Saturday, January 14, 2012

The boys wanna fight, but the girls are happy to rock all night.*

Connecticut used to have this independent rock radio station that played classic, alternative, rap-metal, etc.  I'd listen to it now and again when the local modern rock station wasn't playing anything good.  One night as I zoomed down the highway in my car, the DJ started a rant.  His thesis?  Women can't rock.  Every "great" rock act ever has been fronted by men, and he defied his audience to prove him wrong and then spent the next hour taking calls and shooting down every retort he was given. 

Joan Jett, circa the Mullet Years.
Fuck you, buddy, I thought as my brain quickly rattled off the names:  Chrissy Hynde.  Shirley Manson.  Lita Ford.  Joan motherfucking Jett.  Ann and Nancy Wilson.  Debbie Harry.

I hate the idea that only men can be rock stars.  Not-so-secretly, I have always sort of dreamed of being the lead singer in a band.  (Nevermind that I haven't been able to sing very well since I quit chorus in junior high...)  I'd be somewhere in between Shirley, Tori Amos, Florence Welch, and Lita.  It would be amazing.  (Trust me on this because I almost never sing in public unless someone puts Rock Band in front of me.  That game is like my kryptonite.)

But I digress.  There has always been a soft spot in my heart for chicks who rock.  Maybe it's because I'm a child of the 90s and there were so many great girl bands then:  Elastica, Veruca Salt, Garbage, Letters to Cleo, Shakepear's Sister, Joydrop (whose record label has sadly taken most of their music off YouTube save a few live performances), and who knows how many others I'm forgetting now.  Everywhere you looked there were girls in babydoll Ts and clunky shoes with guitars. 

Shirley Manson,
my personal rock goddess.

Not that it started there.  I already mentioned Joan Jett and Heart and Blondie.  So the idea to me that "rock" is somehow exclusive to the Y chromosome is just stupid and sad.  Do men hold the patent on rage, or on pent up frustration, or on sexuality, or any of the things that create a rock song?  They certainly don't hold any sort of ownership over leather pants, and I defy you to show me the man who can rock a satin mini dress and combat boots like my girl Shirley over here.  (Why did that look have to go out of style, anyway?) 

To be fair, my definition of "rock' is probably wider than that idiot DJ's was.  I happily include Tori Amos in that definition, for instance.  While most people associate her with tinkly piano and sad girl songs, she's actually done a lot of work with electrical bands and you just haven't lived until you've seen her hump a piano stool.  

Debbie Harry of Blondie.
Because let's be honest:  the sex plays a big part in rock and roll.  but to tell me that women can't possess a brutal, feral, vicious sexuality is like telling me that flan isn't the best dessert ever invented.  (Do not tell me this.  Ever.)  Look at Debbie Harry, or even the sometimes absurd and terrifying sexiness of PJ Harvey.  Or the way Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde can sound gravelly, then smooth as silk, then terrifying, sometimes all in the same song. 

Really what brought this wave of chick rock adoration on was the fact that I randomly cued up my Joydrop albums on iTunes tonight.  One of those, "hey, haven't listened to this in an ice age or two..." moments.  And I got to thinking how much I miss hearing a lot of that music more often. 

And so in that spirit, I made a little something for myself and maybe for you.  It's a loooooooong Spotify playlist (sorry, foreigners) filled to the brim with women who are sexy, angry, loud, angsty, peppy, riot grrls, disco queens, wailers, and everything in between.  None of it is in any particular order, so I recommend you fire it up, hit "shuffle," and see what the Spotify gods give you.  Maybe you'll hear a song you forgot you loved or find something new.  Either way I hope you like it. 

*Title is a bastardized paraphrasing of a Garbage song.  Viva La Shirley.


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  2. I couldn't agree more. I might split hairs with you over the term "Rock" (namely, is becoming a "Rock Star" actually philosophically tenable and desirable?), but that's because I'm an obsessive academic and music nerd. The major point here is female music icons, and that's something I have very strong views on too. Saying women can't be music icons is stupefyingly bigoted and shows the person really didn't do their research, or bothered to take a cursory look around at all.

    The vast majority of my favourite artists are female, female-fronted or feature very prominent women as part of the band ensemble. This isn't for the obvious reason, I'd be quick to add. Since I A. Don't have Spotify and B. Am working at a computer living on borrowed time I can't see the extent of your playlist, but I compliment you on the names you dropped here (Debbie Harry will never get the credit she deserves for her role in inventing hip-hop) and would humbly submit a few of my own (apologies if you've listed them already, of course).

    Two great artists I can think of right now who are always pushing the boundaries are Emilie Autumn and Amanda Palmer. Autumn crafts an elaborate performance art routine about the legacy of the Victorian tradition in gender roles and mental health while musically blending classical music, industrial techno, alternative rock and heavy metal. Amanda Palmer is one of the leading purveyors of Dark Cabaret and has fronted two eclectic, experimental outfits: The Dresden Dolls and Evelyn Eveyln. Both have careers spanning over a decade.

    We also shouldn't forget the contributions of bands not fronted by women, but with extremely prominent and influential female members. Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon is as much a face of the band as Thurston Moore and has a huge legacy on their sound and image. New Order's Gillian Gilbert took the electronic experimentation of Joy Division to the next level with her Kraftwerk/Giorgio Moroder-esque synth leads and was also equally important, though less heralded, as the band's second rhythm guitarist. Michigan upstarts Swimsuit build on this legacy by blending Joy Division-esque motorik beats with surf music to create a concoction that shouldn't work but does. They're an all-girl outfit, save one of the singer/guitarists.

    My all-time favourite female music icon though is Siouxsie Sioux: To me she's the heart and soul of the British punk movement and stands for all that was great about it. Her bold, original, experimental spirit kept "punk" alive and in the minds of music fans for almost three decades after it was supposed to have petered out. She's not just a style icon and a musical visionary, but one of my personal heroes.

  3. I know quite a few people who also claim girls can't "Rock". They're usually quick to point out singers such as Avril Lavigne or Lily Allen (Or in one very strange case, Yoko Ono...?), who aren't explicitly rock musicians, and then ignore it when you point that out to them.

    I don't understand how people can listen to
    bands like Garbage or Rilo Kiley, or singers like Jenny Owen Youngs, PJ Harvey, or Neko Case and say it isn't rock music. They "Rock" harder than a large portion of male musicians out there. For a specific example, I'd say nearly any St. Vincent song rocks harder than any Smiths song, but The Smiths are usually noted as "Rock" and St. Vincent as "Pop".

    It doesn't make sense. At least not to me anyway.

  4. I'll be honest, I've never been a big Amanda Palmer fan. My exposure to her is admittedly limited, but what I've seen has always felt like a lot of sizzle for very little steak. LOOK! I'M SHOCKING!

    But I'm with you on Siouxsie Sioux 100%.

  5. @Tara

    I agree Amanda Palmer's probably not the edgiest artist and certainly isn't as out there as someone like, well Emilie Autumn actually, but she makes good music and her heart's in it from what I can tell.

    If you still want to stick with the "Rock" label (most of my favourite musicians would probably prefer to be described as Anti-Rock and I find the term a bit...troubling)I have to give a nod to Shakira who I always call in as evidence to debate the "Rock Is Dead" whiners. She's as big a Rock Star as there's ever been but is usually not thought of as such. There's also Nena, who has a career spanning so many decades it makes me feel old just thinking about it, puts out an album a year and is still writing her absolute best material.

    It's awesome to hear you're such a Siouxsie Sioux fan! I could gush about her for hours. She's such an amazing person. I just found out she's finally doing another solo album soon-I couldn't be more excited!

  6. Women can rock just as well as men. That was proven by The Runways.

  7. As pointed out by the avatar of the commenter above me, then there's Emilie well as Lzzy Hale from of my personal favorite indie bands, EdibleRed....there's The Birthday Massacre...Stevie Nicks...The Plasmatics...Nightwish...The Donnas of course....Morningwood...

    Yeah I'm gonna go way out on a limb here and just say that, were I the head of that radio station, I would have, at the very least, called him into my office for that one and at the most fired him for making a statement THAT stupid.

    By the way, you REALLY wanna get angry, please tell me you saw what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame did this year where they finally put Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Heart up for nomination in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...only to not actually induct either of them because, as we all know, they just needed to induct Donovan RIGHT NOW....

  8. Girlschool. That is all (signed with the same label and played with Motorhead, because they ARE the all-female Motorhead).
    Women are a substantial part of metal too, although some chauvinistic dudes won't hear that: all the female-fronted gothic/symphonic metal bands wouldn't exist without women (obviously), plus bands like Halestorm, Walls of Jericho, Electric Wizard, My dying bride, Arch Enemy, and many, MANY more all prove that girls can rock just as hard as boys.

  9. Jenny Owen Youngs. Full stop.

  10. DarkBee made my point for me - the number of female-fronted hard rock/metal bands that would tear the face right off that idiot DJ is nearly innumerable. Arch Enemy, Walls of Jericho, In This Moment, iwrestledabearonce, Nightwish, Within Temptation, Epica, Leaves' Eyes, Echoes of Eternity, Midnattsol, Evanescence, Halestorm, We Are the Fallen, Kittie, Lullacry, Stolen Babies...I could go on forever!

  11. I was going to give you shit for not mentioning Courtney Love (the patron saint of Rock excess) but then you mentioned PJ Harvey so I won't disown you.

    Also you should check out a Spanish punk band called Dover ( ignore anything post 2006 apparently), Angelspit ( ignore anything they say... they are odd people....), Ayria ( ) and if you want to get a little bit creepy Neikka RPM ( ).

    1. Don't worry, I kicked myself when I realized I forgot Hole.

    2. If throwing stuff at Madonna during an interview on MTV isn't rock and roll then I don't know what is:

  12. Hi Tara.

    If I may make a recomendation I would ask to check out the band Guano Apes.
    They have a awesome female lead singer.^^
    Their last album "Bel Air" is one of my favorites. :)

    Best Tracks: Carol And Shine, Fire and Fire In Your Eyes (one and the same song played in two diffent styles =D).

    Let me know what you think.

    Kind regards.