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Aug 4, 2017
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From Jessa Zaragoza to Wolfgang, we go back in time to highlight some of the era-defining moments that made 1997 such a blockbuster year for local music releases.


Sorry, Jaya and Regine: Jessa Zaragoza is 1997’s Queen of Pop

It wasn’t exactly a landmark year for commercial albums, but 1997 paved the way for the revival of jukebox—a significant genre in music that ruled the late ‘70s, with the likes of Didith Reyes, Eva Eugenio, Leah Navarro, Claire de la Fuente, and Imelda Papin lording it over the airwaves with torch ballads about the end of the affair and many way it breaks a jilted lover's heart. With her bombshell appeal and distinct vocal style, Jessa Zaragoza proved to be a fitting heir to the throne, reinventing jukebox with a record that champions the unwavering spirit of a woman who marches on and fights for life, in the name of love and the people she cared for. Her debut album Just Can’t Help Feelin’ was monumental in a blockbuster sense, selling over 223,000 copies as of press time—a milestone that anointed the singer-actress in the upper echelons of ‘90s mainstream pop. The record contains Zaragoza’s signature hit, “Bakit Pa,” which spawned a Valentine’s movie version produced by GMA Films and Octo Arts Films.

Rivermaya’s Atomic Bomb is 1997’s biggest selling Album by a Band/Group

 

There are multiple reasons why Atomic Bomb is considered as one of the most important albums of the ‘90s. Not only was it the last Rivermaya album to feature Bamboo Mañalac as a lead singer, but it also exceeded expectations in terms of musicality and pop songcraft, with Rico Blanco taking over the bulk of songwriting duties. Rivermaya’s third official release also achieved commercial success, getting platinum certification over the weekend of its release. To date, the album has sold 216,000 copies according to Philippine Association of the Record Industry (PARI), the organization responsible for tracking album certifications in the country.

Peak Dream Pop crossover in 1997, thanks to Sugar Hiccup

It is very unusual for underground oddities to reach crossover success, more so for an obscure dream pop band whose music is often associated with otherworldly escapism and druggy soundscapes. Sugar Hiccup proved to be a refreshing anomaly in the alternative rock boom of the ‘90s, with 1995’s Oracle becoming one of the most prominent releases of the decade, even reaching Gold status. Sugar Hiccup’s brand of lush, ethereal pop caught on with major award-giving bodies after Oracle’s release, reaping three major accolades at 1997’s Katha Music Awards for the song “SYESYATNEBONSOTNEICOSTOLIM” and bagging two NU Rock Awards for Vocalist of the Year and Song of the Year.

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The Eraserheads’ Sticker Happy: 1997’s underappreciated gem

Sticker Happy might lack the effervescent appeal of Cutterpillow or the experimental otherness of Carbon Stereoxide, but it’s an album whose blend of accessibility and adventurousness took everyone by surprise. “Kaliwete,” a left-field smash that pays tribute to Rico J. Puno, is a subtle exercise in psychedelia and no-wave, while “Downtown” explores techno, hip-hop, and lo-fi indie-rock influences with feverish recklessness—eventually creating a template for Marasigan’s other project, Squid9. And who could forget the iconic album cover featuring a nakey nakey naked Joey Mead playing the piano in the middle of an empty field? Instant A+ to be honest.

Pamilia Dimagiba brought conscious anthems back to hip-hop in 1997

While peers in the hip-hop community pandered to tried-and-tested formula of novelty crossover and explicit gangsta rap, Pamilia Dimagiba rode against the current with an urban masterpiece called Broke-N-Unsigned. The acclaimed record marked another turning point for local hip-hop as it delivered incisively socio-political lyrics and subversive edge, tackling relevant issues that affect society at large.

Star Records signed Protest Rockers The Jerks in 1997

In an odd turn of events, The Jerks got signed to Star Records—the music subsidiary of the country’s most powerful media company, ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation. After months of deliberate discussion and negotiation, The Jerks’ self-titled studio album was finally released with a new lineup: Chikoy Pura on guitar/vocals, Nitoy Adriano on guitar, and Edwin Alvaro Aguilar on bass. The album contains the reggae-tinged protest anthem “Sayaw Sa Bubog,” the Cookie Chua-assisted “Rage” and their most popular recording to date, “Reklamo Ng Reklamo.” The Jerks’ first and only crossover venture racked up the Album of the Year nod at Nu Rock Awards 1998 and was hailed by critics as one of the best albums of 1997.

P.O.T.’s first and only album came out in 1997

It’s unfortunate that P.O.T. only managed to release one album in its short-lived run. But what makes the self-titled debut a cut above the rest is Karl Roy’s eccentric personality, a prophetic gift primed for something bigger than the record itself. The band’s reimagining of The Advisors’ “Yugyugan Na” turned good old funk into a dancefloor mantra, but it was Roy’s subdued moments on “Panaginip Na” and “Piece of This” that elevated the self-titled release into a creative force that is more about substance than artifice. In its methods, the band’s sole album sheds preconceived notions of how funk records should sound, with Karl Roy and Ian Umali dictating the vision in their own terms, but somehow retaining the coolly sensual vibe of the band’s collective influences.

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The biggest 1997 hits: Cacai Velasquez’s 'Forever Blue,' Southborder’s 'Love of My Life' and more

RX 93.1 is the longest-running radio station based in Metro Manila that caters to the top 40 format, with a target market that encompasses high school and college students, as well as young professionals. Its published weekly and annual charts are important markers of pop culture zeitgeist, ranking the most popular songs through listener votes. In 1997, Cacai Velasquez’s “Forever Blue” topped the FM station’s Top 20 OPM Songs year-end list, followed by Regine Velasquez’s remake of “Bluer Than Blue” and South Border’s R&B ballad “Love of My Life.” The Eraserheads have five entries in the chart, and erstwhile rival Rivermaya have four. Other songs that made a dent in the year-ender special are Francis M’s “Girl Be Mine,” Dingdong Avanzado’s “Wish I Could,” and Agot Isidro’s “Feel So Strange.”

1997: The first staging of Gary Granada’s iconic 'Lean: The Filipino Musical'

Gary Granada wrote a rock musical about Leandro Alejandro—the widely admired student activist-hero who fought the Marcos dictatorship but was ironically gunned down just over a year after EDSA 1 ushered the revival of democracy in the countrys. The critically praised musical was staged in September 1997, featuring an ensemble composed of local rock music icons Chikoy Pura, Bayang Barrios, Cookie Chua, and Noel Cabangon.

Cynthia Alexander’s 'Comfort In Your Strangeness': The best local song of 1997 is born

Respected pop culture critic and writer Alex Almario said it best: “Alexander’s poetic earth-mother imagery and ethereal folk served as a spiritual alternative to Pinoy Alternative music, a sanctuary for those who weren’t fully comfortable with the scene’s louder and more populist tendencies.” The single, “Comfort In Your Strangeness,” evokes the lyrical ambition of Joni Mitchell and Joan Didion while retaining Alexander’s ethereal observations on life and love, profoundly centering the narrative not on the otherness of the female experience, but on the universality of it, the sense of refuge that we sometimes get from people we barely even know. She articulates the specifity of warmth not with poetic indulgence, but with fragile intensity that is quite rare in most contemporary singer-songwriters.   

Other highlights in 1997

Wolfgang released their third full-length album Wurm—a rock opera which music journalist David Gonzales described as the band’s most adventurous and satisfying album yet. Parokya Ni Edgar proved to be no sophomore slump with the release of Buruguduystunstugudunstuy—another comic opus that spawned the massive hits  “Harana,” “Please Don't Touch My Birdie” and “Okatokat.” Other notable albums released in 2017 are The Youth’s Tao Po, Yano’s TaraWuds’ Nakaupo sa Puso, Bayang Barrios’ Bayang Makulay and Jaya’s In The Raw.

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