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The 79 Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1997

50. Depeche Mode – “It’s No Good

Electronica was seen as an extinction level event for alt-rock dinosaurs, and of all of 80s institutions still getting radio play, none were more prepared for survival than Depeche Mode … provided they made it to 1997 alive. The departure of Alan Wilder and David Gahan’s ongoing struggles with addiction led fans to believe that Depeche Mode was done. Instead, they carried on as a trio, and though a new voice taught Gahan to sing, he couldn’t teach him to love; more so than “Barrel of a Gun,” “It’s No Good” sounds dated in the best way possible, a classic so-dumb-it’s-brilliant Martin Gore lyric attached to the kind of seething, purple and black electronic production that still screamed 1997 when you heard guitar bands trying to co-opt it in 1998 and 1999. If not as ubiquitous as some of their other 90s hits, it at least achieved the frequent and dubious benchmark of being subject to a mind-blowingly inept nu-grunge cover. –IC

49. Green Day – “Hitchin’ A Ride”

The first flowering of Billie Joe Armstrong’s love of old time rock n’ roll, “Hitchin’ A Ride” rolls to a rockabilly shuffle that exists just south a Stray Cat strut. It’s a jaunty sound but “Hitchin’ A Ride” isn’t a party tune, rallying the troops for a night of drinking. Armstrong’s narrator is resigned to throwing in the towel on sobriety, determined to wash his guilt and troubles away with a fountain of booze. Such despair is disguised but by the roar of the trio–the band ratchet up the tension in the verse, then explode on the chorus and bridge–but the song’s weary heart indicates the progression in songcraft Armstrong was making in the back half of the ’90s. –STE

48. Beck – “Deadweight”

With its half-nonsensical lyrics and its hodgepodge of musical influences, “Deadweight”–released as a single from the A Life Less Ordinary soundtrack–wouldn’t be out of place on 1996’s sample-heavy, surreal masterpiece Odelay (like the majority of that album, it was produced by the Dust Brothers and it eventually ended up as a bonus track on the Odelay Deluxe Edition). Likewise, the fuzzed out Os Mutantes guitar and general bossa nova vibes mark it as a darker sonic cousin to “Tropicalia,” Beck’s ode to Brazil from 1998’s Mutations. Like nearly all other Beck songs from that fantastic two-year stretch, “Deadweight” sounds as great today as it did when it first came out. The same can’t be said for the film associated with it: A quick Google search reveals the Ewan McGregor-Cameron Diaz crime flick, which I remember loving when I saw it in theaters as a 13-year-old, holds just a 39 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes and grossed a mere $4.4 million at the box office.  –TB

47. INXS – “Elegantly Wasted”

With its walking bassline and a chorus that punches to the mezzanine, “Elegantly Wasted” owes more than a little to U2’s Achtung Baby. But the Gallagher brothers get some credit, too. Noel called INXS “has-beens” at the ‘96 Brit Awards, and during the recording sessions for Elegantly Wasted, Michael Hutchence had a dustup with Liam in a local pub. (The fight was defused by … Bono.) According to lore, Hutchence recorded new backing vocals for the exuberant title track without his band’s knowledge. Under “I’m so elegantly wasted,” you might hear him sing “I’m better than Oasis”. –BS

46. Creed – “My Own Prison”

Like a youth group kid conning his friends into attending a Wednesday-night gathering, Creed’s debut single dragged post-grunge to the throne of judgment. Frontman Scott Stapp–the stepson of a Pentecostal minister–prefigures the antics of his post-Creed years by flagellating himself at the feet of Christ, seething over Mark Tremonti’s muted progression. Compared to their crossover hits, this is positively humble: it sounds like Seven Mary Three at three-sevenths speed. In a sacrificial gesture, Stapp even hands the chorus over to Tremonti. They got grander, but they never sounded more sincere. –BS

45. Foo Fighters – “Monkey Wrench”

“Monkey Wrench” is a hallmark Foo Fighters single from the very first second, hurtling headlong in their very specific way right from the jump. The song is about the dissolution of Dave Grohl’s first marriage, and despite its speed at the outset there’s never really a release. Instead, “Monkey Wrench” remains tightly coiled for its duration—even when Grohl shreds his throat during the bridge, he only seems to be winding himself tighter. It doesn’t offer the catharsis of “Everlong,” working better as a sort of prelude to that song, which, given the order in which the singles were released, may have been the point. –JS

44. Our Lady Peace – “Superman’s Dead”

The “no, ah-ooo-ooo” in “Superman’s Dead” is one of the crucial lyric-less hooks of ‘90s alt-rock; it’s right up there with the riff/”yeah” pairing in Collective Soul’s “Shine.” The song is perhaps Our Lady Peace’s most memorable foray into the U.S. singles market: a bleak, strummy anthem that was all brooding, In-Utero-reminiscent chording, power yelps, and shameless crypto-platitudes (“Doesn’t anybody ever know / that the world’s a subway?”). That is to say, it amalgamated all the best grunge songwriting tropes. There’s plenty of textbook Billy-Corgan-yell in singer Raine Maida’s belligerent tenor delivery, mixed with some incongruously operatic moments when the wall of guitars hits in the chorus. Our Lady Peace’s song came at the tail end of the era when Cobain fan-fiction ran most rampant on alt-rock radio–at the beginning of a brave new era full of faceless alt-rock/power-pop bands and brash rap-rockers. It endures as a pleasant, wonderfully subtlety-free time capsule. –WCW

43. Cornershop – “Brimful of Asha” 

Norman Cook (a.k.a. Fatboy Slim) gets all the credit for making “Brimful of Asha” a hit, with a remix that sped up Cornershop’s leisurely riff and nearly rocketed frontman Tjinder Singh’s vocals into Alvin and the Chipmunks territory. But that’s underselling the charms of the original version, a work of exuberant cultural hybridity that emerged amid a blindingly white latter-day Britpop scene. An homage to Indian cinema and its behind-the-scenes queen, the playback singer Asha Bhosle, the track meanders into a loose bridge (conspicuously absent from the Cook remix) that finds Singh shouting out global pop institutions from T. Rex to Trojan Records. “Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow” notwithstanding, this is a love song to the record player. And for kids who came across it on alt-rock radio, “Brimful of Asha” was an education in great music they couldn’t hear without turning the dial.  –JB

42. Squirrel Nut Zippers – “Hell”

If you asked someone in the 1930s to predict the sound of the 1990s, they might have come up with something like Squirrel Nut Zippers: neo-swing music narrated by a suit-clad wise guy inexplicably unaware of how absurd the whole thing looked. Heaven is a place, and “Hell” is an immortal description of the gnarliest joint on the other side: “Teeth are extruded and bones are ground / Then baked into cakes which are passed around.” –AG 

41. Dandy Warhols – “Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth”

From its mouthful of a title to its lighthearted depiction of heroin addiction as so 1993, “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth” was a bizarre single. And yet, with that irresistible power-pop opening—three whip-cracks of percussion, then the stop-you-in-your-tracks lyric, “I never thought you’d be a junkie because heroin is so passé”—and a David LaChapelle-directed music video starring a troupe of dancing syringes, of course it made the Dandy Warhols stars.

It was a well-timed hit, too. Dandys frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor may have been addressing one particular ex-girlfriend, but he could’ve been singing about early-90s alt-rock scene in general. At a moment when the cultural toll of heroin chic had become achingly obvious, “Junkie” closed the book on a dark period of music history and injected the MTV mainstream with a welcome dose of arch, Britpop-style irony. –JB