Music

25 songs turning 25 this year: Alanis Morissette, Glenn Lewis, Nickelback, more

This was the sound of Canada in 1998.

This was the sound of Canada in 1998

R&B singer-songwriter Glenn Lewis is a black man with short black hair wearing sunglasses and a buttoned-up denim jacked, singing into a microphone. Alternative rock singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette is a white woman with long brown hair wearing a brown sleeveless top and singing into a microphone.
R&B singer-songwriter Glenn Lewis and alternative rock singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette were all over the Canadian music scene in 1998. (Scott Gries/Getty; Kevin Winter/Getty)

If you're old enough to remember 1998, chances are the penny whistle intro to "My Heart Will go On" still causes the hairs on your arms to stand up or sends you into the fetal position. Céline Dion's exquisite voice is as masterful in its hushed tones as when it soars over the Titanic theme song. An anthem was born the moment those notes left her mouth, and it lives on 25 years later (whether Rolling Stone acknowledges Dion's greatness or not). 

"My Heart Will go On" is one of those songs: ubiquitous, instantly memorable and ready-made for big feelings and experiences, sing-alongs and dry cries, and endless debates, opinions and highbrow versus lowbrow hot takes. Every year, reflecting on the songs turning 25 offers up a very different potential playlist that tells us a little bit more about the music that makes our culture, and 1998 is a wild ride through emotionally evocative terrain in multiple genres — self-empowerment dance gems from Love Inc., alt-rock armchair philosophy from Big Wreck — and for breakout acts and artists who would change Canadian music: Nickelback, Deborah Cox and Rascalz, to name a few. 

Think fondly of your Discman and scroll down for CBC Music's list of 25 songs turning 25 this year. Get ready for some familiar tracks still in heavy rotation today, as well as some tunes you probably haven't heard, well, since 1998. 


'One Week,' Barenaked Ladies

Despite its title, this megahit by Barenaked Ladies spent 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at no. 1 in October 1998. There's not much left that hasn't been said already about the Canadian band's biggest hit — you either think it's a jam or not. But to see a song rapped by its two main vocalists, name-checking everything from Chinese chicken to LeAnn Rimes, reach such successful heights is quite the once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Plus, its lifespan continues to stretch into modern times, being featured on TV shows like Mr. Robot, What we do in the Shadows, Supergirl and more. — Melody Lau


'Uninvited,' Alanis Morissette

I refuse to rewatch City of Angels because, a quarter-century later, I'm still mad about the ending, but the film's soundtrack knew how to set a mood. It not only featured Alanis Morissette's "Uninvited," but also the Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris," two songs that would precede the artists' upcoming blockbuster albums: Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie and Dizzy up the Girl, respectively. (The official soundtrack also included Sarah McLachlan's "Angel," though that was released the year prior on Surfacing.) It was great placement for everyone, and Morissette's contribution is an unsettling tangle of strings and tension, marking her first single since the release of Jagged Little Pill. "Uninvited" wouldn't be included on Super Former Infatuation Junkie, but it made its mark, winning Morissette two Grammy Awards the following year — and imprinting on everyone who watched Seth (Nicolas Cage) and Maggie (Meg Ryan) fall in love. — Holly Gordon


'You're a Superstar,' Love Inc.

Listening to "You're a Superstar" is like finding yourself inside a magic bubble on a beautiful day, bouncing between rays of sunshine under a sky full of endless blue. It is warm hugs and kind words and all the hype you need to keep going, keep dancing, keep surviving. Chasing joy, reaching out for love, holding out hope? This is the electro-dance track that dares to keep grooving and moving in defiant perpetuity. Twenty-five years after powerhouse lead vocalist Simone Denny offered up this vital lifeline, people are still basking in her shine. — Andrea Warner


'Nobody's Supposed to be Here,' Deborah Cox 

Deborah Cox laid out the blueprint for great R&B on the lead single off her second album, One Wish. "Nobody's Supposed to be Here" is all about high stakes. The song, written by Anthony "Shep" Crawford and Montell Jordan, finds Cox greeting a potential new love after experiencing life-shattering heartbreak. She's not sure she can trust it, and her trepidation is palpable in the pleading way she sings the first line of the chorus: "How did you get here? Nobody's supposed to be here." It's heart-wrenching, knees-on-the-ground, hands-stretched-to-the-sky music — and it makes you immediately want to belt along.

As a kid I'd sing along, pretending I had any idea about the emotions Cox was putting to verse, and her voice really made it possible to believe I did. With sweeping phrases, gravity-defying vocal runs and prolonged high notes, "Nobody's Supposed to be Here" is arguably one of Cox's best vocal performances. It peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard charts in 1998, and in 2017 was ranked No. 5 on Billboard's list of Greatest of All Time Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. I also have to give an honourable mention to Hex Hector's remix, which is a cathartic release in its own right: soulful vocals and house beats are a match made in dance music heaven. — Kelsey Adams


'Bout Your Love,' 2Rude feat. Glenn Lewis

On this highlight from his album Rudimental 2K, 2Rude uses a sample from Seals & Crofts's "Sweet Green Fields," a song Busta Rhymes also sampled a year earlier on "Put Your Hands Where my Eyes Could See." It creates a great vehicle for Glenn Lewis, arguably the best male vocalist in Canadian R&B history, whose confident phrasing and smoky timbre take the song to a higher plane. Look no further for top-drawer '90s R&B. — Robert Rowat


'Still the One,' Shania Twain 

The third of 12 singles released from Shania Twain's record-breaking, chart-topping album Come on Over, "Still the One" was the sentimental ballad that soundtracked thousands of late-'90s slow dances. Written in response to the criticisms over the 16-year age difference between Twain and her then-husband, Mutt Lange, Twain addressed detractors with lines like "They said, 'I bet they'll never make it'/ but just look at us holdin' on," and "Ain't nothin' better/ we beat the odds together." While Twain and Lange are no longer together, "Still the One" has since created its own history as one of Twain's best and most successful hits. — ML 


'Blue Guitar,' Cowboy Junkies

"Blue Guitar," the second song from the seminal Canadian band's seventh album, Miles From Our Home, is a swirling, brooding, curious co-write between Michael Timmins and legendary Texas singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt. Originally an emotional brain dump from Timmins upon hearing of Van Zandt's death in 1997, the song was stuck, unfinished, until Van Zandt's widow presented Timmins with a book containing some of Townes's unfinished lyrics. "Goodbye to the highway/ goodbye to the sky/ I'm headed out goodbye, goodbye." Was that Timmins or Townes? The two formidable songwriters merge so perfectly, it's nearly impossible to tell which lyric belongs to whom. Does it even matter? (Spoiler: it does not.) — Judith Lynch 


'Hurts to Love You,' the Philosopher Kings

This delightful pop/rock/soul amalgam was one of the lead singles from the Philosopher Kings' most successful album, Famous, Rich and Beautiful, and no wonder: the song is a total party, with its forthright, borderline ecstatic mix of guitar, piano, drums, organ and strings. And yet, Gerald Eaton's vocals invite an introspective reading of the rather cozy lyrics. "In my mind's eye, we're kissing madly/ watching All in the Family," he sings in verse 3, his voice a febrile falsetto, before he girds his loins and belts the chorus. — RR


'Miss you Like Crazy,' the Moffatts

In 1998, the Backstreet Boys were one of the world's biggest boy bands and *NSYNC wasn't far behind. In Canada, we had the Moffatts, a group of four brothers who started off as a family band in Nashville in the mid-'90s, but by 1998 had transformed into a quartet of teen heartthrobs. "Miss you Like Crazy" was one of their earliest hits, an acoustic breakup number where the Moffatts pine over an ex and admit, "When I think of you/ I don't know what to do." If this song doesn't take you back to the days of clammy hand-holding and writing eighth-grade-level sappy poetry, then you clearly weren't a young pop fan in the late '90s. — ML


'Stick to Your Vision,' Maestro Fresh Wes

Maestro Fresh Wes opted for an unexpected sampling of the Guess Who's "These Eyes" to make this track an instant earworm. With distinctly Canadian shout-outs spanning MuchMusic and various Toronto neighbourhoods, "Stick to Your Vision" scored a Juno nomination for best rap recording — although it ultimately lost out to the Rascalz track "Northern Touch." Nevertheless, the infectious "Stick to Your Vision" proved to be a breakthrough for Maestro, who landed on the charts for the first time in several years. In 2021, the rapper even authored an eponymous children's book detailing his time in elementary school while growing up in Toronto to inspire kids to — you guessed it — stick to their vision. — Natalie Harmsen


'My Heart Will go On,' Céline Dion

I was 14 years old when I saw Titanic on opening night for a friend's birthday party, and it was the first time I remember seeing a movie that broke my heart. I was devastated for weeks, and my poor parents had to put up with an extra sad sack of a teenager for the holidays. (Thanks, James Cameron!) Céline Dion's theme song for it, cinematically composed by James Horner, was perfect sobbing material: a gentle beginning (cue the penny whistle), Dion's build-it-and-belt-it delivery, and a matching video that captured stolen glances between Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Neither Cameron nor Dion wanted to do the song originally, according to an oral history from Billboard, but it became the best-selling single in the world in 1998 and proceeded to win an Oscar, a Golden Globe and multiple Grammys. Dion ended up including it on her own 1997 album, Let's Talk About Love — which we'll get to a little further down. — HG


'Leaving on a Jet Plane,' Chantal Kreviazuk

Chantal Kreviazuk's cover of John Denver's 1966 song turns the jangly folk track into a sorrowful pop ballad. This rendition of the famous hit appeared on the soundtrack for the 1998 American blockbuster Armageddon, a movie about the potential end of the world. The serious tone of Kreviazuk's version is fitting, considering the characters are sent on a perilous mission, with no way of knowing if they'll ever come back again. Kreviazuk eventually became a mainstay in Canada's pop and adult contemporary landscape, but this cover came out only two years into her professional career — an early sign that she was a natural at soaring, heartfelt anthems. — KA


'Spaceman,' Bif Naked

"Spaceman" started off as a writing exercise where Bif Naked's manager challenged her to write a pop song because "we were all writing death metal," as she explained in a 2018 interview. The result, at first, was still a pretty rocking track, featuring big, chunky guitar riffs as Bif Naked projects her intense feelings of yearning into outer space. The song later took on another life though as a dance remix that became even bigger than its original, earning Bif international recognition. — ML


'Northern Touch,' Rascalz

The lyric "We're notorious/ ain't nobody can bang with us" from the bouncy track "Northern Touch" has been echoing in heads since its release, thanks to its iconic delivery from a team of Canadian rap all-stars. The epic lineup of Kardinal Offishall, Choclair, Thrust, Checkmate and Rascalz delivered an outspoken banger that shook the nation at a time when hip hop wasn't exactly thriving up north, proving that the genre had a place in Canada. The catchy sample of B.T. Express's "Everything Good to You (Ain't Always Good for You)" elevated the slick, punchy lyrics and helped catapult the song onto the charts — and into the country's consciousness. — NH


'London Rain (Nothing Heals me Like You Do),' Heather Nova

I don't think I've thought about this song since 1998, but as soon as I hit play, damned if I didn't know all the words to singer-songwriter Heather Nova's hit single. The mysterious, relatable and very slightly risqué opening lyrics had teen hearts racing upon its release: "I'm coming, I'm coming home to you/ I'm alive, I'm a mess/ I can't wait to get home to you/ to get warm/ warm and undressed." Nova's voice bites down on "undressed" and there's a hint of defiance in her declaration before she gradually shifts octaves up to a sing-song pop chorus that's a real masterclass in erring on the side of sweet and toying instead of sugary and cloying. — AW


'Rally'n,' Jully Black feat. Saukrates

Jully Black introduced the world to her soulful R&B sound on one of her very first tracks, the silky "Rally'n." The addictive beat accompanied by Black's clean vocals made it emblematic of the R&B sounds of the time. She invoked a playful yet don't-mess-with-me aura by referring to herself in the third person as she cheekily called out an ex-lover for repeatedly running back to her. It was a flex for her storytelling skills as an artist, and became her first release to land in the top 20 on the Canadian charts. The song also went on to nab a Juno nomination for best R&B/soul recording and earned a nod for best R&B/soul video at the MuchMusic Video Awards the following year. — NH


'Some Kinda Wonderful,' Sky

The Montreal band's debut single was an immediate earworm, a finger-snapping, horn-punctuated track that had more shades of L.A. alt-rock band New Radicals than anything else coming out of Canada at the time. It was also our introduction to Antoine Sicotte's signature soul patch and James Renald's bleach-blond hair, images inextricable from Sky's sun-drenched singles. While the followup hit "Love Song" is what fans know best from Sky's catalogue, "Some Kinda Wonderful" has a special place in our hearts. — HG


'Thank U,' Alanis Morrissette 

After returning from a trip to India following the massive success of Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morrissette released this poignant track about gratitude that demonstrated a shift in perspective. The song was worlds away from the disillusionment and heartbreak that she let roar on her previous album, and marked a step into the world of pop. The cheerful melodies paired with Morrisette's ever-sharp lyricism made for a track that's straightforward and commanding, nudging listeners to do their own self-reflection. — NH


'Immortality,' Céline Dion

Dion's 1997 album, Let's Talk About Love, was a powerhouse in both sales and collaboration: it sold more than 30 million copies, and featured duets with Barbra Streisand and Luciano Pavarotti, as well as writing credits from Carole King, David Foster, Corey Hart and James Horner. It also featured "Immortality," a song written by the Bee Gees and performed by Dion with backing vocals from the English pop band. The Bee Gees wrote it with Dion in mind, as they revealed in a recent behind-the-scenes video about the song, and they wrote it in one pass. It fit like a glove: Dion's voice fills the ballad perfectly, melodrama seeping in at the edges and in the video, where the Bee Gees appear as ghosts. You could easily mistake the whole thing for a Jim Steinman production — and that's not a complaint. — HG


'Leader of Men,' Nickelback

Nickelback's Chad Kroeger may not want to be a "leader of men," but he has always contained multitudes. This song, which was the hard rock band's breakout hit, is allegedly rooted in two truths: it was inspired by Kroeger tripping on mushrooms and it also references the time he saved a friend from drowning. The track starts off sparse and ominous, like quasi-metal spoken word, and then dials up the growling vocals, thrashing guitars and ferocious drums to a head-banging chorus. — AW


'April Fools,' Rufus Wainwright

One of the standouts from Rufus Wainwright's debut, self-titled album, "April Fools" is a delightful cabaret pop song that came to the singer while he was in the bath, as he explained to the Telegraph: "I stood up naked and sang it. Songs come to me at odd times." The track is a jubilant embrace of the idea that if something is going to go wrong, then it just will; instead of feeling like the world is working against you, all you can do is roll with the punches. Fun fact: the music video for "April Fools" (directed by Sophie Muller) featured cameos from Wainwright's sister, Martha Wainwright, as well as Melissa Auf der Maur and No Doubt-era Gwen Stefani, who even lent her home for some scenes. — ML


'Poets,' the Tragically Hip

The Hip is at its best when offering up insightful social commentary over funky guitar riffs, and "Poets" is no exception. Gord Downie and co. have always been clever with lyrics, and this track features some not-so-subtle teasing of what people think about poets, while also addressing the issues of the day (think: farmers rifling through grocery aisles for food). The song doesn't make any quips about the natural overlap between poetry and songwriting, which is worth noting, considering Downie quoted poems in other songs and was inspired by Al Purdy, Irving Layton and others. But quips or not, "Poets" has an inviting, classic rock sound, making it a Hip catalogue mainstay all the same. — NH


'That Song,' Big Wreck

The husk of lead singer Ian Thornley's voice is as stirring a thrill in 2023 as it was in 1998 when "That Song" was released. The second single off Big Wreck's 1997 debut, In Loving Memory Of..., "That Song" is rife with lyrics steeped in heartbreak and a tense kind of vulnerability that, in hindsight, verges on sinister. But there's a beautiful release in the way Thornley hits specific words throughout the choruses. Not whole phrases, just specific words. Sometimes there are two syllables, but most of the time it's just one, though he draws it out, crescendoing up one side of a word and cascading down the other. It's this intoxicating rise-and-fall roller coaster that makes you want to take this ride again and again and again. — AW


'Hands of Time,' Temperance feat. Lorraine Reid 

DJs must have had "Hands of Time" bumping on every dance floor in 1998, or at least I hope they did, because this effervescent house track is irresistible. Temperance was two years away from disbanding (although we didn't know that at the time), and the electronic duo had made the move from the intense Eurodance of "Music is my Life" to a smoother house styling that leaned more toward pop. "Hands of Time," with its uplifting message and melodic, sing-along chorus, is crafted for the peak of a night out, when everything feels possible. Grooving percussion, cheery synths and Lorraine Reid's rich, soul-filled vocals make this optimistic jam come to life. — KA


'Summerlong,' Emm Gryner

For most Canadians "Summerlong" was the track that put Gryner on their music map. From Gryner's first and only release on a major, the song feels very much of the time. You can hear the tail end of Brit pop in the tones of the guitar following the song's intro and you can read the influence of Alanis Morissette in the lyrics, wistful of not just better days but of better men. It's a potent mix that works wonderfully well and this banger served notice not only to the likes of David Bowie, who she worked with the following year as part of his band, but also to herself as Gryner has consistently been releasing excellent music on her own ever since. — Ben Aylsworth

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