Six of the biggest pop culture moments of 1997
Where were you when the computer conquered man? Where were you when a phenomenal voice was silenced for good? Where were you when a princess was mourned, when a book about young wizard first hit the shelves, when a generation-defiing band released another major record?
Where were you in 1997?
It was a massive year in music – OK Computer, Homogenic, and Blur were all released, and you'll hear your favorite tracks from that period when we replay the Hottest 100 of 1997 on Sunday.
But there were many other memorable moments in popular culture. Here are six of them.
May 11 - IBM's Deep Blue beats Gary Kasparov, the chess champion
Gary Kasparov is the greatest chess player of all time. He has won 11 Chess Oscars, which are quite literally the Oscars of chess. In 1997, the software company IMB’s very smart supercomputer Deep Blue took on Kasparov in a much-hyped chess battle in New York City. The two had faced off the previous year; Kasparov had won. This time, though, in a six-game match, the non-sentient being came out on top. It was the first time a computer had beaten a world champion.
Remember, this was before Google and social media – people weren’t too familiar with how smart technology could be. It was the moment we stopped and thought: huh, maybe computers will take over the world. Fancy that.
May 29 - Jeff Buckley dies
In May of 1997, Jeff Buckley had a whole lot going for him. The response to his debut solo record, Grace, was positive and far-reaching, and he’d toured the world off the back of its release. Buckley was in Memphis, Tennessee, waiting for his band to arrive to work on new songs, when he decided to go for a swim, fully clothed, in the Mississippi River. Caught up in the wake of a passing boat, he drowned. Two locals found his body several days later. His family later confirmed he had not been drinking or using drugs when he entered the water.
That day, the world lost one of the most remarkable musical voices of the 20th Century, a delicate, four-octave tenor that could be both glistening and guttural. Few artists have wrung that much impact from that small a discography: you can hear Grace, what ended up being his only proper studio record, on albums from Coldplay, PJ Harvey, Radiohead and more.
June 26 - Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone is published
Before J.K. Rowling was J.K. Rowling, she was Joanne Rowling, living in London, getting over the death of her mother, and working on what she hoped would be a children’s novel. It took her about five years. There was another year where her agent tried to shop it around. Eventually, Bloomsbury accepted it, paid her a 2,500-pound advance, and printed 500 copies.
Spoiler alert: people ended up really liking it. Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone was the first of what would become seven books that shaped the reading habits (and, arguably, childhoods) of a generation. Few living authors can claim to have sold hundreds of millions of books — books that also spawned successful movies and video games. And this little book started it all.
August 21 - Oasis's third album breaks a record
In 1997, Oasis were two records in, and hitting the high-water mark of their career. The year before, the bad had played two shows to more than 250,000 people at the historic Knebworth House.
Now, they were under the constant gaze of the paparazzi, who were obsessed with the Gallagher brothers’ strange antics. They ended up bailing on the initial Abbey Road sessions for what became Be Here Now a week in, instead moving production to a rural property in Surrey. By all accounts, the recording process was one of one of excess, both musically and chemically. The record was positively received by the press, though more than one critic commented on its willingness towards overindulgence. Still, Be Here Now sold more than 400,000 copies on the day of its release – a record, and a phenomenal achievement by today’s standards. It would go on sell about 8 million by the of the year.
August 31 - Princess Diana is killed in a car crash
Diana, Princess of Wales was a major figure in popular culture in the 1980s and 90s. Partly it was her charm and down-to-earth appeal; partly it was the immense paparazzi interest in her love life and her willingness to push boundaries as a royal.
A year after her divorce from Prince Charles, the People’s Princess was killed in a high-speed car crash in a Paris tunnel. Her lover at the time, Dody Fayed, was also killed, as was the driver of the car, Henri Paul. Her state funeral was one of the most watched events in British television history, with more than 30 million people tuning in on September 6 to farewell Diana.
One of the defining moments of that day was Elton John singing an updated version – with revised lyrics - of his song 'Candle In The Wind'.
December 19 – Titanic premieres in the US
Hollywood films don’t get much bigger than Titanic.
The movie was inspired by writer-director James Cameron’s love of shipwrecks – apparently he really just wanted, at the outset, an excuse to see the Titanic wreck up close. He wrote the fictional love story (portrayed by Kate Winslet an Leonardo Di Caprio) as a way of exploring the disaster, and the film references actual people who were aboard the ship when it sank in 1912.
At the time of its release, Titanic was the most expensive film ever made, costing about $200 million. But it went on to earn much more than that. It is currently listed as the fourth highest-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation, after Gone With The Wind, Avatar (also by Cameron) and Star Wars. The hand of Winlset’s character Rose marking, in steam, the inside of a car parked in the ship’s hold forms part of one of the most famous (and, let’s face it, cheesy) sex scenes in cinematic history.