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The 79 Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1997

60. Foo Fighters – “My Hero”

Dave Grohl is basically untrained as a guitarist, and he has said that he approaches what is now his primary instrument as if he were still sitting behind the drum kit: the lowest strings are the kick, the snare and toms are in the middle, and up high are the cymbals. Nowhere is it easier to hear this unorthodox approach than on “My Hero,” with its ringing trebly leads subbing in for the huge cymbal crashes Grohl surely would have given the song if Nirvana had written it. Speaking of which, fans have widely assumed that Grohl wrote “My Hero” in tribute to his late friend and bandmate Kurt Cobain, though the lead Foo himself says it’s actually about “solid everyday people” doing heroic things within the normal course of their lives. Like just about everything in Grohl’s post-Nirvana catalog, the song is a little catchier and more saccharine than anything Cobain wrote himself, but it’s nice to imagine the professed fan of The Knack and Aerosmith would have enjoyed it anyway.  –AC

59. Oasis – “All Around the World” 

With multiple songs stretching past seven minutes, Oasis’ 1997 album Be Here Now has not aged… gracefully. The worst offender from a pure length perspective is “All Around the World,” which rolls past the nine minute mark. That said, it does contain the album’s most memorable hook, and even though the melody is a little cloying, the fluttery pre-chorus is even more rewarding from a songwriting perspective. “All Around the World,” in its full version, also justifies its length with a big jam that argues, if even briefly, in favor of Noel Gallagher’s narcissism. –JS

58. Incubus – “New Skin”

A lot of the best and worst music of the ‘90s took a cosmopolitan approach to genre, pairing hip-hop drums with bluesy slide guitar or Puff Daddy with Jimmy Page. Somewhere in the weird, muddled middle lies Incubus’s full-length debut S.C.I.E.N.C.E., a record by five mushroom-munching funky metal dudes from Calabasas who seemingly never had an idea they didn’t deem worthy of putting on wax. Incubus would scale back their more bizarre indulgences to big commercial success on the next few albums, but S.C.I.E.N.C.E. is the band’s essential document, filled with slap bass and distorted guitar, record scratches and smooth jazz licks, hand percussion and half-rapped vocals. “New Skin,” a minor hit built on djembe and sludgy power chords, is the aural equivalent of a graffiti-covered minivan with nag champa burning inside and a driver with white-guy dreads explaining his theories on Donnie Darko or Fight Club. Not the kind of situation you want to find yourself in every day, but if the mood strikes you and the weed is right, it’s the perfect ride. — AC

57. Smash Mouth – “Why Can’t We Be Friends”

“Shout out to all my haters!” — Steve Harvell upon discovering that he had his second radio hit of 1997, with a WAR cover at that. After the release of an album called Fush Yu Mang, Harvell would go on to have two more charting hits (“All Star” at No. 1, “I’m A Believer” at No. 25) and appearance on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. 🙂 –PP

56. Save Ferris – “Come On Eileen”

You know someone, probably, who would argue that the canonical version of “Come On Eileen” is by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. But if you just can’t stand to hear it without an opening trumpet fanfare, know that you’re not alone. Dexy’s “Eileen” was already a bizarre chimera of a pop song, marrying Celtic music, new wave, tempo switch-ups, and lyrics that were definitely dirty but never made a whole lot of sense. Why not a highly caffeinated ska-punk version led by Save Ferris’ Monique Powell? There’s little more delightfully late-90s than Save Ferris jamming on the trombone against the checkerboard upholstery of their lime-green tour bus. –ANNA GACA

55. Sarah McLachlan – “Sweet Surrender”

Ninety-seven was the year McLachlan assumed her role as the queen mum of airy, fauxmotional pop–that summer is when she used her long-sought U.S. breakthrough to enlist her contemporaries for her woman-celebrating Lilith Fair. (Unfortunately, the festival’s mission of promoting women musicians actually backfired, as Luscious Jackson told SPIN in 2012, resulting in gendered radio ghettoization that effectively destroyed careers.) “Sweet Surrender,” McLachlan’s second American hit, was a biblical flood of lite romanticism, eschewing all the power other women musicians scrambled for through the decade and effectively dumping it on her lover’s doorstep in a very pretty soprano; it was the song equivalent of a silent film actress fainting on a divan. We can’t say she didn’t warn us, though. “It doesn’t mean much,” go the opening lyrics. “It doesn’t mean anything at all.”  –JES


54. The Offspring  – “Gone Away”

The Offspring are archetypal goofball SoCal pop-punks, but on “Gone Away,” they briefly imagine themselves as a band from Seattle, 1,100 miles north of their sunny Huntington Beach hometown. The beefy bass and sparse high-string guitar playing during the verses is straight from the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” playbook, and frontman Dexter Holland delivers his vocals with the strained sincerity of a latter-day grunge impostor like Gavin Rossdale or Wes Scantlin. It’s far from the band’s finest moment—that probably came sometime during their previous album Smash—but interesting as a showcase for the way the Offspring might sound if they ditched Spanglish and skateboards for heroin and flannel. –AC


53. Abra Moore – “Four Leaf Clover”

Abra Moore lived her gimmick: She grew up in a house with no electricity, proudly claimed the “hippie” mantle, and even popped up in Richard Linklater’s Slacker in a brief scene filmed as she was on her way to work. The earthy guitar-pop sincerity of “Four Leaf Clover,” which became popular just in time for the birth of Lilith Fair, was part of a continuum stretching to encompass artists like Michelle Branch and Nelly Furtado, though Moore was never lucky enough to get a Timbaland makeover. –JG 

52. Third Eye Blind – “Graduate”

If BuzzFeed had been around in 1997, it could have made a pretty good personality quiz based on your favorite song from Third Eye Blind’s self-titled debut album. “Semi-Charmed Life” was for the carefree popular kids, or those who liked to think of themselves that way, “Jumper” was the choice of sensitive intellectual types, “How’s It Going to Be” was for hopeless romantics. Within the relatively polite confines of a massively successful power-pop album, “Graduate” was the song for those who just wanted to rock, man. The riffs were a little tougher thanthe others, the drums a little harder-hitting, the “Can I graduate!?” backing vocals playing like an update on Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” for the Boy Meets World era. And the swirling, nearly chaotic bridge contains what are surely the only 40 seconds of music 3EB ever recorded that could be credibly compared to Jimi Hendrix.  –AC

51. Loreena McKennitt – “The Mummers’ Dance”

By 1997, Canadian artist Loreena McKennitt had spent over a decade making albums of decreasingly druidic folk music. Making an alt-rock hit from a May carol with earnest accompanying travelogues from Inishmore and Cornwall took a lot: a remix from DNA (resurfacing several years after putting a donk on Suzanne Vega’s sketch “Tom’s Diner”); several well-chosen syncs, including the trailer for Drew Barrymore period piece Ever After; a lowkey generational fascination with anything New Age or “spiritual.” The breathy oracular vocals, cultural-cafeteria instrumentation (violin, hurdy-gurdy, tabla and oud) and hushed seriousness would suggest insufferable levels of eat-pray-loving were the arrangement not so sinuous and restrained, and the harmonies so foregrounded and the melody as timeless as it aims for. –KS