested’
I remember watching Gomez for the first time on Jools Holland, back when that was a thing that everyone watched, and being totally blown away. A band from Southport that sounded like they should have come from the deep South instead, with three brilliant singers, all with their own styles, including Ben Ottewell’s whisky-soaked howl. Their debut album Bring It On deservedly won the Mercury Prize and contained within were brilliant tracks like ‘Whippin Piccadilly’ and this one, ‘Get Myself Arrested’, which featured a wonderfully loose groove and a massive singalong chorus. Also, pro tip: go and listen to ‘Tijuana Lady’ from the album again, what a brilliant song that is.
11. Aqua - ‘Turn Back Time’
When it was announced, back in September 2016, that Aqua would be reforming, I went in on a deep dive into their back catalogue, giving due credit to those two brilliant/awful pop monstrosities ‘Barbie Girl’ and ‘Doctor Jones’ before landing on this song: one of the all-time great lost pop classics. No ifs, no buts, no irony, just a glorious, timeless piece of songwriting.
12. The Corrs - ‘What Can I Do (Tin Tin Out Remix)’
I am proud to say that I bought this absolutely brilliant song on CD single from Woolworths back in 1998. And I’m pretty sure I even paid full price for it, rather than waiting for it to go into the bargain bin a la Billie. It was worth absolutely every penny as this track, taken from their all-conquering and inescapable album Talk On Corners, is a really lovely slice of folky pop, given the Tin Tin Out polish up. It’s very gentle isn’t it? And sometimes you need a little bit of gentleness from lovely Andrea, Sharon and Caroline and lovely Jim.
13. Beastie Boys - ‘Intergalactic’
I’ve played this one at a wedding or two over the years and every time it’s the same: before that robot voice has chance to even finish the first ‘In-ter-ga-lact-tic plan-e-tary’ every single lad in the building has already put the sausage rolls and quiche to one side and is striding to the dancefloor, getting ready to transfer their ties from neck to head before assuming their place on the dancefloor to trade rhymes with Ad Rock, MCA and Mike D. Best bit? Of course, it’s the bit where the Beastie Boys let the beat…….
14. Hole - ‘Celebrity Skin’
In my opinion, you can only have massive respect for someone who does not give a fuck as much as Courtney Love does not give a fuck. And she really does not give a fuck. And not only can you respect her for that, you can respect her for Hole’s brilliant output, including this radio-ready smash, co-written with the Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan but bearing all of her hallmarks. An all-time indie dancefloor classic.
15. Cher - ‘Believe’
Hello, T-Pain’s on the stereo again… hold on, no, it’s Cher! Who could forget this absolute anthem, which garnered headlines at the time for its pioneering use of autotune but which, with 20 years to look back on it, was a hit because it’s just a really great pop song with, as ever, an absolute powerhouse vocal performance from Cher, who is, of course, the best person on Twitter.
16. Five - ‘Everybody Get Up’
Similarly to ‘Intergalatic’, the opening snare roll of this song is like a call to prayer for anyone who remembers the glory years of Five. A brilliant use of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ ‘I Love Rock and Roll’, there are hooks all over the place and some actually really good rapping, including the none-more-gangsta, “Now I’m the bad boy that you invite for dinners, ain’t got no manners ‘cos I eat with my fingers”. Watch out Suge Knight, you’ve got some competition.
17. Pulp - ‘A Little Soul’
This is such a lost classic. Understandably, most of the focus on Pulp in 1998 was on the dark nature of ‘This is Hardcore’ - including the superbly seedy title track - and the big lead single ‘Help the Aged’. But this song, the third single, which only reached number 22, is nothing less than a mini masterpiece. The music is beautiful, and the lyrics are devastating, sung with absolute desperation by Jarvis from a father to his son, explaining: “Everybody’s telling me you look like me, but please don’t turn into me… You look like me but you’re not like me, I hope”. What. A. Song. What a band.
18. Savage Garden - ‘Truly Madly Deeply’
The other day I was on a train up to Newcastle and a load of absolutely massive, lagered-up Scottish lads got on and immediately started chucking Stellas down their necks, shouting, jostling and generally making everyone uncomfortable. What would they do next? Would they attack someone? Would they scream vile abuse at a passenger or member of staff? No. What they did next was to proceed to sing the entirety of ‘Truly Madly Deeply’ at high volume and with pure passionate belief. Guys, take it from me, you made a lot of new friends in Coach D that day.
19. Aerosmith - ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing’
Written by power ballad queen Diane Warren this is, quite simply, one of the greatest songs ever written. Everything about it is basically perfect. The memorable lyrics, the insanely brilliant vocal performance by Steven Tyler, especially when it sounds like he’s losing his mind at the end, the stunning orchestral arrangement, the dynamics, the intro… just do yourself a favour and turn this up loud and remind yourself what an incredible song this really is.
20. Less Than Jake - ‘All My Best Friends are Metalheads’
Ah, Less Than Jake, forever destined to be on at 2:30pm on the main stage of Reading and Leeds for the rest of eternity. But fair play to them, carving out a 25+ year career as an absolutely bloody brilliantly fun ska punk band. Weirdly, this song first appeared on their 1998 album Hello Rockview, but wasn’t released as a single until nearly two years later. What were they playing at? Too busy having larks probably. Big larks mate.
21. Shania Twain - ‘You’re Still the One’
Good grief I love this song so much. Just a gorgeous song, with a timeless melody and kind of an unusual topic for a sad-sounding love song - just being happy with your partner - in this case, the legendary producer Mutt Lange, who sings all of those lovely backing vocals in the chorus. Of course, because nothing in this world ever ends happily, they ended up getting divorced 12 years later after he had an affair with Shania’s best mate. Men, all pigs. Shania, you’re too good for him.
22. Run DMC vs Jason Nevins - ‘It’s Like That’
You all know this one don’t you? And now a greater length of time (20 years) has elapsed since this remix was released than the time that had elapsed (15 years) since the original version was released when Jason Nevins decided to whack a big old beat underneath it. It was at number one for six weeks in 1998 selling - and we’re using an industry term here - shitloads of singles.
23. Catatonia - ‘Road Rage’
While Britpop was dying, there were still good bands around, and Catatonia were one of the biggest of all of them, scoring hits in 1998 first with ‘Mulder and Scully’ and then this, which I always preferred, particularly the way old Cerys rolls her ‘r’s in the chorus. Still a belter today this one.
24. Another Level - ‘Freak Me’
In a glorious twist of British chart history, this absolutely pornographic slow jam took the number one position from Billie’s ‘Because We Want To’; going from an innocent pre-pubescent slice of bubblegum pop to Mark, Dane, Bobak and Wayne describing how they’d like to get freaky with your daughter. When all’s said and done, though, what a tune.
25. Mousse T vs Hot ‘N’ Juicy - ‘Horny’
Completing 1998’s sexy one-two, this is the sound of Jumpin’ Jaks in Romford in the summer of 1998: the sound of carefree youth, shots for a pound, dancing on the tables and fights outside McDonald’s. Wonderful.
26. Beautiful South - ‘Perfect 10’
It’s my absolute belief that Paul Heaton is a modern genius who is not given the credit he deserves. First with the Housemartins and then with The Beautiful South, every so often, regular as clockwork, he’ll pop up with quirky, left-field pop genius like this. Also, in facts-we-just-learnt-from-Wikipedia-which-we-really-weren’t-expecting-to-read, Paul Weller guests on guitar on this one.
27. Jurassic 5 - ‘Concrete Schoolyard’
How can this song be 20 years old?? Handily, for a band that were always firmly rooted in the old school, positive, party-starting traditions of hip-hop, the fact that they never chased the trends means that it’s not aged a day since it first emerged back in 1998. After all: let’s take it back to the concrete streets, original beats from real live MCs, playground tactics, no rabbit in a hat tricks, just that classic rap shit from Jurassic.
28. B*Witched - ‘C’est La Vie’
1998 really was a blessed year for bubblegum pop with both Billie and B*Witched aimed squarely at kids rather than teenagers. And despite mainly elements of this song being deeply annoying, underneath it all is a slice of genuine pop genius. Imagine Dolly Parton covering this song - it’d probably be really good wouldn’t it? And she already has the denim.
29. Natalie Imbruglia - ‘Smoke’
This might not have been the biggest hit she ever had - although it did get to number 5 - but I’m putting it in here as it is one of the most brilliantly underrated, unfairly-forgotten songs ever, with Imbruglia’s vulnerable vocals contributing to a beautifully atmospheric track - and when it kicks in bang on two minutes, it’s just glorious. Also, obviously, I love you Natalie. Just give me a call, any time, I’ll be waiting.