This guest post and playlist is brought to you by the lovely Kim Trusty, Canadian writer and friend. Every song has a story and a meaning to the listener and a history behind it. Kim span’s 60yrs of female artists in this post, it’s beautiful!
I kinda forgot that today was International Women’s Day. Maybe because it wasn’t in my calendar, maybe because I think everyday is Woman’s Day but whatever, I forgot. Luckily, all my rad friends on various social media sites didn’t forget and as I’m wont to do when happy/sad/angry/freaking out/maudlin/loved up/celebratory, I thought I’d post some videos of songs that mean something to me. In this case, songs by amazing women whose songs mean a lot to me. Now if I was to sit down and make an actual list of all the women in music who have ripped my heart out of my chest/put stars in my eyes/made me shake my ass and pump my fist in the air/inspired me to write and live, then I would be writing that list until I was on my deathbed. So. There was no real conscious thought about who or what I posted, which is really unusual for a list making, control freak like me, artists/songs came to mind and I put’em up there. Hope you enjoy them. Happy International Women’s Day!
1) Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddamn
The first time I remember hearing Nina Simone was in the back of the car. My family was driving back to Toronto from a short holiday in New York City and my dad was playing one of her CDs. Her voice scared the hell out of me – I’d never heard anything so beautiful and decisive and urgent and frightening and because of all that, liberating. An original, a badass and my absolute hero.
2) Roberta Flack – Do What you Gotta Do
Interestingly enough, Nina also does a version of this song but I gotta give this to Ms Flack. The way the piano is arranged… it rolls over you and her voice… oy vey! When your heart’s been broken and no one understands how you’re feeling, here is comfort.
3) Laura Nyro – Wedding Bell Blues
When I first heard Nyro I was like, “Are you kidding me? This woman can’t sing!” Oh, callow youth! Her unusual voice and her imagination and her unquestionable ear for melodies and harmonies (listen to Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells on these BVs!) put her beyond the pale.
4) Carla Thomas – Gee Whiz
The Queen of Memphis Soul! Being backed up by members of The MGs! She was only 15 when she recorded this AND she totally held her own against Otis Redding on their “King & Queen” album. What a boss.
5) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Maps
There are some songs that make my heart contract until they are so full that they have no recourse but to burst. This is one of them. I love Karen O and her art school, oddball self.
6) The Runaways – Cherry Bomb
When I was a kid Joan Jett was my hero. My friend Roz’s older sister Simone introduced us to Joan and then I, Columbus like, “discovered” The Runaways a bit later. We incorporated their lyrics into our made up jump rope songs.
7) Etta James – Tell Mama
(edit, the version Kim chose isn’t accessible to a UK audience, stupid Warner Bros)
Crazy blonde beehive, chutzpah to spare and a voice like Gabriel’s horn. No bullshit accepted here. A true original.
8) Joni Mitchell – Little Green
It could have been any song from “Blue” but a bittersweet tale of a woman raising a daughter alone and that child trying to negotiate a relationship with her father (not to mention Joni’s voice)? How can you resist this? Oh. That’s right. You have a heart of stone.
9) Jane Siberry and KD Lang – Calling All Angels
I get goosebumps all over my body right from the opening incantation of the saints. If my hair wasn’t so heavy I reckon it would stand on end. I’m a secular kind of girl but voices like Siberry’s and Lang’s could make me a believer.
10) Sophia George – Girlie Girlie
When I was 11 we moved to Jamaica for five years. There isn’t enough space to unravel what it is like to grow up as a girl in that country, so for now, suffice it say that my teenaged girl posse (I was 14 when this came out) LOVED this song and the dressing down it gave to the lying, cheating, “wutless” (instant patois translator: worthless) man dem.
11) Divine Brown – Help Me
When we were in high school, Divine Brown was just Michelle but her voice was definitely divine. I think we used to annoy everyone by singing everywhere we went (or probably it was just me who was annoying). Even back then she knew exactly what she wanted to do and she didn’t let convention (like showing up to school) get in her way. I love that she covered one of my favourite Joni Mitchell songs. Canadians doing Canadians! Yeah!
12) Buffy Sainte Marie – Darling Don’t Cry
Buffy Sainte Marie was one of my favourite people when I was little. She was on Sesame Street. She was funny and smart and super cool and beautiful. Now that I am an adult she is still all those things but she is also a tireless activist, amazing artist and all round good person.
13) Dolly Parton – I Still Miss Someone
Legendary songwriter, incredible musician, philanthropist, reader, so incredibly humble and so freaking funny! I love Dolly Parton! And I’d really like to visit Dollywood.
14) Emmylou Harris – Wrecking Ball
I love this whole album so much it is ridiculous. This song is penned by Neil Young and it just… transports you. Beautiful and atmospheric, this is a regular ear worm of mine.
15) Odetta – The Midnight Special
Socialist, activist, artist… Odetta. When she was 80 something she played a free gig down by Lake Ontario and my whole family went. She needed some help getting onto her stool but no assistance was necessary when she started singing (and reminding us all of our civic and human duties!).
16) Chaka Khan and Rufus – Sweet Thang
This song is like a primer in how to be sexy. In fact, I learned about being sexy from this song. Okay, that’s not true but I’m going to start saying it like it is. “Love me now or I’ll go crazy.” Damn, Chaka!
17) Lauryn Hill – Sweetest Thing
I had the CD single and it was on repeat for months when I got it. In some ways I felt that Lauryn Hill was someone I could really relate to – not a princess or a video vixen but a smart, thinking young woman who was desperately/determinedly trying to negotiate a space for herself.
18) Kelis featuring Too $hort – Bossy
I have loved Kelis ever since her pink Afro’d head and big mouth shouted “I HATE YOU SO MUCH RIGHT NOW” but I also like this song a lot. She’s a badass! “Hey ya/You don’t have to love me/You don’t even have to like me/But you will respect me/You know why?/Cuz I’m a boss!” Can’t argue with that, really.
19) Mary Dillion – Army Dreamers
I outraged my brilliant and very musical friend, Sarah Bing Barrington, by daring to like this version better than Kate Bush’s original. It’s deceptively simple and the purity/beauty of the all female vocal really works for me. Countless listens are not enough.
20) Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill
I guess I can understand why some people think she’s kooky or weird but this is only because of my heightened levels of empathy (ha!). To call her these things only is to overlook the artistry, the magic and the power of Kate Bush. Fools!
21) Grace Jones – Pull Up to the Bumper
What an icon! My friend Anne Lewis and I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Ms Jones at Birmingham Symphony Hall a few years back and were blown away by the artistry of her live performance. Plus, I love that by just being herself she challenges narrow and limiting definitions of gender and race. She’s one of those people who make you think, “Oh yeah. I can do that.”
22) Martha Wainwright – Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole
My friend Erin James and I went to see Martha at Warwick Arts Centre and when she wasn’t being accompanied by her amazing mom (RIP Kate McGarrigle), she was alone with her guitar and there was so much freaking emotion pouring out of her, especially when she sang this, that I actually cried (for those of you who don’t know, this song is kind of a fuck you to her dad, Loudon).
23) Le Tigre – Les and Ray
The first time I saw Le Tigre my girlfriends and I (Renee Navarro, Kate Sanagan and Mariko Tamaki) had agreed to go to the show dressed up as Enid and Rebecca from Ghost World, which made it, before the show even started, a bit special (although now that I think about it, I’m guessing none of our other friends even noticed because we always dressed like Enid and Rebecca). JD and Kathleen, in this really long, candid intro to the song, talked about being survivors of sexual abuse and about all the people who help survivors without even knowing it and once the song started we were all crying our freaking eyes it. Note: I tend to cry at shows. A lot. (See previous entry.) I should come with a warning label.
24) Tegan and Sara – Call It Off
Sometimes, in the beginning, it’s a single line that resonates. In this case that would be “Maybe I woulda been something you were good at”. I love that shock of recognition when you’re listening to a song. Plus, I love that two young women continue to be themselves and make their music (largely) on their own terms.