1997 was an eventful year for me. In some ways, I feel like 1997 was the year the myth of me was created, both literally and in the sense that my personality or maybe even persona was starting to take shape and I would become self-aware enough to think that “me” was a thing. I started taking an interest in religions and myths. I found the idea ridiculous yet interesting. I decided to write my own scripture and dig them underground so that someone would dig them up in millions of years and worship me as a prophet. I’m sure those papers have faded, but one can hope. I remember Easter quite well that year. Norwegian TV showed a series about the Bible and I watched it like it was Narnia. I also tried to read the new testament with little success. In the summer, I went to hang out with my girlfriend every day and we would hang out with her friends who seemed to find it strange to hang out with a boy. I would only talk about religion and the smurfs, my only interests. I, like I said in the 1996 article, returned Spice Girls and Space Jam for Smurf CD’s. This got me hooked on Smurf versions of famous pop songs and it inspired me to start writing songs myself. It was all clear now, I was gonna be a popstar.
One day as we were hanging out, my girlfriend’s best friend asked us “are you guys still a couple?”, she answered “no, we’re too old for that now. Right René?” and I was like “yeah” thinking “Whaaaaat??”. This is how pop punk music starts. If only I knew pop punk in 1997 instead of smurfs. Our terrible, casual break-up aside, she let me watch Grease with her and her friends, even if I was a boy. It was the moment I started feeling like gender roles were a thing; they just weren’t a thing for me. In a few weeks, I would go from Grease to Greece. Me and my family went to the island of Crete and this was where my interest in Greek mythology blossomed, especially the story about Thesus and the Minotaur. I even got my own Minotaur’s head that I still have at my parent’s place. Every day for seven weeks the only thing I ate was Pizza Margarita. I was known as the Margarita boy at the local restaurant. One day, I went to the restaurant at the hotel and decided to get Spaghetti Bologna instead and got something spicy stuff in my throat. I had sucked on my hoodie string and my tongue was black. I had no idea if it was the spicy meal or the sucking that caused it, but my throat started to hurt. After a few days I also got a mint pastille stuck in my throat and I couldn’t tell if it was still stuck there, but I felt a lump there. I had to go to the doctor and was told I had a throat infection and that I had to take penicillin. It lasted for months. No more Pizza for me, and I could only eat Tomato soup. I would still get Margarita since the waiters were so used to it.
When I got home I went to the library and found books on Greek mythology. I also decided to write my autobiography, now that I was dumped by my girlfriend, that’s what I had to do. I didn’t actually get around to it, but I think replaying my own life so much in my head could have been a reason I remember so much of my childhood. This was also the year I first heard “Barbie Girl” by Aqua. I found a song I liked more than the smurfs. One day the house down the street with covered windows played “My oh My” very loud and it would make me want to go there, but didn’t. I’ve learned in retrospect, that it was an illegal strip club. At Christmas, I wanted to write Christmas songs like that John Lennon guy and that Paul McCartney guy, whoever they were.
There were many albums to choose from this year: my first Green Day album Nimrod, NOFX’s classic So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes, Happy Birthday to Me by The Muffs and of course one of my favorite MTX albums Revenge Is Sweet and so Are You. I have already written about the latter in my column and I think I would have picked it for 1997 if it weren’t for that, so this was a tough year to pick three. My picks for this year were Dude Ranch by Blink, Have a Ball by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes and Hang-Ups by Goldfinger.
For me, Dude Ranch was the hardest Blink album to get into, but it also became by far my favorite. Songs like “Lemmings” and “Apple Shampoo” were quite heavy and not very poppy. I always preferred the “live” version of “Pathetic” from the Mark, Tom and Travis Show to the Dude Ranch version and still do, but I got to admit it’s one hell of an album opener and I don’t for one second believe that the punkest of punks don’t think it’s as punk rock as music can get. While Cheshire Cat was lo-fi and raw and poppy and light, and closer to Enema except the high production, Dude Ranch falls into the category of very hard-hitting and aggressive yet well-produced albums like Insomniac and Ixnay on the Hombre. My Easter in 2002 was very different from 1997; I didn’t care much for the Bible anymore and cared more about Blink. My dad had been in Belfast and came home with Dude Ranch and a box of Skittles. So now I think of Skittles whenever I hear the album. As much as the punkier songs terrified me as a twelve year old, the poppier songs such as “Untitled” and “I’m Sorry” quickly became my favorite Blink songs. I also considered “Boring”, well, boring, and it still is my least favorite song on the album, whereas “Apple Shampoo” is now one of my favorites. The lyrical themes of the album goes from masturbating to Princess Leia (“A New Hope”), to getting drunk and naked and in trouble with the police (“Degenerate”), selling out and losing friends (“Lemmings”), a friend getting injured in a car accident (“I’m Sorry”) break-ups and relationships that makes you question your own maturity (“Dammit”, “Untitled”, “Pathetic” and “Waggy”) and having the perfect girlfriend (“Josie”).
“Voyeur” is the creepiest song on the album. It’s from the perspective of a stalker who watches a girl undressing from a tree and masturbates. It reminds me of Masked Intruder in that the actions of the narrators are so messed up and we know it, but we still hear it from their perspective and “my lady’s so sweet she likes to entertain” becomes quite creepy when we know that this woman or girl might not even know she’s being watched. The lyrics are quite well written and they actually give me the creeps. It bridges between going into extreme character and satire in the same way that “When You Fucked Grandpa” would do four years later, but sounding a lot more sincere and missing the obvious attempt at humor. The song also sounds fantastic with perfect nanas and handclaps that makes a song about violence against women sound like the perfect pop song. “Emo” goes in the opposite direction. Just as catchy and well written it is a song about domestic abuse from the point of view of a friend who sees his female friend be abused by her man. I suppose it could also be seen from the point of view of a son watching his mom get abused, but “Emo” and “Voyeur” really seems like polar opposites. “Dick Lips” has an americana-esque intro that fits the farm theme of the album (and the skit between “Boring” and “Dick Lips” is straight from the horse’s mouth), is about Tom being kicked out of school for drinking and his reaction to his parents and their hypocrisy for punishing him “Shit, dad, please don’t kick my ass I know I’ve seen you trashed at least one time”. The song is confessional and well written and one of the highlights of the album. If it had more accessible vocals, another title and a music video, I think it could’ve been the “All the Small Things” of Dude Ranch. Instead the big hit of the album was “Dammit”, a well-produced song with an organ hidden between the heavy distorted guitar and Mark’s cigarette fueled singing that doesn’t sound like anything he would sing before or after. The single “Dammit (Growing Up)” reached #34 in Australia and #11 on the Modern Rock charts in the US as late as in July 1998. It has been covered by Frank Turner and I think it’s such a strong song that it can take any shape and still be a good tune. Another thing that is cool about the album is that about half of the song titles are adjectives: “Boring”, “Pathetic”, “Untitled” (if that’s an actual title), “Waggy”, “Enthused” and more. Dude Ranch was released on MCA and Cargo June 17, 1997.
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes- Have a Ball
The first time I heard Have a Ball was in Tower Records in London in 2003. It was their debut album after only releasing 7-inches for a while. The 7-inches were original artist themed, so they covered two songs by an artist and released them on several punk labels. “Diamond” was released on Hopeless Records and had two Neil Diamond songs and “Elton” was released on Honest Don’s and had two Elton John songs. Most of the songs on Have a Ball also appear on the singles, with the other one from the singles on Have Another Ball that was released in 2008. The album mostly has covers from 60s and 70s, with the exception of “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel that was from the 80s. A song that has become my favorite is “Fire and Rain”, a James Taylor cover that is terribly sad in its original version, but very upbeat and happy in the Gimme Gimmes one. It’s one of those occurrences where the music really changes the meaning of the lyrics. The song is about Taylor’s friend who killed herself in a mental institution. It’s one of the most depressing songs ever written and the chorus about seeing fire and rain and hard times concludes that “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I’d see you again”. The James Taylor version gives me the feeling of loss and knowing you’ll never see someone that meant a lot to you again, while the Gimme Gimmes cover is so joyful that it gives the feeling of hope that the two friends will indeed meet again. Now that I think about it, I wrote about that in the Are a Drag article, but it can never be repeated enough. Another highlight is the cover of Original Caste’s “One Tin Soldier”. The album was released July 29th, 1997.
Goldfinger- Hang Ups
Released September 9th on Mojo Records, Hang-ups was Goldfinger’s second album, a mix of pop punk, ska, reggae and classic pop. Their first self-titled album had hits like “Mable” and “Here In Your Bedroom”. Hang-ups is to me more ska-based than its predecessor. I remember first hearing the song “Superman” in Tony Hawk Pro Skater, like so many others. It is the album opener and the biggest Goldfinger song. Before I bought the album in early 2004, I had heard many songs from the album and already owned “Open Your Eyes”. The songs that made me want to buy Hang-ups were “Disorder” and “If Only”, two of my favorite songs at 13 and 14. The thing I remember the most buying it was how god damn long the CD was, mostly due to all the bonus tracks. One of them being the beautiful “It Isn’t Just Me”, a pop ballad that really shows the diversity in John Feldmann’s songwriting. It shows the great talent behind a man that in my opinion uses that talent mostly to write soulless pop songs and plastic pop punk songs for generic bands. “It Isn’t Just Me” is not like that at all and I think it’s quite an underrated tune. “If Only” showed some of this talent too and highlights all the different genres the band would play with on the album in one song. The songs starts up reggae-esque, but the second verse it sounds like “punk from the 90s”, namedropping Mike Ness from Social Distortion (something Feldmann does many times on the album). The bridge sounds like metal and the ending sounds like folk music or maybe even soft rock. It’s a beautiful song in the style that I like to call “using pop culture to describe unrequited love”. The protagonist in the song wishes he had the courage of the A-team or had a Sumner’s sweater or were a better surfer he would get the girl he dreams about, but concludes in the end that even if he got to be what he wished to be, she still might not be into him.
“I Need to Know” is Sublime done better than Sublime. A reggae song with a great melodic solo that I’m not ashamed to like. The vocal harmonies are also perfect. There are more reggae and ska-ish songs on the album “20 Cent Goodbye”, “Carlita” and of course “Superman” are classics in the infamous 3rd wave genre and I think it’s some of the songs in the genre that holds up the best. The best pop punk songs are “The Last Time” and “My Head” and of course “Chris Clayton”. “This Lonely Place” with its sitar and catchy chorus sounds more inspired by the Beatles than anything. Overall it’s a nostalgic listen for me, like all of these three albums. I think all of these picks will probably make people cringe to some degree, but I don’t care about that. Like John Feldmann would say on a later album, “Really it’s just music after all”.
The Mr. T Experience- Revenge is Sweet, and So Are You
There a few contenders but, for me, Revenge is Sweet, and So Are You has always represented the pinnacle of MTX. The band’s 8th record offered up another dose of hook-filled pop-punk goodness alongside Dr. Frank’s standout songwriting, but this felt like the moment when MTX turned things up to another level. The inconsistencies and flaws of their previous material were ironed out and, consequently, Revenge is Sweet is a lean, mean hit machine, which feels like a weird thing to say for a 16 track LP, but I honestly wouldn’t cut a thing from this album (even “Foggy Mountain Top”!).
Revenge is Sweet produced a bunch of MTX’s best-known and well-loved go-to pop-punk classics that exemplify the ‘90s Lookout! sound, notably with the opening one-two classic of “Here She Comes” and “She’s Coming Over Tonight”. As with many MTX fans, I guess, “She’s Coming Over Tonight” was one of the first songs I heard by the band, and possibly the first. The song is such a perfect dose of unmitigated and exhilarating joy and it just cannot help but put a smile on my face and make my toes tap; a nerdy punk band singing about finally getting the girl with ‘90s pop-punk meets ‘60s garage rock melodies- “miracles and lucky charms/made the girl of my dreams the girl in my arms”. Outside of these, my personal favourite straight-up pop-punk tracks on the record are “Lawnmower of Love” and “Who Needs Happiness? (I’d Rather Have You)”, both of which connect to similar themes: the tragedy-cum-comedy of two people getting together in spite of the likelihood that the relationship is going to make them both miserable as sin. The latter contains the eminently quotable and memorable line, “If falling short on happiness is the best that we can do/ Who needs happiness? I’d rather have you”.
MTX have engaged with country influences before and since, but this was the record which bore out the cream of the classic country/mock-country MTX crop. In particular, “Hell of Dumb” and “With My Brain and Your Looks” are equally brilliant, although somewhat different in tone. While the former is self-loathing and involves the protagonist kicking themselves for ruining things in their relationship along to a country twang, the latter is a little silly, about creating children that are both good-looking and intelligent from the, yep, smart guy and pretty girl, and how the reverse set-up would be a nightmare.
As Read Hard has suggested in his ‘Classic Pop-punk Pick’ article on the album, Revenge appears to follow a chronological pattern, with Dr. Frank passing through numerous stages of love-sickness, break-up and post-break-up melancholy during the record. There are couple of notable mid-tempo and downbeat break-up tracks on Revenge which retain Dr. Frank’s trademark witty and humouristic songwriting style: “The Weather is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful” and “When I Lost You”. I particularly love the former’s novel way of expressing the latter days of a relationship. A truly great pop-punk record and one of the best of the ‘90s!
NOFX- So Long and Thanks For All the Shoes
Although it is perhaps not as fondly remembered as NOFX’s classic ‘90s material- White Trash, Punk in Drublic, Heavy Petting Zoo- So Long and Thanks For All the Shoes is nevertheless comprised of a high-quality bunch of abrasive and eclectic punk tunes. When I listened back to it recently for the first time in a while, it was quite a bit better than I remember; in this period, NOFX could barely do any wrong and when this record opens with the semi-tongue-in-cheek snarl of “It’s My Job to Keep Punk Rock Elite”, it’s worthless to even think about not singing along: “This music ain’t your fucking industry!”
By the time you are at track 3, you have already heard a catchy-as-fuck and somewhat bizarre ode to Ketamine (“Kids of the K Hole”) and one of the best sub- 1 minute punk songs of all time (“Murder the Government”). I love “The Desperation’s Gone”, a Punk in Drublic-esque melodic punk ear-worm and one of the best lyrics about ‘selling out’ in an era of punk that was obsessed with it. Elsewhere, “I’m Telling Tim” is a great short and spikey track about Tim Yohannan, aka the founder of Maximum Rocknroll (RIP), “All Outta Angst” and “Eat the Meek” are memorable ska tunes from NOFX, and “Falling in Love” is a wonderful slice of melodic punk melancholy. There are a couple of missteps- like the ho-hum, too Fat Wreck-for-its-own-good “Dad’s Bad News” and the lame ‘diss track’ about Kathleen Hanna and Riot Grrrl “Kill Rock Stars”- but So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes is essentially NOFX in their pomp and Fat Mike in his snarling and sarcastic prime.
The Get Up Kids- Four Minute Mile
Ok, so I was struggling somewhat with the third pick for 1997. The first two were straightforward but for the third one, nothing stood out that particularly meant a lot to me. In the end, I opted for The Get Up Kids’ debut full-length Four Minute Mile, a record that totally passed me by at that age when you should be listening to it. Released in emo’s heyday, the album is all suburban angst and teenage heartbreak; I think I first heard it when I was about 25. I imagine most 25 year olds listening to Four Minute Mile are on a nostalgia trip, whereas I was living out these adolescent emo anthems for the first time. Something to Write Home About is probably the better overall album really, thinking about production and refined songcraft, but Four Minute Mile is such a charming and organic, albeit flawed, pop-punk-emo record.
Vice recently named 1997 as the ‘year that emo broke’, documenting a 12 month period that saw seminal releases by Hot Water Music, The Promise Ring and Mineral. The Get Up Kids were one of the first bands to combine the breakthrough pop-punk and emo sounds of the mid ‘90s, doling out sing-a-long hooks and overly earnest heartbreak in equal doses. Listening to Four Minute Mile, you feel like you are travelling on a fast-paced and relentless emotional high-school juggernaut; it’s spunky, passionate and achingly heart-on-sleeve. The production is all over the place, reflected in the short recording time for the album, giving the whole thing a distinct amateur high-school feel. Indeed, the reason for the low quality production was partly so that the drummer, who was 16 at the time of recording, wouldn’t miss high school.
As a result, the unrefined production style wonderfully complements the small-town ennui and melodramatic, adolescent songwriting. While styled differently, some of the high school dramatics and idealism portrayed on Four Minute Mile are not a million miles away from Green Day’s early material. The vocals on tracks like “Fall Semester” ache and whine like nobody’s business- and it’s kind of awesome. Lyrically, it’s all essentially teenage poetry, and they do that thing that all kids do growing up and start being nostalgic and thinking about a lost youth when they are like only 18, as on “Shorty” (“the last time that I saw you like this/we were kids”) or “Stay Gold, Ponyboy” (“I’ll cry ’til I can’t see the whites of my eyes / for two more years / we’ll be old enough to know better / young enough to pretend.”).
Albums I also enjoyed from 1997:
Green Day- Nimrod
Hot Water Music- Fuel for the Hate Game
The Promise Ring- Nothing Feels Good