Taking a cue from Rolling Stone and its recent “Playlist Issue” (RS 1119 – 12/9/2010), I have decided to come up with a playlist of my own:
THE GREAT FEMALE ROCK VOCALISTS.
Rock ‘n’ roll is stereotypically a male domain, so it is always nice when a talented lady breaks through. It is no surprise that there are women out there who can pull off the high-pitched screams of rock music, but it is doubly impressive when those same women can pull off the attitude required for such music. I have taken notice of several noteworthy chanteuses in my years of musical connoisseurship, so much so that I would one day like to record an album of covers of songs originally performed by great female rock singers. The songs on this playlist are among the sort of songs I would include on that album.
Pat Benatar – “Heartbreaker”
In her career, Pat Benatar was more often pop princess than she was rock queen, but when she was rocking, she was incomparable, obviously reaching her apex with “Heartbreaker.” The trilling in “born to be-e-e-e-e” is enough to set your ear on fire, and the guitar playing of her husband Neil Giraldo makes for quite the partnership.
Heart – “Crazy on You”
Interestingly enough, I consider “Barracuda” to be Heart’s best song, even though I believe that “Crazy on You” is the best showcase of Ann Wilson’s vocals and of Nancy Wilson’s strumming. Those bursts of “Crazy!” could only have come from a singer with one of the richest, deepest, fullest voices of all time.
Jefferson Airplane – “White Rabbit”
This entire song is little more than a slow build to Grace Slick belting out “Feed your head” at the end. But, of course, that is a hell of a conclusion to build up to.
Paramore – “The Only Exception”
Most songs on this list have a signature line in which these ladies belt it out for all their worth. In “The Only Exception,” that line is “I’ve got a tight grip on reality,” in which Hayley Williams makes it clear that she is the female rock voice to be taken seriously, in case you hadn’t noticed.
Florence + the Machine – “Heavy in Your Arms”
It turns out that even in rock music, violin accompaniment is quite the powerful addition for a lady singer. In the case of “Heavy in Your Arms,” that power is best described as leaden. With each declaration of “heavy,” you can just feel Florence Welch dropping under all the weight she carries, yet somehow simultaneously rising above it.
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals – “Paris (Ooh La La)”
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals are not quite like any other artist in the musical world. One simply does not hear any rock bands this brassy, this rootsy, this down-and-dirty anymore, at least not any fronted by a woman. And it’s not like there were any rock ‘n’ roll bands completely like them at any time anyway. They are quite the hodgepodge: Grace has a fashion sense more akin to Tina Turner as opposed to her rock goddess forebears, while the mustachioed nocturnals are a more nattily dressed Lynyrd Skynyrd. Anyway, in “Paris,” Grace’s screeching counterpointed with irresistably face-melting riffage (or a well-timed drumbeat) is rock music perfection.
Bat for Lashes – “What’s a Girl to Do?”
Natasha Khan – proof that you don’t need to belt it out to be a rock girl. If you are comfortable with being on stage, but not comfortable using your lungs’ full force whilst on stage, then that’s okay. You may have to go with the indie route, but for some talents, that is the only appropriate way to go.
Janis Joplin – “Piece of My Heart”
The title says it all.
Metric – “Eclipse (All Yours)”
Well, look at that – two songs from the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack on the same playlist. When Emily Haines announces that she is “all yours,” it is right on the edge of annoyingly cutesy and delightful ear candy. Thankfully, it remains firmly on the side of an aural tickling. She is hard to characterize, as her uniqueness is subtle, and not in-your-face like much of rock music.
Kelly Clarkson – “Already Gone”
I am stretching my category here, as I would consider Kelly a pop, and not even pop-rock, singer. But her style does bear some influences of rock predecessors, particularly Pat Benatar. I would like to see the original American Idol’s career head in a more rocking direction, but if she instead continues to put out ballads on the level of “Already Gone,” then that’s okay too.
Björk – “Human Behaviour”
With a strong electronic presence and otherwise wildly varied use of instrumentation, Björk barely qualifies as a rock singer. But she could be a straight-up rock singer if she wanted to be. Taking her songs’ vocal rhythms in whatever directions she wants to take them in, she is able to hit whatever notes she wants to hit, whenever, and as often, as she wants to hit them.