Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
Ann Powers of National Public Radio (NPR) reported this week that a few years ago, she and a friend, Jill Sternheimer started discussing music history. More specifically the two talked about why the significance of women was viewed more as a trend, an unusual happening, rather than a source of lasting impact.
They agreed that popular music history is chronicled primarily through the artistry of male performers.
What to do?
Make a list.
About 50 women staffers at NPR compiled and voted on a list that became what they consider “The 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women.” Those albums that made the cut, according to the voters, relied on women’s creativity. Albums released between 1964 and 2016 were considered.
Some of the voters were music critics. Others were radio producers or hosts who work with musicians and incorporate music into NPR coverage. Their ages ranged from 20s to their 60s.
On this week’s installment I’ve chosen a few of the 150 LPs to highlight.
Let’s start with the album ranked at #20.
With their black beehive hairdos that reached for the ceiling and dark eye makeup, the ladies personified the girl groups of the 1960’s. The Ronettes, all related, were producer Phil Spector’s most successful act.
Throughout the entire month of October in 1963 the group was perched at #2 on the Billboard chart with “Be My Baby” that sold a million copies thanks to a pounding kick drum, the ‘whoah-oh-oh-oh’s’ and Spector’s creative Wall of Sound production wizardry.
When they met the Beatles no introduction was necessary. The Fab Four were already big fans.
In 1964 “Be My Baby” was included on the Ronettes’ debut album.
One of the greatest songs of all-time is the mega-popular standard “The Girl from Ipanema.”
Stan Getz played the memorable sax, and Astrud Gilberto provided the sophisticated vocal.
After the record’s amazing success, Verve Records wanted to see what Gilberto could do on her own. So she recorded her own album with the Bossa Nova style that will never die.”The Astrud Gilberto Album” quickly became a best-seller and was nominated for a Grammy.
This 1965 album came in at #73 on NPR’s list. On this track Gilberto puts words to a popular instrumental.
Dusty Springfield spent much of her career as a traditional pop artist, but in 1969 wanted to expand her musical style with an infliction of a heavier R & B sound. Her goal was to go to the American Sound Studio in Memphis.
Springfield did release “Dusty in Memphis,” but she never set foot in that famous Tennessee studio. She was too afraid to work in the same recording booth as her hero, Aretha Franklin.
Franklin was offered “Son of a Preacher Man” but turned it down (considering it to be disrespectful), paving the way for Springfield to record it, not in Memphis, but in New York for the mistitled album.
Springfield died in 1999 of breast cancer at the age of 59.
At # 45 on the NPR list…
Now the sweet, angelic, impactful voice of Karen Carpenter.
The Carpenters’ album “A Song for You” had some huge hit singles: “Top of the World” and “Hurting Each Other.”
Leon Russell wrote the title track for his girlfriend at the time, singer Rita Coolidge. Russell sang about the connection the two when they were apart. Coolidge called the intimate love song “the most beautiful song ever written.”
“It’s easy to write a blues song but I wanted to write one Sinatra might sing, which takes a little doing,” said Russell.
In 1970 Russell recorded it for his first solo album but it was never released as a single. The Carpenters did their version in 1972.
In the early years of the Carpenters Karen not only sang but played the drums. That dual role of a singing drummer who was also female was and still is influential.
“A Song For You” is #126 on the NPR list.
Karen Carpenter died in 1983 of anorexia nervosa. She was 32.
A good friend of mine, a much bigger fan of country calls that genre “bubble gum.” True, the twang has long been gone Country and western is just country, and it’s debatable how much country is even left.
Shania Twain gets a great deal of credit for shaping what country sounds and feels like today.
Huge drums and dance music synthesizers with Twain regaled in tight pants and tall heels.
In 1997 Twain was all about equality.
“Come On Over” shipped 40 million copies worldwide, making it the best-selling country album of all time.
This song was written by Twain and her producer husband Robert John “Mutt” Lange and won the Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance in 2000.
“Come On Over” came in at #89 on NPR’s top 150.
That’s it for this week.
Have a great weekend.
There are a lot of great albums on that NPR grouping. Here’s the entire list.
We close with #75 and the late Donna Summer, the “Queen of Disco” who died of lung cancer in 2012 at the age of 63.
Summer wasn’t just disco. She was diverse, weaving rock, soul, electronic, even country into her recordings.
“Love to Love You Baby” in 1975 made Summer a star. She claimed that during the recording she was lying on her back on the studio floor with the lights out, thinking about how Marilyn Monroe might do the vocal. The 17-minute version contains more than 20 simulated orgasms and Summer was promoted as a sex goddess which made her uncomfortable.
“I’m not just sex, sex, sex,” she said in 1977. “I would never want to be a one-dimensional person like that.”
Due to depression Summer attempted suicide in 1976. She began taking medication for depression and became a born-again Christian in 1979.
That struggle in her life when she was wildly successful makes what was about to happen so surprising, the “Bad Girls” album that would be her biggest seller.
Summer sent her secretary on an errand down Sunset Boulevard. The street had a reputation for “bad girls.” The secretary returned to the office saying police gave her a hard time, assuming she was a hooker. Summer was inspired and in 1977 wrote what would be the title track of an album that was released in 1979.
The “toot-toot” and “beep-beep” vocals were Summer’s idea. She made up car sounds to give the impression of horns trying to get the attention of prostitutes.
Also on the album, the hit “Hot Stuff.”
Here, Summer performs both.