40 albums collage

A certain someone who shall remain nameless (cough, cough, Karen!), turned 40 recently and dared ask the question, “What 40 albums by female artists should every self-respecting lady own?” Not being one to shy away from a challenge, I humbly suggest these 40 albums and/or songs all touched by a femme for your listening pleasure.

40.Pat Benatar: “In the Heat of the Night” (1979)…

…and “Crimes of Passion” (1980)

39. Babes in Toyland: “Bruise Violet” on “Fontanelle” (1992)

38.Dum Dum Girls: “Coming Down” on “Only In Dreams” (2011)

37. Lush: “Lovelife” (1996)

36. Peaches: “Fuck the Pain Away” on “Teaches of Peaches” (2000)

35. Emmylou Harris: “Boulder to Birmingham” on “Pieces of the Sky” (1975)

34. Alabama Shakes: “Gimme All Your Love” on “Sound & Color” (2015)

33. The Carpenters: “The Very Best of the Carpenters” (1983)

32. Grimes: “Visions” (2012)

31. Ella Fitzgerald: “Summertime,” Jazz Standard

30. Garbage: “Only Happy When It Rains” on “Garbage” (1995)

29. Sia: “Breathe Me” on “Colour the Small One” (2004)

28. Tegan and Sara: “Heartthrob” (2013)

27. Lucinda Williams: “World without Tears” (2006)

26. TLC: “CrazySexyCool” (1994)

25. The Runaways: “Cherry Bomb” on “The Runaways” (1976)

24. Madonna: “Madonna” (1983)

23. Cyndi Lauper: “She’s So Unusual” (1983)

22. Dolly Parton: “Jolene” on “Jolene” (1974)

21. Siouxsie and the Banshees: “The Best of Siouxsie and the Banshees” (2002)

20. Rilo Kiley: “Portion for Foxes” on “More Adventurous” (2004)

19. The Supremes: “Baby Love” on “Where Did Our Love Go” (1964)

18. Liz Phair: “Fuck and Run” on “Exile in Guyville” (1993)

17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: “Fever to Tell” (2003)

16. Cat Power: “The Greatest” (2006)

15. The Pretenders: “Pretenders” (1980)

14.Portishead: “Dummy” (1994)

13. Fleetwood Mac: “Songbird” on “Rumours” (1977)

12. Tori Amos: “Boys for Pele” (1996)

11. The Breeders: “Pod” (1990)

10. PJ Harvey: “Water” on “Dry” (1992)

I remember seeing PJ Harvey for the first time in concert…the Vic Theatre in Chicago (that remains my favorite venue to see a band); a wispy ghoul with crimson lips and the smallest waist I’d even seen; and the disco ball in motion as she sang “Water,” making the ceiling look more like an ocean than the peeling mess it was. Magic.

9. Bjork: “Post” (1995)

I have friends who worship at the altar of Bjork. While I like (almost love) her, she’s a solid number nine on this list with this album full of what Wikipedia called “intelligent dance music.”From “Army of Me” to “Headphones,” there’s not a stinker on this release. Favorites include “It’s Oh So Quiet” and “Possibly Maybe.”This is a great place to start if you’re not yet savvy to Bjork’s music.

8. Bikini Kill: “Bikini Kill” (1992)

Female punk rock. Yas. Kathleen Hanna is still my hero. I don’t care if you don’t like her or Bikini Kill.Fuck you.(I didn’t mean that.I love you. It’s the Rebel Girl inside me.)

7. Hole: “Violet” on “Live Through This” (1995)

They say that behind every great man is an even greater woman. Behind Kurt Cobain was Courtney Love…a strung-out mess of a human being. But, the girl can sing. And, she can write and play guitar. While not exactly a model woman, Love took that reputation, ran with it, and presented a new way of being just exactly who you are to a generation of young woman in the mid-1990s. The haunting chorus of “Violet” will stay with you forever. “Go on/take everything/take everything/I want you to.”

6. Janet Jackson: “Rhythm Nation 1814” (1989)

“Rhythm Nation” came out during the era of the single cassette tape. I bought almost every song on the album one by one: “Miss You Much,” “Alright,” “Rhythm Nation,” “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” “Escapade,” “Come Back to Me,” and “Black Cat.”I call her Miss Jackson because I’m nasty J.

5. Nina Simone: “Wild is the Wind” on “Nina Simone at Town Hall” (1959)

I know that everyone says they love David Bowie now that he’s passed on, but, little known fact, Bowie truly loved Simone’s version of “Wild is the Wind.” He loved it so much that he covered the song in 1976. I love this song so much that I will never impose my voice on it to remake it.Well, maybe in my car.Or the shower.

4. Neko Case: “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” (2006)

Neko Case has one of the most unique and heartbreakingly beautiful voices in music. Her country twang has a distinct edge to it, bringing a brooding feeling of dread to some of the songs, but also conveying a passionate appreciation for the mysterious. Speaking of confessing, Case is my favorite artist and it hurts me to limit myself to a single album for this list. If you haven’t heard her sing, do it, and do it now.

3. Lauryn Hill: “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (1998)

Was there anyone cooler than Lauryn Hill in the mid- and late 1990s? Answer: Hell no. She blended hip-hop, R&B, and every other cool genre of music to create this album. No song is a loser. Everything about this record screams self-empowerment and confidence. All the good things in life are represented in her voice like love, strength, and acceptance. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” would be my nominee for an album to be buried in a time capsule.In 100 years from now, it will play just as powerfully as it did in 1998.

2. Big Brother and the Holding Company (feat. Janis Joplin): “Piece of My Heart” on “Cheap Thrills” (1968)

If you could get drunk off of a whiskey-soaked voice, Joplin’s would be the choice for me.There’s no better song of hers to drink in than “Piece of My Heart.” Singing about her broken heart and agonizing over what else could have been done to keep her lover, Joplin is both broken and sexy at once. The best line in the whole song comes early on when she asks, “Didn’t I make you feel like you were the only man?” I can only imagine the slug that had the balls to tell her “no.”

1. Billie Holiday: “Strange Fruit” on “Fine and Mellow” (1939)

In Judaism, the word God is written as G-d so as not to risk the sin of defacing His name. This is akin to how I feel describing Billie Holiday’s voice.I’m not sure what to say to properly convey the feels you’ll get listening to this song sung so masterfully. The song is a haunting protest of the inhumanity of racism, and Holiday’s voice—a lush mix of despair and loss—is the only one that could ever do it justice.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

 Honorable Mentions for the next five years!: First Aid Kit: “Emmylou” on “The Lion’s Roar” (2012); Those Darlins: “Screws Get Loose” (2011); Joni Mitchell: “A Case of You” on “Blue” (1971); Neko Case: “The Tigers Have Spoken” on “Live from Austin, TX” (2013); and Annie Lennox: “Diva” (1992).

Amanda Motyka is a housing provider by day and an undercover rebel writer at night. She likes spending the weekends with her man, her dog and a cold one.

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