Sometime in early 1998 — let’s say March — I got my first job: working at Domino’s company-owned store in Cremorne. I earned $6.66 per hour, up to $8.02 per hour when I turned 17 in May. Around that time, the Cremorne store closed and a new outlet opened in neighbouring Neutral Bay, under the franchiseeship of future Australian of the Year nominee John Caldwell.
This was the last year before MP3s started breaking through to the mainstream — it was in 1999 that my schoolfriend Michael S demonstrated the technology by playing Des’ree’s Life, which he had purloined from the internet, during a free period on his encyclopedia-sized laptop (as they were then still called) computer — and much of my income that year was spent on purchasing music. The rest was Peter “You’re Laughing” Jackson brand cigarettes, which have always been easier to buy underage than alcohol.
I finished up my time at Domino’s in early 1999 (don’t worry, it wasn’t to focus on my HSC), meaning the music acquired during this game-based-tile-themed-fast-food employment period serves as a nice time capsule for the last gasp of a dying business model.
Here are all the CD singles that came into my possession in 1998. Most were bought for $4.95 to $7.95 from one of several preferred record stores, and I’ve done my darnest searching my memory to recall exactly where — though the whys of many are still nebulous — I procured them; others were won, found, gifted or have otherwise unknown provenance.
The order has been randomised by WordPress…
Mo Money Mo Problems — Notorious BIG, Puff Daddy & Ma$e
A 1997 single I bought with one-quarter of the $20 I had left over from my absent father’s lame Christmas gift. A fair banger and I listened to this disc quite a bit till I scored a Hit Machine also containing Mo Money Mo Problems and consigned the single to my drawers. Can’t remember ever listening to the instrumental third track.
It’s Like That — RUN DMC vs Jason Nevins
A bit of a sleeper hit in Australia, back when songs would enter charts lowly and climb slowly — 49-32-32-31-24-26-21-20-15-15-13-11-8-8-4-4-2-1 (for one week) — this was basically the hit of the year for 1998, coming third on the annual sales chart and #50 in the Hottest 100 of 1998, despite being released in November 1997. The 8-minute version B-side is definitely worth looking up on your streaming machine, as is the sublime boys v girls breakdancing music video. This was the track that truly thrust the combative naming convention for remixes into the mainstream, and I had my druthers the Artist vs Artist naming protocol would be permanently retired in honour of this belter.
Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are) — Pras Michel, ODB & Mya
Taken from the Warren Beatty’s ambitious modern politics satire Bulworth (can only imagine what WB thinks of the current state of affairs) this quintessential example of rapped verses splicing an interpolating chorus from a lost classic (Islands In The Stream by Bee Gees) was honey for fans of overproduced accessible rap — very much me — even taking into account ODB’s (between his Ol’ Dirty Bastasd and Big Baby Jesus naming phases) stellar featuring (viz “Kick you like Pele / pick em doin ballet / Peak like Dante / broader than Broadway”). The official artist credit says Pras is introducing Mya, who would go on to have a string of hits like Case Of The Ex and being one-quarter of the Lady Marmalade ensemble from Moulin Rouge. Mya was contemporaneous to similar songstress Maya so that was a confusing time for all concerned, sophist musical scribes included.
Gangster Trippin — Fatboy Slim
The least famous single from Fatboy Slim’s genre-defining big beat LP You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby (the others were Rockefeller Skank; Praise You; Right Here Right Now; and Build It Up – Tear It Down; while Love Island was a pseudo single (this was an era when being a single actually meant something)) is also the most rabid, conflating a complex and persuasive beat with a recurring cursing self-referential refrain. Roman Coppola directed the appliance-busting video.
As Long As You Love Me — Backstreet Boys
Not just a boy band classic in its own right, As Long As You Love Me came with milquetoast remixes of three of their biggest preceding hits — bargain! Kevin and Brian look as though they were born old.
Crush — Jennifer Paige
A genuine true one hit wonder, Crush spent two weeks at #1 and we never heard from Jennifer Paige again. This lush record oozes sensuality and it seems unfair that she was followed by Jessica Simpson types spinning sequential hits based around pleasant vanillaism. Dance Mix, Extended Club Mix and Instrumental exemplify 1990s B-side culture.
5,6,7,8 — Steps
For those unfortunate types unfamiliar with Steps, it was a 5-piece English group whose USP was a bespoke dance routine for all their cheesy hits. The members’ names were Claire, Lisa, Faye, Lee and Ian (who was known simply as H because he shared his name with — and I’m being serious here — a child sex offender). The 5,6,7,8 CD single included the lyrics to this linedance inspired diet house tune, which while not completely unheard, was surprisingly unusual for the medium.
Music Is Crap — Custard
I am a big fan of songs kicking off with the vocal track ahead of the instrumentation. I fell hard for Music Is Crap, which swings into action via David McCormack’s exquisite diction (see UPDATE below) on “Red eyes, blue gaze, you look like hell today” and then zooms for 3:30 of Brisbane Scene audio gold. I only saw Custard live once, at Homebake December 1998, when the gang covered White Town’s Your Woman.
UPDATE: According to a superfan who slid into my DMs, “Hey mate – just had a read of your 1998 in CD singles blog post. Just thought I’d let you know Glenn Thompson sang Music is Crap, not Dave McCormack”.
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) — Jay-Z
All my Year 11 street cred is wrapped up in the above rap wrapping. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) was Australia’s introduction to Jay-Z and we’ve been close friends ever since. A truly superb piece of urban poetry spliced with the nasal intoning of little orphan Annie and hopefully this makes up for some of less fashionable hip hop music fore and aft.
Sway — Bic Runga
Gorgeous indie pop at its most antipodean, the seraphic Bic (pr bec) Runga (pr roon-ga) was a bright spark for all the lovelorn through 1998 with Sway, and again briefly in 1999 when this song was featured in the post-coital boatshed scene toward the end of American Pie. This is one of the best and I’m real proud to have been with Bic from the ground floor.
Cherish — Pappa Bear & Van Der Toorn
My high school chum Stafford was an original fan of many a cool 90s rapper, especially Nas, and I know he was impressed by my ownership of the Jay-Z track supra, and I also know he considered Cherish by Pappa Bear & van der Toorn to be the worst rap song of all time, and I purchased both on CD single, so what does that say about me?
Brimful Of Asha — Cornershop
Roughly the same time that his solo star was rising under the Fatboy Slim moniker, Norman Cook lent his considerable mixology talents to Cornershop’s genius tribute to Bollywood musicals Brimful Of Asha. “Everyone needs a bosom for a pillow” is a hook sharp enough to catch a whale shark and the scintillating sitar sounding arrangement post Cooking delivers an urgent paean to homelands far away from home. On the 45.
Suspicion Bells — Effigy
Evoking The Cranberries and a forerunner to the classic synthpop delights of CHVRCHES was Effigy. Another of Effigy’s songs, I Give In, captured the auspicious #100 slot in the Hottest 100 of 1997 (perhaps the best one ever), but Suspicion Bells was my fave of their releases, having heard it for the first time in the wee hours while staying late one Friday night watching rage, rage, rage, rage, rage, rrrrrrrraaaaaggggggggggeeeeeee. Amongst a lot of subprime singles on this page this is one I am quite proud of.
Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) — Backstreet Boys
On top of the preceding As Long As You Love Me single you must be wondering why I didn’t just buy the album. Don’t worry: I did. Four separate remixes on top of the original radio mix just add to the magnificence of this otherwordly piece of pop perfection, out of the briefly together writing and production team of a near death Denniz PoP — this song was his apotheosis — and the nascent Max Martin.
Don’t Drink The Water — Dave Matthews Band
Like all white men who lived in the 1990s I went through a Dave Matthews Band phase, including the purchasing of Crash (which, curiously, features heavily in current release fillim Lady Bird) and the Don’t Drink The Water CD single but not — tender mercies — one of his interminable 540-minute live recordings. This song is about land rights in DM’s native South Africa and features Alanis Morissette on backing vocals.
Not The Sunscreen Song — John Safran (Sort Of)
One year on from Baz Luhrmann hitting #1 in the UK with the appalling bromide spew that was Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen), late 90s enfant terrible John Safran (sort of) let rip the hilarious Not The Sunscreen Song, a relentless series of non sequiturs that act as a nice progenitor to the genuinely funny novelty song career of The Bedroom Philosopher. Track 2 and Track 3 was just Safran saying Track 2 and Track 3 into the microphone, which in an of itself is an incisive commentary on CD single culture. And if you see Quindon Tarver in the street, punch him in the face for me.
Hand Of Dead Body — Scarface & Ice cube
I was right into the 2DayFM Hot 30 with Ugly Phil and Jackie O through 1997 and 1998. For some reason not worth going into the hosts had a celebrated and most likely confected feud with Green Day. In order to curry favour with the hosts, I sent them a copy of Green Day’s disappointing Dookie follow-up Insomniac that I had to cut to pieces using scissors. (Interestingly, or perhaps I am overestimating your general levels of interest in my eccentric teen behaviour, I had won that Green Day CD in a Triple M radio phone-in the year before.) My reward for that endeavour was to have the Black Thunder arrive at my suburban Sydney home on a Tuesday night to chat live with the orotund Ugly Phil and Jackie O over the radio and generally ham it up for 20 minutes while drinking icy cold cans of ice cold Coke. I was living my best life back then. The prize pack for being the Hot 30 listener of the night included the above CD single that I have never listened to and two tickets to an underage Sega World Sydney party featuring a live performance by SOAP that I went to by myself because I was a bit lonely back then. I distinctly remember SOAP playing their hits This Is How We Party and Ladidi Ladida and then playing This Is How We Party again, which I thought at the time was deeply odd, and then finding a $50 note in the cab on the way home.
Pure Morning — Placebo
Another one to be proud of! I remember hearing this song for the first time on Triple J breakfast with Adam Spencer, Jen Oldershaw and the Sandman — those were days — and then discussing the song’s nonpareil lyrics about a rattlebrained youth’s interactions with his band of stoned if needy chums and sublime arrangement with fellow minor Sydney radio celebrity Peach — we were in the same year at school — and then desperately looking forward to hitting up Metropolis Records in Neutral Bay to buy the single. Radio edits are always a dangerous game but I have no idea how this version differs from the album and video versions.
The Day Before Yesterday’s Man — The Supernaturals
From the soundtrack to the film Shooting Fish. Before winning said soundtrack at a preview screening of said film — the distributors had sticky-taped copies underneath the chair of several lucky bums and my bum was feeling serendipitous (1997 through 1999 I had a great record winning double passes to film previews and premieres, mostly through ringing up 1900 numbers or via radio phone-ins) — I purchased the single of this Marr-redolent jangly piece of post-Britpop Supergrass-inspired frivolity from an emporium in Chatswood Chase while out shopping on a miserable wet Saturday with my friend Tim S and a French foreign exchange student. The soundtrack brims with exquisite gems from bands that fermented their talent while listening to too much Suede.
Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down — Puff Daddy & Ma$e
The idiosyncratic thing about Puff Daddy’s US Billboard #1 hit Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down, featuring Ma$e, is that the album version — from Puff Daddy and the Family’s No Way Out — has a different structure, with the bridge and chorus being used alternatively between verses, rather than concomitantly. My friend Ed L owned No Way Out, and eventually I did too, because I’ve never really been into credible rap, and so I knew that for optimal chorus singalong satisfaction I would need to purchase the CD single. I verily believe Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down is a significant improvement on The Message by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, from which it promotes the signature hook and ever several lyrical flourishes. Again, I’ve never really been into credible rap.
Say It Once — Ultra
Believe it or not, Ultra fancied themselves a serious band that played its own instruments and wrote its own songs. But look at them! In one of the truly great eras for boybands, Ultra was marketed as another bunch of fresh faced mostly harmless English lads, cisatlantic contemporaries to Five, Westlife, Boyzone; potential rivals to *N Sync, 98 Degrees and Backstreet Boys. It was a great time for boys who liked to sing along. Incidentally, I hated 98 Degrees once I found out they were mostly honourary.
Captain (Million Miles An Hour) — Something For Kate
The very first time I sang karaoke was at dearly departed one-dayer music festival Homebake, in December 1998. I was 17 years old and had no concept of fake ID or how to secure alcohol via nefarious means so it was a long sober day of Australian (and New Zealand) music at The Domain, starting with The Feelers — their ‘hit’ was Pressure Man — and concluding with Grinspoon. In between were memorable (and because I was, come on dit, stone cold sober I have clearer memories of this day that I do my last music festival at The Domain: Field Day 2017) sets from Eskimo Joe (Sweater was tearing up the airwaves), Jebediah (on the back of a stellar year promoting Slightly Odway), Custard (who performed a cover of Your Woman) and Ratcat (reformed, complete with striped tees, to play the hits and a cover of I Think We’re Alone Now). And in between all of that I took respite from the sun and sounds in a karaoke tent, where histrionic types looking to contribute to the day’s mellifluous revelries could strut a smallish stage mic in hand to entertain the similarly exhausted goers. My song was Mr Jones by Counting Crows and my participation prize was to thumb through a crate of CD singles and choose one to keep. Captain (Million Miles An Hour) is a terrific piece of Australian alternate rock, a rumination on childhood dreams and adult escapism, and its arrangement sans chorus avec evolving hook is reflective of a period of great experimentation in the antipodean rock sound. Now every act is just a lonely dude with a guitar, which is my fave genre of music, followed by trap and Australian lesbian.
Millennium — Robbie Williams
The hook on Millennium is from John Barry’s famed James Bond theme and in the music video our hero Robbie Williams plays a bumbling analogue of the suave spy, who at the time was being played by Pierce Brosnan. This was Robbie’s first UK #1 and it kinda broke him as a serious solo artist in Australia. Tacking on an incredibly good live version of Angels, the preceding single, is proto-single; the sorta tracklist selecting that moved units back in the late 90s.
Whatareya? — TISM
Who’s your favourite genius? James Hird or James Joyce? One of the great lyrical questions posed during the 90s. Whatever you think of novelty bands/songs, TISM never failed to imbue their crossover hits with a sublime pop sensibility. Whilst this song doesn’t match the heights of the two-punch spectacle of He’ll Never Be An Old Man River and Greg! The Stop Sign!!, Whatareya? comes awfully close.
Summertime — The Sundays
This was the first CD single I purchased with money that I had earnt working my proper on-the-books job at Domino’s Cremorne-cum-Neutral Bay. In the same transaction I also picked up OK Computer by I will not insult your intelligence. There are one-hit wonders that actually hit #1 and made a fortune and are living proof you only need one good song, and then there are the no-hit wonders, who graced our airwaves fleetingly and only barely gave the sales charts a nudge. The Sundays may not have done much since but when you’ve got this ladybug of a post-Britpop jangly smoothly textured sonic slider of perfection on your CV you shouldn’t need to have get out of bed in the morning and slave away on another. Alas I fear The Sundays, like the lovelorn target of this neo new romantic elegy, did not end up with the love/money they adored/deserved.
All For You — Sister Hazel
Only in the 90s could those five dudes be superstars for 3 minutes 39 seconds. College rock reached a mercifully brief if undeniably catchy zenith during the mid-90s, when bands like Spin Doctors, Gin Blossoms, The Verve Pipe, Hootie & The Blowfish and Sister Hazel cracked the upper echelons of the charts, if not fashion, with their infectious singalongs to co-eds over double layered rhythmic guitars. I mean now we would consider these songs part of the attenuated wearing down of a sexual subject clearly demonstrating whatever the polar opposite of enthusiastic consent is but back then it was simply romantic, sometimes creepy, depending on how my times the chorus is repeated. In the live recording festooned onto this single, the band refrain from singing the verses and the crowd takes over and that is magic!
Sex And Candy — Marcy Playground
If it weren’t for Marcy Playground popping up on the outstanding Cruel Intentions OST viz Coming Up From Behind in 1999 the New York lo-fi post-grunge indie alt pop trio would have a shout as the quintessential 1998 band. Alas! Sex and Candy is barely 2 minutes long but it’s instantly unforgettable. The easily relatable lyrics of aromatic pheromones, psychoactive substances and that intoxicating whiff of potential if fleeting coitus linger like the tang of a particularly tart slice of cherry pie.
Everybody Here Wants You — Jeff Buckley
What could “the long-awaited Jeff Buckley CD-Extra” possibly be? Well my friends take a knee and let me tell you about the time technology became so advanced an audio CD — one that you put in a CD player and listen to — could also house read only memory, or ROM to your grandparents, meaning you could put it into your PC’s optical disc drive, assuming it had one (and not like today when the more advanced Macs and PCs forswear such a drive to save space; back then it was a primo optional extra), and it would slowly take over your whole system with some cumbersome animation that eventually limned to reveal a reliquary of unnecessary marginalia like lyrics and press photos and international inserts that you could print off if you inveigle your notoriously capricious dot matrix to not militate and play ball. Essentially a whole lotta nothing. Imagine the worst, most rudimentary, lamest DVD bonus feature and that would be substantially better than any content delivered during the admittedly concentrated — tender mercies — 1998 CD extras fad. Everybody Here Wants You, incidentally, is the last great Jeff Buckley song. His descendants clearly started from the top of the pile when organising his postswim pocket lining clearance sale. The standard declined rapidly from then on, mirroring the fate of CD extras, which would also take a swim in the Mississippi, though unfortunately not as corporeal as young Jeffrey’s…
The Ballad Of Tom Jones — Space & Cerys Matthews
Space with Cerys of Catatonia is the 1998 equivalent of alt-J with Ellie of Wolf Alice. Congratulations if you understand that sentence. I was in Year 11 in 1998 and for some reason the Year 12 house office holders at my Hogwartsian all-boys Catholic boarding school were otherwise engaged — trials perchance (again, congratulations if you understand) — meaning the 17-year-olds got to run the weekly house meeting, which was probably my fave 40 minutes of the week in my secondary school career. I was in Owen house, named for St Nicholas Owen, the patron saint of — I shit you not — closets and magic, and being the histrionic sort, the job of entertaining the whelps fell to this old joker. For some reason I thought it would be entertaining to play this CD single to the huddled masses — kids were much more easily entertained back then — and they were amused by the Cerys’ line about wanting to cut of Space’s Tommy’s nuts, though that zinger doesn’t surface till the second verse; I must have played a good 2-and-a-bit minutes of this banger to get there! My Mum later bought be the Space album Tin Planet as a reward-gift for doing good in a public speaking competition (I didn’t win, nor was I a gracious loser, but I should’ve won). I was virtually an adult in 1998 and yet it seems like a millennium ago: getting a CD outside of birthdays and Christmas was a special treat! Within 24 months I was on Napster downloading every album ever for free with complete impunity! Oh and it’s called The Balled Of Tom Jones b/c of that whole knickers thing. Top track.
Redneck Wonderland — Midnight Oil
Some things I know about Redneck Wonderland:
- It made the Hottest 100, at #96.
- It was Midnight Oil’s response to the electronic dance rock successfully purveyed by The Prodigy.
- I never listened to my CD single of it.
- My Mum scored me this CD single through her work, and her work is primary school teacher/deputy principal, so I’m not really sure that all comes together.
- I would later be involved in an epic transcontinental email thread called Gibbernet, to which the second track on this single bears an incidental relation.
Horny — Mousse T vs Hot’N’Juicy
I definitely did not buy this single and I think it came in the same Black Thunder prize pack as the prenominate Hand Of Dead Body thingy supra. It’s been 20 years and this songs has almost grown on me, especially the way it is mindboggingly inserted into the Chef Aid soundtrack in media res for no apparent reason. One day this track will be played at trivia and I’ll be the only person who remembers the ‘artist’ behind it — and you know how much I hate scare quotes — unless, of course, you are playing too.
Heroes — The Wallflowers
There was a brief period during the late 90s when I was a budding Wallflowers completist. That’s a particular subgenre of superfan who aspires to own every release issued by a particular band: albums, singles, EPs — “best of, most of, satiate the need, slip them into different sleeves, buy both, feel deceived” — what have you. Wallflowers was an original choice for completism; Pearl Jam and U2, borderline Metallica were the most common obsessions, and the record labels milked these infatuations gloriously, especially in the case of Pearl Jam, which released like 500 million live concert recordings to really suck the life out of their fanbase. No wonder Audio Galaxy was so popular. Anyways, on the strength of Wallflowers’ eponymous debut and breakthrough sophomore effort Bringing Down The Horse, I endeavoured to own as much Wallflowers as I possibly could, so much so that when the Jakob Dylan fronted troupe covered Heroes for the appalling Godzilla “film” in 1998 I rushed out to buy the CD single. The reason I have two copies is because at the Australian premiere, to which I had won tickets by ringing up a 1900 number in a The Sun-Herald phone-in competition, and attended with 90s action film aficionado Matthew M, everyone received a goody bag including the single, alongside classic swag of the era like a mousepad, promotional Mentos and a Godzilla head stressball, amongst other reptilian gimcrack. It’s a pretty good cover and I remember listening to it, at least on one of my copies of the single, up to receiving the full soundtrack album for my 17th birthday in May.
Josie (Everything’s Gonna Be Fine) — Blink-182
2000s era Blink-182 fans might enquire as who this Scott character is taking the place of Trav in the band shot above. Well Trav only joined the band sometime between their mainstream breakout with Dammit (generously proffered as a live bonus on the Josie single) and their really mainstream breakout with What’s My Age Again + All The Small Things in 1999. Scott also famously appears and gets his name on screen in the iconic video for Dammit. I’m not really sure why I bought this single. As much as I liked Blink-182 catchy, witty pop punk jingles, Josie is among the weaker tracks and I can’t remember ever actually liking it.
Music Sounds Better With You — Stardust
Stardust comprised one half of your fave French robot duo Daft Punk and two other French dudes. The video was an usual mash-up of a kid learning to fly his model aeroplane while intermittently checking the French equivalent of Video Hits to chart this very song’s upward progress on the singles chart. All very meta, at a time when the whole concept of meta was barely inchoate. In the video it climaxes at #1 just as our budding Gallic aviator finally achieves independent flight, and then from memory Stardust descend from the clouds to return the wayward plane to the kid. Kinda the exact opposite of the Concorde disaster from a few years later. In reality, this track only reached #10 on the French chart, #4 in Australia. A one-time thing, Stardust now just a memory, never releasing another track, but when you’re only output is this good, one song’s all you need.
Turn Back Time — Aqua
Purchased in the same binge as Day Before Yesterday’s Man, Turn Back Time was the fourth of Aqua’s megahits off Aquarium, following Barbie Girl, Doctor Jones and Lollipop (Candyman). This track was also used in the Gwyneth Paltrow missed connections fable Sliding Doors, one of several films to lend its name to a pop-social concept (alongside Groundhog Day, The Bucket List, Silkwood, Catch-22 (a book first for sure), Sophie’s Choice (ditto) and Inception), and the music video incorporated train stations and ticket gates to emphasise that link. I have quite clear memories of being mocked when asking for this single at the Chatswood record shop. Something along the lines of “Do you have the single for Turn Back Time?” being gainsaid sarcastically with “What by Cher?” followed by collecting guffawing from the double-denim clad slackers behind the counter. I was never cool in school but I have always been happy enough with my taste in music and it is definitely not worth pretending you like stuff you don’t and hiding your true passions. So yeah I wanted the CD single for Turn Back Time, whacky form factor and enclosed lyrics and all. And I fucking love that Cher song too.
Karma Police — Radiohead
Cavernous memory I may have but I am struggling to recall exactly the circumstances of this acquisition. For a long time I would have put Karma Police in my Top 10 or at least 20 songs of all time (when I last counted down my Top 200 Songs of the 1990s, it was #46), and for a while in this late 90s milieu, I arranged my CDs in order of fave songs. It’s possible I purchased the single so I could have the full set taking pride of place on my pubescent mantle.
My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme From ‘Titanic’) — Celine Dion
More like a greatest hits EP than simply the single for My Heart Will Go On, this doozy became a bit of a collector’s item after it was peremptorily deleted from release only a few weeks after hitting #1, meaning it fell to #24, at the time the largest single drop from top spot, and still the second largest (TV competition winner (?) Karise Eden’s Stay With Me Baby dropped from #1 straight out of the Top 50 altogether). The was an era when singles were routinely deleted well before their popularity had started to wane, often at the height even, to encourage infuriated fans into purchasing the album from whence it came. CD singles cost $5-8 while an album cost $30, meaning it was roughly a 5-fold impost for the belated fan. Deletion was applied judiciously. My Heart Will Go On was ripe for it because it attracted an older, adult contemporary fan with higher disposable income. The strategy certainly worked: Titanic OST by James Horner spent 11 weeks at #1 and was third biggest selling album of 1998 in Australia (behind, incidentally, Aqua and Matchbox 20). Deletion was a controversial practise. I remember reading in letters to the Rolling Stone editor a shopkeep complaining that he had to turn away a young girl in tears because he could no longer supply the single for Steps’ Last Thing On My Mind and that, regardless of your thoughts on that particular track, deletion was an odious tactic. Stateside was even more extreme: many huge songs from this era— Don’t Speak by No Doubt is a poster child — were never released as a single at all. Music videos were made and the songs sent to radio but because no single was released, fans were compelled to purchase the album (or tape it off the radio, which is something every single person of my generation did to excess, to the point where we all had well-revealed strategies for releasing the record mechanism of our cassette players with the greatest alacrity upon hearing the open bars of, say, Maria by Ricky Martin), and the song wouldn’t appear in the Billboard Hot 100, meaning there is a persistent absenteeism of some of the late 90s’ biggest bangers (Torn by Natalie Imbruglia, Tubthumping by Chumbawamba, Where’s The Love by Hanson, among many others) from the US charts. Eventually it became so unworkable that Billboard changed the rules, so much so that airplay sufficed for a song to chart, but all this became moot once iTunes took over, and every song suddenly became a single, and then even mooter in the age in the streaming age, when whole albums by the biggest stars will chart with barely an actual unit sale between them. Because I Love You was also an Australian #1, so very kind of Celine to give it away, and Beauty and the Beast was a credible #17. I am quite fond of heartstring tugging odes from soundtracks acquiring the Love Theme subtitle; another reason to love this entry in the collection.
Maria (Remixes) — Ricky Martin
Twenty years later I still feel ripped off by this one. Shortly after I bought Maria (Remixes), Ricky’s first English language release, it was repackaged with the all-time greatest World Cup themesong in the double A-Side The Cup Of Life / Maria, meaning that instead of two magnificent Latin jams I got five versions of the same one! In December 2012 I traveled to New York to see Ricky play Che in a Broadway revival of Evita. Later that night — at 1am! — I saw Django Unchained in Times Square. That was a good day. A quick note to say we have moved through the jewel case and outré packaging and are now into the cardboard sleeve form factor. It was one thing to pay $8 for a case with moving parts but you had to really want a single to splash out the full quote on the el cheapo cardboard. When you saw one of these for $8 bucks you had to ask yourself in your best closeted Ricky Martin ululation: Do you really want it? Do you really want it?
Iris — Goo Goo Dolls
It’s hard to read but the B-side to Iris (from the pre-nuts Nic Cage film City of Angels) is Lazy Eye (from the totally nuts film Batman and Robin) and the C-side is I Don’t Want To Know (from the just nutty enough celebrity covers tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours). Goo Goo Dolls was a huge entry in the modern American rock canon, which enjoyed enormous popularity during college rock’s twilight and the dawn of cock rock man bands like Nickelback (blergh) and Creed (bleeeerrrggghhhh). Sorry I just vomited. Iris is a beautiful love song arranged around simple lyrical hook — “and I don’t want the world to see me b/c I don’t think that they’d understand” — perfectly crafted to deeply resonate with any teenage boy’s maudlin phase, especially this one.
The Way — Fastball
Whenever the debate comes up about whether the 90s was the best decade for music, I only have one question: where were they going without ever knowing the way?
High — Lighthouse Family
I’m not sure they actually were related and I know for a fact neither of their surnames was Lighthouse, but they were a family to capture the Australian #1 spot, just like Hanson, Oasis, All Saints, the Madden Brothers and the Scissor Sisters. This is sort of inoffensive adult contemporary pedestrian ditty that you’d still hear every few hours if you listened to Smooth 95.3, which every cab driver in Sydney does all time, when they are not talking to each other on the phone.
Teardrop — Massive Attack
There is plenty of risible crap on this page but there are also a handful of genuinely brilliant pieces of popular music. Songs I’m proud to have liked so much that I parted with hard earned pizza making money to own in a physical, if not lachrymiform, format. A teardrop is a salty discharge to wipe away, ephemeral if you’re lucky, adumbrating nothing more than fleeting disappointment. Teardrop by Massive Attack is the opposite. It’s not necessarily a happy song, but it is a timeless one, and the tears it triggers are the rare soothing type, signifying an adamantine strength no matter how overflowing the disappointment.
The Boy Is Mine — Brandy & Monica
I’m guessing if you’ve stuck solid this far you’re fairly sold on my flow so you will forgive me a moment of vulnerability. I was a 17yo boy who paid money for The Boy Is Mine CD single by Brandy & Monica. I wasted so much of life worried about what other people would think instead of applying my complete lack of shame re my taste in music to my taste in longtime companion. It’s not hard to see the boy is mine.
Brick — Ben Folds Five
Before winning the Domino’s Neutral Bay potato bake upselling competition — first prize: two CDs (I chose Whatever And Ever Amen — Ben Folds Five + Eternal Nightcap — Whitlams) — I won Battle of the Sexes on the 2DayFM breakfast show with Wendy Harmer, Peter Moon and Paul Holmes. I am living an interesting life (and this post isn’t even going to deep dive on when I was the co-owner of Hoyts Gold Pass for six months with a current member of New South Wales Parliament). Battle of the Sexes was a long-running morning radio competition that saw a male asked questions about feminine stuff and a female asked about the masculine. If it sounds horribly codified please try to remember that I grew up in the 90s, when there were only two genders and they were more accurately called sexes and we all knew where we stood. You will be pleased to know that I won this competition by knowing what flowers Drew Barrymore wore in her hair (what am I? a barbarian?), Jann Arden’s nationality (her hit was Insensitive) and Neve Campbell’s character’s name in Party of Five (bitch plz). My would-be femme fatale failed to identify Greg Florimo as the Bear breaking records, meaning I scored the $104 voucher to the then new Broadway Shopping Centre. Mum and I made the trek from our suburban Cammeray enclave to the scary crucifix of Parramatta Road and the Princes Highway that weekend — it was like the deadest of deadzones, like when you look straight into Eric Trump’s soul — and I used just under 5 per cent of that prize to purchase the Brick single. Later I would also score the album but not before I gave this 4-tracker plenty of 360s in my Sony Discman on the bus home from school. A potato bake is a rectangular aluminium dish filled halfway with potato wedges, then smothered in those bacon cubes you get on pizzas, some pure evil white pizza sauce and mozzarella that’s put through the oven to create the most untoothsome, uncomestible, unsavouary prandial undelight in the history of junk food. I sold so many that week.
If You Could Only See — Tonic
Another of the bands riding the modern rock wave onto every youth focused film soundtrack from the era, viz American Pie, Scream 2, The X-Files and King Of The Hill — in addition to popping up on that Rumours tribute mentioned in the Goo Goo Dolls bit — this song is about the singer being accused of murdering his girlfriend, but if you could only see the way she looks at him &c &c — not very woke Tonic! — like other songs from the uxoricide subgenre — Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine, Lotion, Genghis Khan and (one assumes) I Will Possess Your Heart — you’re not really supposed to dig these songs anymore. The adjective is problematic, like watching homophobic Friends, racist Simpsons or misogynistic West Wing on your streaming machine.
You’re Still The One — Shania Twain
Just so there is absolutely no doubt about the provenance of this one, let me be clear: yes I bought this one with my pizza money! It was very generous of Ms Twain and her then husband/collaborator Robert John “Mutt” Lange to tack on the superb (If You’re Not In It For Love) I’m Outta Here! to this release, and I know that definitely swayed my purchasing decision. The LP version in fourth slot is longer because it opens with Shania reciting with ethereal scansion a short poem about her undying love for Lange (she’s now married to the ex-husband of her ex-BFF). The LP itself is quite something: it’s called Come On Over and included this Australian #1 along with #2s From This Moment On and That Don’t Impress Me Much, #4 Man! I Feel Like A Woman!, #28 You’ve Got A Way and #23 Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You). Ostensibly a country album but recorded for Australian ears with the twang turned down and the pop turned up, Come On Over spent 146 weeks in the ARIA Top 50, including a mind-warping 20 at #1 (the lead single was called You’re Still The One, after all). On the year-end charts, it was the #7 best seller of 1998, #1 on 1999 and #46 of 2000. It was a sustained if ultimately ringfenced period in Australia’s musical history when country-crossover reigned (or should the be reined?) supreme and I was glad to play and pay my part.
Fuel — Metallica
Audio avarice at its most base, Metallica released a set of three Fuel CD singles, each one festooned with separate tracks from their 1998 stadium tour, which I attended and thoroughly enjoyed, in order to squeeze every last shekel out of their completist superfans. The strategy worked great in the short term — Fuel debuted at #2 on the ARIA chart (behind, incidentally, The Cup Of Life / Maria) — but proved it catastrophic when the band tried to take the moral high road and plead the victim when music piracy took off. It has always struck me as tergiversation that such profiteering isn’t cited more often when looking back critically at the emergence and fast popularity of illegal downloading. Maybe I’m pettifogging but it I have always maintained that aficionados with a sincere dedication to their favourite artists must have nursed a cancerous cognitive dissonance growing inside them about the amount of money they were spending on bands that weren’t even glibly honouring them by feigning gratitude while taxing them again and again and again. That cancer was always going to unshackle itself in an excrescence of punitive retribution. Piracy was a corollary, not a tangential parallel. I was never a Metallica completist, fan though I undoubtedly am. I won this box set in a Triple M phone-in and I think I maybe once listened to the iteration with One (Live in Sydney). I had already won Refuel in a separate Triple M phone-in earlier in the year.
Thanks for reading. Twenty years come and gone so fast, it’s almost like I was dreaming.