1998 was an interesting year for rock music. America was a few years removed from the grunge explosion, in between two different pop-punk booms, and just starting to feel the impact of rap-rock and nu-metal. A pair of very different rock bands topped the Billboard Hot 100 and, oddly enough, they appear in the first two spots of our alphabetized list.
Below, get nostalgic and look back on 20 iconic rock songs that celebrate their 20th birthdays in 2018.
Aerosmith, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”
After 28 years and 12 studio albums, it took a power ballad made for the Armageddon soundtrack to finally bring Aerosmith its first No. 1 on the Hot 100. Written by Diane Warren, “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” stayed atop the chart for four weeks and continued the band’s improbable run of success into the new millennium.
Barenaked Ladies, “One Week”
Is there such a thing as too catchy? The Barenaked Ladies threw caution to the wind on their biggest hit, along with similarly reckless abandon for pop culture references that probably wouldn't age too well. In the end, they wound up with a happy-go-lucky bubblegum jingle of a song -- technically rap-rock, but for the nerdy Canadian set, minus the distortion, turntables and angst. It reached the top of the Hot 100 and stayed there for, alas, one week.
Cake, “Never There”
The Sacramento band’s first and only Alternative Songs No. 1 is classic Cake, a slice of groovy, jittery minimalism, highlighted by John McCrea’s speak-singing and Cince DiFiore’s slick trumpet interludes. Released two years after “The Distance” and three years before "Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” it stands smack-dab in the middle of Cake’s alt-rock heyday.
Dave Matthews Band, ”Don't Drink the Water"
The banjo-laced lead single from 1998’s Before These Crowded Streets was a heavy one, with Matthews’ lyrics calling out colonial injustices against both Native Americans and victims of apartheid in his birthplace of South Africa: “There’s blood in the water/ Don’t drink the water,” it concludes ominously. Thank banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck for a poignant guest performance, as well as Alanis Morissette, who appears on backing vocals. On the lighter side, don’t forget the image of a Native American man holding up Matthews’ severed-yet-still-singing head in the music video.
Eve 6, “Inside Out”
Eve 6 had a handful of hits, but none peaked higher on the Hot 100 than their debut single (it went all the way to No. 28). “Inside Out” is nothing if not catchy, and bassist-vocalist Max Collins’ proclivity for tongue-tied wordplay (“SoCal is where my mind states/ but it’s not my state of mind”) hammers home the rubbery hook to the nth degree.
Fastball, “The Way”
The first single from the Austin, Texas, band’s breakthrough album was a crossover smash, driving all the way to No. 1 at Alternative Songs and to No. 2 at Adult Top 40. Successful as it was, it came from sinister source material; “Where were they going without ever knowing the way?” refers to an elderly couple found dead in a ravine after getting lost en route to a faraway Texas festival.
Garbage, “I Think I’m Paranoid”
Garbage proved its staying power with 1998’s Version 2.0, a stylish, confident sophomore album to follow up 1995’s self-titled debut. You definitely remember Shirley Manson sneering the titular line over that big, brazen guitar riff, but don’t forget how seamlessly Butch Vig and company injected a little Dust Brothers-y record scratching into this song’s sonic structure. Alongside lead single “Push It,” “I Think I’m Paranoid” kept Version 2.0 all over rock radio to close out the 20th century.
Goo Goo Dolls, “Iris”
Fans got to hear it early, on the City of Angels soundtrack, released six months ahead of the Goo Goo Dolls’ ballad-packed powerhouse LP Dizzy Up the Girl. By the time the year was over, “Iris” was inescapable. Frontman Johnny Rzeznik took a mandolin riff, an odd time signature, equally strange tuning and turned song that doesn’t even include its title in the lyrics -- a Goo Goo Dolls rarity -- into the band’s signature track. Safe to say, "Iris" is one of the greatest rock ballads of all-time.
Hole, “Celebrity Skin”
The scorching opener from Hole’s third album of the same name, “Celebrity Skin” sets the tone for the whole LP: brash, hooky, laced with sneering observations from frontwoman Courtney Love on sex and celebrity. Fun fact: It was co-written by Billy Corgan.
Kid Rock, “Bawitdaba”
After starting the song by absolutely, 100 percent making sure we know what his name is, Kid Rock maps out his rap-metal world by shouting out a barrage of working-class bad boys and their vices across this song's verses. And the chorus, that’s just pure, near-wordless karaoke gold.
Korn, “Freak on a Leash”
This was the final single from Korn’s breakthrough album Follow the Leader, but it was probably the biggest. “Freak on a Leash” proved to the masses what the indomitable doom-rockers could do once they got a groove going. Its video got played on TRL so much, it wound up getting retired.
Lenny Kravitz, “Fly Away”
Before he reinvented the way we think about scarf sizes, Lenny Kravitz reached the stratosphere with this Who-esque rocker. “Fly Away” arrived during the thick of Kravitz’s hitmaking days and lingered on radio for years after; ultimately, it topped Alternative Songs and Mainstream Rock Songs, in addition to going to No. 12 on the Hot 100.
Manic Street Preachers, “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next”
Manic Street Preachers were never more than a college radio presence in America, but they were absolutely massive in their native U.K., especially in the mid-'90s Britpop heyday of bands like Oasis and Blur. This single went to No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart and showed off their two greatest calling cards: epic, string-laced arena rock arrangements and political fervor focused on the struggle of the working class.
Marilyn Manson, “The Dope Show”
The period around 1996’s Antichrist Superstar and 1998’s Mechanical Animals was peak Marilyn Manson, marked by the band’s biggest chart success, its provocative presence on MTV’s airwaves, and the ability of its shock-rocking frontman to vex liberal politicians and religious conservatives alike. Mechanical Animals’ lead single put Marilyn Manson’s love of David Bowie glam on full display and earned the band its biggest Alternative Songs hit yet (it’s only been bested by 2004’s “Personal Jesus” cover since).
Neutral Milk Hotel, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”
The most enduring indie rock album of 1998 is Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, a bizarre, experimental folk record partially inspired by the idea of traveling back in time and rescuing Anne Frank. Its most accessible -- and enduring -- moment is the title track, a hazy, breezy singalong that’s been covered by the likes of Phish, the Avett Brothers and Rilo Kiley.
New Radicals, “You Get What You Give”
What if Oasis was from L.A., got woke, and wrote an earnest love letter to the world on the eve of Y2K? People would have still paid more attention to the name-droopy diss couplet in the outro (“Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson/ You're all fakes, run to your mansions”), but New Radicals managed to combine anti-capitalist credos and existential pep-talking across five minutes of the greatest '90s Britpop hit Britpop never made.
The Offspring, “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)"
Four years after the Cali punk rockers delivered their breakout LP Smash, the Offspring returned to the hitmaking stratosphere with 1998’s Americana. We could’ve shouted out “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” but couldn’t pass up the chance to revisit frontman Dexter Holland’s sneering takedown of Huntington Beach Vanilla Ice wannabes. “Pretty Fly” is one of nine Offspring tracks to go top five at Alternative Songs and their highest-charting track on the Hot 100 (it peaked at No. 53).
Orgy, “Blue Monday”
Be it rock or dance, New Order’s “Blue Monday” is part of the bedrock of alternative music, so it’s no surprise it’s been covered many, many times. Orgy is only known for a handful of singles, but they absolutely nailed it with their “Blue Monday” version -- so much so, it’s really not that crazy to consider theirs the superior. The way Orgy dialed up the original's aggro side and turned it industrial was a stroke of genius.
1998’s Up was the legendary alt rockers’ first studio album without longtime drummer Bill Berry. This opened R.E.M. up to all sorts of experimentation on its 11th studio album (particularly in the percussion realm), though Up’s biggest single still reflected the band’s iconic early '90s sound. Like a wayward cousin to ballads like “Everybody Hurts” and “Man on the Moon,” “Daysleeper” uses a tantalizing blend of acoustic and electric guitar to tell a nightshift worker’s dreary tale.
Semisonic, “Closing Time”
Long before he was penning songs for Adele and Taylor Swift, songwriter Dan Wilson fronted the Minneapolis-based rock band Semisonic, whose lasting gift to the world is this sentimental ode to a bar's last call. Next time you’re searching for the perfect song to close off a karaoke night, thank Mr. Wilson.