Why 1997 was the Most Remarkable Summer in ’90s Music

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As summer 2022 winds down and kids gear up to head back to school, I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic. It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since 1997—that’s what getting old will do since, for me, it still feels like yesterday. It’s amazing to look back, even though it was not obvious at the time, that 1997 summer was truly epic. 

The era was dominated by touring festivals: Lollapalooza (H.O.R.D.E.), Warped, Lilith Fair and many others were making stops across the country to offer something for everyone. The single and album sales reached all-time highs, with some the greatest-selling songs ever released. The Spice Girls’ domination of the music world was just getting started, and a tribute to a recently deceased hip hop megastar spent 11 weeks at #1. The tragedy struck again in the middle of the summer, when Princess Diana died in a Paris car accident. This led to another million-selling single. Let’s get into just how big music was that summer. 

The Tragic End Of Biggie Littles

The Notorious B.I.G. was shot and killed on March 9, 1997. The Notorious B.I.G. was killed and shot while sitting in a car in Los Angeles after the Soul Train Awards. We all know about the tragic story of Biggie’s fight with Tupac 6 months before his death. To put it mildly, the shocking loss of both hip-hop icons so close together was quite shocking. At the time of his death, Biggie was on the precipice of releasing the highly anticipated follow-up to 1994’s Ready To Die,His death is still being mourned by the hip-hop community decades later. It’s almost like Biggie saw it coming, naming his sophomore album Life after Death

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The only good thing that came from Biggie’s death was on June 14th, when his longtime producer and mentor Puff Daddy teamed up with his widow, Faith Evans, and the R&B group 112 to record “I’ll Be Missing You”This is in tribute to the late rapper.  The song would spend an incredible 11 straight weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts, only to be knocked off by Biggie’s own “Mo Money Mo Problems.”In May “Hypnotize”Spend three weeks at #1 to ensure that hip-hop’s summer was dominated by Biggie, Puffy and Bad Boy Records. 

Pop Revival Exploded

If the hip-hop song was the summer, “I’ll Be Missing You,”The Spice Girls ruled the pop music scene, and it was obvious. The girl power group’s debut single, “Wannabe”The album was actually released in the U.K. on the summer of 1996. However, it would be six months before the United States received its first taste of the bubblegum single. The Spice Girls had exploded onto the charts by 1997. They were selling a lot of hits and ensuring that the album was the most-sold of the year. SpiceThe book was sold over seven million copies in the United States alone. 

On the radio pop stations, if you weren’t listening to a Spice Girls song, there was a good chance you were hearing Hanson’s “MMMBop.” The catchy tune was released in April, and by the summer, it had wormed its way into everyone’s ears. It sold more than 3 million copies in the world, reached #1 in many countries including the U.S. and remains one of the most popular debuts of any band. It was quite an achievement for the three Tulsa teenage brothers. 

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The end of the summer saw Princess Diana’s death on August 31, 1997. The news reached the whole world in a flash and tributes from all corners of this globe came flooding in. Elton John was the greatest tribute. John was an old friend of Diana’s and at her funeral, which was watched by millions, he sang a re-worked version of his iconic “Candle In The Wind.”John’s original, which was a tribute Marilyn Monroe, was already a great success. But the re-worked version called “Candle In The Wind 1997,”  would quickly become the second-highest selling single of all time, moving 33 million copies in no time. It was a global phenomenon. 

Some Of The Most Important Albums Of The ’90s Were Also Released

It wasn’t just chart-topping music that was getting airplay that summer either. Daft Punk made their European debut with “Around The World,”This song instantly takes me back to that moment whenever I hear it. That summer I was in Europe. “Around The World”He was everywhere in every country and every club. 

Radiohead’s OK Computer was released in May and suddenly it was clear that if pop hadn’t killed grunge, this strange new mix of rock with an electronic twist would. Of course, the album would end the decade at the top of many critics’ lists of the best of the ’90s. 

If all that wasn’t enough, Missy Elliott, The Backstreet Boys, and Erykah Badu all released their debut albums in the spring or summer. It’s almost too much to take in. Creed also released their debut record, but I’m not going to hold that against 1997.

Concert Tours also Hit a Peak

Record companies were able to fill their pockets with millions of dollars in single and album sales, but live music was equally important. I was able to see some of the most memorable concerts in my life that summer. This included seeing Michael Jackson perform in Paris, and then traveling to Maine to see Phish perform six sets at their festival called “The Festival.” “The Great Went.”The festival attracted 70,000 people to Limestone, Maine. It was also the most lucrative event that summer. New England quartet took home $4 million. 

Traveling festivals were the norm in America’s concert halls. Lollapalooza was in its eighth and last run. After a few years, it was revived for an annual festival.

The “hippie”Version of Lolla, H.O.R.D.E. had one of the most successful tours, with the 1997 version featuring Neil Young and Beck as well as Blues Traveler and other artists. Vans Warped Tour was a celebration of punk culture and skateboarding. Ozzfest was launched with Black Sabbath, the then-reunited, headline the metal festival. It seemed that every possible genre was getting its very own traveling circus. 

This included the Lilith Fair festival which featured all-female-based acts. For years, tours like Lolla had been fairly criticized for not featuring enough women artists and in 1997, Sarah McLachlan took things into her own hands and founded the festival, named after Adam’s first wife, Lilith, who refused to be subservient to Adam according to Jewish folklore. The festival brought together some of the biggest female artists of the ’90s. McLachlan, Sheryl Cow, The Indigo Girls Fiona Apple and Jewel were among the other performers. Tracy Chapman was Tracy Chapman, Joan Osborne and Suzanne Vega also performed on different dates. 

All the while, U2 was filling stadiums on their PopMart tour, Fleetwood Mac’s classic lineup reunited for the first time in years, The Rolling Stones hit the road again, this time in support of their Bridges To Babylon album, Michael Jackson toured the world for his final time, though the 82-date run didn’t feature any shows in the United States, and Garth Brooks played a free concert in front of a mind-boggling 800,000 people in New York’s Central Park. It was, to say the least, one hell of summer to catch whatever kind of music you loved—even if it’s Creed.

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