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The Best Albums of 1997: 68 Must-Hear Records

From rock to R&B and a whole host of electronic music, 1997 had something for everyone.

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Erykah Badu, artist behind one of the best albums of 1997
Photo: David Corio/Redferns

The year 1997 was great for albums. Any tour around the sun that includes new records from Erykah Badu, Radiohead, Björk, Shania Twain, and Missy Elliott is already in the top tier. But then you had excellent electronica from The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers; defining hip-hop from The Notorious B.I.G. and Wu-Tang Clan; and Janet Jackson’s R&B masterpiece The Velvet Rope. We’ve put together a list of some of the best albums from 1997 below. Enjoy digging into some of the best music the 90s had to offer.

Can’t get enough 90s music? Listen to our 90s Music playlist here.

68: Matthew Shipp – Strata

Strata is an adventurous and forward-thinking album from composer and pianist Matthew Shipp. With his quartet featuring William Parker on bass, Daniel Carter on sax, and trumpeter Roy Campbell, Strata opens space for a masterclass in musical communication and improvisation.

The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then

67: Steve Earle – El Corazon

By 1997, Steve Earle had established a reputation for hard-won wisdom and tightly constructed songs. That formula was in full effect on the winning country of El Corazon.

66: Savage Garden – Savage Garden

Full of earnest pop-soul gems, Savage Garden’s 1997 self-titled album is heavy on slick grooves and undeniable songs.

65: Cornershop – When I Was Born for the 7th Time

Cornershop’s 1997 album When I Was Born for the 7th Time is as quirky as it is eclectic. The joyous radio hit “Brimful Of Asha” is still a favorite but the band also dipped into slinky psychedelic funk on “Chocolat” and teamed up with Dan The Automator for the head-nodding hip-hop jam “Sleep On The Left Side.”

64: Aqua – Aquarium

In 1997, Aqua’s cheeky and subversive dance-pop anthem “Barbie Girl” ruled the charts. Aquarium provides more ebullient melodies and club-ready beats.

Aqua - Barbie Girl (Official Music Video)

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63: Squarepusher – Hard Normal Daddy

Squarepusher’s twin interests of jazz fusion and drum & bass met in a satisfying way on the one-of-a-kind release Hard Normal Daddy.

62: Primal Scream – Vanishing Point

Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie once described Vanishing Point as “an anarcho-syndicalist speedfreak road-movie record.” We couldn’t agree more.

61: Super Furry Animals – Radiator

A kaledioscopic record that seemingly only could have come out of Wales, Radiator may be Super Furry Animals’ finest moment.

60: Zhané – Saturday Night

Full of grooving R&B, this second album from Zhane featured the undeniable “Request Line” and “Crush” as singles.

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59: Supergrass – In It for the Money

A rollicking bit of rock ‘n’ roll, Supergrass’ In It for the Money often has the energy and feel of classic 60s and 70s rock, updated for a new generation.

58: Sarah McLachlan – Surfacing

Anchored by the entrancing hit singles “Building a Mystery” and “Adia,” Sarah McLachlan was ubiquitous in 1997. Once listeners were drawn to Surfacing by the singles, McLachlan’s rich and elegant songs did the work of holding our attention.

57: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call

Full of vivid and tender songs, The Boatman’s Call puts Nick Cave’s gifts as a songwriter and vocalist on full display. “West Country Girl,” “Into My Arms” and “Where Do We Go But Nowhere” are thrilling works of ominous, contemporary gothic blues.

56: In Flames – Whoracle

Booming and complex with relentless riffs, In Flames’ Whoracle is as nasty as it is ambitious.

55: David Holmes – Let’s Get Killed

With samples sourced from voices recorded on the streets of New York, producer/composer David Holmes creates an imaginary film soundtrack with hypnotic electronic beats.

Let's Get Killed

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54: Strapping Young Lad – City

A concept record about the city of Los Angeles, this extreme metal album is often hailed as one of the finest metal albums of the 90s.

53: Gas – Zauberberg

Gas’ Zauberberg constructs layers of pulsating techno beats under crackling, ambient soundscapes.

52: Blink-182 – Dude Ranch

Cheeky and impossibly catchy, Blink-182’s 1997 album Dude Ranch is a ball of unrestrained energy and an ode to the adolescent male id.

51: Biosphere ‎- Substrata

Chilling and glacial, Biosphere’s Substrata uses spacious ambience to conjure melody, cinematic imagery, and deep feeling.

50: Beth Orton – Trailer Park

Beth Orton’s 1997 sophomore album Trailer Park smoothly mixes tender folk-influenced songs with contemporary electronic beats.

49: George Strait – Carrying Your Love With Me

George Strait has a way with a song unlike any other. Carrying Your Love With Me finds Strait singing about finding, holding onto, and losing love. The entire album is strong but songs like “Today My World Slipped Away” and “Carrying Your Love With Me” are standouts.

George Strait - Carrying Your Love With Me (Official Music Video) [HD]

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48: Bob Marley – Dreams Of Freedom (Ambient Translations Of Bob Marley In Dub)

For Dreams Of Freedom (Ambient Translations Of Bob Marley In Dub), bassist and producer Bill Laswell uses the music of Bob Marley as a canvas to draw a connection between two seemingly unrelated musical traditions; ambient music and dub reggae. By using dub’s radical approach to reverb and delay, Laswell explodes Marley’s songs into blooming, ambient soundscapes.

47: Mary J. Blige – Share My World

1997’s Share My World came long after Mary J. Blige had been crowned the undisputed queen of hip hop soul. Packed with classic jams like “I Can Love You” and “Love Is All We Need” the album is another entry into an already legendary body of work.

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46: Puff Daddy & the Family – No Way Out

With outstanding guest appearances from Notorious B.I.G., Lil Kim, The Lox, Black Rob, Mase, and more, No Way Out is packed with great songs and stands as a testament to Diddy’s ability to identify and nurture world-changing talents.

45: Blur – Blur

Blur’s self-titled album was wildly successful on the strength of the monster radio hit, “Song 2.” An eclectic and adventurous listen, the album bounces from glammy brit-pop (“Movin’ On”), soulful country (“Country Sad Ballad Man”), and dubbed-out hip-hop beats (“I’m Just a Killer For Your Love”).

44: Wyclef Jean – Wyclef Jean Presents the Carnival Featuring Refugee All-Stars

A globetrotting album that never met an influence it didn’t want to fold in for a song or two, Wyclef John’s The Carnival nimbly synthesizes it all.

43: U2 – Pop

With a panoply of producers at the helm throughout the lengthy recording sessions, U2’s Pop stands as one of the most experimental records in the group’s catalogue.

U2 - Staring At The Sun (Official Music Video)

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42: Wynton Marsalis – Blood on the Fields

Blood on the Fields not only has great music, but it also marked the first time a jazz musician ever won the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

41: The Verve – Urban Hymns

Beyond the mega-hit “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” The Verve’s 1997 album Urban Hymns has a collection of expansive, beautiful hits.

40: Usher – My Way

Featuring the iconic hit “You Make Me Wanna…” Usher’s My Way signaled his mainstream arrival. Produced largely by Babyface and Jermaine Dupri, it’s a remarkably coherent pop album.

39: Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen

With its incredibly catchy and dynamic songs, Whatever and Ever Amen is a delightful 90s update of 70s piano pop. Songs like “Fair,” “Brick,” and “Battle Of Who Could Care Less” are well-crafted and bursting with energy.

38: K-Ci & JoJo – Love Always

Love Always is a beautiful collection of dreamy love ballads from Jodeci’s K-Ci & JoJo. “Now And Forever,” and the enduring hit “All My Life” especially showcase the duo’s extraordinary vocal chemistry.

K-Ci & JoJo - All My Life (Official Music Video)

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37: Mogwai – Young Team

Heavy grooves meet dynamic and intricate instrumental interplay on Mogwai’s 1997 album Young Team. At times achingly soft and quiet and other times majestically loud and forceful, Young Team takes the loud/soft of 90s guitar rock to its most extreme application.

36: Moodymann – Silentintroduction

Silentintroduction is the outstanding debut from Detroit dance music giant Moodymann. A master of the Akai MPC sampling drum machine, Moodymann’s productions here range from the chopped up disco-funk of “I Can’t Kick This Feeling When It Hits” to the jazz-informed House track “M-Traxx.”

35: Gravediggaz – The Pick, The Sickle And The Shovel

Whereas their debut was a harrowing trip into a hellscape of psychosis, fear, and paranoia, The Pick, The Sickle And The Shovel reveals the light at the end of the tunnel. Songs like “Twelve Jewelz” and “The Night The Earth Cried” present knowledge as the key to freedom from mental slavery.

34: Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West

From the explosive and manic energy of the album’s opener “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine” to the freaked-out folk of “Styrofoam Boots/It’s All On Ice/Alright,” Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West is a frenzied and revelatory journey.

33: Paul McCartney – Flaming Pie

1997’s Flaming Pie proved that Paul McCartney was still capable of crafting bright and exuberant songs that stick deep in the mind and reward multiple plays.

Calico Skies (2020 Remaster)

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32: Buena Vista Social Club – Buena Vista Social Club

Warm, joyful, and brimming with power, Buena Vista Social Club is a celebration of the beauty of Cuban’s musical tradition.

31: Built To Spill – Perfect From Now On

A celebrated classic in indie and alternative-rock circles, Built To Spill’s Perfect From Now On melds thunderous guitar rock with moments of quiet intimacy.

30: Stereolab – Dots And Loops

Few artists sound as sui generis as Stereolab. They continued to mine their Space Age French Bachelor Pad sound on the 1997 album Dots and Loops.

29: Emperor – Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk

From its strange and majestic opener “Al Svatr (The Oath),” to the brutal riffs on “Ye Entrancemperium” and “Ensorcelled By Khaos,” Emperor’s Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk is one of the wildest and most unique metal albums of 1997.

28: Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out

Explosive intensive meets razor-sharp execution on Sleater-Kinney’s classic Dig Me Out. “Turn It Out,” “Buy Her Candy,” and “Words And Guitar” are all played with fury and precision.

27: Spice Girls – Spiceworld

Spice Girls followed up the massive success of their debut album with an even bigger sounding collection of pop hits, with “Spice Up Your Life” and “Stop” leading the way.

Spice Girls - Spice Up Your Life (Official Music Video)

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26: Foo Fighters – The Colour and the Shape

Boombastic, intense, and unceasingly catchy, Foo Fighters’ The Colour and the Shape distilled all of the lessons of the 90s alt-rock revolution into a powerful, accessible whole.

25: The Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole

The Chemical Brothers’ 1997 album further proved that they could harness the album format to create a psychedelic and satisfying trip through various sub-genres of dance music, led by the Noel Gallagher-voiced “Tomorrow Never Knows”-referencing “Setting Sun.”

24: Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One

One of the most versatile indie rock bands of the 90s delivered one of their finest moments with the 1997 album I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, which features their organ-drone-and-shuffling-drum masterpiece “Autumn Sweater.”

23: Mariah Carey – Butterfly

Butterfly comes in the midst of a creative run in which Mariah Carey dominated the 90s. Songs like her Dru Hill-assisted cover of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones” and the slick hip hop-infused hit “Honey” are some of the album’s most memorable moments

22: The Prodigy – The Fat Of The Land

The Prodigy made a huge splash with The Fat of the Land, a pop punk electronica album that introduced the world to Keith Flint and his “Firestarter” devil’s horns hair.

21: Photek – Modus Operandi

With its virtuosic sample-chopping and rich sense of atmospherics, Modus Operandi’s production was next level in 1997 and it still sounds fresh today.

The Hidden Camera

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20: Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind

With its powerful songs that wrestle with the complex emotions surrounding love, loss, and mortality, Time Out of Mind is a celebrated return to form from the voice of a generation.

19: Jay-Z – In My Lifetime, Vol. 1

Mixing up witty street tales (“Friend Or Foe 98”) with poppy experiments (“I Know What Girls Like”) In My Lifetime Vol. 1 was Jay-Z’s first real swing at the mainstream. Songs like “Where I’m From,” and the harrowing narrative “You Must Love Me” are Hov at his most vivid and poetic.

18: Company Flow – Funcrusher Plus

With lyrics that touched on everything from population control, domestic abuse, and the history of graffiti with beats that put an industrial spin on Run DMC-style minimalism, Funcrusher Plus painted New York City as a dystopian hellscape.

17: Carl Craig – More Songs About Food And Revolutionary Art

Techno was born in the city of Detroit and Carl Craig is without question one of the city’s great producers of this futuristic music. More Songs About Food And Revolutionary Art is one of Craig’s greatest works, perfectly articulating techno mechanistic thump and nocturnal atmosphere.

16: Roni Size & Reprazent – New Forms

One of the finest drum & bass albums ever, Roni Size & Reprazent’s New Forms proved that the genre still had plenty of avenues to explore.

Roni Size, Reprazent - Brown Paper Bag

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15: Wu-Tang Clan – Wu Tang Forever

After a string of incredible solo albums from various group members, the Wu-Tang Clean reunited with a double album that gave fans plenty more mythology to sift through.

14: Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space

A space rock masterpiece, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space touches on the personal and universal in its quest for a higher state of consciousness.

13: Daft Punk – Homework

With an endless supply of delicious disco loops filtered and twisted into something completely new, Daft Punk’s Homework inspired a generation of future clubbers, DJs, and producers.

12: Deftones – Around The Fur

With songs like “My Own Summer (Shove It)” and “Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)” Around The Fur is a study in dynamic tension, constantly alternating between moments of vulnerability and sheer brutality.

11: Portishead – Portishead

For the follow-up to their 1994 debut, Dummy, Portishead famously recorded instrumental parts, pressed them to vinyl, and reconstructed the entire album by sampling themselves. This painstaking process speaks to the band’s hip-hop roots and willingness to experiment. The result is a moody and cinematic masterpiece where orchestral arrangements play beautifully with thumping breakbeats and Beth Gibbons’ dynamic voice.

10: Janet Jackson – The Velvet Rope

A daring exploration of sexuality and desire, The Velvet Rope is the most lush and seductive album in Janet Jackson’s extensive catalog.

Janet Jackson - Got 'Til It's Gone (feat. Q-Tip, Joni Mitchell)

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09: Missy Elliott – Supa Dupa Fly

After years of paying her dues as a songwriter behind the scenes, Missy Elliot broke out with 1997’s Supa Dupa Fly and her bizarre and futuristic brand of hip-hop (with production assists from Timbaland) would change music forever.

08: Godspeed You! Black Emperor – F♯ A♯ ∞

With moments of tenderness and sweeping grandiosity, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s F♯ A♯ ∞ is an enrapturing listening experience. The band’s interplay is sensitive and articulate in the album’s quiet sections and, when they up the volume, they can produce a sound whose intensity is unmatched.

07: Shania Twain – Come on Over

1997 was a breakout year for pop-country star Shania Twain. Come on Over is an upbeat and joyous affair with Twain’s electric presence as its guiding light.

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06: Elliott Smith – Either/Or

Although he sometimes sings in a near whisper, the emotional resonance of Elliot Smith’s Either/Or comes through loud and clear. With standouts like “Ballad Of Big Nothing” and “2:45 AM,” Either/Or makes sadness and melancholy into high art.

05: Belle and Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister

Whether it’s in the breezy and nostalgic gem “Like Dylan In the Movies” or the romantic fatalism of “Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying,” If You’re Feeling Sinister is full of songs that illustrate detailed worlds of emotion.

04: The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death

A grand and flawed opus of rap music’s most tragic figure, Life After Death is where Biggie displayed the depth of his storytelling skills on songs like “I Got A Story To Tell” and “Somebody’s Gotta Die” as well as the versatility of his flow (“Notorious Thugs”).

03: Björk – Homogenic

With sweeping, orchestral arrangements, electronic beats, and dynamic vocals, songs like “Joga” and “Bachelorette” lift Homogenic to the ranks of Bjork’s greatest works.

02: Erykah Badu – Baduizm

One of the strongest R&B debuts of the decade, Erykah Badu came out the gate with a fully formed and unique aesthetic. With its jazzy phrasing and smooth instrumentation, Baduizm perfectly captured the coffee shop open mic vibe of the 90s.

Erykah Badu - Tyrone (Live)

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01: Radiohead – OK Computer

With moments of bittersweet musical bliss (“Subterranean Homesick Alien”), raucous guitar noise (“Electioneering”), and beyond, OK Computer tapped into a world of pre-millennium tension and malaise and injected it into their own brand of forward-thinking rock music.

Radiohead - Paranoid Android

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Can’t get enough 90s music? Listen to our 90s Music playlist here.

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The Beatles Red and Blue Boxsets
The Beatles Red and Blue Boxsets
uDiscover Music - Back To Top
uDiscover Music - Back To Top