Part Seven: MIA & WTF
We wrap up our deep-dive into NPR’s list of the 150 greatest albums by women with a look at some artists who are missing from the list and a few puzzling inclusions.
Jonathan: With only 150 total spots, it was inevitable that some great artists and albums would be left out. Some of those omissions are more surprising than others.
Jonathan: Overall, I think the list did a fantastic job of representing the work of women of color; they even included albums by Ofra Haza, Miriam Makeba, and Buffy Sainte-Marie! Two R&B artists I was surprised not to see on the list, though, were Candi Staton and Betty Davis. Candi Staton from 1972 includes her definitive reading of “In the Ghetto” and several other choice covers and is among the best R&B records of its era. Betty Davis’ genre-defying They Say I’m Different is a direct forebear of contemporary albums by Beyonce and Janelle Monae; it still sounds ahead-of-its-time more than 40 years later.
Kevin: NPR also deserves credit for including Donna Summer, as her merging of her gospel roots with disco sounds gave her an artistic edge that her contemporaries lacked. They included a Chaka Khan solo album from 1984, but overlooked Ask Rufus, a landmark album from her days fronting Rufus. Diana Ross was also overlooked for her solo work. Either 1970’s Diana Ross or 1980’s Diana would’ve been fitting choices. Also, no Dionne Warwick! 1967’s The Windows of the World or 1970’s I’ll Never Fall in Love Again are both stellar.
Jonathan: The women of the Lilith Fair era were well represented on the list, as well, which makes it all the more shocking that the groundbreaking festival’s founder, Sarah McLachlan, didn’t make the cut. Her finest album, Fumbling Toward Ecstasy, helped women bridge the gap between harder-edged alternative rock and more accessible mainstream pop. She moved in a more banal adult contemporary direction on subsequent albums and, today, might be better-known for her unbearable ASPCA ads, but McLachlan is a true trailblazer. Several of her Lilith Fair cohorts are also missing from the list: Joan Osborne’s Relish (and folks should check out her country-twinged Pretty Little Stranger album from a few years back, too), Natalie Merchant’s Tigerlily (or 10,000 Maniacs’ In My Tribe), and Aimee Mann’s I’m With Stupid are all great albums that made the 90s such a rich time for women in music.
Kevin: I’d also add into consideration Paula Cole’s This Fire. The nineties were definitely the peak of female representation in traditionally male-dominated genres like alternative rock, folk, and country. You could make up an entire list of 150 albums just from that decade because of it. Meshell Ndegeocello’s Plantation Lullabies and The Bitter would also be great additions from this time period. Amy Grant is also missing from the list, and either of her two best nineties albums – Heart in Motion or Behind the Eyes – are worthy of inclusion.
Jonathan: The NPR list includes plenty of pop albums– we’ll talk about a couple of them below, too– but there are two that I would have included in lieu of some others. Nelly Furtado is one of the most creative pop acts of her generation, and her sophomore album, Folklore, included a wide range of influences that should have built upon the success of her Grammy-winning deubt, Whoa, Nelly. No Doubt deservedly made the top 150, so I also would have liked to see garbage included. Their self-titled debut is a great album, but Version 2.0 was even better, marrying the angsty POV of the 90s to some killer pop hooks.