Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Women in Rock/Pop 1980 vs 2011

In 2011 women, and particularly solo women dominate both the pop charts (Gaga, Perry, Rhianna, Beyonce, Adele, Winehouse, Pink, Kesha, etc.) and the, as it were, indie charts (Florence, Janelle Monae, Robyn, Lykke Li, Calvi, PJ, Newsom, Bat for Lashes, Feist, Glasser, Class Actress, etc.). Not to mention acts like Dirty Projectors and Sleigh Bells that have strong female components.

I suspect that, for better or worse, this level of female dominance is a recent phenomenon. That said, I think one can make a case for 1980 as a banner year for women in rock/pop, one that's at least the equal of current times in terms of quantity of female excellence if not in terms of, say, overall quantity or overall market share. So let's make that case by listing important female-centered acts, singles and albums from 1980 in the order, near as I can judge, of their importance and excellence. Note that I've included items that charted very extensively in 1980 even if they were first released in 1979, and I've honored the best by selecting two vids. just for each of the 'top seven' items on my list.

1. The Pretenders (First self-titled album, Brass In Pocket, Stop Your Sobbing, Tattooed Love Boys, Up The Neck)

Chrissie Hynde arrives and explodes. This flawless album, with monster song after monster song, one of the greatest debuts was deservedly everywhere the whole year. Tragic deaths would scar the band soon after this, and the first album's incredibly tight guitars and rhythm section wouldn't repeat. Hynde would be good again after this but never quite this good.

2. Marianne Faithfull (Broken English, Ballad of Lucy Jordan, Broken English, Working Class Hero)

A '60s 'it'-girl returns a woman and makes an angry masterpiece and testament album. With brilliant synth-work from Steve Winwood (who'd obviously paid close attention to Eno's work for Nico in the mid. '70s).

3. Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees (Kaleidoscope, Happy House, Christine, Red Light)

Siouxsie the prototype, highly haughty, super-creative, indie 'it'-girl with the great haircuts arrives. With John McGeoch in her band she was now unstoppable, as 1981's Juju would further establish.

4. B-52s (First self-titled album, Rock Lobster, Planet Claire, 52 Girls)

Huge down under for the whole year, the B-52s debut contained three of the best party dance-tracks of all time.

5. Blondie (Eat to the Beat, Atomic, Dreaming, The Hardest Part, Call Me)

Blondie's strengths - clever concepts, Debbie Harry's voice and image, Clem Burke's ace drumming (fusing disco beats with rock power) - were perfectly displayed across this series of singles.

6. Abba (Super Trouper, Super Trouper, The Winner Takes It All, One of Us, On and On and On, Gimme Gimme Gimme (A man after midnight), Happy New Year)

Abba were fraying at the seams personally by 1980, were just past their hit-making prime, and were in any case subject to incredible back-lash. But even firing on only 80% of their cylinders, Abba's output was still better than most acts ever achieve.

7. The Motels (First self-titled album, Careful, Total Control, Danger)

Martha Davis introduced a note of LA Noir to pop across two albums in 1980, both of which were all over the radio down under. She and the Motels would break through in the US only with their third album, but their earlier records, and Davis's original sultry, smokey schtick were more deserving.

8. Kate Bush (Never for Ever, Babooshka, Army Dreamers)

Kate Bush continued to show that she was smarter and weirder than anyone else in music since Bowie. Even if you didn't like her latest exactly, she was someone to be reckoned with.

9. Diana Ross (Diana, Upside Down, I'm Coming Out)

Diana Ross had the two classiest dance tracks of the year courtesy largely of Chic, with whom Ross fought. Ross brought in her own engineer to remix, change tempos etc.. I'd always assumed that Chic's original mixes would be better, but having heard them recently, I must say that I prefer Ross's speeded up, slightly poppier mixes. Ross appears to have been very shrewd.

10. Young Marble Giants (Colossal Youth)

The retiring, intellectual, cool person's record of 1980. Alison Statton's vocals are tightly rationed throughout the record, but are an indie blueprint whenever they appear.

11. Olivia Newton-John (Magic, Xanadu, Suddenly)

One of the worst movies ever made had three good, cheesy, pop hits for Ms Newton-John.

12. Pat Benatar (Heartbreaker, We live for love, Hit me with your best shot)

Benatar arrived in 1980 with a series of great singles, spread over two so-so albums. Her albums would improve after this but her singles were never this good again. The gods are cruel!

13. Grace Jones (Warm Leatherette)

Grace wouldn't really arrive until 1981's Pull up to the Bumper single, but the Warm Leatherette album and its title track (a The Normal cover) announced the arrival of someone to watch.

14. Pointer Sisters (He's So Shy)

The Pointer Sisters continued their run of great singles by revisiting the ace groove from The Brothers Johnson's I'll be good to you and Prince's I wanna be your lover. (Note that the rudimentary video's shot in LA's famous Bradbury building.)

15. Holly Vincent (Miles Away)

Holly and The Italians (w/ Holly Vincent's stonking voice, guitar, and general coolness) released a pretty great album in 1981 (which they never really followed up), but this 1980 single was an especial stunner.

16. Lori and the Chameleons (The Lonely Spy)

This pretty stunning single could have been featured on Pitchfork last week! It anticipates and may have influenced recent, well-received work by Charlotte Gainsbourg, Glasser, Lykke Li, Grimes,...

17. Lipps Inc. (Funkytown)

An alternately irritating/awesome hit song.

18. Toyah Wilcox (Ieya)

Some sort of masterpiece that Toyah was never able to follow up.

19. Flying Lizards (Money)

Just a fun as hell cover and video.

In sum, there were a heck of a lot of women in both mainstream and, as it were, indie charts in 1980. The best stuff was all-time-great, and much of the rest was either solidly entertaining or interesting in a where-will-this-person-go-next? way or both.

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