Here are a few more feminine influences. Not so recent, and in no particular order.
After 40 years I reckon Blondie are a great band, and Deborah Harry’s vocals and somewhat detached presence at the front of the band (not to mention her songwriting) were its main strengths. As well as singing good (which she still does) I like how she mucks around with the role of wasted glamour puss/starlet in a way that Madonna could only dream of, because it’s…well..subtle. This is one of their best songs, Picture This.
I used to get The Motels mixed up with Martha and the Muffins who released Echo Beach around the same time. The Goodbye Notes covered this song a few times. It’s devilishly difficult to play, for all its apparent simplicity.
I was pretty entranced by this band’s first album when I was a kid. I’d never heard anything like it. It opens the door on a strange world full of pop culture influences that you can only guess at a young age; but more important than this is the quality of the songs (a kind of deeply felt absurdity) and the quality of the female vocalists, in harmony and alone as Cindy Wilson goes nuts with Dance This Mess Around. It won’t let me embed the clip so you’ll have to follow the link to Youtube. It’s worth it.
Divinyls were lucky enough to have good songs and a good frontwoman in Chrissy Amphlett who, as well as contributing to the writing, created a persona that you couldn’t ignore. It must have taken great energy to sustain this identity onstage: I like the way she lets rip at the end of the song. It puts me in mind of a child’s shopping centre tantrum, kid of a mix of vulnerability and power.
Natalie Merchant once fronted 10,000 Maniacs. The name was wrong for the band. Their song Like The Weather drew me in to their first album In My Tribe, and I followed them til Our Time In Eden: Natalie Merchant’s writing and voice led the band, and can be heard in this tune from the Billy Bragg/Wilco album of Woody Guthrie songs Mermaid Avenue. In an interview she defended her ‘earnestness’ (apparently a deficit in a post modern music career) with the statement “There’s no irony on this album. I have fifty‑six minutes every four years, and I want to say something honest to people.”
Everything But the Girl
This duo’s Amplified Heart album is one of my favourite albums: great songs, gentle arrangements, well played, by good players. It’s a breakup album made by a couple who stayed together.
This is the album with their crossover hit ‘Missing’ on it: it took a pretty ordinary remix to make people notice this band in a big way. Tracy Thorn’s autobiography Bedsit Disco Queen is one of the best I’ve read.
Kirsty MacColl’s voice is probably best known for her contribution of The Pogue’s Fairytale of New York, but she released albums of her own: they haven’t aged well sonically and are a bit patchy, but there’s treasure there. The way she stacks her voice, harmonising with her self, can sometimes overwhelm the material, but it sounds perfect on this little tune.
This is a band that doesn’t put out a lot of music, and Harriet Wheeler’s voice spawned a lot of imitators: they just do what they do. I like the layers of guitars, and even while her voice leaps about it seems pretty understated a lot of the time, so when they (really) let go, it matters.
Banner image of Natalie Merchant courtesy of Rose Ledgard