Now that the curtain on WYEP's Top 50 Women in Music has dropped and all has been revealed it's time to pour over the list and debate the results. Over 600 people voted their choice for the most influential female artists and more than 380 women received votes. The list included a broad array of styles from folk to blues to jazz and rock but there is always the surprise of who made the list and who didn't.
Keeping in mind that the list was listener's choice there is always the example of more recent artists winning out over performers from past decades and lesser-known but influential artists being past over for a current singer who is receiving lots of media attention. Also, this type of list generates the passions of music lover's who want to promote personal favorites. Why not? Fight for the ones you love.
Being the host of the program I've been asked a lot lately what I think of the top 50 list? Did I agree with everything? Overall I thought the music was great. But, of course, I have my personal favorites and I'll admit I thought there were some egregious oversights. I'll give you my very personal - and subjective opinion on who I think is missing from the list and who would have to be removed in order to make the list "Rosemary Perfect." Let me preface this by saying that I like all the women on the list. Yeah, that sounds like a cop out, but it's true. All would make my top 100 but this was a top 50 so here goes the cruel slaughter.
They just haven't earned it yet, baby...
Neko Case is some day going to reign as queen of the alt-country world but she isn't there, yet. Aimee Mann? Great songwriter but how influential is she in the grand scheme of pop music? Sorry but she wouldn't make my top 50. Dar Williams is a woman I love and her music has pulled many young people to the folk realm but she can't beat out a couple of the artists who didn't make the list. I can say the same for Fiona Apple and even my beloved Beth Orton but, to paraphrase Morrissey, they just haven't earned it yet, baby. And Norah Jones will make the top 50 someday but not on the strength of just 3 albums.
Who do you gotta shtup around here to get on the list?
So that knocks six of the list. Who would I replace them with? I would correct the biggest oversight and add Diana Ross and the Supremes. Not only should they have made the top 50 but they deserved a spot in the top 10 - in my humble opinion. Why? The Supremes were the most successful African American band of the 1960s and the most successful girl band of all time. They scored 23 singles in the top 10 on the U.S. and British charts including 6 in one year. For several decades they had more #1 singles than anyone other than The Beatles and Elvis Presley. They influenced 60's styles and were the inspiration for the Broadway musical and movie "Dream Girls."
(As an aside, not only would I put the Supremes in the top 10, I'd also include Patsy Cline and Madonna. Who would have to move down the list? Tori Amos, Lucinda Williams and - oh this is where it gets hard - Emmylou? Yeah, but with great pain.)
Now that I've got that out of my craw here's my next overlooked mistress of music. Country music, heck, popular music today would be a very different beast if it weren't for The Carter Family. At the heart of that band and family is Mother Maybelle Carter. Don Everly once told Life Magazine that the Carter Family took country music from the porch to the radio. Maybelle Carter transformed the guitar from a backing rhythm instrument to the dominant lead instrument not just in country but, also, popular music.
If there hadn't been a Bessie Smith there might not have been a Janis Joplin, at least not the way we know her. Joplin generously gave credit to Bessie as being one of her greatest influences. Bessie Smith was known as the Empress of the Blues, singing a mix of country-blues that spoke to life in the rural South. She ran her own touring company and was an accomplished dancer, actress and comedian as well as singer in the 1920's and '30's. She was the highest paid African American performer of her time.
Just as Janis Joplin found inspiration in Smith, Aretha Franklin learned from her great mentor. Mahalia Jackson began singing in church in her native New Orleans at the age of 4. In 1956 she was singing on the Ed Sullivan Show and is credited with catapulting Gospel music into America's mainstream. She was active in the civil rights movement and sang at the inaugurations of both Eisenhower and Kennedy.
Dusty Springfield was declared "Britain's best-ever pop singer" by Rolling Stone and Rock World listed her as "one of the twelve first women of Rock." She could sing rhythm & blues, sophisticated pop songs written by Bacharach and David, folk-pop ballads, soul produced by Jerry Wexler and even produced a techno hit with the Pet Shop Boys. Dusty Springfield exemplified a singer who could adapt to any style in the unpredictable world of pop music. Fiona Apple has surely learned a thing or two thanks to Dusty.
Last but never least is that bad girl of rock, Joan Jett. Jett helped found The Runaways at age 15 and maybe, for the first time, 13 year-old girls imagined themselves making kick-ass rock music as they played air guitar in front of their full-length bedroom mirrors.
With the exception of Jett (who, I'm sure will someday make it) the Rock and Roll Hall of fame has honored each of these women. But they are not alone by a long shot. There are so many other women I could argue for - and that's a good thing. The point of the countdown was to get you thinking about women who have made great music and that you have done. I think you did a great job even if I am up to arguing for my choices.
Oh, by the way, what about Tammy Wynette, Celia Cruz, Big Mama Thorton, Sarah Vaughn, Heart, Wanda Jackson, Patti Page, etc…
So who do you think was left off the list?
Who would you argue to keep on the list?View the full list at wyep.org