Insanely Great 90s Songs You're Not Sick of: 1998

Not many people realize it, but the Nineties ended May 17, 1998, when the last episode of the original X-Files series filmed in Vancouver aired. Hey, laugh if you must but the facts on the ground bear this out. Moreover, the Nineties actually began on August 23, 1988 when Jane’s Addiction released the first true prototype for the 90s rock album, Nothing’s Shocking.

You can actually look at the waves of rock music in context of high school. By mid-1998 two full cohorts of kids reared in the wake of the 1991 alt.rock renaissance had graduated high school. Prior to 1991 you had the rise of hair metal (Warrant, Cinderella) and “college rock” (REM, U2, 10,000 Maniacs) in 1987. 

Prior to that you had the rise of the new heavy metal (Quiet Riot, Motley Crue) and the New British Invasion in 1983. 

Prior to that you had the new dominance of "faceless" arena rock (Journey, REO Speedwagon, Styx) and the New Wave (Blondie, Devo, Elvis Costello) in 1979. 

Prior to that you had the rise of 70s superstar rock (Aerosmith, KISS, Queen) along with Disco (Bee Gees, KC & the Sunshine Band) in 1975. 

1971 saw the rise of heavy rock (Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad) and singer-songwriters (James Taylor, Carole King). 

1967 saw the rise of Psychedelia and blues rock. 

1963 saw the dawn of second-wave rock n’ roll (Beach Boys, Beatles) and Motown. 

1959 saw the rise of the folkies and the teen idols and 1955 was the year rock ’n roll went mainstream with “Rock Around the Clock.” 

It’s not a perfect chronological model - you can generally mark a transition at the beginning and end of each cycle - but roughly speaking, each wave of high school freshmen seemed to adopt a new style to call their own.

Subsequently, 1998 saw the rise of a new wave of post-grunge rock, largely from the hinterlands. Creed, Staind, Godsmack, Kid Rock and Nickelback were clutched to the bosoms of football jocks everywhere and nu metal (Korn, Limp Bizkit, Deftones) had captured the hearts of the burn-outs. 

These varying strains would reach their apotheosis during the Woodstock ’99 rape-fest, held during a brutal heatwave on a decommissioned Air Force base that was also a Superfund clean-up site. Never would a zeitgeist find a more perfect setting for its darker impulses and inclinations.

Anyway, I was looking through the various lists for 1998 and was surprised by how unfamiliar I was with most of the records released that year. A lot of it was college kind of Independent music— what I like to call “rich kid rock” — which was a nut I just could never crack. There were a host of unsuccessful follow-ups from bands who had big hits just a year or two before and a lot of what looked like record label shelf-cleaning. 

Much of this was an outcome of the corporate radio consolidation that had largely pushed rock music off the airwaves in favor of pop and hip-hop. Still there was a lot of great music to be heard, even if the alt.rock explosion was clearly winding down.

The X-Files, the Internet and alt.rock had all grown up together, and a huge roster of rockers had hitched their wagons to the X-Files’ horse. Not the least of which was Foo Fighters, named after the UFOs that pilots had encountered in the closing days of World War II. Dave Grohl even had a walk-in cameo in an X-Files episode and remixed this tune for the X-Files movie soundtrack.

Bree Sharp hit the one-hit-wonder sweepstakes with her ode to the X-Files actor. She later nearly equaled U2s K-Mart cringe-binge by singing it to him at a 2016 bookstore appearance, while he sat there and felt his douche chill past absolute-zero.

Filter remade the old Three Dog Night chestnut “One” for the XF movie soundtrack. Richard Patrick’s older brother would even step into David Duchovny’s shoes as John Doggett in the eighth season of the series. Wait: Three Dog Night, Doggett? 

Courtney Love blew fans away with a killer new Hole album, Celebrity Skin. Critics loved it to death, and it shot up the charts with a bullet. Courtney proved to the haters and the doubters that even if the music on Live Through This bore all the hallmarks of her late husband’s songwriting style, she didn’t need no husband to write the songs for her. She proved women are every bit as capable of hiring Billy Corgan to write her songs as any man. Sisters are doing it for themselves! 

The Pacific Northwest proved it could still produce unique voices who could break new musical ground without getting murdered. One of which was Isaac Brock (a piece of work all by himself, actually) and his trio Modest Mouse.

Idaho’s Built to Spill worked similar terrain with a unique approach to rock guitar and an equally unique approach to not having their heads blown off by a hitman. 

EELS (no 'the') aren’t from the PNW but shared a similar nerdy vibe and instrumental aptitude and wed them to a weirdly surreal visual sensibility. Plus, a not-being-slain sensibility.

Weird and surreal are the best adjectives to describe M.Doughty’s Neo-Beatnik wordsmithing, and he and Soul Coughing finally scored a hit before they called it quits.  

Philly’s G Love and Special Sauce had a similar instrumental approach to Soul Coughing, albeit a much different vibe. This heart-wrenching tune was inspired by a real-life situation in which a policewoman was shot and killed during a bank robbery. 

The Verve, still licking their wounds after being smacked down by part-time manager/full-time mobster Allen Klein, served another killer single that should have been a bigger hit.

Placebo, a British trio led by Elfish-American Brian Molko, dropped this Neo-Psych stomper.

Bristolians Massive Attack recruited the Voice of God for what most see today as the definitive Trip Hop album, even though it was a deliberate break from the style in favor of Industrial and Post-Punk stylings. This song would be the show-stopping set piece on the band’s 2019 tour, and would be accompanied by imagery giving a foretaste at what was barreling towards us in 2020.

Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada released their breakthrough Music Has the Right to Children, which sucked childhood reveries from the forgotten dreams of first-wave GenXers and put them on tape.

French duo Air found inspiration in similar places to their Scottish cousins and had a hit with this Europop bopper.

PJ Harvey, AKA the Anti-Sibyl, served up some deliciously malicious music in `98, including this lesser-known single from Is This Desire?

Sibyl Servant Alanis Morrissette proved she wasn’t shy about doing whatever it takes to get back on the charts. I’m generally not a fan but like this tune quite a bit. Maybe it’s the video. 

Finally, I recently learned that J.Geils grew up right down the street from me. Ironically so, since growing up in Boston back in the day meant having his music shoved down your throat morning, noon and night. Also found out he dated Meryl Streep in high school.

Anyway, if you didn't see this movie in 1998 you were probably on an oil rig or deep sea fishing vessel the entire year.


  1. 1998 was definitely a year of transition, culturally speaking, and the musical landscape was a-morphin' big-time, and not for the better. Still, there was some good stuff around to delight the/my ears:

    Massive Attack - "Teardrop", "Inertia Creeps"
    Air - "You Make It Easy", "Kelly Watch the Stars"
    The High Llamas - "Glide Time", "The Sun Beats Down"
    Beck - "We Live Again", "Nobody's Fault but My Own"
    PJ Harvey - "Catherine", "The Wind"
    Lucinda Williams - "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road", "Drunken Angel"
    Amon Tobin - "Nightlife", "Like Regular Chickens"
    Boards of Canada - "Aquarius"
    Neutral Milk Hotel - "Holland, 1945", "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea"
    Fatboy Slim - "The Rockerfeller Skank"
    Lauryn Hill - "Doo Wop (That Thing)"
    Liz Phair - "White Chocolate Space Egg", "Only Son"
    Neil Finn - "Souvenir", "Try Whistling This"
    Mark Hollis - "The Colour of Spring", "The Daily Planet"
    Madonna - "Ray of Light"
    Jeff Buckley - "Everybody Here Wants You", "The Sky Is a Landfill"
    Fastball - "The Way"
    Beastie Boys - "Intergalactic"
    The Tragically Hip - "Something On", "Bobcaygeon"
    R.E.M. - "Suspicion", "At My Most Beautiful"
    Pearl Jam - "Brain of J", "Wishlist"
    Sloan - "Money City Maniacs"
    Sonic Youth - "Sunday"
    Belle & Sebastian - "The Rollercoaster Ride"
    Chris Isaak - "Speak of the Devil"
    Sheryl Crow - "My Favorite Mistake"
    Placebo - "Pure Morning"
    The New Radicals - "You Get What You Give"

    1. Neutral Milk Hotel was a name I'd heard but had no idea who they were or what they sounded like. Good list.

  2. Nu metal was too brash and in your face for the hip kids. 1998 was the year neutral milk hotel came out with in the aeroplane over the sea. A foreshadowing of alt rocks rebranding to "indie" and later rise of the hipster and p4kcore in the 2000s. the radio shut rock out but it was on the internet things were getting going again.

    all that nu metal dudebro angst would mostly die after September 11, when kids got out their hair straightener, skinny jeans, and lip rings, and decided to be more emo. jimmy eat worlds the middle kicked it all off

    1. Boy, I remember going through all that with my middle one. Seems like a million years ago now.

  3. Rokafella Skank was 1998?! Oh my where has the time gone?

  4. Spoon - A Series Of Sneaks (whole album, it's THE postpostpunk record)


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