This week Pitchfork posted a list of the best 50 best albums of 1998, sparking a wave of endless debates about whether Aquemini is better than The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. (It is!) Because I can’t help myself, I posted my own top five list, and to my surprise every single person who responded agreed with my choices! (Just kidding — I have to go into witness relocation now because I left off In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.)
But upon further deliberation, I realized that not one of the many classic albums I love from that year — Moon Safari, How It Feels To Be Something On, Navy Blues, American Water, that first Queens of the Stone Age record with that weird crotch shot on the cover — are burned as deep into my soul as this playlist of all the No. 1 songs on the alternative chart in 1998.
Now, “burned into my soul” shouldn’t be taken purely — or even primarily — as a statement of love. As anyone who has been branded by a flaming hot poker will tell you, it hurts to be burned. It’s something that’s done typically against your will. You might even spend the rest of your life rueing the day that it happened. Nevertheless, it leaves a mark that stays with you forever. That’s how I feel about these songs. I loathe at least half of them, but I know every single one like members of my own family, which means that deep down I also love even the songs that I profess to hate.
Call me a victim of captive radio listening — I worked for a college newspaper in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in 1998, and the only station we could all agree on was “The Zone,” which played alt-leaning pop. As a result, I spent hours upon hours having commercial high-points in the careers of luminaries such as Everlast, Eve 6, Marcy Playground, and Barenaked Ladies drilled permanently into my consciousness. As much as I love Outkast, Air, and Sunny Day Real Estate, that music will never scream “1998!” to me as much as the Goo Goo Dolls’ Dizzy Up The Girl era. To claim otherwise would simply be revisionist history.
While ’98 truly was a year that spawned a number of timeless musical landmarks, it was also a time when annoying and corny but also well-crafted and enduringly catchy corporate alt-rock ruled the airwaves. This playlist is a monument to those bands.