The song from the band Bikini Kill, “Rebel Girl” (1992) written by the band members Billy Karren, Kathi Wilcox, Tobi Vail and lead singer Kathleen Hanna is a good representation of the Punk subgenre ‘Riot grrrl’.
A great cover from The Melvins. However rebellious this music may seem to some, you need to go way back to understand this is nothing particularly new.
There is a long history of women who created their own way to express themselves through music. I’ve mentioned some of them (pioneers if you will) in previous blogs like Sister Rosetta Tharpe in my first blog and Ma Rainey in my fourth posting. While some of these artists are hard to classify they fall generally under certain genres and subgenres. The aforementioned being primarily gospel and blues respectively, each type of music had its innovators and leaders, some well known, others much less so and even quite obscure. It will take more than one blog post but I’m going to pick a few of the major genres/subgenres and feature some artists I have yet not mentioned or least highlighted.
I referred to Bessie Smith also in the ‘Ma and Fats‘ post. Known as the ‘Empress of Blues’ she had a prolific recording career before her death from injuries sustained in a traffic accident in 1937. Many of her more well known songs were written by someone else such as “Downhearted Blues“(1923) composed by Alberta Hunter and Lovie Austin two noted Jazz composers and performers of the day. But she wrote and recorded dozens of her own songs “Back-Water Blues” has been covered about 60 times. Irma Thomas (2005). And talk about rebels, some of the song lyrics where quite scandalous at the time “I need a little hot dog between my rolls” from the song “Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl” leaves little to the imagination.
For as much as Bessie Smith has become known for her vast contributions to the Blues with the Biopic “Bessie” strengthening that effort there are artists such as Geeshie Wiley (circa 1930). Don Kent, a blues historian was quoted on Wiley saying she “may well have been the rural South’s greatest female blues singer and musician”. There are many more ‘Wiley’s’ than ‘Smith’s’, as it’s still the way with the music business some exceedingly talented people just never get in the spotlight.
Today the Blues tradition is carried on by many great artists such as Rita Chiarelli with a Jimmie Cox song “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” recorded by Smith in (1929). Also Shemekia Copeland, “I Sing The Blues” (2012) and the remarkable Rhiannon Giddens “I’m On My Way“.
The Jazz genres most well known early stars are; Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Betty Carter, Carmen McRae, Nina Simone , or my personal favorite Ella Fitzgerald. I may blog Holiday in the future, to say her story is remarkable is an understatement. For now I’ll include the poignant and true to life song as she herself was dealing with abusive relationships (w/men) “Fine and Mellow” (1939) written by Billie Holiday, since recorded over 65 times. Ella Fitzgerald (1979) Molly Johnson (2014). Today’s best Jazz vocalists include the amazing Diana Krall who plays piano as well as she sings, Cassandra Wilson, Emilie-Claire Barlow, and the most aptly named Jazzmeia Horn.
Coming back to Rock, specifically Punk. Patti Smith is widely known for
her contributions in the early formation of this sub-genre. While her debut album ‘Horses’ (1975) is touted as the most influential, her most popular self penned song is “Dancing Barefoot” (1979), here is a great acoustic version from the excellent music program ‘Later with Jools‘. Covered by U2 (1989).
Chrissie Hynde started her career as a punk rocker, she mingled with the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The New York Dolls and Iggy Pop in the mid ’70’s London music scene. Her debut album named after her band ‘The Pretenders’ (1979) brought her international attention with songs like “Precious” and “Tattooed Love Boys” both written by Chrissie Hynde and of course the #1 hit in the UK “Brass in Pocket” written by Chrissie Hynde and James Honeyman-Scott. Joan Jett is a solid contributor to Rock & Roll and little wonder with great songs like “Bad Reputation“(1980) written by Marty Kupersmith, Kenny Laguna, Joan Jett and Ritchie Cordell. A great cover from The Dollyrots (2009).
Other early contributors include ‘The Slits‘, ‘Siouxsie and the Banshees‘, Debbie Harry in “Blondie“, Gaye Advert with the ‘Adverts‘ and the “Germfree Adolescents” with Poly Styrene.
Well there’s some Blues, Jazz and Punk rock, bet you don’t hear that together everyday! More to come as I plan a series covering more great musicians and genres.
References: https://secondhandsongs.com/, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page, https://www.bbc.co.uk/music/articles/6f9d5d38-4e7b-4b82-8bb6-5e35a3c49dbe, https://www.cbcmusic.ca/posts/12310/the-bold-music-of-20-wild-women-pioneers, https://bestclassicbands.com/pretenders-debut-album-3-28-19/
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