So, like, in 2010, in response, like, to Triple J's "top 100 songs of all time poll" coming up with only two songs sung by women, the socialist youth organisation Resistance ran this, like, poll themselves to determine the top songs ever by female artists.
Anyone who wanted to take part got to send in 25 songs and, like, I *totally* took part and my votes kinda made no difference to anything but you know, kids these days eh? But I was not put off and, like, was totally determiend to *immediately* get my *shit together* and put my 25 songs onto this VERY HERE BLOG so the world could see the *TRUE* list.
That was, like, three years ago now. And every year, espeically around International Women's Day, I think: "THAT IS IT I WILL GET IT DONE RIGHT NOW!" and something happens, like I go and get another beer. And then nothing happens.
BUT FEAR NOT HUMANS! I have finally decided ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and HERE IS MY LIST OF THE 25 GREATEST SONGS BY FEMALE SINGERS EVER!!!
I shall make a few brief points of introduction. One is, this list has changed a fair bit over three years. There are songs and artists I didn't really know then that I have had no choice but to include. Also, my tastes have shifted -- there is less indie guitar pop stuff and more country-flavoured glorious storytelling brilliance.
And, as it is not a competition, the criteria has changed a bit too -- I don't feel the need to pick a particular song by an artist I like just coz that I think *that one* will have some chance of getting other votes too (not that this made any difference).
But most importantly, this is no longer an attempt to make a case for the "greatest songs ever by female singers". Such a list is highly subjective anyway, and there is always so much any individual hasn't heard. So, now, the list is just simply 25 songs I happen to like a lot by female singers.
As a result, it acts as a bit of a intro into some of the acts I think are cool, and as a result there are few multiple songs by acts I love, coz I just cannot bring myself to only choose one -- it doesn't do 'em justice. Also, it ranges from very well known acts like PJ Harvey through to far less known (but should be well known) acts from Australia -- such as the brilliant Cash Savage and Mojo Juju.
There is no doubt many songs I am missing, and would have added if only I have thought of them. So, less "25 greatest songs by female artists", it is just "25 songs by female artists that I really like".
So here it is (in no particular order). (And here it is handily compiled in a YouTube playlist for your listening pleasure.)
You don't like it, go and fucking make your own list you useless whining motherfuckers.
* * *
"This world is crazy, give me the gun." Wise words from PJ indeed. Is this really better than a good half dozen other songs from her 2000 clssic Stories fFrom the City, Stories From The Sea, let alone countless others from albums before and since? That would be a big call. But, as it is pretty much just impossible to chose, fuck it. "Big Exit" kicks it off.
"Death was everywhere,
In the air
And in the sounds
Coming off the mounds
Of Bolton's Ridge.
When you rolled a smoke
Or told a joke,
It was in the laughter
And drinking water
It approached the beach
As strings of cutters,
Dropped in the sea and lay around us.
Death was in the ancient fortress,
Shelled by a million bullets
From gunners, waiting in the corpses
With hearts that threatened to pop their boxes,
As we advanced into the sun
Death was all and everyone.
Death was all and everyone.
As we advance in the sun
As we advancing every man
As we advancing in the sun
Death hung in the smoke and clung
To four hundred acres of useless beachfront.
A bank of red earth, dripping down
Dead is now, and now, and now
Death was everywhere
In the air
And in the sounds
Coming off the mounds
Of Bolton's Ridge.
Death was in the staring sun,
Fixing its eyes on everyone.
It rattled the bones of the Night Horsemen
Still lying out there in the open
As we, advancing in the sun
As we, advancing every man
As we, advancing in the sun
Sing 'Death to all and everyone'."
If picking a song from PJ Harvey's general career was near impossible, picking one song off Harvey's stunning concept album on the horror of war (2011's Let England Shake) was a task to drive the best of us totally insane. Luckily, I am *far* from the best of us and a long way from sane. So here is this heartbreaking gem on the topic of the horrific slaughter at Gallipoli in 1915.
"Take another little piece of my heart now baby..." Some bastard ripped out Janis's heart and so then she ripped out her lungs and throat to let us all know about it. There is nothing else to say, except that if you think that is a great vocal performance...
"Honey I know she told you that she loved you much more than I did." ... then check the this shit out.
“We’ve lived in bars and danced on tables.” There is no denying it, this song by Cat Power speaks to me.
“Who needs love when there’s Southern Comfort?” That line alone from the Dresdon Doll's Amanda Palmer would warrant a spot on this list. But you place it in the context of Palmer's witty, ironic and increasingly desperate impassioned plea against the empty superficiality of the world around her, and... well... I kinda think I wrote that sentence badly and this part is redundant.
“I’m armed and I’m equal. More fun for the people.” That’s all that needs to be said, really. This track from M.I.A. is, once more, just one of a number that could be inserted here.
"Don't try and push me coz you'll get a reaction. Another drink and I'm ready for action." Lily Allen exploded onto the popular music scene with 2006's Alright, Still, brimming with attitude, swaggering, and giving one finger to sexist pricks and another to the world in general. This song sums up her approach. She was a young woman who refused to play by the set rules -- she drank, swore, and sung about screwing who she wanted and demanding her own pleasure... and the response from much of the media was predictable. I discuss Lily Allen and this phenomena in my blog post Explaining Lily Allen.
"Oh Jesus Christ almighty. Do I feel alright? No not slightly." Lily Allen's witty take on trying to live under late monoply capitalism... the hurt, frutration and anger at the "way that things go" just barely below the surface.
“God blessed me, I’m a free man. With no place free to go.” Neko Case sums up the entire capitalist system in 13 words.
“It’s not the smell in here that gets to me, it’s the lights. I hate the shadows that they cast. And the sound of clinking bottles is the one sure thing I’ll always drag with me from my past.” Such vivid imagery in this destroyingly beautiful melancholic song about love and guilt and memories.
"Here comes that feeling that I'd forgotten
How strange these streets feel
When you're alone on them
Each pair of eyes just filled with suggestion
So I lower my head, make a beeline for home
Just to prove it is was not a one-off, there is this equally compelling poetic tale of feeling ambivalent, but ultimately happy, over the end of a relationship. Every line paints a picture -- and at times cuts deep. And the Cowboy Junkies can do devastating social criticism -- just check out This Street, This Man, This Life with its terrifying depiction of the horrors that lurk in surburbia ("This street holds it's secrets like a cobra holds it's kill / This street minds it's business like a jailer minds his jail / That house there is haunted / That door's a portal to hell / This street holds it's secrets very well").
"We're hanging here within an inch of our lives from the day we're born till the day we die..." This is the glorious country folk husband-and-wife duo Shovels and Rope. Cary Anne Hearst and Michael Trent mix up songwriting and singing duties, and Carly takes the lead for this one. Check out some more in this Shovels and Rope playlist I created.
"She said 'I know there's something deeper here I'm supposed to discover, but all I really want tonight is to find myself a lover. Cowboys are my weakness so won't you buy me a drink. Whiskey is my poison that way I don't have to think about it..." There is great bit at the end of the performance of this gem of a track by Kate Mann when some bloke yells out "Who *wrote* that song" and Mann looks up and says "I did".
"I've got your memories, or... has it got me?" It was very difficult to pick just one track by Patsy Cline, who evokes pain with such heartfelt simplicity... For further evidence, you could pick pretty much anything she recorded, but you good examples are Why Can't He Be You and If You've Got Leaving On Your Mind. Not recommended if you've spent an evening drinking by yourself... unless you like to cry.
"I was drinking here last night, and drinking here the night before too. And if you're looking for me tomorrow, you can bet I have nothing better to do..." Cash Savage, the heartbreaking blues singer from country Victoria, knows how to rip your heart out and stomp it into the dirt. When I first heard this song, I thought that songs just don't get much better than this. But then I heard...
"It took 19 years to find her. And three years to make her mine. We had four good years of loving. But it only took two words to bvreak her heart..." Oh, jesus christ. Just... holy shit that is a song. Fuck.
"Down at the Cross, out in the street, I shot somebody she loved more than me..." The first time I ever came across Australian singer Mojo Juju, she was part of a group of artists performing a Tom Waits tribute night at The Vanguard in Newtown, Sydney. Mojo Juju came out and gave a passionate speech about just exactly why she adored Tom Waits... which would have won me over by itself, but when she sung a spinechilling version of "Alice" to close the night... the whole place was under her spell. This accoustic recording, and the one below, don't quite do justice to Mojo Juju, who comes to life with a band playing live. But you can go and find that out for yourself on YouTube. The simplicity of these recordings, however, highlight her quality as a singer-songwriter.
"Did you see me last night in the carpark? Holding hands with a beautiful girl? Standing in the wind as the train rushed by, hoping it'd blow me on outta this world ..." It is not surprising Mojo Juju loves Tom Waits so much, she shares his knack for telling the stories of hopeless but deeply felt love.
"Queers and straights unite ... standing in the way of control, we live our lives!" Gossip's 2005 song was sparked by anger at the homophobic policies of the then-Bush administration. More than just a call to arms, it is a celebration of the daily resistance of simply living your life as you are.
"When you're ready we can share the wine... Call me." Simply because there is no way such a list could be considered complete without Blondie.
"I aint done nuthin' cept kill a man what belongs to me..." Blues singer Victoria Spivey's 1927 track. You wanna know why? Check out the next track.
"From the start most every heart that's ever broken, was because there always was a man to blame." Kitty Wells is to the point in this early example of an "answer song" (it was recorded in answer to a Hank Williams track Wild Side of Life which blamed "loose women" in honky tonk bars for leading men astray).
"There's a guy work's down the chip shop swears he's Elvis, just like you swore to me that you'd be true..." Ah, the lamentably late Kirsty McColl combines insanely catchy pop and a honky tonk vibe with a "fuck you" punk rock attitude ... just a classic... what popular music should be...
"Right proudly high in Dublin town, they hung out a flag of war. 'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky, than at Suvla or Sud el Bar." It is nearly Easter again, the anniversay of when Irish freedom fighters rose in 1916 -- not just to strike blow for Irish freedom but against the horrific imperialist system slaughtering millions of working people for Big Powers in the so-caled "Great War" of 1914-18. In other words, against the horrors depicted in the second song in this list -- PJ Harvey's "All and Everyone". It is a classic Irish rebel song, and Sinead O'Connor can damn well sing.
That is it. Don't forget, you can listen to offical YouTube Playlist for this blog post here. If you got better suggestions? Feel free to use the comment section. Or, you know, just KEEP YOUR GODDAMN IDEAS TO YOURSELF.