This week we’re celebrating that Australia finally has a female PrimeMinister in Julia Gillard – it only took 109 years! The show was on the F word, no not THAT word – I’m talking FEMINIST SONGS, GRRRL POWER. It’s a complex topic and I had to have a criterion for the list, otherwise I would have gone absolutely nuts trying to make a selection. So it came down to the lyrics. Obviously what I think makes a feminist song is totally subjective, but hopefully my choices made for an interesting and fun couple of hours.
Le Tigre kicked the show off with HOT TOPIC, a song that pays tribute to dozens of female visual artists, musicians, writers and feminists who have inspired them, including Yoko Ono, Aretha Franklin, The Slits and others. Le Tigre was founded by Kathleen Hanna. She’d previously fronted the band Bikini Kill, a leading light in the Gen X Riot Grrrl movement of the early 90’s. Riot Grrrls didn’t just create music. They published zines, produced their artwork and group exhibitions. The movement spawned current performance artists like Amanda Palmer, Peaches and M.I.A. Have a peek at Le Tigre:
Moving into the show proper, we travelled back in time to 1963 when Peggy Lee recorded I’M A WOMAN. This was at a time when multi-tasking meant being able to do all the housework andpowder your nose at the same time. By 1975 Loretta Lyn had released the first song about birth control, called THE PILL, about a little dose of hormones that would change society and history forever. Can you believe that it was banned from radio? In 1975! We have come a long way baby.
Now you were probably wondering whether any songs about women, written by men, met with my approval. Well, there were a few, (not many mind you). Here’s one: In 1978, Queen speculated that it wasn’t gravity but, in fact, FAT BOTTOMED GIRLS that made the earth go round. Fascinating. Thirty years later the scientific community is still to respond, even though Queen’s guitarist Brian May (who wrote this track) was studying for a PhD in astronomy at the time, which lends some sort of credibility to the argument don’t you think? Over the years this song has proved a useful rebuff to the portrayal of women in popular culture as little more than skinny minnies. And, at the very least, you have to congratulate a song with the lyrics, “Take me to them lardy ladies every time!”.
Keeping to the theme, let’s talk about an artist who has the sisterhood in a quandry. Beyonce sings all about being an independent woman and, yet, she still wants her fella to put a ring on it. But I must admit a liking for Destiny’s Child and especially the track BOOTYLICIOUS. Here are women in possession of their own bodies, their own sexuality and their own lives. When they solemnly announce “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly” in their ode to the joys of shakeable bottoms, the cheering from millions of pear-shaped women world-wide is deafening.
We followed with a song by the Scissor Sisters called SHE’S MY MAN, a song that tells of a woman who “takes her drinks with dust and rusty razor blades”. It then goes on to assert that “She’s my man and we got all the balls we need”. Not sure if this is a tribute to a transvestite or a particularly gutsy woman, but I’m somewhat encouraged by the fact, that in this age of sexual equality, it doesn’t really matter.
A couple of great duets were lined up next: Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox with the 1985 anthem SISTERS ARE DOING IT FOR THEMSELVES and the 2003 release of CAN’T HOLD US DOWN by Christina Aguilerra and Lil Kim.
An artist who must surely qualify for our pro-feminist list is Peaches. She writes provocative lyrics that challenge traditional notions of gender. Her songs are nearly always sexually explicit which means that I can’t always include her in my playlists but there is one that did get away with playing this week, as it’s quite tame, for her anyway. Here she is with BOYS WANNA BE HER. Kick-ass band too.
The fight for sexual equality has always been one of the cornerstones of the feminist movement but back in the 40’s, way before we burnt our bras, the early Blues and jazz singers got away with murder with their proudly promiscuous and highly enjoyable music. You just heard Big Mama Thornton with her twist on the Sonny Boy Williamson song Good Mornin’ Little School Girl. Her version is called, what else, SCHOOL BOY. And then it was Julia and Her Boyfriends who know exactly what they want in GOTTA GIMME WATCHA GOT.
At the show’s half way mark Lesley Gore belted out YOU DON’T OWN ME, recorded in 1964 and covered later by Dusty Springfield and Joan Jett, among others. It also featured on the soundtrack of the film THE FIRST WIVES CLUB, a nice little revenge flick about three divorced women whose husbands have left them for younger models. It does happen you know! Here’s Lesley:
Next up it was a suggestion from Cath: Bluegrass duo Truckstop Honeymoon with BAD ATTITUDE. And to follow I chose an artist who has attitude with a capital ‘A’, M.I.A. with PAPER PLANES, on which she samples The Clash’s STRAIGHT TO HELL.
Had to include the wonderful Neko Case with PRETTY GIRLS, a song about abortion and the guilt-trip that’s put on women, particularly if they’re good looking. A nice pairing in tone, for this one, was WOMAN from John Lennon, a bloke who towards the end of his short life at least was very much the feminist.
If you’re looking for opinionated, then you can’t go past the next two tracks: First up, the great Patti Labelle with NEW ATTITUDE and Madison Avenue with WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
Just saw the new film RUNAWAYS which I thought was going to be about Joan Jet but its not. It’s based on Cherry Bomb, the vocalist with the band, played to perfection by Dakota Fanning. Couldn’t help but be disappointed however with Kristin Stewart’s depiction of Joan. So, let’s make up for it with the stand out ‘up yours’ track, BAD REPUTATION. Here’s Joan Jett & The Blackhearts:
This one was a given: Aretha Franklin with a song that served both the Women’s Liberation & Civil Rights movements equally well. It is, of course, her cover of Otis Redding’s RESPECT.
Ani DiFranco is certainly no damsel in distress on NOT A PRETTY GIRL from the album of the same name, released in 1995 on her own record label with the fabulous name of Righteous Babe Records. Way to go: control the means of production!
Had to include another John Lennon track because he really was a card-carrying feminist. Here’s a clip of him performing WOMAN IS THE NIGGER OF THE WORLD on the Dick Cavett show. Having said all that, it does disturb me somewhat how submissive Yoko appears to be. Hmmmm. And, like, what’s with the drumming?
Heading towards the end of the show, there was just time to play Jeannie C. Riley’s HARPER VALLEY PTA about the struggles of a single mum in a small town, recorded in 1968. Riley was the first women ever to top the US pop and country singles charts with this song. The achievement would not be repeated until 1981 when Dolly Parton topped the same charts with the song you heard next – 9 to 5 – from the movie of the same name, about equality in the workplace.
Who better to close the show than Janis Joplin? This song was originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton and covered to perfection by Janis and Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1967. Here they are performing in Germany, 1969. The song: BALL & CHAIN.
Next week the theme will be UNLIKELY COVERS. Think Johnny Cash covering the Nine Inch Nails track HURT or Sonic Youth’s version of the Carpenters SUPERSTAR, that kind of thing. I’d love to hear from you with your own suggestions.
Here’s this week’s full playlist:
Hot Topic – Le Tigre
I’m A Woman – Peggy Lee
The Pill – Loretta Lynn
Fat Bottomed Girls – Queen
Bootylicious – Survivor, Destiny’s Child
She’s My Man, Ta-Dah, Scissor Sisters
Courtship of Eddie’s Father – Movie clip
Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves, Aretha Franklin/Annie Lennox
Can’t Hold Us Down – Stripped, Christina Aguilera and Lil Kim
Boys Wanna Be Her, Impeach My Bush, Peaches
Don’t Call Me Baby, Madison Avenue
School Boy – Ball n Chain, Big Mama Thornton
Gotta Gimme Watcha Got – Sugar in My Bowl, Julia & Her Boyfriends
You Don’t Own Me, Billboard Top 100 of 1964, Lesley Gore
Bad Attitude – Diamohds in the Asphalt, Truckstop Honeymoon
Paper Planes – Kala, M.I.A.
Pretty Girls – Blacklisted, Neko Case
Woman – Double Fantasy, John Lennon
New Attitude – Patti Labelle
Who The Hell Are You? – Madison Avenue
Women Know Your Limits – Harry Enfield BBC (Comedy Clip)
Bad Reputation – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Respect – Aretha Franklin
Not A Pretty Girl – Not A Pretty Girl, Ani DiFranco
Woman Is The Nigger of the World, The John Lennon Collection, John Lennon
Harper Valley P.T.A. – 60 Number One Hits of the 60’s, Jeannie C. Riley
9-5 – The Essential Dolly Parton, Dolly Parton
Ball & Chain – Cheap Thrills, Janis Joplin/Big Brother & the Holding Company
Next week: UNLIKELY COVERS
Listen to Lyn McCarthy at the Theme Park on BayFM, Tuesdays 4-6pm, Sydney time
In my opinion, a ‘list’ song, if it’s genuine, should feature at least half a dozen items. In compiling this week’s playlist I didn’t feel it was good enough to include songs that simply rattled off one number after another or letters of the alphabet, although place names and girl’s names did get a bit of a look in. So it was a bit of a challenge, but that’s what makes it so much fun.
We opened the program with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s spoof of band leader introductions, INTRO & OUTRO, in which each instrument is played by an unlikely public figure: “Looking very relaxed, Adolf Hitler on vibes. Nice.” I couldn’t find a video clip of the original song but here are the Bonzos performing a version with the cast of the pre-Python show, “Do Not Adjust Your Set”, 1967-1969:
That song set a pretty high benchmark for the rest of the show. The only thing to do was to take a completely different direction and consequently it was a couple of R&B standards: Sam Cooke with WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD and The Temptations with THE WAY YOU DO THE THINGS YOU DO.
Bob Dylan’s SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK BLUES is a lively example of the list song if ever there was one. I’ve played this before and also posted the video clip, so let’s don’t do that again. Instead let’s have a look at feminist electro-punk trio Le Tigre, who pay tribute to dozens of female visual artists, musicians, writers, feminists and others who have inspired them, in HOT TOPIC.
Just to stir things up, we followed with UK group Pop Will Eat Itself with CAN U DIG IT. It’s a list of their favourite things including disco, comic books, AC/DC and the Twilight Zone. Somehow I don’t think that Le Tigre and PWEI should ever meet.
In the 40’s & 50’s list songs were sophisticated affairs, delivered with polite confidence. There’s no better example than Sarah Vaughan singing THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME. Vaughan died 10 years ago this week. Jazz commentator Scott Yanow described her as having “one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century” and I couldn’t agree more.
John Lennon wasn’t concerned with being polite on his 1971 recording of GIMME SOME TRUTH. In fact, just the opposite, as he expressed frustration with deceptive politicians at the time of the Vietnam War: “short-haired, yellow bellied sons of Tricky Dicky”. It’s from the Imagine album. Here’s an extract of the documentary on the making of the album, featuring GIMME SOME TRUTH:
It’s also the 10th anniversary of Ian Dury’s death (on March 27th). He was a master of the ‘list’ song. Hard to choose, but decided to go with REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL (Part 3). If ever there was a tune that encapsulated Durie”s love for jazz, rock & vaudeville and his collaborator Chaz Jankel’s love of funk, then this is it. Here’s an extended version performed live in 1985.
If you are ready to ditch someone from your life, it was probably time to take a few notes from Simon & Garfunkle as they explained about the 50 WAYS TO LEAVE YOUR LOVER.
If you’re looking for a female perspective on the subject then Carole Bayer Sager is your girl. She’s in total control as she tells her ex-lover YOU’RE MOVING OUT TODAY. Lucinda Williams goes one step further. She’s CHANGED THE LOCKS:
Two more of the great jazz and blues singers are Etta James and Nina Simone. We played James’ THESE FOOLISH THINGS REMIND ME OF YOU and Simone’s AIN’T GOT NO, I GOT LIFE.
LOSING MY EDGE was LCD Soundsystem’s first single in 2002 and was born out of James Murphy’s horror at realising that he was being branded ‘cool’. It’s laugh out loud funny in my books and, not to mention, has a great vinyl list to cross check your ‘coolness’ against:
“But have you seen my records? This Heat, Pere Ubu, Outsiders, Nation of Ulysses, Mars, The Trojans, The Black Dice, Todd Terry, the Germs, Section 25, Althea and Donna, Sexual Harrassment, a-ha, Pere Ubu, Dorothy Ashby, PIL, the Fania All-Stars, the Bar-Kays, the Human League, the Normal, Lou Reed, Scott Walker, Monks, Niagra, Joy Division, Lower 48, the Association, Sun Ra, Scientists, Royal Trux, 10cc, Eric B. and Rakim, Index, Basic Channel, Soulsonic Force (“just hit me”!), Juan Atkins, David Axelrod, Electric Prunes, Gil! Scott! Heron!, the Slits, Faust, Mantronix, Pharaoh Sanders and the Fire Engines, the Swans, the Soft Cell, the Sonics, the Sonics, the Sonics, the Sonics.”
Moving back in time it was Wilson Pickett with LAND OF 1,000 DANCES and a track that I held back from my HAIR show last week because it was so perfect for this theme, BALD-HEADED LENA from Piano Red, later known as Dr. Feelgood. And to round out the triple play, it was Screamin’ Jay Hawkins with a recipe, which of course is nothing but a list. The song: ALLIGATOR WINE.
The Queens of the Stone Age delivered FEEL GOOD HIT OF THE SUMMER. Apart from the single word “and”, their salute to stimulants is nothing but a list, performed with the enthusiasm of those who know of what they speak. Unlike myself of course. Here’s the official clip with a nice piece of animation.
If you’re after something a little more highbrow, and also quite funny, then you can’t go past Divine Comedy with BOOKLOVERS. It lists over 70 different authors for you. Names that live forever.
Here’s a beauty – Monty Python with a song that asserts that all of the great philosophers were drunks – BRUCE’S PHILOSOPHY SONG. Here they are performing at the Hollywood Bowl. Hilarious.
And now for something completely different: Antonio Carlos Jobim with Elis Regina singing the Brazilian classic AGUAS DE MARCO, an impressionistic flood of nouns representing the journey of life towards death. The title is translated as WATERS OF MARCH. Here’s a link to a very good blog that will tell you more about ‘Tom’ Jobim and will also give you the English version of the lyrics: http://leftbankpress.blogspot.com/2006/02/aguas-de-marco-waters-of-march.html
And, from me (and YouTube, of course), a clip of the duo performing the song live:
Having put you in a Latin mood, it was time for some Latin fusion and the next number would surely have had you up and dancing. Lou Bega’s MAMBO NUMBER 5. Can you believe that it was Australia’s #1 single in 1999?
As we were heading towards the end of the program it was great to get my dose of Roy Orbison by including The Travelling Wilburys in the show. George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison made up the super group. Legends, one and all, they contributed an interesting little ditty called DIRTY WORLD, with Bob Dylan on lead vocals. And then it was time for two other ex-Beatles with songs about LISTS: Paul McCartney and Wings with LET EM IN and, how could we leave out John Lennon’s GIVE PEACE A CHANCE?
Billy Joel defended the Baby Boomer generation with his hit WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE. As the song goes: “We didn’t start the fire. It was always burning since the world was turning.” Well, yeah, but …
We closed the show with REM’s IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT (AND I FEEL FINE). Inspired by Bob Dylan’s SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK BLUES, the track is known for its quick flying lyrics taking the form of what appears to be a stream of consciousness. Michael Stipe says that he wrote the song after dreaming that he was at a birthday party where all the other guests had the initials L.B. hence “Leonard Bernstein, Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs, birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom!”
And on that note it was fini. Next week the theme will be FRIENDS & NEIGHBOURS, so get your thinking caps on. And try to avoid themes for sit-coms. Yes, it’s going to be harder than it looks.
Here’s the complete playlist for this week:
Intro And The Outro – Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
What A Wonderful World – Sam Cooke
The Way You Do The Things You Do – The Temptations
Subterranean Homesick Blues – Bob Dylan
Hot Topic – Le Tigre
Can U Dig It – Pop Will Eat Itself
They Can’t Take That Away From Me – Sarah Vaughan
Night Train – James Brown
Gimme Some Truth – John Lennon
Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 3) – Ian Dury and The Blockheads
Fifty ways to leave your lover – Simon & Garfunkel
You’re Moving Out Today – Carol Bayer Sager
Changed The Locks (Live) – Lucinda Williams
These Foolish Things (Remind M – Etta James
Ain’t Got No I Got Life – Nina Simone
Losing My Edge – LCD Soundsystem
Land Of 1000 Dances – Wilson Pickett
Bald-Headed Lena – Piano Red (Dr. Feelgood)
Alligator Wine – Frenzy Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Feel Good Hit of the Summer – Queens of the Stone Age
The Booklovers – Divine Comedy
Bruce’s Philosophers song – Monty Python
Aguas de Março – Elis Regina & Antonio Jobim
Mambo No.5 – Lou Bega
Dirty World – Traveling Wilburys
Let ‘Em In – Paul McCartney & Wings
Give Peace A Chance – John Lennon
We Didn’t Start the Fire – Billy Joel
It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) – R.E.M.