NPR “Turning the Tables” List: A Conversation

NPR recently published a list called “Turning the Tables: The 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women”:

This list, of the greatest albums made by women between 1964 and the present, is an intervention, a remedy, a correction of the historical record and hopefully the start of a new conversation. Compiled by nearly 50 women from across NPR and the public radio system and produced in partnership with Lincoln Center, it rethinks popular music to put women at the center.

It’s a fascinating list, and one that sparked quite a bit of conversation between Jonathan and I.  The usual questions that always accompany a ranking of any kind – Why this album and not that one? Why this artist but not that one? – seemed excellent fodder for a broader conversation at Country Universe, especially as we prepare for the 10th Anniversary edition of our 100 Greatest Women list.

Over the next few days, we will discuss the nineteen country (and country-adjacent) albums included among the 150 entries, make note of some artists overlooked, and even chat a bit about the non-country entries that we have some strong opinions about.

Please join us in these conversations by commenting!

Here is a breakdown of our upcoming discussions:

Part One: The NPR Top 50

11. Dolly Parton, Coat of Many Colors

18. Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels On a Gravel Road

24. Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter

39. Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator)

46. Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball

Part Two: NPR #51-#80

53. Linda Ronstadt, Heart Like a Wheel

62. Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces

68. Rosanne Cash, King’s Record Shop

76. Tammy Wynette, Stand By Your Man

Part Three: NPR #81-#100

83. Bobbie Gentry, Ode to Billie Joe

88. k.d. lang, Ingenue

89. Shania Twain, Come On Over

91. Alison Krauss & Union Station, New Favorite

99. Taylor Swift, Fearless

Part Four: NPR #101-#150

110. Miranda Lambert, Platinum

114. Reba McEntire, Rumor Has It

132. Shelby Lynne, I Am Shelby Lynne

142. Iris DeMent, My Life

146. Patty Griffin, Flaming Red

Part Five: NPR MIA

Part Six: NPR Non-Country


  1. Even though I don’t agree with some of the specific albums compared to other albums from those artists on their list, I’m happy that this undertaking exists !

  2. I love this whole NPR list but I was kinda surprised there was no Mary Chapin Carpenter. As a fan I am not objective, but I also think she’s had a huge influence across the board.

  3. I just came across this list after seeing it in my facebook feed and thought to myself, “I’d love to hear what the folks over at CU would have to say about the entries on this ranking.” Then I came over here and, lo and behold, I find this post. I love it when things like that happen!

    I was so pleasantly surprised to find Reba’s Rumor Has It on the list as that is one of my Top 10 favorite albums of all time and was one of the first country albums (well, cassettes) that I owned. I know it’s not usually considered one of her best efforts (that would probably be For My Broken Heart), but I have listened to Rumor Has It more than any other album of hers.

    I’m surprised that the Dixie Chicks album that was selected is the one I consider to be their weakest effort (although still a great listen), but I think there’s a lot of nostalgia involved for the listeners who fell in love with them based on those earliest single.

    Glaring omissions for me include Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come On Come On and Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing.

    Happy to see some love for Madonna and Dolly (my two favorite artists) and it’s hard to argue that the #1 selection could have been anything other than what it was.

  4. Leeann, Jason, and Jana,

    I literally agree with every word of each of your comments!

    I’m bewildered that they didn’t include the Trio album, just to get one more mention in there for all three ladies in one fell swoop.

    Michael A.,

    Your comment made my day! We will be talking about Madonna too, on the Non-Country post, along with the other artists you mention.

    Such an interesting story about Reba. Mine is the same. The first two (non-ONJ) country tapes I got were Reba’s Rumor Has It and For My Broken Heart, Christmas gifts ordered out of a fundraising catalog. First two I bough with my own money were on the same day – Pam’s Put Yourself in My Place and Lorrie’s Something in Red.

  5. To add to what Jason said about Linda and Heart Like A Wheel–I agree that she doesn’t get the attention she deserves in this age because she never deliberately went looking for it even when she was a big deal; and this seems to have continued, even with her having lost her voice to Parkinson’s Disease. Heart Like A Wheel, however, not only helped Linda become a megastar, but it also helped to inspire generations of roots-rock, mainstream country, and alt-country female artists, from her good pal Emmylou Harris to Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, Rosanne Cash, Carlene Carter, and dozens of others. In truth, I would make the case that Linda has probably inspired more female artists over the last fifty years than any other female singer has during that same time span.

  6. I’ll save the discussion about Ronstadt for the Part Two thread, but I agree with you about her being underrated. I’m happy she was at least represented once on the list, but a case could’ve been made for another entry or two. Perhaps What’s New or Canciones De Mi Padre.

    I think NPR muddied the waters a bit by allowing multiple albums by only a handful of artists. If they’d limited it to one album per artist across the board, or expanded the list to 200 or 250, it would’ve been better.

  7. Heart Like A Wheel, Canciones, and Simple Dreams – should be – must be – in any top 10.(if musicians and men voted they would be) With all due respect to Dolly and Emmylou the album choices on the list are not their best. Vocally, visually Linda Ronstadt was in a league of her own. Frankly the pretentious, personal nature of Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith has become a bore as well.

  8. Off topic for the country artists, did anyone else roll their eyes at Beyoncé’s Lemonade being ranked in the top 10 of this list? Please! And how does Janet Jackson’s Control make the list over Rhythm Nation 1814 and janet.?

    I was happy to see the great Karen Carpenter represented, as well as Stevie Nicks.

    As usual, Crystal Gayle, Anne Murray, and Tanya Tucker are completely ignored. But at least Roseanne Cash made the list with a great album.

  9. @caj – Glad that you mentioned Karen Carpenter. Didn’t expect that. My wife and I saw the Carpenters 42 years ago at the Meriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD and we have 9 of their LP’s. There aren’t too many times when I hear a singer for the first time and have what I simply call a “wow – who is that?” moment. I did the first time I heard Karen Carpenter sing “Close to You” on the radio in 1970.

    “Little Girl Blue, The Life of Karen Carpenter” by Randy L. Schmidt is an interesting story focussing quite a bit on the family dynamic and how it influenced the Carpenter’s music career, Karen’s anorexia and even her marriage. Sad ending.

  10. Bob, yes I’ve read that book and shed some tears. I remember laying on my bed listening to the radio when they announced that she had died. I cried my eyes out. Her voice was like heaven. One of my favorites.

  11. I thought Lemonade belonged on the list and pretty high up there. As high as #6? Ask me again in five years. It’s always hard to assess an album’s longevity this close to release. I imagine if the list was published in 1997 or so, Jagged Little Pill would be in the top ten, and if published in 2012 or so, 21 would be in the top ten.

    I can’t think of a more artistically and culturally significant album than Lemonade in the last few years, but we’ll see what happens with time.

  12. It does strike me that the NPR selectors were not especially well versed in jazz or pop standards> I was pleased to see that they managed to acknowledge Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, while selecting albums few would regard as the best work of either. Somehow NPR missed such superlative artists as Tracy Nelson, Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney while selecting a number of mediocrities individual artists or group recordings

  13. Peggy Lee, Ela Fitzgerald , Sarah Vaughan and Rosemary Clooney all issued great albums long after 1964, in fact Clooney’s best efforts came after 1980.

  14. I still think Lemonade has some issues as an album, but I have grown to like it more now than I did upon release. Having said that, so much of its cultural impact is due to the visual component. I’m not sure how much that should factor into a list about music.

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