With the passing of legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin and the 60th birthday of Madonna occurring within days of each other this week I started to think about the enduring legacy of certain women in the music biz and how they got to where they are today. I also started to think about the mentors that have helped me on my journey. Here are seven female performers who have influenced my work and the stage of life I was in when they found me and first sang their song to me.
Listen to the album while reading the text.
Madonna broke into my pre-pubescent world with her song “Like a Prayer.” My childhood best friend Karina and I were about 10 years old at the time, and she had the single of the song on cassette tape. We played and danced around to it on her little tape player and tried on lipstick and foofed our hair up and didn’t have a clue as to why the video was so controversial (as kids we were still blissfully oblivious to the wonderful world of adults).
And it was her 60th birthday recently! The woman is a living legend.
Tori Amos’ “Little Earthquakes” was given to me as a present on a cassette tape from my cousin when we were both around 14-15. I remember listening to it on my Walkman as I walked from my house to my part-time job at a video store on the weekends. Her voice was so sweet yet so raw and powerful, and her lyrics were unlike anything I’d ever heard before. I was hooked instantly and was pretty dismayed when the cassette tape finally gave up the ghost.
Hence, I went out and bought “Under the Pink” with my wages (CDs cost about $30 back in those days) and proceeded to immerse myself in her world once again. I bought myself the “Little Earthquakes” songbook to teach myself how to play her songs on piano and also started learning some of them by ear. The rest, as they say, is history.
Aretha Franklin was also a cassette tape acquisition for me. I was 18 and had just moved out of home and was attending first-year university studying psychology. I still had my video store job, but it was in another part of town, and I had my speedy little “Rhonda” (Honda Accord ’77) to drive there. Aretha kept me company as I drove to work and back and I tried singing along to her soulful songs in the privacy of my own little moving karaoke booth. “I Never Loved a Man” was the most fun to sing. RIP Aretha.
I was introduced to Nina Simone at around the same time by my then boyfriend, James. He had a massive collection of vinyl which he played on his gorgeous old record player. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was a woman singing – the voice was so rich and deep, but then she crooned, and I knew it was a woman’s heart singing those songs.
Only later did I discover she was a piano prodigy. I always thought she shoulda just gone and performed classical piano concerts. Such a sad and tragic story, but as a woman she was so fierce, political and proud. My favorite song of hers is “I Aint Got No, I Got Life” – if ever I find myself in a slump I put that one on and it reignites my faith in myself.
PJ Harvey howled onto my musical radar while I was continuing my university degree in Brisbane. I’d left Adelaide to try out a new walk of life and started volunteering at the community radio station 4ZZZ. As a graveyard shift announcer, I had a lot of time to discover new music to play on my show “A Stab in the Dark” which I co-hosted with a lovely guy called Matt. He picked me up in his VW at around 1am, and we just played awesome music and talked about random crap for 4 hours in the studio til the morning crew came in to take over.
At that time he suggested we play something from PJ Harvey’s “4 Track Demos” album. I was floored. And I wanted to play guitar JUST LIKE HER. So I did.
Loreena McKennitt’s album “The Visit” was the perfect soundtrack to candlelit nights burning incense and performing Wiccan rituals and spells. I was exploring witchcraft, and pagan spirituality in my early 20s and her otherworldly etheric music helped put my mind into an altered state, and I was there, in a faery land, surrounded by magic, myth, and mystery.
She is a self-made musician and runs her own label, Quinlan Road. She has done it her way, and that is something to be admired.
Last but certainly not least, Amanda Palmer, she who I love to hate and hate to love (see my previous blog post) popped up in my listening lounge when I had moved to Melbourne after graduating university. She was then a part of the “Dresden Dolls” and was the most outrageous virago I’d ever laid eyes on. Something about her both fascinated and frightened me. Her mad piano, her cabaret hijinks, her wild makeup, and costumes. OMG. I wanted to be like HER. Yikes! And then she goes and marries my favorite author Neil Gaiman. I mean… geez the girl’s got it going ON. She plays hardball and has certainly gotten her fair share of internet fame, or infamy, depending on your perspective. The song that does it for me is “Sing.” And that says it all really.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little stroll down memory lane with me. Who are YOUR top seven women musicians and why? More women need to open their voices and songs and get out there into the music biz and get HEARD. Sausage parties are great and all – but there’s nothing like a good clam bake to balance things out see 😉