Pop Life ’97: Tunes Were Empty, but the Coffers Were Full

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FORTY years ago today, “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane cracked the Top 40. With it, and hits like “Light My Fire” by the Doors, 1967’s Summer of Love blossomed. And 40 years later, the media is still commemorating it.

From Rolling Stone to VH1 to an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the summer of Summer of Love nostalgia is again upon us, complete with the obligatory images of dancing flower children.

By comparison, hardly anyone seems sentimental for the summer of 1997. Tastemakers recall the album “OK Computer” by Radiohead, and head-spinning techno singles by the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers. But for most people, it was the summer that established the Spice Girls and boy bands, which only the most hard-core Justin Timberlake fan would recall fondly.

Yet the time has come for a look back at those disreputable months of a decade ago, and not simply because some of its biggest hits have held up better than expected. For anyone who cares about music and its current chaotic state, the summer of 1997 was the start of the last golden era of pop (if not its final one) and, more important, the beginning of the end of the music business as we knew it.

“It was when things peaked,” said Jeff Price, an industry veteran and currently head of TuneCore, a digital-music service, “and it’s when things began to go to hell.”

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