Tunes Du Jour Presents 1998

The year 1998 was a watershed moment for popular music. Emerging from the stylistic chaos and radical experimentation of the early/mid ’90s, the music of 1998 represented a culmination of daring artistic visions cohering into some of the most innovative, insightful, and flat-out infectious songs of the decade. Across genres, it was a year that shattered boundaries and solidified legends – a prolific melting pot of game-changing sounds destined to endure.

One of the standout tracks of the year was The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” a song that fused rock with sweeping orchestral arrangements, creating an anthemic yet melancholic sound that resonated with a wide audience. Its poignant lyrics and grandiose strings captured a sense of wistful longing and existential reflection that felt emblematic of the complicated late ’90s zeitgeist. Similarly, Radiohead’s “Karma Police” continued to explore the darker, more unsettling side of human experience with its haunting melody and cryptic lyrics, solidifying the band’s status as one of alt-rock’s most vital and cerebral forces.

The late ’90s also saw electronic music rapidly integrating into the mainstream pop landscape in visionary ways. Fatboy Slim’s “The Rockafeller Skank” was an explosively funky example of this trend, with its gritty, sample-heavy production and addictive dancefloor-ready beats. Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You” took a more soulful tack, combining classic house rhythms with a simple yet instantly catchy vocal hook to create an enduring dancefloor classic still beloved today. And the Norman Cook remix of Cornershop’s “Brimful of Asha” ingeniously blended Indian folk sounds with UK club vibes for a globe-spanning hit. For seekers of more atmospheric, boundary-pushing electronica, Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” provided a hypnotic, cinematic soundscape. This fertile era helped lay the groundwork for electronic music’s dominance in pop in the coming decades.

Hip-hop and R&B asserted their cultural force in 1998 as well, with few tracks as powerful as Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” – an undeniable feminist anthem of self-respect powered by Hill’s dexterous rapping and soulful crooning. Her ability to fuse hip-hop bravado with uplifting, socially-conscious lyricism over neo-soul grooves earned her massive critical acclaim. Similarly future-leaning was Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” which saw the singer’s sultry vocals gliding over Timbaland’s percussive, synthetic production for an alluringly sleek sound that felt years ahead of its time. 

While maintaining their commercial clout, pop’s biggest icons weren’t afraid to musically reinvent themselves in 1998. Madonna’s “Ray of Light” saw the Queen of Pop shedding her known persona for a more spiritually inquisitive stance matched by the song’s trance-inflected electronica textures. And Janet Jackson’s “Together Again” honored loved ones lost to AIDS with its uplifting, gospel-tinged dance-pop sound tempering heavier subject matter.

In retrospect, the diverse brilliance of 1998’s musical landscape feels almost overwhelming. From fist-pumping dancefloor anthems to raw outpourings of soul, from guitar-driven songs of profundity to mindblowing productions that rewrote pop’s boundaries – the year’s music seamlessly bridged the underground and the mainstream in a way that felt thrillingly new. It was the sound of artists across genres at their hungriest and most inspired, creating the shared musical memories that still bond generations of fans together in nostalgic reverie decades later. For many, 1998 was simply the rarest of cultural moments – when everything intersected with perfection. 

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Your (Almost) Daily Playlist: 1-31-24

The first artist fan club I ever joined was that of KC and the Sunshine Band. I received a membership card and a Christmas card from the band when that holiday I don’t celebrate came around. I don’t think there was more to it. I joined Olivia Newton-John’s fan club a year or two later, and received a membership card and a folio filled with photos of Livvy pressed on cardboard of various sizes. Years later I joined the R.E.M. and Pearl Jam fan clubs, which came with 45 rpm records and stickers and a calendar and a VHS tape and some other fun stuff. 

Are any of y’alls in an artist’s fan club? Is it worth the price of entry? 

KC was born Harry Wayne Casey on this date in 1951. A handful of his group’s songs are included on today’s playlist. Also included is his first number one single – as a songwriter with fellow Sunshine Band member Rick Finch on George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby.”

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Tunes Du Jour Presents R.E.M.

R.E.M. was one of the most influential and innovative bands of the 1980s and 1990s, creating a distinctive sound that blended alternative rock, folk, and pop. The band, which consisted of Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry, formed in 1980 in Athens, Georgia, and soon became the quintessential college rock band, attracting a loyal fan base with their poetic lyrics, jangly guitars, and charismatic stage presence.

R.E.M. was not only a musical force, but also a social and political one. The band used their platform to raise awareness and support for various causes, such as environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, and AIDS research., and they also celebrated their own identities, with Stipe coming out as queer in 1994 and Buck embracing his Buddhist faith.

Some of R.E.M.’s songs reflected their activism and values, such as “Fall on Me”, which addressed acid rain and “Orange Crush”, which criticized the Vietnam War. Other songs captured the emotions and experiences of their listeners, such as “Losing My Religion”, which explored doubt and obsession, “Everybody Hurts”, which offered comfort and hope, and “Nightswimming”, which evoked nostalgia and innocence.

R.E.M. also experimented with different musical styles and formats, such as incorporating rap, electronica, and country elements. They also challenged the music industry norms, refusing to print lyrics with their albums until 1994, avoiding lip-syncing on television, and maintaining creative control over their work.

R.E.M. disbanded in 2011, after 31 years and 15 studio albums, leaving behind a legacy of music and social impact that inspired countless artists and fans. Their songs are still widely played and enjoyed today, and their influence can be heard in bands such as Nirvana, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, and Coldplay. R.E.M. was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, and received numerous awards and accolades for their artistic and humanitarian achievements.

If you want to revisit some of R.E.M.’s best songs, or discover them for the first time, check out this playlist that features some of their hits and deep cuts.

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