The women who rocked our world

 

Pick your top five women artists. It was a difficult task. When journalists LAUREN MURPHY, SINÉAD GLEESON, ANNA CAREY, and ANTHEA McTEIRNANsat down with tea and Wispas to discuss the women who soundtracked their lives, it really was a beautiful thing. They even reached a healthy consensus on the top 10 singles and albums by women artists. You might not agree ...

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD

I still remember the first time I heard Dusty in Memphis. It was closing time in the music shop I worked in. A colleague grabbed an album from the easy listening section and told me that I needed to hear it. Initially dismissive of a singer best known for the overplayed Son of a Preacher Man, there was something about opening track Just a Little Lovin’that was immediately spellbinding.

The album quickly became a permanent fixture in my playlist, and the woman born Mary O’Brien an all-time favourite. Springfield’s ability to convey love, lust, heartbreak and elation with a voice that was original, soulful, and oh-so-sexy has rarely been bettered by a singer of any genre. This was a woman who poured her heart and soul into her art – a fact that resonated even more powerfully, considering her own troubled private life and struggle with her sexuality. Easy listening? Far from it. Essential listening? Undoubtedly. LM

KATE BUSH

I am four, standing in my parent’s kitchen, and an otherworldly voice on the radio is mewling about a girl called Cathy. I later discover that this is Kate Bush as she incrementally pops up on Top of the Popsall through my childhood. Her videos – dressed like Xena Warrior Princess singing Babooshka or as a tomboy with Donald Sutherland in Cloudbusting – were always an event. A trawl of Dublin’s record shops in my early teens yields a second-hand vinyl copy of The Kick Insideand my adoration of Kate begins. There is that swooping, multi-octave voice of hers, the elaborate outfits and the idiosyncratic choreography ( Running up that Hill). From Florence Welch to Joanna Newsom, Bush’s voice has been hugely influential. Her musical ethos – from interpretations of Joyce’s Ulyssesto collaborating with Bulgarian folk singers – has also been uncompromising. An extraordinary singer and a true artist. SG

ELLA FITZGERALD

Ella Fitzgerald’s voice encapsulates everything I want to be. It’s witty, sophisticated, charming, good-humoured, full of character and always utterly at ease. Most of the time, I’m pretty sure I’m none of these things, but listening to Ella makes me feel like I can be. I’ve been a fan of what’s known as the Great American Songbook for as long as I can remember (Cole Porter is one of my all-time musical heroes), and Ella was one of the greatest interpreters of those delicious songs. Like Elvis and Sinatra, she proved that a great artist doesn’t have to write her own material, though her joyous, soaring scat singing proved her own creative powers. If there’s anything more wonderful than Ella Fitzgerald singing Bewitched, Bothered and Bewilderedor Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye, I don’t know what it is. Listening to her makes me happy, and sometimes that’s the best thing that music can do. AC

JOAN ARMATRADING

Show some emotion? With Joan around it’s hard not to. Born on the Caribbean island of St Kitt’s but brought up in Birmingham, where by a cruel twist of fate I also found myself navigating adolescence, Armatrading provided the soundtrack for many a feminist epiphany. Rumour had it that Joan herself drank from the blue cup (similar to the one used by a certain Mrs M Thatcher of Finchley, north London), but the gossips won’t spoil my fun. Seminal songwriter and guitar genius Joan pulls into Vicar Street on April 23rd. I’ll be there cracking out a few feminist anthems . . . Me Myself I, Walk Under Ladders, Love and Affection, Tall in the Saddle. Rosie? I’ll be positively glowing. AMcT

KRISTIN HERSH

In 1989, when I was 13, my older sister Lisa got a tape free with Melody Makerfeaturing a song called Santa Clausby a band I’d never heard of called Throwing Muses. It was strange and poppy and noisy, with girly vocals that were alternately sweet and scary, and I fell in love instantly. Throwing Muses’ 1989 album Hunkpapawas the first time I’d ever heard a woman fronting such a fantastically loud, uncompromisingly odd band, and the effect was electrifying. Perhaps only those who don’t fit into the default indie rock mould (male, white and straight) can understand what a seriously huge deal it is to see and hear someone like you step into the part. Kristin Hersh is the reason I learned to play the guitar, and I was only a little embarrassed to tell her so when I interviewed her a few years ago. She’s my heroine. AC

JONI MITCHELL

Many people think of Joni Mitchell as “one of the greatest folk singers” – but as far as I’m concerned, she’s simply one of the greatest. Like many Mitchellites, my first exposure to her music was via Blue, her most famous album. But the now-66-year-old’s back catalogue is rich with beautiful music and honest lyrics steeped in human relationships, environmentalism and politics – but which provoked thought, rather than patronised. And what about that voice? It’s the human equivalent of a songbird; pure, true and customarily heart-rending. She’s still influencing generation after generation of young folk singers (Laura Marling, etc), but it’s unlikely that there’ll ever be another Joni. As for albums? Well, Blueis still my favourite. It brings back memories of sunny summer days in my late teens/ early 20s, listening to Californiaon my headphones, and wishing I was “sitting in a park in Paris, France”, too. LM

PJ HARVEY

Theres no one, male or female, quite like PJ Harvey. Her debut album Drycame out when I was 16; the week after its release, my sister’s then- boyfriend gave me a tape with Dryon one side and the Drydemo tapes (an album which was given away with initial vinyl copies of Dry) on the other. I had never heard anything like it before. Harvey sounded so young, and the music was so powerful, it was almost overwhelming. I used to listen to it on my Walkman in bed, and when I got to the end of one side of the tape, I’d just turn it around and listen to the other. I was mesmerised. I still am. Although not everything she’s ever done has been brilliant, her last album, White Chalk, was an exquisitely subtle masterpiece. And I’m pretty sure she’s still blowing the minds of today’s teenage girls. AC

CHRISSIE HYNDE

Thanks for the music Chrissie. But most of all thank you for the hairstyle. A trip to the hairdresser wouldn’t be the same without being able to utter the immortal instructions: “Like Chrissie Hynde, please”. She migrated from her native Ohio to London to become a music journalist. Thank goddess it didn’t work out, and after a spell working at Sex, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren’s mad clothing emporium, she meandered between continents till she found her true MO and became the frontwoman of The Pretenders. Brass in Pocket, which she co-wrote with James Honeyman-Scott, was the first number one single of the 1980s. It was all downhill in the charts from there. Amazing. AMcT

LAURYN HILL

As an impressionable teen who hadn’t previously really been exposed to hip-hop or soul music, the solo debut of Fugees frontwoman Lauryn Hill was a revelation. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hillis a remarkable album; it contained songs that were commercially viable – the catchy Doo Wop (That Thing)– as well as songs that perpetuated the finest tradition of black music and culture without social segregation. Gospel, soul, hip-hop, pop, and r’n’b were crammed into 16 tracks and enhanced by a pretty incisive lyrical palette. It’s not as though she has a huge body of work to assess Miseducationremains her only studio album to date, but, by heck, she’s come a long way since playing the kid with the attitude problem in Sister Act 2. Women may not be the dominant force in hip-hop, but when they’re this good, it matters little. LM

KIM GORDON

In 1989, standing in a queue outside McGonagles in Dublin, Kim Gordon casually saunters past to retrieve something from Sonic Youth’s tour bus. There is an audible intake of breath from the long line and Gordon looks at me and smiles. My teenage self almost faints, but luckily manages to stay upright for what still ranks as one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. On stage, she thrashes like a gorgon, conjuring up the filthiest basslines, but is capable of huge vulnerability, especially with her invocation of Karen Carpenter on Tunic. I had a C90 tape with Daydream Nationon one side and Sisteron the other that I eventually wore out. Like Lydia Lunch and later Kathleen Hannah, Gordon was one of American punk’s female flag-flyers, inspiring the Riot Grrrl movement, co- producing Hole’s debut album and providing inspiration for a whole generation of women to pick up instruments. SG

BJÖRK

Strange that it was a cover version (It’s Oh So Quiet) that prised open the gateway to the weird and wonderful world of Björk for me back in 1995. Forget the spectacular SpikeJonze-directed video, a creation bursting with dynamic colours and slick choreography; what was so intriguing about the song was this very possibly bonkers pixie- like woman who merged primal vocals with music that bored into your system, fizzled through your veins and made you feel more than a little bit odd. The truth is, there isn’t anybody else like Björk. She’s a musician who tramples paths through the musical undergrowth, pandering to nobody and constantly treading new ground, as evidenced by her latest offering, 2007’s Volta. At 44, she’s still strange and definitely bonkers, but is consistently inspiring nonetheless – and we wouldn’t change her for anything . LM

SALT ’N’ PEPA

These days, women are well represented in rap and hip-hop, but when two girls in spandex, gold chains and baseball jackets asked us to Push Itin 1987, it was groundbreaking. To see three women (including DJ Spinderella) posturing like they just didn’t care in a genre that was ridiculously male was inspiring. Hip-hop, at the time, was barely a decade old and Cheryl “Salt” James and Sandra “Pepa” Denton challenged its male perceptions. While gangstas talked about bling and hos, Salt ’N’ Pepa were never afraid to be sexually frank in their lyrics ( Push Itis self-explanatory, as is Let’s Talk About Sex). They encouraged me to go looking for other female rappers and through them I found Monie Love, Queen Latifah and later Missy Elliott and T Love. Thank you Salt ’N’ Pepa for the great tunes and the asymmetric haircuts. SG

ELISABETH FRASER

Long before Sigur Rós invented Hopelandish, Elizabeth Fraser entranced and frustrated us with her beguiling gibberish. The first album I heard, V ictorialand, is heart-stopping and remains one of my all time favourite albums. Beautiful, odd, dreamlike, it’s classic Cocteau Twins. Many a teenage evening (after taping songs off Dave Fanning’s radio show) was spent lost in their albums. If the woozy guitars and drum machine combo didn’t etherise me, Fraser’s incomparable vocals would. Made up-words and her shyness in the rare interviews she gave made her into this mythical creature possessed of a voice as sweet as it was lyrically indecipherable. Her version of Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren is as one of my favourite covers ever. A solo single, Moses, was released in 2009 – bring on the long wished-for debut album. SG

DELIA DERBYSHIRE

Although not as feted (or recognisable) as other women listed here, Delia Derbyshire is often called the mother of electronic music. In 1959, she applied and was turned down for a job in Decca Records recording studio, which refused to employ women as sound engineers. Before Kraftwerk were playing room-sized synths, Derbyshire was using oscillators and tinkering sonically with everything from colanders to house keys. Growing up in the 1970s, her unforgettable theme tune for Doctor Whowas spookier than the Daleks. Made during her time at the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, Derbyshire was an innovator, not just in musical terms, but as a woman. When I first discovered Orbital in the mid-1990s, a friend told me all about how the brothers Hartnoll cited her as a huge influence. From her theatrical soundtracks to experimental music, acts such as Aphex Twin and Portishead wouldn’t sound the same without her. SG

LADY GAGA

“The lastthing any young person needs is another photograph of a woman rubbing her glistening tits, enjoying life, because that’s not how we fucking feel.” Too right it’s not, Gaga. OK, so last year she was supporting the Pussycat Dolls, but this New York iconoclast is actually the real deal, headlining her own Monster shows at Dublin’s O2 the other week, where she emerged from beneath the stage with fireworks spouting from her breasts and genitals. Boys in the media, smarting from being given the bird by, well, a “bird”, have tried to attack her by suggesting she is actually a man. Must try harder boys. All Gaga did was strap on a dildo for some recent press shots. Call that a dick, lads? Thisis a dick. The Lady’s fest will run and run. AMcT

KATHLEEN HANNA

Though I first got into Riot Grrrl through the British band Huggy Bear (boy/girl revolutionaries, yeah!), it was Kathleen Hanna of American bands Bikini Kill and, later, Le Tigre who really fulfilled the promise of the girl-centric musical movement. Whether creating amazing ’zines, writing perfect punk rock songs ( Rebel Girl) or creating fantastic electro-pop floorfillers ( Deceptacon), Hanna has been at the forefront of fun, fierce and creative musical feminism for nearly 20 years. Alas, the band have been quiet of late though they’ve apparently been writing songs for Christina Aguilera, which could be amazing or disturbing or both. Hanna recently donated her papers to NYU, but I keep hoping she’ll release some more music (a collaboration with her equally awesome husband, Adam Ad-Rock Horovitz of The Beastie Boys, would make me very happy). We still need you, Kathleen! AC

COURTNEY LOVE

The first time I ever used the internet, back in 1994, was so that I could read Courtney Loves ramblings on Usenet. I had actually found Love irritating until a year or so earlier. Then I read an NME interview in which she said that she’d always wanted to be the girl in a Leonard Cohen song before realising that being a muse is vastly inferior to writing the songs yourself. Reading those words was like an alarm going off. It made me love Ms Love, and luckily Hole’s magnificent next album, Live Through This, didn’t disappoint. Did Kurt write it, as haters always claimed? I don’t think so, but it didn’t matter anyway. No one could have delivered those songs like Courtney, in all her shambolic, bluntly beautiful glory. She refused to sing sweetly or look cute. She just rocked. And we loved her for it. AC

ALISON MOYET

I was once unfortunate enough to be tasked with expressing Yazoo’s I before E except after Cthrough the medium of dance. I know. It was 1983 and school gym teachers were cruel and weird. Even this could not dampen my ardour for Alison, whose incredible set of pipes light up the gorgeous, seminal Upstairs at Eric’s. Together with former Depeche Mode-y Vince Clarke, hovering on keyboards at the back, Moyet gave Yazoo beauty, power and soul. Those were the days. And lest we forget, Only You and Don’t Go were two of the singles of the decade. Legend. AMcT

GILLIAN WELCH

Country music is an often unfairly maligned genre, despite the obvious wealth of talent lurking underneath the schmaltzy Garth Brooks rubbish. Yet – with a few notable exceptions – female country musicians have often been written off as glorified backing singers, in comparison to respected male heavyweights such as Johnny Cash. We should be extra-thankful, then, that artists like Gillian Welch exist. She certainly continues the tradition of strong female country singers such as Patsy Cline and Emmylou Harris, but the New York-born Welch writes songs that really transcend genre and stereotype – perhaps best demonstrated on her remarkable albums Hell Among the Yearlingsand Time (The Revelator). Of course, her exceptionally gifted guitarist husband David Rawlings plays a part in her sound – but nonetheless, that pure, steady voice is a clarion call to those with an appreciation for timeless songwriting. Oi! Taylor Swift – you could learn a thing or two from this woman. LM

TINA TURNER

Thank goodness Nutbush city ended up having no limits for Annie Mae Bullock. The woman we know and love as Tina Turner has triumphed over poverty, racism and sexual violence to become a feminist icon. And, not unnoticed by many a more mature woman, she notched up her first number one single in 1984 at the age of 44 with What’s Love Got To Do With It. Another gift of hope from a beautiful, dignified, sassy star. Simply the best. AMcT


TOP 10 Albums by women

Arular - Mia

Blue - Joni Mitchell

Cut - The Slits

The Kick Inside - Kate Bush

The scream - Siouxsie and the Banshees

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill - Lauryn Hill

Dusty in Memphis - Dusty Springfield

Debut - Bjork

Rid of Me - PJ Harvey

Actor - St Vincent


TOP 10 singles by women

Crazy in Love - Beyoncé

Cannonball - The Breeders

Express Yourself - Madonna

Strange Fruit - Billie Holiday

I Love Rock 'n' Roll - Joan Jett

Get Ur Freak on - Missy Elliot

Biology - Girls Aloud

Standing in the Way of Control - Gossip

Hangin' on the Telephone - Blondie

Woman of the Ghetto - Marlena Shaw