The 50 Best Alt/Indie Tracks of 1997
by Dan Weiss | August 9, 2014
By 1997, grunge and indie had finally tipped over into true commercialization. That is, anything went. Smash Mouth added Mysterians-style Farfisa organ to third-wave ska and scored big with the boomer-bashing "Walkin' on the Sun," while the anarchist collective Chumbawamba had a massive worldwide hit with a soccer chant that somehow interpolated "Danny Boy." White Town's "Your Woman" received notice for its gender-ambiguous narrator, sinuously deadpan delivery and recurring loop's similarity to the Star Wars theme, and Meredith Brooks turned being a "Bitch" into a calling. Perhaps most notoriously, Third Eye Blind's bubblegummy "Semi-Charmed Life" turned out to be about "bumping" meth and having oral sex, you just had to keep up with Stephan Jenkins' surprisingly skilled rapping to figure that out. Hit singles hadn't been this weird and disparate since "Pass the Dutchie" was rubbing up against "Rock the Casbah" on rock radio.
But magic was happening in the underground as well, with Pavement's mature, still-sardonic "Shady Lane," Yo La Tengo throwing caution to the wind for the garage burner "Sugarcube," and Sleater-Kinney's "Turn It On" being merely one of many gems that made them the best punk band of their time. Old 97's far less appreciated "Timebomb" was nothing to sneeze at, though -- it may just be the rowdiest country rock ever put to tape, with McCartney/Lennon-level songwriting in Rhett Miller and Murry Hammond's Tex-punk synergy. Tying the mainstream and indie scenes together was Radiohead's epochal OK Computer, which has possibly even surpassed Dark Side of the Moon as art rock's creative peak for all generations following, complete with "Paranoid Android," a six-and-a-half-minute, multi-partite single released on a major label.