How do 9-year-old hits by the Spice Girls, Jewel, Third Eye Blind, and others hold up today? Whitney Pastorek gives 'em another listen

By Whitney Pastorek
September 12, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
Spice Girls: Guy Aroch/Retna

Hello, Spice Girls! Rating the hits of Sept. ’97

Hello, Flashbackers, and welcome to another week of Chart Flashback, where we flash back to the hits that were on the chart. That’s right: Every single song on this Chart Flashback was taken directly off the Billboard chart from the week in the year that we are flashing back to!

You might be asking: Whitney! Why did you pick these songs to flash back to? They are not the best songs from that year, and you are a moron! The answer, my dear Flashbackers, is easy: Because these are the songs on the chart. I did not pick these songs. Actually, you picked these songs, since they are, technically, the top 10 singles played on radio and bought in stores during the week in question — which means every single one of you had a hand in their selection and subsequent place in American history. Don’t like ’em? Wanna grumble about it? Maybe start with the man in the mirror, and ask him to change his ways. No message could be any clearer: If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make that change. Na-na na, na-na na, na naa na-na.

And now, without further ado, Billboard‘s top 10 for the week of Sept. 20, 1997:

10. ”Foolish Games”/”You Were Meant for Me,” Jewel
It’s nice to think back to a time when a crooked-toothed girl with a guitar could be one of the biggest names in music. (Nowadays, it seems, one must be far more proficient at lip-synching than songwriting, but that’s another discussion for another time.) This single — Billboard is giving the slot to A-side and B-side here, thanks to the aforementioned retail sales factor of this list — kind of showcases the best and worst of what Jewel was about, in my opinion. ”You Were Meant For Me” is a sweet little love song with a very playable guitar riff that any good 15-year-old with a Yamaha was cranking out at her high school talent show that fall (note: I was not 15 when this song came out, thank you very much; I was just stuck playing it for 15-year-olds who wanted to sing it at the camp talent show); meanwhile, ”Foolish Games” is an arduous, mealy piece of overcooked veal that appears to have had some large undue effect on the future work of Amy Lee, lead singer of Evanescence. Although I always have liked the line, ”Excuse me/ Think I’ve mistaken you for somebody else/ Somebody who gave a damn,” because it very much sums up my reaction to the song itself. So meta. ”YWMFM”: B; ”FG”: C+

9. ”Barbie Girl,” Aqua
The song that finally, after all these years, made pedophilia okay! I can honestly say I have never seen a more disturbing sight in all my years than the day I sat on the subway and watched three little girls, none of whom were over the age of 12, listening to ”Barbie Girl” on an MP3 cell phone and merrily caressing their own torsos as they sang, ”You can touch/ You can play/ If you say I’m always yours” at the top of their prepubescent lungs. I know this is not the place for my feminist rants, but if this song was supposed to be ironic, it missed the mark by a mile. They could not have found a more creepy voice to growl, ”Come on, Barbie, let’s go party”; there could not be a more reprehensible lesson to teach little girls than the joys of letting a man dominate your unable-to-stand-due-to-the-laws-of-gravity body; and finally, it’s not even a particularly good song from a musical standpoint, and I think my ears are bleeding. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s ”fun.” Give me Cyndi Lauper and ”She Bop” any day over this sort of ”fun.” There, at least the squeaky-voiced girl is in charge. F

8. ”Semi-Charmed Life,” Third Eye Blind
Whee! Doo-doo-doo!! Admit it, people: You love this song. How do I know you love this song? Because I have seen you at parties, on road trips, and during wedding receptions singing along, mouthing every word of Stephan Jenkins’ faux-rap, bouncing up and down like Gwen Stefani at a Mighty Mighty Bosstones show circa 1989. Doo-doo-doo!! There’s nothing at all wrong with that; in 1997, we were just entering the fun-time rock-band era that would usher in such sunny, roly-poly, destined-to-one-day-go-on-and-host-Extra groups as Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth, and we weren’t yet sick of this crap. Now, of course, I could largely do without. But let me ask you this: Which do you prefer, jolly party rock or nü metal? Yeah, that’s what I thought. B+

7. ”2 Become 1,” Spice Girls
Hmm. This one’s tough. I will admit to owning a copy of Spice World, and to watching it multiple times; I will also admit to going through a brief, Sporty Spice-inspired period during which I attempted to wear white tank tops and Adidas track pants to parties. But I never really thought the group’s balladry was as good as their peppier tracks, and the farther I get away from that dark, dark period in my life (I was a college graduate at the time, for chrissakes; what on earth could I have been thinking?), the more I question the logic behind such decisions as my purchase of both Spice Girls albums at a time when I was scraping together change to buy Kraft macaroni & cheese, then making it with water instead of milk and butter because who had money to buy milk and butter? In any case. The song. It’s too slow, and the lyrics appear to have been written by a safe-sex-loving unicorn. Also, it’s almost impossible to identify the individual Spice Girls by their voices here, so airbrushed are the proceedings. [Ironically, Jewel also has a song called ”2 Become 1”… and it’s way better than this. Who knew?] C

6. ”I’ll Be Missing You,” Puff Daddy and Faith Evans (f. 112)
How can you make fun of a song about a dead guy? Sure, Puffy is blatantly manipulating our emotions by sampling a Police song, and yeah, the Faith/112-sung chorus is terribly shrill, and indeed, there is very little actual original work happening here, but nevertheless: It’s a song about a dead guy. B-

5. ”How Do I Live,” LeeAnn Rimes
The big winner of 1997’s ”How Do I Live”-off, this version of the Diane Warren-penned love theme from Con Air (no, seriously, Con Air had a love theme) beat out Trisha Yearwood’s soundtrack cut by a long shot and has gone on to top the list of country wedding songs, second only to Shania Twain’s ”You’re Still the One”/”From This Moment On” rock block. I’ll admit to a cheesy love for LeeAnn, and also to spending some time singing this alone in my room at night, but I made a tragic misstep at karaoke this weekend by trying to move my quiet, private performance into a public venue. Word to the wise: Don’t try it. It’s boring, it goes on forever, and you can’t hit the high notes. B

4. ”Mo Money Mo Problems,” the Notorious B.I.G. (f. Puff Daddy and Ma$e)
Best things about this track: It’s a song by a dead guy that actually beat the tribute song to said dead guy on the charts. It’s off a posthumous album perhaps not coincidentally titled Life After Death. It once again features Puff Daddy, hip-hop’s savviest participant of all time. And it samples a hot, hot Diana Ross song. Worst things about this track: It once again features Puff Daddy. It gets ”I’m Coming Out” stuck in my head. And I am convinced that Biggie’s use of this girly sample was a direct factor in Jay-Z’s decision to put those squawking orphans in ”Hard Knock Life.” Finally — and I know I’m not by any means the first person to say this, nor will I be the last — can someone solve his damn murder already? And then start figuring out what happened to Jam Master Jay? Thanks. B+

3. ”You Make Me Wanna…,” Usher
I am so very excited to go see Usher in Chicago on Broadway next week, mostly I know that he is already a pro with minimalist chair dancing, a skill very necessary in that production. (I also like the way Mr. Raymond anticipated the coming boy-band storm in this video, forestalling its dominating effect on his career by F/X-ing himself into a fivesome.) Overall, I give ”You Make Me Wanna…” mad props, mostly because unlike so many of his unh-ing R&B peers, Usher has actually taken some risks here with the time signature and kept the treacle to a minimum. It is perhaps the only song in which I will tolerate both an overbearing high-hat and a ridiculously unnecessary dinging parakeet bell in the background. A-

2. ”Quit Playing Games (With My Heart),” Backstreet Boys
Aw, they’re so young! So fresh, so new! If only we could have known what this song would bring, Flashbackers, do you think we’d have embraced it so? If we could go back and see that this charming, innocent, so-called ”band of boys” — just off the boat from success in Germany (where they totally have impeccable musical taste; see: Hasselhoff, David) — would lead to the downfall/resurrection of pop music, depending on your perspective… would we do it all again? Personally, I say yes. Even though this track happens to be totally generic and neutered and the sort of thing that makes me want to start cutting myself just to remember what it feels like to have a genuine emotion, anything that led to the existence of ”I Want It That Way” can’t be all bad. C+

1. ”Honey,” Mariah Carey
I’m gonna get letters — because I get letters every single time I write about Mariah Carey — but is this the one where she rides the Jet Ski in the video? That’s really the only reaction I have to this song: It’s The One With The Jet Ski. Maybe my ambivalence is because she never really busts it out here, except in a little descant thing accompanying her breathy repetition of the chorus — and I pretty much only listen to Mariah Carey songs to hear her bust it out. To the song’s credit, though, it did give us the immortal phrase, ”Mari-yah/ You’re on fi-yah,” which, unless I am mistaken, comes straight from the mouth of none other than… Puff Daddy! I hereby crown him the King of 1997. And next week I will be retreating back to the safety of the ’80s, where Mr. Combs is nowhere to be found, because I’ve officially had enough. B+