I’ve been listening to Michelle Miears a lot lately. Her new album is stellar and I’m looking forward to publishing a piece on her soon.
Simultaneously I’ve been digging back through Juliana Hatfield’s catalog as her new record is about to drop. I adore her music and she’s written several songs that are cemented in my life’s mix tape.
All this feminine energy got me thinking about all the incredible women songwriters and bands that have been such an intrinsic part of my musical upbringing and have provided me with incredible inspiration.
So…I decided to put a bit of a list together…in no particular order here are some of my essential female artists from the 90s. Maybe I’ll do another article like this about artists from other decades so we can talk about my beloved Shangri-Las, the Ronettes, Darlene Love, Blondie, Janice, Mama Cass and so many, many others but for now let’s do this rapid fire style and keep it to the 90s because that’s what I’ve been listening to a lot these last few weeks.
Most of you will be familiar with them, if so, polish off those albums and give them a listen. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with some of these ladies, well…what are you waiting for?!
All respect to the boys in the Pixies, Kim Deal has always been my favorite part of that band. The Breeders are of one of my favorite bands and while I’m disappointed at not being able to see a “proper” Pixies show, I’m really happy that Kim is focusing on the Breeders right now.
I remember the first time I heard them. A dear friend and I would swap mix tapes and one of hers included three songs: Metal Man, Opened, and Cannonball.
Metal Man was so different than anything I’d ever heard. That rough acoustic intro, all by itself and then the big build that implies its’ going to explode but nope…drops right back down.
I was hooked. Over the years I’ve come to cherish Pod and Last Splash as much as any album from that time period and I’ve enjoyed following along as Kim and her cohorts have churned out some of the most interesting and passionate rock I’ve ever heard.
Jeez…what a great band. I had the pleasure to finally see them live in Houston a few years back. At that time the lineup did not include co-founder Nina Gordon but did include another female artist who I absolutely adore: Nicole Fiorentino who has played bass for some of the great bands of the 90s and 2000s including a long run with the Smashing Pumpkins. Their albums, beginning-to-end, are so raw and dirty and embody everything I love about that period in rock.
I’m definitely not the only one who thinks Shirley Manson is a goddess. She’s gorgeous and sexy and commands a stage and audience like few ever have but it’s really all about that voice…that voice is killer. Garbage hit me like a truck when their first album dropped in 1995. I obsessed over every dimension of that insanely good record and they have followed it up over and over again with incredible albums and shows.
As mentioned above, so many of her songs have just become intrinsic to my soul. “Feelin’ Massachusetts,” “Supermodel,” “Spin the Bottle,” “Fleur de Lys,” and “What a Life” are go-to songs for me. And don’t ignore her work in other groups like the Lemonheads!
She is a classically trained musician who plays a bevy of instruments and I fondly remember reading her columns in Guitar World magazine. While the other artists were focused on teaching speed and technique she placed her emphasis on songwriting and melody…how to conjure the best from what you already have inside. That resonated with me…and still does. I’m incredibly excited to hear the new album because she is spitting fire and rage right now and I can’t wait for my deluxe pack to arrive!
Oh my…Lisa Loeb. How I adore thee. In a way she is responsible for my marriage. I was working out the guitar part to her big hit “Stay” one night and this girl my brother knew wanted to be a singer. I didn’t have a band at the time and thought it would be cool to do a duo so she came over one night and we started doing that song. After a bit she suggested we go to the local Starbucks where some friends of hers were hanging out and playing music. We did. My not-yet-wife walked onto the patio and I was taken aback. Leslie walked up and asked what we were doing and I said I was working out the progression to Stay and she said she loved that song and started singing. So did the girl I showed up with. I ended up telling that girl to shush so I could hear Leslie sing haha…probably not the most polite thing to do but again, I was more than a little smitten.
Loeb combines that gorgeous sweet voice with a great turn-of-phrase and while many may relegate her to the one hit wonder bin, her catalog is full of wildly well-crafted songs. I particularly love “Alone,” “Do You Sleep,” and “Rose-Colored Times” from her 1995 release Tails.
Can you mention women artists without bringing up Sarah McLachlan? I don’t think so. Surfacing and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy are masterpieces. I’m not going to bother listing tunes because we all know them, and if you don’t you need to look them up.
Jeez…is there a more powerful voice than that of Johnette Napolitano? Their 1990 album Bloodletting was another album I was introduced to via a friend’s mix tape. The album is great but the magic is in their live acoustic performances of “Joey” and “Tomorrow, Wendy.” She also performed with Steven Wynn on the track “The Ship Song” which again displays her incredible vocals.
Another band that I was turned onto via that same mix tape…jeez what a gift that tape is.
Tanya Donnelly has been a busy lady. Throwing Muses, the Breeders, and Belly were all part of the fabric of the times. Belly had their first hit with “Feed the Trees” off their first album Star but it was their second album, King,that featured a real favorite of mine: “Puberty.”
Dig a little deeper though and you’ll find two cover songs that blew my mind: Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced” and Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual.” Tanya’s bold fearlessness has always been a source of great inspiration to me…and again, that voice. Sweet and girly but not weak…there’s a troublemaker there.
Tracy Freaking Bonham
What an incredible talent…classically trained violinist and pianist who can blow the roof off any juke joint or stadium with a rage that would intimidate Zack de la Rocha. “Mother Mother” was her big hit, and I love it (even tried to cover it once) but dig deeper and you’ll find gems like “Brain Crack” where she puts those violin chops to work.
I’m in love with Dolores O’Riordan…have been since the first time I heard her voice and I pull out “Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We” on a very regular basis. The moodiness, the sweet melancholy, and yearning in her voice and the melodies she crafted over the Smiths-inspired music they so tightly crafted that I can’t imagine my upbringing without her or them.
The 90s were a spectacular time for women in rock. I didn’t mention above but 10,000 Maniacs with Natalie Merchant, Tori Amos, and the Indigo Girls are also absolutely generational talents that are just as essential to my musical identity as anyone else.
There was Dido, Alanis, Natalie Imbruglia, Jewel, Sheryl Crow, Sixpence None the Richer, and so many others. We could do this for days!
It seems like some of that spirit is still alive in artists like Sara Bareilles, Lily Allen, KT Tunstall, and certainly Norah Jones. We also can’t forget about Lady Gaga. There are still great women out there killing but it doesn’t feel the same.
Maybe I’m old and out of touch. Maybe I’ve gotten to that point where I’m locked into “my era” and modern music doesn’t resonate with me like it did when I was younger.
Regardless, the 90s female rock scene felt like a movement. It felt revolutionary and so different.
Obviously there have always been fantastic female artists but man…during this time it seemed like the ladies were outdoing their male counterparts in a lot of areas.
Anyway, that’s it for now…just wanted to throw a few words on the page to let everyone know what I’ve been listening to and mulling on for the last week or two.
Until next time,
Be Well and Kind,