This is the second part of a planned 5-part series highlighting my favourite female music artists. My favourite female artists are not necessarily the ‘best’ female artists of all time. Though, some of them might easily fit into that category. In saying that I have to admit it would have been far easier to look up any ‘best of’ list and include the likes of Tori Amos, Bjork, Joni Mitchell and Janis Joplin here. Unfortunately, I didn’t listen to them enough or buy their records, so they simply didn’t qualify for my list despite the fact that they are awesome.
The process of thinking about which artists I like was easy, but narrowing that field down to fifteen for the purpose of this series was difficult. In helping me decide who would make my favourite female artists list, I decided to stick to one simply rule. I had to own a minimum of three albums of any given artist. That said, I decided to rank them in terms of how they inspired and influenced my music listening habits. I’d like to think that there is definitely something special about each of the artists mentioned from here on end. I hope you might agree, but I definitely know you will be shocked, maybe even bewildered by some of my choices. Without any further ado, this is part two (of five) of this series.
No. 12: Jane Wiedlin
Jane Wiedlin was amongst the thick of it when LA punk was born in the 1970’s. In particular, she helped propel the all-female new wave band, The Go-Go’s to fame. For Jane, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time, during those early days of the drug-fuelled chaos of the Hollywood punk scene. (It’s a wonder how Jane ever survived!) The story goes that she moved to Hollywood to study fashion design in college, to instead end up finding fame as a punk guitarist.
My introduction to Jane Wiedlin came not long after she left The Go-Go’s. (Jane left the Go-Go’s in 1985 and the group broke up soon after.) It was the year 1988 that I distinctly recall listening to American Top 40 with Caesy Kasem, when I was introduced to Jane’s first single called Rush Hour from her second solo album Fur (1988). Rush Hour was surprisingly, by most standards, a very catchy song which reflected a lot of the type of music that was produced in the mid to late eighties. New wave, post punk and synth pop was admittedly popular with me during that period, which might explain my instant attraction to Wiedlin’s music. In particular I loved, in between all the synths and sound effects, the rush of guitars (which I am a complete sucker for) and her youthful infectious voice.
Rush Hour propelled Jane up the charts once more. It climbed as high as #9 in the US and #12 in the UK. But as much as it pains me to say, Jane would never really reach the heights of success, she once enjoyed under The Go-Go’s. Her follow-up single Inside A Dream failed to make an impact on the charts and her album Fur (1988), while it had some great tracks, didn’t really have that killer punch it needed to truly carry Jane all the way up the music charts. Yet despite its lukewarm reaction from audiences and some harsh criticism from reviewers, I adore Fur as one those straight pop albums of the late 80’s.
Jane’s third album Tangled (1990) showed a lot of promise with its fun rousing single World On Fire. A lavish music video accompanied the singles release with Jane as a temptress. It should have produced another top 10 hit for her, but failed to make inroads on the charts, not because it was a bad song, but allegedly because her record label EMI failed to promote it. Jane Wiedlin, of course, was less than impressed, which in turn led to her departure from her record label. Nonetheless, Jane had good reason to be proud of her efforts with Tangled. It was a far more mature album than her previous releases.
“I keep trying, I don’t know why I do/ Sweetly beating, my head against the wall/ I keep lying, lying thru my teeth/ Waiting, patiently for my moment to fall…” – Call Me Crazy (Jane Wiedlin)
In the 90’s Jane’s career would float around the fringes of being commercially accepted. Did it bother her? I don’t know. We’d have to ask her. But I don’t think it matters, a lot of artists do what they do because they love it. Instead of answering to record label wishes, I think artists sometimes create their best and most engaging work when they are truly left to their own devices. The same is true for Jane, who discovered her pop punk roots once again in the mid 90’s.
In 1995 Jane Wiedlin returned with an enthusiast new band called FroSTed (The capital ST stands for Star Trek. Apparently Jane is a trekkie from way back!). With the help of an old friend, Go-Go’s guitarist Charlotte Caffey (as a composer/songwriter on several tracks) and three energetic band members (Brian Waters, Sean Demott and Lance Porter), FroSTed hit all the right notes to create Cold (1996) a well received album. Today, it stands as one of those overlooked pop punk treasures, lost in the haze of many of the mid 90’s big hitters like The Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Alanis Morrisette and Green Day. Nonetheless, Jane Wiedlin proved (at least to me) she still had a surprise or two musically up her sleeve.
In 2000, Jane released her fourth studio album Kissproof World with little fanfare again from record buyers. Fans, of course, like myself were treated to another edgier album, in which Rolling Stone magazine called a “solo tour-de-force by an entrepreneur, an actress and rock goddess.”
However, following Kissproof World’s release, Jane put her music career on hold to concentrate on her budding acting career. (She first caught the acting bug playing Joan of Arc in the comedy film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure in 1989). Though Sporadic Go-Go’s reunions helped to spark interest in what she was up to. Interestingly, in 2009 Jane became an ordained minister, which only reaffirmed her chameleon nature. More recently, she was part of The Go-Go’s farewell tour of 2016, which finally put a close to one of the great all-female bands of all time.
No. 11: Kate Bush
Kate Bush is anything but cool. Yet despite her oddness, particularly her brand of pop music, she hit a strange accord with me early in my teens. The first ever Kate Bush song that I heard was from her third album Never for Ever (1980) called Babooshka. My sister played it to death and for a while it drove me crazy. Years later I heard Running Up That Hill on the radio and I fell in love with Kate Bush. Just simply the haunting mood of the song struck an accord with me, and I even convinced my mum to buy me Hounds of Love ( 1985), secretly tucking it amongst my Kiss albums.
I have to admit I’m shocked I haven’t got Kate any higher on my list. In my opinion she is one of the greatest female artists of all time. Seriously, most artists would die for a back catalogue so widely diverse and original in concept like Kate Bush. Interestingly, like Fiona Apple, Kate records at snail pace when it suits her. It’s something she didn’t intentional set out to do, but it definitely made her fans savour the moment when eventually a new album was released. In total , Kate has released ten studio albums of which I have The Kick Inside (1978), Never For Ever (1980), The Dreaming (1982), Hounds of Love (1985) and The Sensual World (1989). You might wonder why I am missing the rest of her catalogue? I have to admit, I have no real reason, other than to say that in the 90’s, while she contemplated life, I discovered Pearl Jam and alternative rock. That said, with Kate unintentionally put aside, it opened the door for me to discover her many imitators like Tori Amos and Bjork, who easily filled that void of eclectic rock.
Kate Bush’s music overall is a remarkable piece of art, from the first sounds of high pierced shrill of Wuthering Heights (at only the age of 19) until the equally bizarre closing of electronic beats of Wildman, released as her lead single for the album 50 Words For Snow (2011). In between, Kate has left us (so far) a wonderful legacy of songs that showcase her originality as an artist. Here below are a few of my favourites that are worth mentioning.
Taken from the album The Dreaming, the pounding drums and shrills of Sat In Your Lap (1982), maybe one of the most bizarre songs I have ever heard, but you cannot fault Kate’s brave attempt to push the boundaries of experimental pop. I absolutely love it. Deciphering its meaning though can be a challenge, but in essence lyrically it is about the quest for knowledge.
“And if I only could/ I’d make a deal with God/ And I’d get him to swap our places/ Be running up that road/ Be running up that hill/ Be running up that building/ See if I only could, oh….” – Running Up That Hill (Kate Bush)
I can’t make a short list of influential favourites Kate Bush songs without mentioning Running Up That Hill. It is arguably her most famous song where the rolling sounds of drums and delicate synths, equally matched by her haunting vocals give us a pure feeling of wonder. I look back at this song now and consider it to be one of the greatest songs ever made. The fact that it came out of the ‘overproduced’ 80’s makes it even more special.
Kate Bush throughout her career managed to collaborate with many great artists such as Elton John, Prince and Peter Gabriel. Kate’s reassuring voice in Don’t Give Up with Peter Gabriel (from his album So 1986) is one of my favourite songs I listen to for inspiration. Although Gabriel deserves credit for its creation, there is no way it would have worked without Kate’s brilliant vocals, to create one of the best duets in music history. Its central theme about adversity and overcoming obstacles really tugs at your heartstrings. Of course Kate’s own ability to break hearts and leave us sobbing is best felt in her own songs such as Suspended In Gaffa (1982), Moment Of Pleasure (1993), Cloudbusting (1985) and The Man With The Child In His Eyes (1978).
Finally, I would like to leave you with a song I’ve had a love-hate relationship with most of my life. It is called Babooshka (1980), which I mentioned earlier on. Why it drove me crazy was probably due to my reluctance to embrace its undertow of eastern folk influences (and the fact that my sister played it to death!) However years later, I came to appreciate its genius, especially the clever accompanying music video for the song. The song a story of a wife’s desire to test her husbands loyalty, by taking on the pseudonym of femme fatale named Babooshka is Kate Bush’s greatest creation.
No. 10: Annie Lennox
I remember sitting on a lounge in a guest room of my cousin’s house, surrounded by posters of Kiss, The Rolling Stones and Madonna in the mid 80’s. But what really grabbed my attention the most was a giant poster of an orange haired androgynous-looking Annie Lennox striking a pose. Was it confronting? Yes. Did I love it? Yes. Years later I remember reading an article about some US censor who had a hissy fit dubbing Lennox as a “youth corrupting transvestite.” It made me think of that poster. I laugh about it now because I was already a corrupted youth during the 80’s and it’s save to say that Annie Lennox had no part in it. Interestingly, it was during that same visit to my cousin’s house that I confiscated from his vinyl collection my first Eurythmics album Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (1983). It was the beginning of my appreciation of Annie Lennox.
From humble beginnings and possessing a real talent for the flute (believe it or not), Annie Lennox left her native Scotland for London to study at the Royal Academy of Music in1971. It was only a few years later, after dropping out of college, that she met almost by chance Dave Stewart. Together with Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed The Tourist, who achieved considerable success before eventually breaking up in 1979. In 1980, with a burning ambition to still collaborate together, Lennox and Stewart next formed the Eurythmics. Their first album as a duo was released in 1981 entitled In The Garden (1981). It was judged a commercial failure, but that didn’t dampen their enthusiasm. They returned stronger than ever with their landmark second album Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), where it eventually peaked at #1 on the US Billboard charts. The groundbreaking videos for the singles Sweet Dreams, and in particular Love Is A Stranger ,were pivotal in announcing the Eurythmics to the world, but not without controversy. (The video for Love Is A Stranger caused such a stir that conservative US censors banned the video featuring an androgynous-looking Lennox, playing the role of a high-class prostitute.)
“It’s savage and it’s cruel/ And it shines like destruction/ Comes in like the flood/ And it seems like religion/ It’s noble and it’s brutal/ It distorts and deranges/ And it wrenches you up/ And you’re left like a zombie….” – Love Is A Stranger (Eurythmics).
There were few female artists in the 80’s as powerful as Annie Lennox. Her unique vocals and provocative stage persona made the Eurythmics a worldwide supergroup by the end of 1983. That said, you cannot seriously talk about synth pop in the 80’s without naming at least a dozen Eurythmics hits. I will not name them all but musical standouts include Here Comes The Rain Again (1984), Would I Lie To You? (1985), Thorn In My Side (1986), Missionary Man (1986) and my personal all-time favourite When Tomorrow Comes (1986).
Like many other artists throughout music history, Stewart and Lennox would lose interest in collaborating together as a duo, which in turn allowed Annie to venture out on her own. She instantly flourished under the spotlight as a solo artist, showcasing her soulful qualities on her award winning album Diva (1992). Five more solo albums would follow with varying degrees of praise and criticism. In between her solo years she would collaborate with Dave Stewart as the Eurythmics one more time for their 1999 album Peace.
Outside her fame as a performing artist, Lennox is a survivor and truly an amazing woman who inspires us. She is a tireless advocate and humanitarian. Her bold and courageous work in HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention has seen her receive wide acclaim from all over the world. Surely it’s safe to say that her charity commitments almost dwarf her fame as an artist nowadays? Personally I think she probably might like the idea of that.
Check back later for Part 3 of this series, which will feature my favourite artists from 9 to 7.
Photo Credits: The image of Jane Weidlin in the late 80’s is licensed and used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license. The images of Kate Bush is used under the rationale of fair use because no free alternative seems to exist of her at the peak of her powers in the 80’s. I make use of the image of Annie Lennox, again under the assumption of fair use, to highlight her iconic androgynous look from the 80’s. If any errors appear with the use of these images please let me know. I am not the uploader of You Tube clips embedded here.