Sunday, January 29, 2006

Thoughts on "160 Greatest Female Vocalist in Rock 'N' Rock"

Recently, I penned some controversial lines about how much I dislike modern male pop music vocalists (I guess I should point out that I still like Howlin' Wolf, Johnny Paycheck, Dieter Fischer-Diskau and Phil Minton just fine) and lacking anything resembling a real point, opted to conclude with an "I'm retarded" rhetorical flourish and proclaimed: "maybe I hate music now!" Both Michalle and Michelle brought to my attention the gaping void at the heart of my analysis: the failure to attend to female vocalists. Very well. Now that I have seen the list of "160 Greatest Female Vocalists in Rock 'N' Roll" posted over at Oh No They Didn't, I have sufficient inspiration to proceed. Allons-y.

This list is notable for a number of reasons: 1) 160 is a non-standard number, suggesting that the list is somehow comprehensive (obviously a farcical proposition); 2) not all of the included vocalists are crap; 3) some of the included vocalists are totally crap, and their proximity to non-crap make them seem even more execrable; 4) R & B singers are given lots of coverage, but Nashville crooners ignored. So wrong!

The first point made above needs no elaboration. As regards point number two, here is my selection of non-crap vocalists who made the list, with some commentary where appropriate: Obviously 1-4 (Aretha, Etta, Ruth and Janis) need no support. Nevertheless, anyone who can hear the opening bars of "At Last" or "Piece of My Heart" and not feel fatigued is stronger of constitution than me. Dusty Springfield "Son of a Preacher Man" fits into the "great, but never needs be heard again" category. Grace Slick is one of the true unsung geniuses of modern music, and ranks with Buffy Sainte-Marie as one of the true originals of psychedelia, so I was happy to see her given props. Emmylou Harris at 20 is, of course, a welcome sight.

Now, to get to anything about which I have strong positive feelings, we must skip to Bjork at number 50. I adore Chrissie Hynde at number 52, but "I'll Stand By You" makes me think of reading 6-years-out-of-date issues of the Canadian news journal "Maclean's" while waiting to have cavities filled. Yeccch. I am no "Pretenders" freak, so perhaps there are more deserving choices, but I have always liked the touching insousiance of "Chain Gang." Cyndi Lauper's "Time after Time" at 62 is no doubt a masterpiece, but "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" is the ne plus ultra of the Lauper canon. Also in the 60s are Patti Smith and Sandy Denny, though neither song is the right one-- "Gloria" of course should be the Smith choice, and as regards Denny, either Fairport Convention's "Meet on the Ledge" or "Matty Groves."

The 70s have some power hitters: Mary Wells's "My Guy," Ronnie Spector's "Be My Baby" (should be in the top 10), and Nico's "Chelsea Girls," which is a great choice, far superior to anything off the banana album, even the sublime "All Tomorrow's Parties." Guilty pleasure time here: I think Dolores O'riordan's vocal performance on "Zombie" (92) is fantastic, and therefore deserving of inclusion.

We must skip to 111, Belinda Carlisle's "Vacation" for anything really worthy (I have been trying to avoid comments regarding the craziness of certain ass-horrible songs beating out great ones, but the idea that Allanah Myles's "Black Velvet" appears prior to the Go-Gos is a fucking travesty). Kelly Clarkson at 125 with "Since U Been Gone" is a truly brilliant performance, probably the best of the last few years. The nice cluster in the 130s, PJ Harvey's "Down By The Water" (should be "50 Ft. Queenie," no doubt?), Beyonce at 135 (though "Crazy In Love" is the deserving title), numero 136 Fontella Bass's "Rescue Me," Madonna at 137 (horrible selection with "This Used To Be My Neighborhood," really ought to be "Ray of Light," methinks), and Liz Phair at 138 ("The Divorce Song" is not a bad choice) warms the heart. Joan Jett and Kim Deal in the final decile round out my list of notably good choices.

More thoughts on this list to come. I will hold my tongue on the brain-boiling exclusions and omissions in the hopes that readers will chime in. Nope, cannot resist the brutal stupidity of no Missy, Loretta Lynn, or Satomi. What's wrong with these people?


mzn said...

Here are some missing from AM radio of the early 80s: Bananarama (Cruel Summer), Juice Newton (Angel of the Morning), Irene Cara (What a Feelin), Nena (99...), Sheena Easton (Morning Train), Kim Carnes (Bette Davis Eyes). I also have fond feelings for the female vocalists in Thompson Twins and Human League. I'm less nostalgic about the Pointer Sisters, but they probably deserve a place too.

Didn't you miss Yoko Ono? And how could you reserve comment on ohnotheydidnt's boldface favorites?

the sad billionaire said...

MZN, so right you are about the missing MOR AM radio 80s singers... as if Laura Branigan and Bonnie Tyler were enough to fill that gulf!

Yoko was missed, but I would put her in the category of "avant-garde enough to see why they might be excluded from a list of chart toppers and rock critics darlings" with Patty Waters and Linda Sharrock and Lydia Lunch and Kim Gordon and Polly Styrene and Kathleen Hanna. Scratch that-- at very least, "Kool Thing" and "Rebel Girl" should be on any list worth its salt...

Also, Oh No They Didn't's boldface faves were truly bananas. They have bad taste in music.

femme feral said...

susanah hoff (bangles -- eternal flame) and macy gray shoulda been on the list. And of course Dominique from Making the Band. And Marianna Faithful. And Lulu! Hello!

Elyce Rae Helford said...

I haven't viewed the list (energy for slogging through it fails me at the moment), but to my mind, the best female vocalists of today must include:

Fleming (of Fleming and John)
Tracy Bonham
Toshi Reagon

I've also been grooving on the amazingly diverse new CD from Anoushka Shankar as well as some songs from the live album from Antigone Rising, and I still get misty listening to Norah Jones (half sister of Shankar, I recently learned).