I know, where's Odetta? Came to me as I was finishing up. Mary Travers? Surely she has her angry supporters who wish to burn me at the stake. Can't blame them, but I throw myself at the mercy of the court. Again, in order to control the madness, I've made separate categories for R&B, Indie/ Punk, Divas, Country and Pop. And I'm still leaving many fine performers off the list. The whole point is really to celebrate, so let's break out the champagne and begin writing the entries out. I'm personally playing my own drinking game. I take another swig every time I finish a paragraph. So the real race here is writing fast enough that I'm not completely incoherent and offensive before reaching the final entry. At which point, someone should just call the cops. Or the paramedics. I'm an organ donor, though I'm not sure who's going to want what's left of me. But you're welcome to it.
Christine McVie: Oh boy, there was no way I could in good conscience put Stevie on this list without acknowledging Christine's contributions to Fleetwood Mac as well. McVie never gained Stevie's iconic status, but she played real nice and wrote and sang some of the band's most famous tunes ("Don't Stop," "Say You Love Me" and "Songbird").
24) Melissa Etheridge: Melissa always wanted to be Janis Joplin. But she also had a more level head on her shoulders, one less inclined towards self-abuse and a sense of self that made her tougher for the long haul.Joan Osborne: Funny that Osborne's big hit "One Of Us" really doesn't reflect her true musical interests, which can be heard in the blues that she sings throughout her albums. This must drive her crazy. But then you get the checks and you figure, it's only one hit.
22) Janis Joplin: Janis was a menace. It's what made her music so appealingly raw. And it's why she never made it to 30. She wasn't safe or tame and her music often sounded as confused as she was. Did it want to be heavy and psychedelic, or funky and soulful? Whatever it turned out as, she had the blues. Both in real life and in that clawed and scratching voice of hers.Wanda Jackson: Now a member of the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, Wanda Jackson was a rocker before there was such a thing. And she'll be doing it for longer than most of us will be alive. Proof that not everyone dies young.
20) Joan Baez: The folkie that represents all folkies? Well, not exactly, but pretty close. If they ever design a postage stamp for folksingers, Joan Baez should be one of the obvious choices. But don't count on it. Some people wanted the "Fat Elvis" stamp, after all.Sade: She sings with such fluidity that she could sing anything she wants and sound like she's been doing it for years. A true pro and someone that defies genres. She don't need no passport. She's a citizen of the world, kiddo.
18) Laura Nyro: Hard to believe she got booed off stages. People just don't get it. Of course now that she's dead everyone loves her because that's what happens. It's like high school, it's always so much nicer in retrospect and a lot less mean.Bonnie Raitt: This blues woman never gives in and never gives up. Funny to think there was a time when after years of playing the circuit she became a big star and everyone knew who she was. And now like the rest of the music business, we wonder what she's up to. But she hasn't changed. We have. That you can practically guarantee, since Raitt has always been a consistent performer.
16) Suzanne Vega: Another fine folksinger who is known for her one big hit, "Luka," and yet has so much more to offer. And has. And those who have heard the records no one else bought have been treated to secrets that they obviously aren't sharing. Vega fans are hoarders.Sarah McLachlan: She brought us Lilith Fair. She had to. After all, concert promoters decided no one wanted to watch female musicians because...???? It still doesn't make any sense. But it provided McLachlan with an opportunity to right an obvious wrong and bring attention to many performers who wouldn't otherwise receive their just due. And they could do so without having to wonder why there was a mosh pit forming during one of their ballads.
14) Carole King: She was a songwriter for others who finally walked out onto a stage and had even greater success. How crazy is that? It's like she wasn't sure? Or was it that other industry professionals thought she couldn't do it? She wouldn't be commercial enough? What? They say tragedy plus time makes comedy. But it also seems to be a potential winning formula for eventually having a career. Not everyone is an overnight star.Sandy Denny: As a member of Fairport Convention or on her own, Sandy Denny attracted a loyal cult who appreciated her every note. And these are obsessives who sometimes forget to bathe.
12) Judy Collins: Her perfect diction always made Bob Dylan songs sound even more surreal. "When you're lost in the rain in Juarez and it's Easter time, too." Yeah, man, that's some truth Judy be bringing to the, ahem, table. Thank you, Judith.Judee Sill: Another Judee who didn't make out so well. She died of a heroin overdose and her two albums never really made the impact that she hoped for. Of course, nowadays they've been reissued several times and outtakes and live tracks have been discovered and musicians sing her praises and good for her. But it makes me think I should also have made room for Vashti Bunyan on this list. But I didn't.
10) Tori Amos: Her concept albums are pretty thick and the way she pronounces certain words defies all expectation. Over the years, Amos has gone from a Kate Bush sympathizer to a radically weird songwriter who knows how to have a good time sitting at a piano.Stevie Nicks: Sure, she has all those stuffed animals and she's the ultimate Leather and Lace gal, but she could always put together a tune that made her audiences fall even further under her spell. She could've been a Jim Jones or a David Koresh, but she chose the path of light when what she really wanted to do was smack the crap out of her old partner, Mr. Buckingham.
8) Pat Benatar: Pat's been brought back to the spotlight and while she spent too much of her career getting soft and weird, she'll always be best remembered for her tough hard rock pop hits that sound much better today than anyone imagined at the time.Linda Thompson: Another cult artist with a voice that makes people stop what they're doing. Which is why her music has always been viewed with suspicion. In a capitalist society this means a loss of productivity and we can't possible have that.
6) Tracy Chapman: Yes, she made her name with socially conscious tracks about revolution (or at least talking about it) and drugs but it's the moody stuff she's served up since that has me sold. She sounds like someone who had all her toys stolen and she's still heartbroken after all these years because she was sure they would return them unharmed. And they didn't. Those jerks.Rickie Lee Jones: Rickie's floated in and out of the scene for years and whenever she returns it's with a sense of purpose that's even weirder than the last time we ran into her. I love that about her. As you see, I like weird. (Man, that bottle is getting empty and the floor is beginning to sag.)
4) Sheryl Crow: For years, I resisted. And I still can't say that I'm a fan, but I am an admirer of anyone who can write so many hits that don't make me want to throw myself under a train. She's catchy in a world that doesn't know catchy without turning it into a flu bug.Fiona Apple: Not only can she title her albums but she can play in geometric shapes that sound as if the building is collapsing and she sings in a voice that sounds like it's been absconded by demons. All that husk. All that sweat.
2) Marianne Faithfull: Marianne's had nine lives at this point and made a slew of records that I've enjoyed for different reasons. You've got the innocent pop of her childhood. You've got the weird country period before she found New Wave. You've got New Wave by way of Shel Silverstein. You've got the Hal Willner collaboration before that became a trend and you've got other collabs with the guy in Blur and the list goes on.Joni Mitchell: Ok, predictable, yes. Anyone who reads this blog knew she'd come in at the top. Joni rewrote rules that hadn't even been written and if she's a tad bitter and pedantic at times, well, that's her right. She's earned it. At least she's not as cranky as Van Morrison. That should count for something. And who knows maybe if we ask nice, she'll record a live album of her Blue album at the Hollywood Bowl?
- Janis Joplin
- Mary Travers