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
This week at the Theme Park I’ve been totally indulgent. The theme, GOODBYE TO THE NOUGHTIES, allowed me to play a selection of my favourite tracks from the past decade.
We opened the program with M.I.A. and her breakthrough hit, PAPER PLANES, in which she samples The Clash, brags about being a so-called terrorist, and uses gunshots and a cash register as the focus of the song’s chorus. A wonderfully innovative piece of music that satirises the very real fear of terrorism that swept the globe during the Noughties.
The other interesting bit about M.I.A. is that she came to prominence in early 2004 through file sharing her singles on the Internet. Ten years ago no one was listening to music on anything other than a radio or CD player. Now it’s on your phone, your iPod, your computer and your TV. Pro Tools is no longer just for pros and with basic software, we can make our own music and share it on the World Wide Web. We can even make a video clip and put it up on YouTube. We could, theoretically, also program our own radio station. And then there’s podcasting, blogging and, not to mention Facebook and Twitter. Whew. If the Noughties stand out for one thing, it’s that technology has revolutionised the entertainment business with its peer-to-peer digital communication. Goodbye conventional notions of creativity and distribution, hello independent artist. Viva La Revolution, I say.
Outkast released their double album Speakerboxx/The Love Below in 2003 and it’s a classic example of the decade’s soul/dance/hip hop fusion. The expansive, split-personality masterwork paved the way for artists like Kanye West, Dizzee Rascal and others. In the same year The White Stripes released their attention-getting rock album Elephant. Check out SEVEN NATION ARMY:
LCD Soundsystem’s LOSING MY EDGE is a fabulous piece of satire that puts the boot into the ageing hipster who depends on an encyclopedic knowledge of cultural references to keep him or her relevant. Sound like anyone you know? Hilarious and scary, all at the same time.
Amy Winehouse’s YOU KNOW I’M NO GOOD has got that classic soul sound. Mix it up with some unfortunate self-destructive tendencies, and you have one of my favourite singer/songwriters of the decade. Just forget the tabloid sensationalism, close your eyes and listen to the Back to Black album. Heaven.
Another great singer songwriter is Lucinda Williams. WORLD WITHOUT TEARS is the kind of song she does best. It’s from her 2003 album of the same name. Seemingly tragic, the song is really a celebration of life over death. Here she is performing the song live.
And now for something completely different! Swedish group Hellsongs’s cover of AC/DC’s THUNDERSTRUCK can only be described as Lounge Metal. They’re an acoustic three-piece. Check it out. You’ll either love it or hate it. I love it:
What can you say about Tom Waites? He’s just the bomb. His Real Gone album of 2004 is almost brutal in its authenticity. The track we played, GREEN GRASS, is melancholic, bluesy, disturbing and hynotic. “Don’t say goodbye to me. Describe the sky to me. And if the sky falls, Mark my words, We’ll catch mocking birds.” Wow.
Possibly one of the Noughties best rap artists is Eminem. On one of the most original rap
tracks of the decade, STAN, he is ably assisted by another terrific artist, Dido. A great combination. The Noughties was also the decade of the mashup/bootleg. A STROKE OF GENIUS, by Freelance Hellraiser combines an instrumental edit of The Strokes track ‘Hard to Explain’ with Christina Aguilera’s pop hit ‘Genie in a Bottle’ and is probably still one of the best examples of the genre. This is where the sum is so much better than its parts. Sort of like peanut butter and chocolate ice-cream. Who thought the combination could be so good?
If you want to listen to perfect rock n roll you can’t go past Queens of the Stone Age and their track NO ONE KNOWS. Here’s why:
I was really happy to receive Roseanne Cash’s new album The List for Christmas. Lots of great tracks to choose from but, for this show, it had to be SEA OF HEARTBREAK which she sings with a little help from Bruce Springsteen. Her Dad, Johnny Cash, gave Roseanne a list of songs that he felt it was essential for her to know and she held onto that list for 35 years. Finally the time was right and she has chosen 12 songs from that original list of 100 for this great album.
Another great album is Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, released in 2002; my favourite track from the album is JESUS etc. Superb. Check it out:
Two of the decades most successful rock bands also made an appearance: Kings of Leon with SEX ON FIRE and Green Day with BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS. But my favourite rock band has to be Radiohead. We played a track from their 2007 album, IN RAINBOWS. Now this album is particularly interesting because it was initially released through the band’s own website as a digital download for which customers could make whatever payment that they wanted, including nothing; the site only advised, “it’s up to you”. Reportedly 1.2 million copies were sold by the first day of release. In March 2008 aniBoom, together with Radiohead’s label TBD REcords, launched the In Rainbows Animated Music Video Contest. Animators from all over the world competed. Out of over one thousand entries, Radiohead chose four grand winners. Each winner received $10,000 to complete their submission. This animation by Japanese artists Kota and Totori perfectly illustrates the track we played: 15 STEP.
The Strokes, in my mind, were one of the first great rock album of the Noughties. Nine years later I still love listening to LAST NITE and all the other tracks on the very cool Is This It album. Another ‘must include’ are Arcade Fire and the track I chose was WAKE UP from their album FUNERAL, released in 2005. They mix the playfulness of Talking Heads with the Gothic quality of The Cure but it’s a sound that is entirely their own. Actually they are just a bunch of nerds having fun. Gotta love that.
I closed the show with the most outrageous of the decade’s gender benders. Lady Ga Ga has nothing on Peaches. And who better to help her out than Bad Boy Iggy Pop. The track is KICK IT. Who said punk was dead?
Have a wonderful New Year’s Eve. Play safe and drive carefully. Here’s the complete playlist:
Next week: DUETS
Listen to Lyn McCarthy at the Theme Park on BayFM, Tuesdays 2-4pm, Sydney time.