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Saturday, February 05, 2005
Grace and Janis were tough ladies of the don't give me any shit variety; they had to be in a realm where the only women backstage were the groupies. Unfortunately, Joplin was dead at the start of the 70's, and Slick was in a league of her own. By the mid-70's, the only women who had really made any inroads with the rock audience whatsover were the singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon. And both of them, despite their rockstar friends and lovers, were far from being rock performers themselves.
Patti Smith kicked ass. Her debut was an audacious cover version of "Gloria", the lyrics replaced with an artpoet recital of lesbian seduction; when she got to the G-L-O-R-I-A part, and the band was in their New York proto-punk groove, it was enough to give you chills. She made three great albums and drifted into semi-retirement, but the glass ceiling had cracked. Coming through behind her were The Runaways, tough bratty teens who played their own instruments, Debbie Harry and Blondie, who were nearly as good as the Patti Smith Group. We got art-rock from Kate Bush, alt-rock from Courtney Love, and trad-rock from Sheryl Crow whose "If It Makes You Happy" could pass for the Rolling Stones circa Exile On Main Street for the first 30 seconds or so.
Madonna is a phenomenon. Now 46, she's been relevant or at least semi-relevant since 1983; no woman in rock has raked in the dough like Madonna has. My beef with Madonna is what she did to all the little girls who grew up listening to her. Christina Aguilara is what they grew into; tawdry fleshpots. I wouldn't mind that so much if Jewel, who once had a great thing going, hadn't followed suit.
When it comes to women, smart wins out over cheap with me every time. Natalie Merchant was a favorite of mine in my college days. Laurie Anderson's avant-garde work was also a big favorite. For babes, I fantasized about Susannah Hoffs and Hope Sandoval. Alanis might've scared away a lot of men, but I was right in her corner; nothing like passion to keep a man interested.
I spent eight years abroad in the 90's as a single young man. Some of the beautiful women I met sonically on my travels were Takako Minakawa, obsessive Japanese former child star, Argentine electronica/trip-hop artist Juana Molina, gifted with one of the sweetest siren voices I've ever heard, Zap Mama, a Francophone vocal group from Zaire, and Greek alt-dance/art-pop Annabouboula, who vanished after two superb discs.
So tonight's playlist is dedicated to the women of rock, the women of soul, the women of folk, the women of the world, and the women who love music.
Since I don't have my tags set by gender, I'm going to set the auto-playlist to randomize my entire collection of 16,991 titles, and I'll profile the first 10 women as they come up.
Tonight's randomly generated playlist, Jam tags 1-5 stars follow:
1. Sade: No Ordinary Love ***
Sultry slow groove from jazzy pop diva Sade. I had the briefest of flings with Sade, back in the 80's, but tired of her quickly. Her voice is great, but her recordings often suffered from the unimaginitive synthetic arrangements of her day. This one is longish, wordy, lacks hooks, and isn't fast enough to dance to, but the atmospherics might be good enough for making out. Nothing special, though.
2. Fleetwood Mac: Love In Store ****
Christine McVie sings this one. By this point, Fleetwood Mac was already in advanced decline; two romantic liasons had broken up within the group during Tusk, Stevie Nicks was focusing on going solo, and the album, Mirage, had the vibe of a band that simply had lost interest in one another. McVie's tunes on Mirage are the best, and this one has a hooky chorus and nice vocals, plus a scaled down version of the lush million dollar production that made Tusk infamous.
3. The Shirelles: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow ****
A girl-group classic of the 60's, this song is worth noting because it was written by Carole King. King had written dozens of well known hits during the 60's before launching her own recording career in 1970. This is one of her most enduring early ones. Sure it's dated, but it's a pretty song. The Drifters version is a little better, though.
4. Suzanne Vega: Cassidy ***
Low-key, faithful rendition from the tribute album, Deadicated. I've always thought Vega's voice always sounded a little timid, and she does here, too. Originally coupled with a cover of China Doll, this track doesn't benefit from the separation. It's perfectly okay, but it won't make you forget the Grateful Dead.
5. Mariah Carey: Bringin' On The Heartache ****
The only Mariah Carey tune I possess. I've always disliked her vocal acrobatics and the way she emotes. This cover of the Def Leppard tune is irresistable. Released after her much publicized breakdown, from her 'comeback' album that tanked, she actually sounds humbled here. She keeps her vocal fairly straight; no show-offy runs up and down the octaves until the very end. Frankly, I buy every single word she sings here. I'm still no fan, but this one is a keeper.
6. Mazzy Star: Halah ****
I've rhapsodized over Mazzy Star and Hope Sandoval before, and I get another opportunity to recommend them here. This is a gentle, mostly acoustic driven number, with a delicate tremeloed solo. Sandoval sings this one in a vaguely offhand manner, which is an appealing shift from her starker, more somber singing on most of her recordings. Novices should start with Mazzy Star's next disc, but fans of that one will like this.
7. Tiny Lights: After All ***
One of the great lost late 80's bands, it is nearly impossibly to find anything by this band now. An intriguing group, with two women vocalists, a cellist and a violinist, plus the usual rock instruments, they conducted chamber-pop that had some alt-rock grit to it, too. This one is a slow, almost bluesy number with violin and vocal lead guitar. Not one of their best, but it does reach a number of very nice crescendoes.
8. Single Gun Theory: Words Written Backwards [Radio Baghdad Edit] *****
An all time favorite of mine, this sexy, lush dance track fuses elements of Turkish, Indian, and Asian music into their pre-trip-hop groove. Jacqui Hunt is another vocalist of the Hope Sandoval sultry-detached school; it works just fine here, where the sonic texture is nearly as sexy as she is. A great cut, by another largely forgotten band.
9. Lone Justice: After The Flood ****
Maria McKee is blessed with one of the greatest country voices in rock; she's best known for her show-stopping "If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)" from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Lone Justice was a good band at the wrong time; its traditionalist mix of AOR/country just wasn't in step with the times at the height of the synth-pop era. Lone Justice only released two albums (a third, archival live disc came out a few years ago). All three are worth having. After the Flood is representitive of their sound, but a novice should seek out the single "Sweet Sweet Baby (I'm Falling)" first.
10. Macy Gray: A Moment To Myself *****
Macy Gray came out of thin air in 1999 and singlehandedly updated the early 70's soul/blaxploitation sound with trip-hop and electronica elements, instantly rendering classic soul cool again, even relevent, after a long couple of decades out on the fringes. She's no revivalist, though; this new sound is instantly identifiable as hers, the mark of an original. Great voice, great timing, fabulous production.