Friday, February 6, 2009

Women Rock

It is so sad to look at all the women today and historically who have been rendered invisible by a male-dominated society in which women are considered second class citizens, slaves, unintelligent, not very competent or capable, child-like, and therefore not really worthy of note.

Who gets to decide which of the candidates for a professional job is the "right" one? Usually the white males who are at the top in the profession. Same in hospitals, doctors groups, universities, law firms, engineering, scientific endeavors. Men get to decide which people are worthy, which work is valuable. Who matters. Men usually choose other men, probably because they look alike, so the choosing men feel like it reflects well on them. And if they chose a woman, the other men might laugh at them, or ridicule them. Like in the schoolyard.

This is also true in the arts. Funny how some fields, like fine arts, rock and roll, are associated with the "to hell with society" attitude of free-thinkers and free-livers, yet they mirror precisely the sexist exclusion or devaluation of women's works that is predominant in mainstream society.

How tragic it is that when people choose the 100 greatest novels, for example, they always go for the men because men's work is lauded and women's work is considered inferior. That's why so many women took men's names, or ambiguous names, or just used initials, when they tried to get published, or even just interviewed for a job.

I wondered if that radical society-be-damned let's take drugs and screw around world of rock and roll mirrored the sexist exclusion or devaluation of women that is predominant in mainstream society. I'd never really thought about it, being a fan of rock and roll, I just love the music.

So I went to "the" official arbiter of all things of value in the world of rock and roll, Rolling Stone Magazine, and got their list of the top albums. It was the top 500 but I stopped at 100. The list was compiled in 2003, so an update might change some of these. But I found mostly men, and very few women and women's groups
made it onto the list.
This of course in part reflects the fact that women were not included as rock and roll performers, for the most part, during the heady days of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, but instead were relegated to the roll of groupie or pretty-girl-with-tamborine-and-no-bra who stood on stage but contributed little to the music. Girls did not play rock guitar or drums. Why's that? They played country guitar. But rock guitar was considered macho, manly, studly, a male thing. After all, rock guitarists are expressing anguish and rage, and women are such delicate sensitive little creatures.

All that changed with the emergence of women performers just as full of anguish and rage as any man, as good or better guitar players and singers, who got tired of being excluded and clawed their way into their own careers. But when it comes to the "official" decision of which performers matter, women are largely excluded. Which is a real shame.

Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums Of All Time (2003 List) [Top 100 Only Listed]

1 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band The Beatles 1967
2 Pet Sounds Beach Boys 1966
3 Revolver The Beatles 1966
4 Highway 61 Revisited Bob Dylan 1965
5 Rubber Soul The Beatles 1965
6 What’s Going On Marvin Gaye 1971
7 Exile On Main St. Rolling Stones 1972
8 London Calling The Clash 1979
9 Blonde On Blonde Bob Dylan 1966
10 The White Album The Beatles 1968
11 The Sun Sessions Elvis Presley 1976
12 Kind of Blue Miles Davis 1959
13 Velvet Underground & Nico Velvet Underground1967
14 Abbey Road The Beatles 1969
15 Are You Experienced? Jimi Hendrix Exp. 1967
16 Blood On The Tracks Bob Dylan 1975
17 Nevermind Nirvana 1991
18 Born To Run Bruce Springsteen 1975
19 Astral Weeks Van Morrison 1968
20 Thriller Michael Jackson 1982
21 The Great Twenty-Eight Chuck Berry 1982
22 Plastic Ono Band John Lennon 1970
23 Innervisions Stevie Wonder 1973
24 Live At The Apollo James Brown 1963
25 Rumours Fleetwood Mac 1977
26 The Joshua Tree U2 1987
27 King of the Delta Blues Singers Vol. 1 Robert Johnson 1961
28 Who’s Next The Who 1971
29 Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin 1969
30 Blue Joni Mitchell 1971
31 Bringing It All Back Home Bob Dylan 1965
32 Let It Bleed Rolling Stones 1969
33 Ramones Ramones 1976
34 Music From Big Pink The Band 1968
35 Rise/Fall of Ziggy Stardust David Bowie 1972
36 Tapestry Carole King 1971
37 Hotel California The Eagles 1976
38 The Anthology, 1947-1972 Muddy Waters 2001
39 Please Please Me The Beatles 1963
40 Forever Changes Love 1968
41 Never Mind The Bollocks/Sex Pistols The Sex Pistols 1977
42 The Door The Doors 1967
43 Dark Side Of The Moon Pink Floyd 1973
44 Horses Patti Smith 1975
45 The Band The Band 1969
46 Legend Bob Marley/Wailers 1984
47 A Love Supreme John Coltrane 1964
48 It Takes A Nation of Millions Public Enemy 1988
49 At Fillmore East Allman Brothers 1971
50 Here’s Little Richard Little Richard 1957
51 Bridge Over Troubled Water Simon & Garfunkl 1970
52 Greatest Hits Al Green 1975
53 The Birth of Soul/1952-1959 Ray Charles 1991
54 Electric Ladyland Jimi Hendrix Exp. 1968
55 Elvis Presley Elvis Presley 1956
56 Sons in the Key of Life Stevie Wonder 1976
57 Beggars Banquet Rolling Stones 1968
58 Trout Mask Replica Capt. Beefheart 1969
59 Meet the Beatles! The Beatles 1964
60 Greatest Hits Sly & The Fam. St. 1970
61 Appetite for Destruction Guns N Roses 1987
62 Achtung Baby U2 1991
63 Sticky Fingers Rolling Stones 1971
64 Phil Spector, Back to Mono (58-69) Various 1991
65 Moondance Van Morrison 1970
66 Led Zeppelin IV Led Zeppelin 1971
67 The Stranger Billy Joel 1977
68 Off The Wall Michael Jackson 1979
69 Superfly Curtis Mayfield 1972
70 Physical Graffiti Led Zeppelin 1975
71 After The Gold Rush Neil Young 1970
72 Purple Rain Prince 1984
73 Back in Black AC/DC 1980
74 Otis Blue: Otis Redding Singles Soul Otis Redding 1965
75 Led Zeppelin II Led Zeppelin 1969
76 Imagine John Lennon 1971
77 The Clash The Clash 1977
78 Harvest Neil Young 1972
79 Star Time James Brown 1991
80 Odessey & Oracle The Zombies 1968
81 Graceland Paul Simon 1986
82 Axis: Gold As Love Jimi Hendrix Exp. 1968
83 I Never Loved A Man The Way ... Aretha Franklin 1967
84 Lady Soul Aretha Franklin 1968
85 Born in the U.S.A. Bruce Springsteen 1984
86 Let It Be The Beatles 1970
87 The Wall Pink Floyd 1979
88 Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison Johnny Cash 1968
89 Dusty in Memphis Dusty Springfield 1968
90 Talking Book Stevie Wonder 1972
91 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Elton John 1973
92 20 Golden Greats Buddy Holly 1978
93 Sign O The Times Prince 1987
94 Bitches Brew Miles Davis 1970
95 Green River Creedence C.R. 1969
96 Tommy The Who 1969
97 The Freewheelin Bob Dylan Bob Dylan 1963
98 This Year’s Model Elvis Costello 1978
99 There’s A Riot Goin’ On Sly & Fam. St. 1972
100 In The Wee Small Hours Frank Sinatra 1954

This isn’t a debate about which albums should have gone on the list, and which ones are perhaps undeserving, because taste can be different. And obviously, Rolling Stone is a rock magazine, so the list clearly does not include classical, jazz, or opera, for the most part. But what strikes me is how far and wide the creators of the list went to avoid adding some obvious women. Like Janis Joplin, for example.
In a mostly rock & roll list, they add Frank Sinatra at #100, clearly a terrific performer but not a rocker. Then we’ve got a little male jazz thrown in (#12 and #94, Miles Davis), a little very old blues (#27 Robert Johnson), but so very very few women included. The Supremes were one of the top groups in the country for years, but they didn't make the list. Girl-group. Excluded.

If it really is just top albums, wouldn’t we expect to see Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald? But even if it’s just rock albums, why so few women? Because the people making the list are men? Or because they value the work of men, and devalue and disregard that of women? Like a man’s painting is valued at millions of dollars, but the hand-crafts and quilting done by generations of women are disregarded.

How many women, or groups with women, made the top 100? Six only. #25 Fleetwood Mac; #30 Joni Mitchell; #36 Carole King; #44 Patti Smith; #83 and 84 both Aretha Franklin; #89 Dusty Springfield. Apparently none of the other women in rock were worthy of note. They should be disregarded, forgotten, because apparently they just weren’t that good. Like Janis Joplin, not good enough. Janis Ian, Carly Simon, Joan Baez. Tina Turner.
Billie Holiday just didn't make the cut, huh? Blondie, Annie Lennox: Not Good Enough. That's what women are always told.
In case anyone at Rolling Stone Magazine or elsewhere wants to reconsider the male-only lists for rock and roll, here are a few names that should make anyone’s top 100 list, in no particular order:

Tina Turner
Janis Joplin
Billie Holiday

Barbra Streisand
Bonnie Raitt

Annie Lennox
The Supremes
Gladys Knight
Grace Slick
Linda Ronstadt
Emmylou Harris
Mamas & Papas
Bette Midler
Laura Nyro
Alanis Morissette
Tracy Chapman
Leslie Gore
Peter Paul & Mary
Martha & the Vandellas
Cyndi Lauper
Joan Armatrading
Ruth Brown
Whitney Houston
The Shirelles
The Ronettes
Petula Clark
Ani DiFranco
Sheryl Crow
Melissa Etheridge
Dionne Warwick
Patti LaBelle
Pat Benatar
Donna Summer
Joan Jett
Janis Ian
Rickie Lee Jones
Carly Simon
Joan Baez
Marianne Faithful
Chrissie Hynde

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