20 years ago was a whole 'nother world - a different century and millennium, before the Internet Age and before Apple was back on form.
"Iris" has stood the test of time, dipping in and out of the charts every few years to repeated (and in the case of the UK charts, enhanced) success. It's found a home on reality TV shows, blockbuster films, and even in a production of Anton Chekov's play The Bear - and perhaps its visual resonance comes from the fact it was originally written for a film: City Of Angels, a romantic fantasy about an angel who falls to earth starring Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan.
"I was thinking about the situation of the Nicolas Cage character in the movie," says songwriter John Rzeznik. "This guy is completely willing to give up his own immortality, just to be able to feel something very human. And I think, 'Wow! What an amazing thing it must be like to love someone so much that you give up everything to be with them'. That's a pretty heavy thought."
"Iris" wasn't the only gem from that soundtrack, with Alanis Morissette's "Uninvited" and Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" also becoming major hits. Not bad for an OST record.
Release Date: 7 April 1998
Album: Dizzy Up The Girl
Over the decades "Teardrop", built around a repeated harpischord pattern and heartbeat-esque beats, has found its way into countless films and TV shows either in its original form or via one of the many cover versions that float about. House, Coronation Street, The Simpsons, Prison Break, and more have lifted chunks of Massive Attack's biggest hit to date, and although it's an ubiquitous part of British musical history, there's a lot you might not know about it...
For starters, that iconic beat is a sample of 1973 track "Sometimes I Cry" by Kentucky-born jazz pianist Les McCann. As well as that, you might not know that Cocteau Twins vocalist/writer Elizabeth Fraser, who provides the vocals, has said her lyrics are inspired by the works of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard and the song is about late singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley, who was a close friend of Fraser's. In 1997, when she was recording "Teardrop", she found out he'd died: "That was so weird... I'd got letters out and I was thinking about him. That song's kind of about him - that's how it feels to me anyway."
But even Fraser's involvement wasn't a given - the vocal line almost went to Madonna. Then-member Andrew Vowles (aka Mushroom) sent the demo to her following Massive Attack's work on remixing her track "I Want You", and she was apparently very keen to climb aboard the project, but Vowles' bandmates Robert Del Naja and Grantley Marshall (3D and Daddy G) outvoted him and got Fraser in. It turned out okay in the end though, didn't it?
Release Date: 27 April 1998
Placebo's clank-meets-swank alt. anthem is deliriously filthy (on the surface) and full of contrasting tones, but it's actually all very sweet. Frontman Brian Molko revealed to Billboard that the track is "about friendship" and specifically the comedown at dawn as a good night comes to an end. "All you really crave is for a friend to put their arms around you and make you feel better," Molko explains further to NME. "That's the pure morning, when that happens."
That sentiment didn't stand the test of time though - in 2013 Molko broke the news that he's not very fond of it anymore, which is why they've stopped playing it live (for the most part): "I never feel like playing that one again. I still think the music is cool but the lyrics make me nauseous. They sound as if they were written by a teenager..."
Release Date: 3 August 1998
Album: Without You I'm Nothing
Damn. What a song this is. The former Fugees cog's debut solo track kicked off a solid-gold string of hits and sat proudly on modern classic The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Despite hitting the grand old age of 20, the song's not lost a mite of its lustre - and the core message, of guys more interested in fancy cars and/or money than their family, sadly rings true to this day.
In an oral biography of the record in Rolling Stone, a heap of session musicians, collaborators, and technical staff discussed each track's creation in detail. Vada Nobles (a producer and programmer who eventually sued Hill for not being properly credited on the LP), backup singer Lenesha Randolph, and engineer Commissioner Gordon all go in on "Doo Wop".
"In November 1997, I get a phone call asking if I was available to come to Chung King Studios," explains Randolph of the recording process. "Lauryn came in eating spaghetti pomodoro and garlic bread and explained where she's trying to go with this album and how she wants it to be a reflection of all of us. I was an 18-year-old girl that just wanted to sing. For 'Doo Wop' she said, 'I wanna play with '50s and '60s harmonies, like barbershop guys on the corner and then we all just jumped in harmonizing a cappella 'whooo whoo whoo whoo'. She directed us and from there history was made."
Release Date: 7 July 1998
Album: The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill
The title track from one of the Scottish indie troupe's best-loved LPs isn't named directly after the boner-maintaining gadget - actually let's not beat around the bush, we mean a cock ring - but rather fellow indie Scots Aidan Moffat and Malcom Middleton - aka Arab Strap.
Belle And Sebastian named the album/track after the band in honour after they went on tour together, but the real Arab Strap were less pleased about the whole situation. Moffat diplomatically said that "they have a sense of humour", but Middleton went on to add "we're friends with them, but there's a limit to putting someone else's name on an album. They're taking away something from us."
As well as the tepid spat between the two acts, "The Boy With The Arab Strap" found an unlikely home during the end credits of Channel 4 sitcom Teachers, which starred Andrew Lincoln and James Corden.
Release Date: 8 September 1998
Album: The Boy With The Arab Strap
Pop-metal's enfant terrible didn't do himself huge favours with third album Mechanical Animals, and played into the antichrist character gasping mothers and outraged fathers across the USA thought him to be (it even led to a brief retail ban in the US). Manson, hellbent on poking and prodding, went full glam and amped up the nods to narcotics on tracks such as "The Dope Show", which now-disgraced guitarist Twiggy Ramirez described as "ripping off Iggy Pop's song 'Nightclubbing'..." and "a mixture of Oasis and T. Rex".
The song itself deals in some of Manson's fave topics, chiefly fame and consumerism, and takes aim at a world obsessed with celebrity in a surprisingly lucid and prescient criticism of self-obsession. It also forced a few heart attacks at the VMAs. Manson might be shock-rock by trade, with a calculated streak that takes pleasure in uproar, but he's no dummy.
Release Date: 15 September 1998
Album: Mechanical Animals
Grammy-winning, chart-domineering tune "The Boy Is Mine" has the rare distinction of being the lead single from both Brandy and Monica's second albums (Never Say Never and The Boy Is Mine). It was written and composed by a strong team of talents, including LaShawn Daniels (Destiny's Child, Lady Gaga), Japhe Tejeda, Fred Jerkins III (Destiny's Child, Michael Jackson), Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins (Beyoncé, Spice Girls), Brandy herself, and producer Dallas Austin (Pink, TLC), and takes inspiration from 1982 duet "The Girl Is Mine" by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney - so, basically, it's got some pedigree. No wonder it went on to boss the US Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of '98. The video - nominated for two MTV VMAs - was even helmed by a young Joseph Kahn, who's perhaps best known these days as the director of Taylor Swift's big-budget music vids.
Unfortunately, it didn't all go swimmingly behind the scenes. After seeking a second lead vocalist to bolster Brandy's then-solo jam, they found teenage R&B star Monica and recruited her to dispel myths of a rivalry between herself and Brandy. The tabloids preferred the myth however, and began reporting various petty escalations (with differing degrees of veracity) resulting in a joint statement from the singers' respective managers that decried the media's "disturbing behaviour".
Although never firm pals, Monica played down reports of ongoing bitterness in 2012: "We were young. We could barely stay in the room with each other. By no means was it jealousy or envy. She and I are polar opposites and instead of embracing that, we used our differences as reasons not to be amongst each other."
Release Date: 19 May 1998
Album: Never Say Never and The Boy Is Mine
The lead single from Outkast's third album Aquemini is an important tune in Southern hip-hop, but it wasn't always so acclaimed - most notably by Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks herself. In 1999 Parks filed a lawsuit against OutKast and their label LaFace, arguing that the track misappropritated her name and generally disrespectful to her legacy, but in 2001 the suit was dismissed; she won an appeal two years later in the Supreme Court, and went ahead with the complaint against the likes of Big Boi and André 3000.
OutKast were eventually dropped as defendants, and the case was settled in 2005 with the band and label paying Parks an undisclosed sum and agreeing to created educational programs about her life for the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development. Parks passed away just six months later.
Release Date: 25 July 1998
These days Jay keeps his eyes on his myriad business ventures more than he does the music, although the recent(ish) 4:44 saved him some blushes following the immensely disappointing Magna Carta Holy Grail. Before all of that - before TIDAL, Beyoncé, "Empire State Of Mind", his absurdly brilliant Collision Course LP with Linkin Park, and even before The Blueprint - he put out landmark rap on the regular.
"Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)", a key number from Jay's breakout success Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life, is obviously built around the Annie sample that gives the song its title. Producer The 45 King - whom Jay describes as a "genius" - doesn't step into the limelight often, but the methodical puppeteer is hip-hop royalty, having been instrumental in rap's evolution in the late '80s and '90s. Despite not having a list of hits that some producers have these days, he does have some iconic jams on his CV - as well as "Hard Knock Life...", he co-produced "Stan" by Eminem and worked on albums by Queen Latifah, Apache, Gang Starr, Eric B. & Rakim, and Salt-N-Pepa.
Release Date: 27 October 1998
Album: Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life
The debut single from denim-clad girlband B*Witched, "C’est la Vie" reached the top of the charts in June 1998, earning the Irish group the very specific accolade of the youngest ever female group to top the charts in the UK. Although largely built around a purposefully nonsense nursery-rhyme lyric, the group ‘revealed’ in a 2013 interview that the song was - spoiler alert! - actually about sex, pointing specifically towards the raunch-lite “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” line. CB
Release Date: 25 May 1998
Writers: Claire Biddles, Larry Day, and Jess Goodman.