Top 10 Rock Songs of 1997

Things got sexy with Marcy Playground

Ballad-heavy bands like Matchbox Twenty began to blur the lines between rock and pop, while Blink-182 brought punk out of the shadows. And then there was Creed. All this and more molded 1997 into a very interesting year for music.

Like Green Day before it, this California trio helped to bring punk to the mainstream. Its breakout single, “Dammit (Growing Up),” was all about teenage romance and what happens when it goes awry. Slaphappy and frenetic, this Mark Hoppus-led song broke big even before larger-than-life tatted drummer Travis Barker joined the Blink-182 ranks. 

Heartache and renewal tend to create the most enduring songs. Thus was the case for Foo Fighters’ “Everlong.” In penning the track, arguably Dave Grohl’s most popular single with the Foos, he drew inspiration from his divorce from photographer Jennifer Youngblood and eventual relationship with Veruca Salt’s Louise Post. Ironically, once Post and Grohl broke up, she wrote numerous songs about him for the heart-wrenching 2000 album, Resolver (Beyond). The alterna-ballad “All Dressed Up” even namedrops “Everlong.”

There were pop-culture references a-plenty in this massive 1997 hit. Smash Mouth borrowed from Perrey and Kingsley’s 1966 goofy mod number, “Swan’s Splashdown,” for this tune’s main Moog riff. The lyrics called out hippies, Coke, the 1992 Los Angeles riots and Mr. Wizard. And the Technicolor music video was very Beach Blanket Bingo. “Walkin’ on the Sun” became a number one Modern Rock single and made it all the way to number two on the Billboard Hot 100.

Artists generally don't mind when listeners interpret their songs, but Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas had to set the record straight here. The passive-aggressive rock ballad was accused of glorifying violence against women, and a former flame of Thomas’ even wanted royalties for inspiring the song. But in a 1997 Entertainment Weekly interview, the crooner said the lyrics were about an abused man. Whomever “Push” is about, the song as a whole made a lasting impact on the charts and turned formerly homeless Thomas into a superstar.

Tonic’s “If You Could Only See” was the best acoustically driven paean to an older woman since Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.” Singer Emerson Hart has explained that the song attempted to show his disapproving family just how much he cared for his elder girlfriend. Maybe his relatives weren’t keen, but “IYCOS” remained on the charts for a whopping 63 weeks.

Bob Dylan’s son didn’t do too shabby for himself. As front man for the Wallflowers, Jakob Dylan inherited his dad’s gift for storytelling. “One Headlight” was Americana at its best, all wanderlust and slide guitars. It struck such a chord that it won two Grammys and dominated any Billboard chart it touched.

No, this wasn’t an acoustic side project for Chris Cornell— though Travis Meeks sure could pass for his doppelganger visually and vocally. This moody group was instead a Midwest outfit with a weakness for in-fighting. The blistering tension of “Touch” was a precursor to everyone but Meeks leaving the band in 1998. The castaway musicians went on to form hard rock quartet Tantric.

Want to know a “secret” about this mega-hit? It was written when Rob Thomas, Paul Doucette and Brian Yale were part of Florida band Tabitha’s Secret. Their former TS mates sued when Matchbox Twenty ascended to stardom, but the suit was settled out of court years later. The song honored Thomas’ mother, who suffered from cancer during his youth.

There was a time when Creed wasn’t the laughing stock of the rock community. “My Own Prison,” the eponymous track from the Christian grunge act’s debut album, had what other songs from the genre didn’t: grit and hope. The religious iconography, faithful lyrics and (what seemed like) a sincere performance from singer Scott Stapp led to major radio play.

No one’s really sure what sex and candy smells like, but it sure wafted up the charts in 1997. The one-hit-wonder group Marcy Playground camped out at number one on the Modern Rock list for 15 weeks. Singer/songwriter John Wozniak told Songfacts that the tune was penned in the early ’90s and was drawn from his experiences with a college sweetheart. Ah, the smell of success!