30 Years of Music: 1998

Apparently, my tastes and 1998 are nearly all about the block rockin’ beats.

30 Years of Music: 1998

Sexy Boy – Air

Do you remember that MTV block of electronica videos, AMP? Even if I didn’t like some of the songs, that was the time to see either the strangest or most inventive (or both!) videos. It’s also when I heard/saw “Sexy Boy” by Air for the first time, and the monkey imagery made me giggle. Although “Sexy Boy” were the only words in English, I quite loved this French techno duo. Though I never got around to owning this full album, I did buy the extended-single for the song when I discovered it in the used bin for a couple dollars. It’s dreamy, spacey, and I’m always happy to hear it.

Temper Temper – Goldie, feat. Noel Gallagher

Writing this column, this is the first time I’ve seen the video for this song, though I bet it did play on AMP at some point. My previous exposure to it came from a CMJ New Music sampler CD from right around the time the song was released. As the title would suggest, it’s quite an aggressive drum-n-bass track, with a seizure-y video, and I find Noel’s guitar hook interesting. Not too many people remember that he has a fondness for dance music, even though he rarely makes it himself. He’s also worked with The Chemical Brothers (as mentioned in 1997’s column, and with “Let Forever Be”), Amorphous Androgynous, and did a rather techno instrumental for The X-Files movie soundtrack called “Teotihuacan.”

Yes, I will admit that I’m not really familiar with Goldie outside of this one song, but as far as knowing only one song goes, I suppose I picked a good one.

Frozen – Madonna

As much as I enjoy Madonna, I think Ray of Light was the last album I could truly say, “Yesss.” Though I remember people complaining, as they usually do when it comes to her and new artistic directions, I enjoyed her William Orbit production and how it became more “electronica” than her usual “disco-pop.” Labeling anything is a tricky business, isn’t it? And though it’s also somewhat annoying to have to do so, that is the best way I can describe this stage of her musical shifting. Bedtime Stories hinted at what was to come with Ray of Light (with Evita in between), and “Frozen” is a beautiful, brooding song.

Spark – Tori Amos

When I heard Tori Amos play “Spark” on David Letterman’s show, I fell in love all over again. Yes, I owned and loved her previous three albums, but this felt like something very new for her music. And it was – From The Choirgirl Hotel incorporates more electronic elements, but it is also an album about the process of grief. It is sad at times, yet willfully hedonistic at others, and it owns up to the healing powers of distraction.

Say you don’t want this

this circus we’re in

but you don’t

don’t really mean it…

Ava Adore – The Smashing Pumpkins

And here we have The Smashing Pumpkins’ foray into drum machines and the end of the band as we knew it, though I do quite like Adore as an album. It’s very late-night and moody, and “Ava Adore” has a great video.

I miss D’Arcy being more musically around. She was aces, though it’s a shame she couldn’t quite keep herself together.

I Think I’m Paranoid – Garbage

Oh my, Shirley Manson. I love you.

Yes, I’m sure I have more intelligent thoughts in here somewhere…


Doo Wop (That Thing) – Lauryn Hill

If this song came out right now, as-is, I bet it would just as big of a hit. The video, with its side-by-side 60s/90s imagery, further makes the argument for its timelessness, and I suppose that’s a good thing that it doesn’t sound musically dated, since The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is all we have from her outside The Fugees.

Stop actin’ like boys and be men…


Celebrity Skin – Hole

Courtney Love may be more unpredictable than a play-ball full of ferrets, but she still puts out some enjoyable music. I love how people’s collective reaction to her more cleaned up image here was various unintelligible versions of Huhwhuuut? I listened to this whole album muchas.

You better watch out for what you wish for…


Melissa Auf der Mar is also aces and apparently still out and about doing her own solo work.

You Make Me Hot – The Donnas

If I wanted to annoy the people riding in my car, I’d put on The Donnas. When this song came on, I’d drum along on the steering wheel and sing along:

Yeah, I wanna touch ya
Yeah, I wanna grab ya
Yeah, I wanna hold ya tight
You can’t run and you can’t hide
I just wanna getcha tonight

This was especially fun to inflict upon the boys because it would make them super-uncomfortable. Come on, boys! It’s like Joan Jett multiplied by four! What d’ya mean, I should put on something else?!

My car, my rules. Get in!

Fuel – Ani DiFranco

Except all the radios agree with all the TVs
and the magazines agree with all the radios
and I keep hearing that same damn song everywhere I go!

To this day, Little Plastic Castle is my favorite Ani album. Yes, yes, I know other albums from her are considered more “important” and that nothing compares to seeing her live, but this 1998 album is where I jumped in for the first time, and what a great period to do so. It’s a bit of a departure from what had come before. She focuses just as much on the personal as the political (and not necessarily in a “the personal is political” sort of way).

“Fuel” is more exasperation at pop culture and the cycles it goes through, and she makes the same complaint everyone of every generation makes:

People used to make records as in a record
of an event
an event of people playing music in a room
now everything’s cross-marketing
it’s about sunglasses and shoes
or guns or drugs
you choose

However, maybe it was in the 90s where that cross-marketing began to really grow, when Led Zeppelin songs were in Apple commercials and other bands seemed to have something to do with Intel processors and here’s the Internet steam engine coming right along…

It’s all right though. Everything is frustrating and everything is amazing, no matter when you live. It’s all in how you look at it.

Polyester Bride – Liz Phair

Whitechocolatespaceegg – what a ridiculous album name. Somewhat predictably, then, I love it. “Polyester Bride” is one of those songs that get stuck in my head frequently still, even though I don’t know how many people remember this song, much less play it anywhere.

Yet, as I’m playing this again, I’m having flashbacks to this briefly playing in the grocery store where I used to work at the coffee bar. Then again, it could have been her “Why Can’t I,” which was far more popular, and the whole 6 a.m. delirium just made me think it was “Polyester Bride.”

On a side note: Standing on my feet for six hours under flickering florescent lights at the crack of dawn? No, I can’t imagine why that would have made my chronic fatigue syndrome exponentially worse. Surely you jest…

Strong Enough – Cher

Hey, speaking of chronic fatigue syndrome, the first time I ever heard about the condition was on Cher’s Behind The Music, which probably came out right around the same time as the album Believe. (That show does love a good redemption/comeback conclusion.) Yes, during the ’90s, Cher came down with Epstein-Barr, an illness related to mono, which turned into chronic fatigue syndrome, and that’s why she quit touring for awhile and did infomercials. The more you know.

This song is so disco there is no other word to describe it other than fabulous. A friend and I became mildly (okay, very) obsessed with “Strong Enough,” even more so than “Believe,” and because our other friends didn’t quite understand why, that only encouraged us to turn it up.

Please hold: Dance Party.

Right in Time – Lucinda Williams

And now for something completely different: I wrote many, many things on my family’s first computer while listening to Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. It was one of my dad’s CDs that usually sat in that room, and one of the handful in that stack that I liked. “Right in Time” is the opening song, and it’s good stuff.

I picked this live performance video because it was uploaded on the day my son was born. Roughly one year later, Lucinda Williams was his first concert, when we saw her play for free in Spokane, WA. His little baby face just lit up.

April Fools – Rufus Wainwright

Hey look, Melissa Auf der Maur is in this video too, as is Rufus’ sister, Martha. Personally, I find Rufus Wainwright almost impossible to sing along with, which is frustrating for such beautiful music. Maybe that means I’m supposed to let myself have a listening-only experience, I don’t know. The rest of his debut album isn’t too much like “April Fools,” but this is the song that first brought him to my attention.

Some of These Days – Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire

An album-closing song for a column’s closing: Thrills is lovely, early Andrew Bird, and I am so fond of this simple cover of an old jazz tune, and how he makes it feel like it could be at home with the Woodie Guthrie catalog. In 2008, I saw him play with Josh Ritter, and they performed this song together at the encore.


1998 still has plenty of gems I was unable to mention here without going on too long, so do peruse this roundup, and tell me your favorites.

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

19 replies on “30 Years of Music: 1998”

I will totally fight you for Shirley Manson. I’m pretty scrappy.

1998 was another year I was working three jobs, so I don’t actually know a lot of these songs. (Except, of course, Ms. Shirley Manson’s Garbage. And Madonna.) I vaguely remember the Spice Girls being popular at the time? (Which is not a diss, I am unashamed of my love for the Spice Girls.)

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