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25 ‘Alternative’ Female Singers

List Of The Day

With the much press-ballyhooed Neko Case releasing a new album and it being Women's History Month, it seems only fair to make lists for Women Only. Personally, I don't believe in gender-specific rock or anything. This may sound revolutionary (or not) but I think both men and women bring something special to the table when they have actual talent to speak of. In other words, you don't have to be a man or woman to be a lousy no-talent! But when you do have that certain something special, well, you transcend all the boundaries that we here at List Of The Day have to put on you in order to make you fit into the proper list.

Let's face it, the whole purpose of doing lists is to find categories. You can't keep compiling the same "Top 25 Greatest Greats." You have to break things down in arbitrary fashions that make some sort of sense to someone. In this case, me. So in order to provide maximum exposure to the greatest number of deserving artists, I've broken down several different lists of "Female" singers. I've compiled ones for R&B, Divas, Country, Classic Rock and Folk and even one for bands. And no name was allowed to be repeated. So, if you don't see someone on a particular list, they might be on the next one. And if they're not on any list, it's either because they completely slipped my mind, or I think they stink.

Believe me, I stay awake at night, rummaging through what's left of my memory to try to remember who I've forgotten to remember. And then I write them down illegibly on loose pieces of paper that make no sense to me the next morning. I figure at least I'm not hooked on Ambien and running off to OTB in the middle of the night to place bets on horses that don't exist!

So, yes, things could be worse.

For this list, I thought of where Neko Case from the first paragraph would fit in. Pretty much everyone puts her in some sort of "Alternative" class. While I understand the concept to a degree--a vague sense of punk aesthetic, a little Indie-Rock pedigree, a lack of strict old-time genre adhesion, an inability to fit in elsewhere--"Alternative" sounded weird back in the 1980s when it came into popular acceptance for music that wasn't popular.

In other (or maybe just more) words, these aren't ladies that often get credit for their singing. Some do. But they're not the ones who get called out to sing the National Anthem. Mostly, they're writers and creative types who've found a way past the traditional means of production. Which in this "new economy" probably means something we're not yet sure of.

If this list doesn't float your boat, go buy a house or something. Stimulate the economy. After all, we're ALL Americans. (Well, except for my kind readers living in countries other than the U.S., of course.)

25) Poly Styrene: When she screamed "O Bondage Up Yours!" for X Ray Spex back in the 1970s, you could practically hear her braces hitting the microphone. I have no idea how many young girls she inspired to let it rip, but the fact that she was trying to find a new language is just as important whether or not she actually invented one.

24) Wendy O. Williams: I wouldn't go near this woman without a chainsaw to match. She sang in a croak and was all about shock rock. To which she was mighty shocking. As any Plasmatics record will tell you. Committed suicide. Don't follow her example. Please.

23) Beth Gibbons: One of the more traditional singers on this list, Gibbons works more with shade and tone than range. And Portishead were all the better for it. She never resorts to the shock tactics of others, but to a cool detachment that also works on a deep emotional level. Crazy how this stuff works out.

22) Yoko Ono: Some don't even consider it singing. But then there's always someone who calls and complains to the neighbors about something. And Ono did inspire an awful lot of the New Wave that followed her. And while she never quite caught on with a single mainstream hit, she has been acknowledged by people who pay attention to these sorts of things. And if she really did "break up" the Beatles (as some still insist), maybe that was a good thing. It did seem like they were done.

21) Jemima Pearl: As the leader of Be Your Own Pet, Pearl impressed older people who were transfixed by her youth and the fearlessness that comes with knowing you're never going to die.

20) Beth Orton: Orton hasn't been as prolific as expected. Heck, they're releasing her Trailer Park album as an expanded edition, which is what usually happens after bands break up or when a performer is near the end of their career, like Willie Nelson (who may instead choose to be immortal). But she has that hiccup in her voice that says that should she apply herself, she will succeed. (Sometimes I feel more like a high school guidance counselor than a blogger, I must say.)

19) Neko Case: The inspiration for this list in the first place, Case on her own or splitting her fortunes with the New Pornographers lands on an awful lot of magazine covers, some of which will hopefully stay in business. (We like magazines and the people who work for them.) That her voice makes other people stop and say "I like that" is proof that music makes people think sometimes and even talk to themselves if not others.

18) Ani DiFranco: Ani is the poster child for the independent spirit and at no time has she bent her principles to fit the work profile of others. She's gotten older, married, now has a kid. You almost expect to see her show up on a sitcom or a TV crime drama. Maybe if we ask her nicely she will?

17) Frida Hyvonen: Frida's one fine wacky gal writing songs that make you say "Did she just say that?" Or maybe I'm hearing voices in my head again. Well, in terms of side effects, it beats dizziness, dry mouth and nausea, not to mention coma or death.

16) Jenny Lewis: Is this girl still fronting Rilo Kiley? Or has she decided that it's better money to go the solo route? Maybe she could phone Natalie Merchant and find out how things worked out for her?

15) Cat Power: Ah, Chan Marshall. Talk about growing up in public. While Jenny Lewis was once a TV child star, Marshall was an intimidated wallflower who freaked out on stage so often that people thought it was all an act. And it was. An act of sheer lunacy. But over time, she's done modeling and learned to face her fears and learned to play her guitar and hire a backing band that doesn't sound like it's playing with gloves on. She could be a star.

14) Aimee Mann: She left 'Til Tuesday to be on her own. You know, it's not always about the money (though usually it is). Sometimes, you outgrow the whole "band" idea. It feels limiting and Mann has really worked on her songwriting over the years and told stories that surely no band shy of the Who would want to play second fiddle to. It's bad enough standing in the shadow of your fellow bandmates, but playing back-up to a "Concept Album" is what drove the guys in Pink Floyd to wonder about their lead singer.

13) Siouxsie Sioux: She led her Banshees with a high sense of drama and visual intimidation. Siouxsie made it so anyone with enough flair for fashion could comfortably find their way to obscure whatever it was they were self-conscious about and become something else entirely. She even gave Robert Smith of the Cure a job when it looked like he needed the work.

12) Shirley Manson: Manson has one of those voices that melts wood. Turns snow into sawdust? I can't even mix a metaphor but Manson was brought in to prettify a band called Garbage and she certainly made them easier to look at. (Which, really, isn't much of an accomplishment). But she also made them sound better, which when you're working with some accomplished sound engineers just goes to prove that you can have all the computer programs at your disposal but if you don't have some talent in the room, you've just got a bunch of expensive toys.

11) Lori Carson: A household name in certain parts of Long Island and pockets of the West Coast for sure, Carson has one of those voices that threatens to dissipate in the air--and there are times when she gets downright spooky. I'd say grab a copy of Everything I Touch Runs Wild and go from there. If your life isn't changed, then maybe your life isn't changeable.

10) Liz Phair: Sure, Lizzy made big waves by shocking all the mild-mannered indie-rock boys who despite all their perceived coolness just turned into Jr. high schoolers upon hearing an F-bomb pass from her Phair lips. But, really, she's also written some damn fine pop songs that the whole world could if not sing, at least hum. But the world won't. Because the world is one stubborn beast.

9) Deborah Harry: You at least know her as the lead singer for Blondie where she went from grungy nightclub punk to disco diva within a few short years and she even invented rap! OK, so she didn't do that. But she did rap! Back when not many people were doing it. And when a lot of people got criticized for not sticking to certain traditions. Are those synthesizers you have on your new record? Go straight to the Gulag for reformed punkers! Man, those were the DAYS!

8) Bjork: Iceland might be the only country doing worse than the U.S. economically. I don't know. I just believe what I read in the papers. So wouldn't it be a real kick if Bjork got up and just bought her entire country and gave it back to them for free! Like I said, I don't know how economics works, but this sounds like a good plan to me. Maybe we can have Paul McCartney buy the U.S. and give it back to us. He wanted the Irish to get back Ireland after all.

7) Diamanda Galas: If you don't plan on playing The Litanies Of Satan at your next party then don't even bother inviting me. I mean, come on. The world is going down the toilet and you want to party all the time with your Eddie Murphy records? No, you've got to get down with this avant-garde stuff and send a message to your friends, family and neighbors. What's a little free jazz between friends?

6) PJ Harvey: PJ Harvey (Polly Jean, Phyllis Joan, Pat Julie) rocks pretty hard and is one of the only performers to survive her date with studio engineer Steve Albini and have her vocals survive intact. I mean, she worked with him back when he was specializing in making recordings that sounded like they came from the back of the garage. He's evolved and so has she. And while I don't expect either of them to record an album about faerie queens and unicorns, if one of them does, it'll probably be Steve.

5) Patti Smith: She couldn't sing then and she can't sing now. But she can express herself as only Patti Smith can and if you don't find that inspiring then you either have no hope or you have no visible handicaps. You must be perfect. As an imperfect human (damn that hurts to admit), I admire Ms. Smith for her tenacity, her return to the stage after so many years away, and the fact that she doesn't try and prettify her rough edges. Could make a lot more money if she did. Or she can just hope Natalie Merchant will do the heavy lifting for her.

4) Chrissie Hynde: Chrissie can sing just about anything and make it sound like she's seducing her audience. Hand her your 1040 and watch her work her magic. Suddenly it's no longer a jumble of tax information but a love letter to the U.S. Government, which ends with you writing them a sizable check with money you don't have. Maybe that's why she called her band The Pretenders.

3) Kate Bush: Tori Amos did borrow liberally from Kate's career--all that girl in a box stuff. That's so catchy! But Bush herself has always been more reclusive and weird, if that's possible.

2) Nico: With a voice like a foghorn, Nico made her presence known. She also re-recorded the same songs so many times that every casual fan probably owns at least three versions of "Femme Fatale," "All Tomorrow's Parties" and "The End" by default. Easily the greatest female singer with a three-note range.

1) Sinead O'Connor: I know what you're thinking. Nepotism. How could I not put my sister at the top of this list? What kind of O'Connor would I be if I didn't put my namesake right there on top? I'd be one crappy brother. Except we're not related and while I've tried to convince the courts that we have to have some connection, they've thrown out every legal argument I've given them. Yet, I persist. I stood by her when she tore up the picture of the Pope. I stood by her when she retired from the music business. I stood by her when she un-retired. And I still think she has one of the most vulnerable voices on Earth (and Earth is a BIG place). Someday she's going to get all the material she needs to prove it once again. Will the world listen? I'll bet half of my ear, they don't. Because the world is more stubborn than a child can understand.

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