If you’re in your 30s, there’s a good chance you found yourself utterly flummoxed when watching a Dick Clark-less “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” this week featuring a lineup of musical acts that you have never heard of. Sure, our cheeks are rounder, our temples grayer and our pates more susceptible to the harmful effects of the sun, but are we actually old? I mean, we knew all the popular music when we were teens…20 years ago. And if you haven’t heard the rap of Death at your door quite yet, just look at the collection of 20 songs turning 20 in 2018 below and be more aware of your mortality than ever before.
“Doo-Wop (That Thing)” – Lauryn Hill
Following the breakup of The Fugees the previous year, Lauryn Hill released her first solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, in 1998. The debut single, “Doo Wop (That Thing),” became Hill’s first and only number-one hit and went on to win Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song at the 1999 Grammy Awards.
“Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)” – The Offspring
The Offspring brought California punk to the masses with 1994’s Smash, featuring the hit singles “Come Out and Play,” “Self Esteem,” and “Gotta Get Away.” Then they made the leap from alternative radio to Top 40 with 1998’s Americana and its debut single, “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy).” While the band may have alienated their punk fans, they made enough cash for frontman Dexter Holland to buy multiple airplanes.
“…Baby One More Time” – Britney Spears
The world was introduced to Britney Spears with “…Baby One More Time,” her debut hit single that reached number one in every country it charted in while selling more than 10 million copies in the process. The video was voted Best Video of the ’90s in a Billboard poll and if you were a teenage boy when it was released, you just might agree.
“The Rockafeller Skank” – Fatboy Slim
Even if you don’t know the title, you’ll know it as soon as you hear the only line repeated throughout the track, “right about now, the funk soul brother / Check it out now, the funk soul brother.” Fatboy Slim, aka Norman Cook, composed the hit using samples from four songs: “Sliced Tomatoes” by Just Brothers; The Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought the Law”; “Beat Girl” by John Barry and his Orchestra; and a guitar line from “Peter Gunn” by Art of Noise featuring Duane Eddy. Unfortunately, Cook had to give up 25% of the song’s royalties to each of the original artists, leaving him with nothing. But he probably did ok in the long run…
“Jump Jive an’ Wail” – The Brian Setzer Orchestra
You younger folks may not believe this, but there was actually a brief period in the late ’90s when 1940s swing music made a resurgence, leading too many men to believe that they could pull off a fedora. While the fedoras are somehow still around, the music, like former Stray Cats frontman Brian Setzer’s cover of Louis Prima’s “Jump Jive an’ Wail,” has sadly disappeared from the mainstream.
“One Week” – Barenaked Ladies
While kids today probably only recognize Barenaked Ladies from their “History of Everything,” aka The Big Bang Theory theme song, the Canadian rockers actually had a giant hit with “One Week” back in 1998. And you weren’t shit in the eighth grade if you didn’t know the rap verses.
“Ghetto Supastar” – Pras featuring Mya & Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Lauryn Hill wasn’t the only former Fugee making the charts in 1998; Pras also had a huge hit with “Ghetto Supastar,” a sort of reimagining of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s 1983 duet “Islands in the Stream.” The track was originally written as a duet for only Pras and Mya to perform, but Ol’ Dirty Bastard happened to show up, so…why not?
“I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” – Aerosmith
Michael Bay sent a ragtag group of oil drillers into space in 1998’s Armageddon. The only thing worse than the movie was its soundtrack, featuring Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” a schlocky ballad that elicits cringey memories of school dances and pretty much destroyed this writer’s view of Aerosmith as badass rock and rollers.
“What It’s Like” – Everlast
Everlast was the frontman for House of Pain before going off on his own. That means that the same dude singing “What’s It Like” also did “Jump Around.” Twenty years later and I still just don’t get how that’s possible.
“Intergalactic” – Beastie Boys
Four years after Ill Communication, Beastie Boys added Mix Master Mike to their lineup and released Hello Nasty. The first single, “Intergalactic,” became the band’s third Top 40 single and won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.
“Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” – Jay-Z
Jay-Z became an international hiphop star with “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” in 1998, no doubt because of the inclusion of a sample of the song “It’s the Hard Knock Life” from the 1977 hit broadway musical Annie. Although I’m still waiting for a rapper brave enough to sample “Telephone Hour” from Bye Bye Birdie…
“Iris” – Goo Goo Dolls
You may have forgotten 1998’s City of Angels, a Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan-starring saccharine remake of Wim Wenders’ 1987 film Wings of Desire, but you definitely know its soundtrack. Featuring the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” along with Alanis Morissette’s “Uninvited,” the album was the seventh highest-selling of 1998 and has sold over five million copies to date.
“Fly Away” – Lenny Kravitz
Lenny Kravitz reappeared in 1998 without his signature dreads and embracing a more contemporary sound with his fifth studio album, 5. He was rewarded with a Grammy for Best Male Rock Performance for “Fly Away” the following year.
“Jumper” – Third Eye Blind
Third Eye Blind continued milking their 1997 self-titled debut in 1998, with the fifth and final single, “Jumper,” released in May of that year. Frontman Stephan Jenkins reflected on the bummer of a song’s success a decade later, opining “How could that be a No. 1 hit when it’s about a friend who’s gay jumping off a bridge and killing themselves?”
“Sweetest Thing” – U2
Originally released as a B-side to “Where the Streets Have No Name” way back in 1987, U2 rerecorded “Sweetest Thing” in 1998 for the greatest hits collection, The Best of 1980–1990. The song was a hit and helped the compilation reach number one all over the world.
“Faith” – Limp Bizkit
We must remember Limp Bizkit and their atrocious cover of “Faith” only so that we can ensure we never let it happen again.
“Lullaby” – Shawn Mullins
This is why the ’90s was still an incredible time for artists. Here’s a 30-year-old folk singer who all of a sudden has a hit song, opens up for Backstreet Boys and Destiny’s Child for a bit, playing in front of thousands of people, then goes back to his life. And he didn’t even need YouTube or a reality competition TV show.
“Come with Me” – Puff Daddy featuring Jimmy Page
What do you get when you combine Puff Daddy, legendary Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, and a terrible Godzilla movie starring Ferris Bueller and Leon the Professional? “Come With Me,” a recreation of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” that was too good for that Godzilla movie and just good enough to be a Derek Jeter walk-up song.
“Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)” – Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz
A hiphop song that even dads could get into, thanks to a sample of Steely Dan’s “Black Cow,” “Deja Vu” went platinum and made a ton of cash — for Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, who received sole songwriting credit. Things weren’t so great for Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz, who split up the following year.
“Closing Time” – Semisonic
How could we not end the list with this?