Entertainment and county government reporter

Randy Erickson covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or randy.erickson@lee.net.

Just in case anybody was thinking I’m some kind of expert in all things music, I have a confession to make: I’m not. I have been an avid consumer and lover of music my whole life but not an overall expert, and I feel like something less of an expert this week after National Public Radio offered “Turning the Tables: The 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women.”

The list covers albums released in popular music genres since 1964, and the intent was to create a “canon” for music created by women, providing a guide to the best, a standard of excellence. The effort was prompted in part by the long-noted under-representation of women in best albums lists, especially lists that establish the canon for rock music.

There’s no denying that female musical artists have had a less than prominent place on broad “best” lists. No women were in the top 20 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and they are vastly outnumbered by male artists on the rest of the expansive list.

The music I’ve purchased and listened to most over the years shows a similar bent, and I have to think a big part of that is because I generally gravitate toward rock music. (There’s a shocker, right?) There aren’t nearly as many women in rock as there are men, but this NPR list got me thinking about whether I’ve given women rockers a fair shake in my listening choices.

I decided to have a look at the NPR album roster and see how many albums on the list I’ve actually purchased. I’ve heard a lot of the albums on the list, of course, but I just wanted ones that I spent money on as an indication of how that list and my listening priorities mesh.

I have bought only 15 of the 150. What kind of a music “expert” has a collection with only 10 percent of the classics?

Part of it has something to do with my prime music-buying years. Maybe I’d have a greater percentage of the list if we only looked at the albums that came out from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, when I had to shift more of the dwindling music budget to Raffi, Barney, Hans Mayer and Disney hits for the kids.

The classic albums by female artists I’ve invested in include (in order of their appearance on the NPR list) Fleetwood Mac, Lucinda Williams, Sade, Gillian Welch, Heart, Rickie Lee Jones, Linda Ronstadt, The Go-Go’s, Pretenders, Dixie Chicks, k.d. lang, Eurythmics, Joan Jett, The Bangles and Norah Jones. This does not include albums on the list I bought strictly for my daughters (Dixie Chicks, Spice Girls, Britney Spears and Taylor Swift).

I don’t think I have anything against music made by women. The last band I played in had a fantastic female singer who handled at least half our songs, and I had a lot of fun listening to and learning the cover songs we did that she sang.

Just for grins, I decided to look at the top 150 songs on another greatest albums of the rock era list and see how many of those are in my collection, again counting only ones I’ve bought. I was surprised I only had 18 of the 150, and two of those albums — Fleetwood Mac and Gillian Welch — were on the NPR list, too.

Artists from that other list in my collection include, in order of appearance on the list, Television, The Beatles, The Clash, The Rolling Stones, R.E.M., Led Zeppelin, Sex Pistols, The Who, U2, Bruce Springsteen, The Specials, Nirvana, Elvis Costello, The Byrds and AC/DC.

I’ve decided I’m not going to feel too bad about having so many great female artists missing from my collection, and I don’t regret not owning so many other classics of the rock music canon by the guys, and nobody else should feel bad either. I know these lists are somewhat subjective — especially the order of the rankings — and making people feel dumb because they aren’t up on what experts consider the classics or superior because they are isn’t the point of these lists. In a way, they are bucket lists to me, albums I should listen to while the ears are still working and the mind is still open.

I will keep that new NPR albums list handy, and when I am at a loss for what to listen to, I’ll check these albums out on Spotify. Even if I can can fit in one album on the list each week, I can get caught up on all that great music, a lot of it in genres I’ve left largely unexplored, in less than three years.

And that should still leave time for me to listen to female artists on my Spotify listening list that I would hope could one day be make the canon, including Courtney Barnett, Charly Bliss, Haim and Kristin Diable, who is coming soon to the Cavalier Theater.

So much music, so little time.

Rock on …

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(10) comments

Buggs Raplin

Googling around, there's video of Patti with U2 in a Paris concert singing, "People Have the Power."

Buggs Raplin

Randy, google Patti's "The People Have the Power" and "Paths That Cross" to see where you went wrong.

oz

"Horses" by Patti Smith appears at about #7.. in the top 10 where it belongs. Janis Joplin's "Pearl" appears in the top 10, but that is NOT her best work. And I question whether Fleetwood Mac "counts", as only the (sometimes) vocalists are women.

IMHO, it's a pretty lame list. Randy, you don't need to kick yourself for overlooking some of it (though you SHOULD kick yourself for missing out on Patti Smith).

Buggs Raplin

"Because the Night Was Made for Lust." A very fine line. I say we take Randy to the Musical woodshed. Just kidding, Randy. Like your columns.

oz

That line was written (at least co-written) by Bruce Springsteen.

I just remember bringing the album home for the first time, not knowing what to expect ("Rolling Stone said some good things about this album..."). Lower the stylus, and the first words out of the speakers were, "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine..." WHOA!

Buggs Raplin

I think Bruce wrote the music; Patti supplied the lyrics.

Buggs Raplin

'belongs to lust...because the night belong to lust. Sorry for the mistake..

Randy Erickson Staff
Randy Erickson

Patti Smith is the one I feel worst about not supporting by buying her album, I think. I loved her versions of "Because the Night" and "Gloria" and I remember being impressed with her on "Saturday Night Live." But even if I had bought her album when it came out, it wouldn't be part of my collection now because in early 1976 I would have bought it on 8-track. Hard to believe it's been that long since it came out.

I also was puzzled by Fleetwood Mac, B-52s and Sonic Youth on the list. I do have to say there was a lot of good stuff on the list, though. Joni Mitchell was a little before my time, but I think it's worth checking her out.

It's cool that both you and Bugs love the Patti Smith. I bet I'm gonna love it, too.

Buggs Raplin

Never too late; it's never too late unless you're dead; then it's too late.

Buggs Raplin

What? No Patti Smith?

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