Tony Blair became the first Labour Prime Minister in 18 years, Oasis burst Britpop’s bubble by releasing the bloated ‘Be Here Now’ and Princess Diana died in a car accident in Paris. These events all have one thing in common: 1997. That’s the year in which author John Niven’s music biz satire Kill Your Friends is set, cataloguing the debauchery of a hard-partying A&R man intent on maintaining his position at the top. With the book’s darkly comic film adaptation – starring NME cover star Nicholas Hoult – hitting cinemas next week (November 6), we rounded up the 23 biggest moments in music from 1997.
January 20 – Daft Punk release debut album ‘Homework’
Long before the robot helmets, mysterious Parisian duo made do with cheap plastic masks as they introduced the world to their blend of techno, house and electronica. A dance album with big singles, Homework is a touchstone that influenced dancefloors into the next decade and beyond.
February 10 – Blur embrace US lo-fi with ‘Song 2’
Led by guitarist Graham Coxon, Blur underwent a stylistic shift for their self-titled album. Inspired by the thundering crash of Pavement and Sonic Youth, they turned up the amps and gave us the anthemic ‘Song 2’, the track that became their biggest hit to date in the USA. Woo-hoo!
February 24 – The Spice Girls dominate the Brit Awards thanks to Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack dress
The Spice Girls were a sensation right from their debut single, 1996’s ‘Wannabe’, but it’s 1997’s Brit Awards that provided arguably the most iconic image of the band – Geri’s spangly Union Jack minidress. It eventually sold for £41,320 at auction.
March 9 – The Notorious BIG is killed in a drive by shooting
Christopher Wallace – aka Biggie Smalls, aka The Notorious BIG – was fatally shot in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles, California on March 9. Two months later, Puff Daddy and Faith Evans’ tribute to him, ‘I’ll Be Missing You’, became a global smash. The case of Wallace’s murder remains unsolved.
March 11 – Paul McCartney is knighted by Queen Elizabeth II
The Beatles had a rocky relationship with royalty – John Lennon famously returned his MBE to the Queen on November 25, 1969. There was no reticence from Macca when he became one of the first musicians to receive a knighthood in 1997. He told reporters: “Proud to be British, wonderful day and it’s a long way from a little terrace in Liverpool.”
March 30 – The Spice Girls launch Channel 5
If you weren’t lucky enough to have Sky or cable TV, the possibility of a fifth terrestrial TV channel was big news. An estimated 2.49 million viewers tuned in to watch The Spice Girls bounce about on screen singing a re-worked version of Manfred Mann’s hit “5-4-3-2-1” as “1-2-3-4-5” when Channel 5 was switched on.
April 15 – Hanson release “MMMBop”
Proving that some siblings in bands actually do get along, Hanson flicked their flowing locks all the way to the Number One spot in 27 different countries with the infuriatingly catchy ‘MMMBop’.
June 4 – Jeff Buckley’s body found
With just one album to his name, American singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley was on the cusp of mainstream awareness when he drowned in the Mississippi River after wading in fully clothed. His body was spotted by passengers on the American Queen riverboat as it passed by the foot of Memphis’ Beale Street.
June 16 – Radiohead release OK Computer and headline Glastonbury
The cerebral Oxford band entered rock history as they ditched the amped-up guitars to create this apocalyptic, electronic masterpiece. Their subsequent Glastonbury slot has gone down in history as one of the festival’s all-time great headline shows.
June 30 – The Prodigy scare the nation
Bringing their violent, bass crashing punk anarchism to the charts, The Prodigy’s third album was seen as an attempt by Liam Howlett to distance the band from the politics of rave and attempt more of a traditional ‘band’ album. Keith Flint’s unhinged performance in the video for ‘Firestarter’ – their first UK number one single – was brilliant creepy, while ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ caused a storm of controversy for its lyrics and video.
July 1 – MTV UK launches
MTV was already available on satellite TV, but it was largely geared towards music from the States. As videos continued to become an ever-more important facet to any artist’s career, the brand launched MTV UK to give us a more local offering.
August 4 – Fela Anikulapo-Kuti dies
When the Nigerian afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti died in August ’97, more than a million people attended the musician, composer and activist’s funeral. He was famed for fusing jazz and funk with the hypnotic beat of Ghanaian/Nigerian high-life on songs that call for a united, democratic Africa and an end to government corruption.
August 11 – Chumbawamba release ‘Tubthumping’
The cult anarcho-punks from Burnley found themselves thrust into the mainstream when their satire on the UK’s rowdy lager culture became an anthem for… the UK’s rowdy lager culture. Time for a whisky drink. And a lager drink. And a cider drink.
August 16 – Will Smith enjoys four-weeks at the top with ‘Men In Black’
The Fresh Prince’s first solo single – tied to his hit sci-fi movie of the same name – sat at the top of the UK charts for four weeks and later won Smith a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo. The accompanying album was amusingly named ‘Big Willie Style’.
August 21 – Oasis release Be Here Now
Noel Gallagher later called his band’s hugely anticipated third studio album “the sound of a bunch of blokes on coke, in the studio, not giving a fuck…” Yet ‘Be Here Now’ smashed chart records upon its release, shifting over 695,761 copies in the UK in its first week.
September 6 – Elton John performs ‘Candle in the Wind’ at Diana’s funeral
Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s 1973 song was re-written and released as a tribute to Diana Princess of Wales following her death on August 31. John performed the track at Diana’s funeral before releasing it as a single on September 13. It went on to sell over 33 million copies worldwide and entered the Guiness Book of Records as the best-selling single of all time since charts began in 1952.
September 23 – U2 perform in Sarajevo
U2 conducted nightly satellite transmissions with victims of the Bosnian war during their Zoo TV Tour in 1993. Detractors claimed the band were exploiting war victims for entertainment, while their supporters insisted that the group were raising awareness. U2 vowed to play the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo at the end of the war in 1995 and, with help from the United Nations, they finally visited the city in 1997.
September 29 – The Verve release ‘Urban Hymns’
Richard Ashcroft’s group rode the crashing Britpop wave album with this album, featuring ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ and ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’. It sold over 17 million copies worldwide.
October 25 – Aqua release ‘Barbie Girl’
Stuck for inspiration in the studio? Just start impersonating your kid sister’s toy collection. It worked for Demark’s Aqua, who took this plastic pop earworm to UK Number One for four nightmarish weeks.
November 4 – Shania Twain becomes Queen of the ’90s
Leopard-print sporting, country-pop crossover Shania Twain’s third studio album Come On Over became the biggest selling album of the entire ‘90s, racking up over 40 million album sales to date. Think: Taylor Swift played by Sandra Bullock.
November 11 – Destiny’s Child release debut single ‘No No No’
Destiny’s Child released the sass-tastic ‘No No No’ and ushered in a super-smooth new wave of R&B pop that would come to dominate the early 2000s. They also introduced the world to some woman called Beyoncé.
November 17 – Children In Need release star-studded cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’
Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ never charted on its original release, but the re-recorded version for BBC’s Children In Need – featuring a jaw-dropping cast including David Bowie, Elton John, Tom Jones and Bono – spent three non-consecutive weeks at Number One.
December 25 – Spice Girls take Christmas Number One with ‘Too Much’
Released with precision timing, the Spice Girls concluded 1997 with their sixth consecutive number one single and second Christmas number one. The pop smoocher ‘Too Much’ saw the band act out their movie fantasies in a bid to gear everyone up for even more Spice Girls, the launch of their new film, Spice World. And it really was their world.