Top 5 Female Albums of All Time

My personal list, as of today. Tomorrow, it’ll be different.

I haven’t posted in a very long time. The pandemic zapped my zeal for writing about live music and there were no concerts. I have not seen any music live. So there’s that. I’ve listened to quite a bit. Music seems to get us through these times, am I right?

This afternoon, Matt texted the theme for his Sirius radio show’s top 2 (as he does every day) and it just happened to be Top Female Albums of All Time. That sparked the blog juices. Let’s dust off Push 2 the Front and get this started once again. I feel live music right around the corner, don’t you?

Anyone’s top anything list would probably work better as a Venn diagram than an actual chart. Circles overlapping each other as the years go by. But I’m game. (And let me just state the obvious, these are my favorites at this singular moment in time. Show me yours.)

#5 Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville

Exhile is Phair’s first and best album. It’s a brilliant track-by-track response to the Rolling Stones similarly named release. This album is the epitome of what I love: lyric, guitar, and voice (and sometimes drum). Refreshingly rough. Fearless. So damn sexy. Not a whiff of auto-tune. Phair’s in-your-face swagger juxtaposed with brute honesty and breathtaking vulnerability was incredibly healing for my road weary broken twenty something heart.

#4 Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman

When this album came out, it was so different it seemed to shimmer and shine in its stripped down simplicity. In the decade of wealth and greed, the album’s quiet defiance stood out amongst eighties hair bands and wispy synthesized pop songs. Chapman won three Grammy’s for this work.

Tracy grew up amidst protest fires in Cleveland leaving in her teens to attend an Episcopal boarding school in Connecticut. She writes with a social consciousness that sheds light on a broken system. Her songs challenge the status quo. Sadly contemporary, this album could have been written last summer.

Seth Meyers might have said it better than I can, “I’ve always thought Tracy Chapman’s music skips your ears and goes straight to your heart.”

#3 Janet Jackson, Rhythm Nation 1814

“Time to give a damn, let’s work together,” a 23 year old Janet Jackson sings in the title track of her fourth album. This is an album that is a woman’s vision of a anti-racist utopia. It’s more emotional, physical and political than her 1986 release Control. Here, Jackson roars. Synth funk layered with a little touch of metal, this album sets the bar for conceptual pop album. And, you can dance to it.

#2 Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

Williams is the consummate rolling stone. The daughter of a poet, her family moved often. When she was expelled from a New Orleans classroom for refusing to stand for the Pledge in protest of Vietnam, her dad gave her a list of 100 books to read in high school’s place. Lucinda’s gritty, slow drawl sings of abuses and bad relationships. She writes mini-feminist manifestos. She breaks, mends, breaks and mends again. The last time that I saw her at the Dakota, her father had just died. She wept freely throughout the last set. A broken moment, but her world keeps turning. When my son was four, he said at the end of “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road”, “Mom, that is a very good song”. Enough said.

#1 Joni Mitchell, Blue

This album goes to the deserted island with me. Hope it has electricity.

Joni once said that she has no secrets from the world. She called Blue, the “purest emotional record that I will ever make in my life.” She writes of everything from love and relationships to deciding to put up a child for adoption. She says, “At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy.” Her friend Kris Kristofferson urged her to pull back and save some of herself. Mitchell wrote Blue after giving up a daughter for adoption. My mother found herself in this same position. This album will always be extremely personal for me. It transcends emotion, it is pure musical genius.

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