Songs of the Year—1998 The Next Big Thing

Songs of the Year: “Give Me Daughters”, Jonathan FireEater; “Underground”, Ben Folds Five

Runners up: “Torn”, Natalie Imbruglia; “St. Louise is Listening”, Soul Coughing

Honorable Mentions: “Doo Wop”, Lauryn Hill; “The Rockerfeller Skank,” Fatboy Slim

1998 was the year that alt-rock died. I swear it. Later, it was reincarnated as “Indie”, but the death throes had started the year before. Pearl Jam and 311 (!) released live albums; Green Day went soft with “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” and Matchbox 20 acquired yet more fans. It was soon to be Jay-Z’s world and I was merely living in it.

In the year that Alanis finally thanked India, when Shaniah Twain was kept from conquering the world by Celine Dion and Cher and while we all started to endure an overwhelming onslaught of boybands and young R&B performers (Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, Brandy and Monica), I started to stop listening to the radio.

No Lisa Loeb, for sure

What a terrible year for music—one that anticipated worse years to come. The top three singles? Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”, Cher’s “Believe”, and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”. Napster couldn’t be deployed soon enough. Radio was dying or dead. I was in the dishroom, or behind a bar, or carrying trays of lobsters to tables begging for the radio to be turned off.

When I wasn’t playing bad cover songs or trying terribly hard to put together a band that sounded like Guster, I was probably in a classroom or a dishroom. In abandoning the radio, the Rhythm Guitarist and I entered a seemingly endless search for the next big thing. If we were still playing cassettes, we would have worn out Guster’s Goldfly and Soul Coughing’s Irresistible Bliss. But we weren’t. We had CDs. If you’re careful, they play forever.

The year was short on big things. What was I listening to? I loved the Ben Folds Five live album Naked Baby Photos, was slightly disappointed in Soul Coughing’s last album El Oso, Cake’s immensely disappointing Prolonging the Magic, and the wildly successful and only sometimes cloying You’ve Come a Long Way Baby by Fat Boy Slim. I wasn’t cool enough to know about Bright Eyes’ Letting Off the Happiness (which I wouldn’t hear for four years).

I was cool enough to have the short release Tremble Under Boom Lights by the soon-to-implode Jonathan FireEater. The nearly incomprehensible lyrics on the lead track “Give Me Daughters” detracted nothing from the distanced B3 organ, the throaty and deep voice of the vocalist, and the gritty dirt of the recording. The song structure is loose, but repetitive enough to be memorable.

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Songs of the Year–2004

In honor of the return of the Red Sox to the World Series, here are the songs I was listening to when they finally broke the ‘curse’ in 2004.

Songs of the Year: “Colours,” Donovan;  “The Good Times are Killing Me,” Modest Mouse
Runners Up: “Hey Ya,” Outkast; “Cinder and Smoke,” Iron & Wine; “Every Moment”, Rogue Wave
Honorable Mentions: “Take Me Out”, Franz Ferdinand; “Handshake Drugs,” Wilco

2004 was a year that in retrospect was one of transitions. The world of media was in the throes of cyclical change in musical tastes intensified by uncertainty with the rise of the iPod and internet music. The world was still at war with a US presidential election in the works. And I was moving along in graduate school only to have the entire process stalled and then accelerated by a fire.

In early 2004, there was a fire in my apartment in NYC that basically destroyed everything. Now, I could offer this as a narrative of the challenges I faced and the loss I suffered. But even at the time I realized that the event was cleansing and liberating. I was already somewhat nomadic (staying at my future wife’s place in Washington Heights or crashing on friends’ couches) and I spent most of my days in the library, a classroom, or the gym.

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