Music, women, and listening habits

I was thinking about my music listening habits the other day while I was doing just that. I had realised that new music hasn’t been happening for me for a while: I basically gave up on JJJ a few years ago partly because of the disaster that was the Hottest 100 of All Time, and partly because when we came home from overseas it just didn’t appeal to me any more. Plus, I have less time to listen to the radio than I did a few years ago, when I had a (fairly) serious commute. So, considerably less exposure than say five years ago. The two albums I can remember buying in the last two years are Old Man River, after seeing him on RocKwiz, and Imelda May, after seeing an ad for her album on SBS (while watching RocKwiz).

So, I listen to a lot of the same stuff over and over, and I’m mostly fine with that – it’s stuff I’m passionate about and really do love. What I realised though is that there’s a dearth of women’s voices on high rotation. And why? Well, my immediate reaction was that women don’t tend to sing the sort of stuff I like.

I know, right? Maybe I should listen to Galactic Suburbia a bit more often.

Thing is, I’m not saying that women can’t or even won’t sing the stuff I like – which, for the sake of this post, is mostly rock; depending on who you talk to, the harder end of the rock spectrum, shading into metal. I’m saying that I haven’t found many women who do. I haven’t looked that hard for it, to be honest, because I like what I’ve found and I’m not the sort of person who always needs New Music (my iTunes random playlist just now tossed up the Beach Boys, and I’ve been listening to them for more than 20 years). And since I’ve never actively sought out new music, that means that at least part of the fault lies with the radio stations who have been failing me, and failing those bands that I would like, if they do indeed exist. So now I’m wondering whether there is awesome music that I’ve been missing out on.

(Yes, I am now feeling more sympathy for readers who say that they don’t read books written by women because they’ve never found them. However, the analogy falls down, because while I suppose you could go your whole life reading Heinlein and Clarke (and, ahem, Reynolds and Banks and Simmons…*cough*), readers tend to look for new stuff more often than I, at least, need new music. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shelf of SF without women in it… but yeh ok this could lead to an argument about proportions etc. Which I don’t want for this post, because dammit! I have a point!)

This post is a challenge: suggest bands I might like! For reference, probably my favourite band in the world at the moment: 

(that would be Led Zeppelin)

I’m also a very big fan of 

(the Foo Fighters)



Before you despair of me totally, either for feminist or aesthetic reasons, I do listen to other sorts of music, and that does often include women: Goldfrapp is probably the band I listen to the most, interchangeably with Led Zeppelin, and I love Fiona Apple too, just as examples. Honestly I have eclectic tastes (protesting much?) – but what I’m really looking for is female voices doing awesome rock.

Can you help?

22 responses

  1. My tastes aren’t quite as heavy as yours but you could try: Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, Wild Flag, Ana Popovic, EMA, Throwing Muses, Heartless Bastards, Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs

    1. I shall look into them!

  2. you make me laugh! Every time i think i know what makes you tick you turn around and screw my mind – in this case by having similar musical tastes to my hippy NWOBHM patner.
    They are now sadly defunct, but you gotta try aussie band George – unbelievable female singer (Katie Noonan who is still doing stuff) – and for rock cred, they are the only band other than Deep Purple to perform Jon Lord’s concerto for group and orchestra (I saw them do it live. awesome.) try release: – be patient – it gets heavier later…

    and i will now show my age and way worse than you inattention to new music by listing the following (not really heavy but they do have some rockier stuff you should try): Garbage; Neneh Cherry; mid-career Kate Bush (its not all wuthering heights you know).
    and thanks Ben for the recs – i could do with more as well!

    1. I just had to look up NWOBHM… that’s a cool acronym 😀

      oooh Garbage!! Yes yes! Which makes me remember Rebecca’s Empire too… must look for their stuff.

      Thanks for the recs, I will check them out 🙂

      1. its a great acronym – even better when you say it (Na-wob-o-hmm)!
        and for those too lazy to look it up, it stands for ‘the new wave of british heavy metal’. So now you know, and can rest easy 🙂

  3. [With the caveat that I’m assuming “female voices” here means female vocalists, not necessarily all-female bands]

    Based on what your tastes seem to be: Sleater-Kinney, particularly “The Woods” & “One Beat.” Hole’s “Pretty on the Inside,” “Live Through This,” & “My Body, the Hand Grenade.” Elastica’s self-titled album. “Power Move” by Screaming Females.

    If your eclecticism extends to the more punky end of the spectrum: Fabulous Disaster’s “Put Out or Get Out” is lots of fun. Anything by Tilt, really, but “‘Til it Kills” is my favorite.

    1. Thanks, yes, I did mean female vocalists; I love the idea of all-female bands, but they’re even rarer…

      Anyway, thanks the recs! I shall look into them! And definitely willing to try punk, too.

  4. Live Through This by Hole remains one of my all time favorite albums (earlier albums are to screamy for me, and later albums are too jangly pop).

    1. Oooh thanks, will look into them!

  5. Have you gotten into Yeah Yeah Yeahs much? I assume you have already seen/heard this: (Karen O from Yeah Yeah Yeahs covering Immigrant Song with Trent Reznor, from the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo [American version] soundtrack), but if not, do go check it out.

  6. I’ve oly really heard Gold Lion (I think?) c/o an old JJJ album, but I’ll check them out…. Especially because of that cover which I had not come across before!!

    1. I hope you enjoy them! I have only listened to Fever To Tell and It’s Blitz! in depth; Show Your Bones (the album Gold Lion is off) never really grabbed me, perhaps in part because she uses ‘Phenomena’ as a singular noun in one of the tracks and that just set my teeth on edge. I love both Fever To Tell and It’s Blitz! even though they are quite different in style. ‘Maps’ and ‘Hysteric’ are their respective stand-out tracks for me.

      Also, I am wondering about the question of _why_ “women don’t tend to sing the sort of stuff I like” — I am sympathetic to that point of view, despite having had an argument with my boyfriend when I asked him whether he owned _any_ albums with female vocalists, and he defensively snapped that they just didn’t make the kind of music he listens to (i.e. 70s/80s guitar-based pop/rock). Which, to be fair, is kind of true: I can think of a few groups from the 80s with female leads, but virtually no mainstream ones from the 70s. It reminds me the controversy around the Triple J ‘Hottest 100 of All Time’ a couple of years ago which featured a grand total of _zero_ female vocalists. They are out there, they are talented; why don’t they stick in our consciousness the way Robert Plant or Mick Jagger do?

      I have quite a few ideas as to why, but I’d be really interested to see if you have any thoughts.

      Also, bonus recommendations for super-talented and just regular talented women: Amy Winehouse (Back to Black is mind-blowing) and Thao Nguyen; my favourite stuff from her is the stuff she recorded as “Thao with the Get Down Stay Down”.

      1. ooh I think I know that Phenomena song – the things that can turn us off are amazing!

        The JJJ Hottest 100 had one female vocalist: the guest singer on Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”. But yes, that’s one of the things that just made me give up on them. I really do think that this is a failure on the part of radio stations and probably music producers. It maybe comes down to it being too… violent? for women? You only need to think about how Chrissie Amphlett of the Divinyls has sometimes been reviled for being as out there as some male performers to see that female musicians are as big a target as any other women in high profile positions. Le sigh. I also remember seeing something about a poll of people’s “guilty pleasures” when it came to music, and most of them were women – so we’re embarrassed that we like Madonna? because she’s female?

        I will look up Winehouse for sure; I’ve been meaning too! Nguyen as well.

        This could be an expensive exercise.

  7. Country Fan (rock + steel guitar) | Reply

    Gosh where to start – provided you are willing to consider a slight shift in genre…
    – Amber Lawrence
    – Felicty Urqhart

    More globally
    – Alison Krauss (bluegrassy)
    – Terri Clark
    – Martina McBride
    – Lady Antebellum (OK female and male vocalists)


    1. I love Alison Krauss’ album with Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin); while I like random bits of country – Johnny Cash, the Highway Men – I am unlikely to turn into a real country listener, it must be said. Most modern “country rock” just bugs me.

  8. I thought of your request when I saw this post!

    I am not entirely sure of the difference between rock and pop and alternative/punk – do the people sound crankier when they sing? Is this like hard and soft SF? Mostly the stuff I listen to identifies as alternative, but a lot of it claims rock or punk too in iTunes so I will just share my favourites for you to try.

    Some wonderful cranky female vocalists I have been introduced to include Rilo Kiley, Pony Up, Ani Di Franco (more ballady but she does get cranky when she sings). The Regina Spektor Begin to Hope album is brilliant, & also good and loud. Anything by Australian Clare Bowditch is worth listening to.

    (and I hate to recommend a male vocalist given your request, but if you haven’t listened to the Lucksmiths you are missing out – so very Australian, and certainly different kind of male voice. Sadly they have broken up now) An Horse are great – one male & one female performer, I think both their voices?

    The Bird and the Bee are just plain weird but I adore the album that is named the same thing. Hello Saferide are a Swedish band that I really like, though a lot of their best stuff is not in English.

    Two soundtracks worth trying out to sample new bands are those from the films Juno and Whip It.

    Amanda Palmer is alternative/rock, and I mostly have her really weird albums. Who Killed Amanda Palmer is probably the least experimental of her solo stuff, which is saying something.

    I recommend you camp out on YouTube to audition new recs!

    1. Dammit wordpress ate my comment.

      I have enjoyed what I’ve heard of Ani Di Franco; Bowditch makes me impatient by being too ballady and sentimental (again, what I’ve heard; and I’m perfectly happy to throw those words at men, fwiw!). I will look up your other recs and throw YouTube into overdrive 🙂

  9. This song is on endless loop in my head – country in a Tom Petty / Hoodoo Gurus style.

    1. Like the description said, this is SO Roy Orbison!

  10. If you like heavy, I’d recommend 50 Foot Wave – one of Kristin Hersh’s other projects- especially the album Golden Ocean. You can download all the music for free here

    1. Thanks- I’ll look into them!

  11. […] but you know; some days it’s what you come up with, and it sticks. Anyway, a few weeks ago I wrote about how I seemed to have very few lady rockers on my playlists, and that I was looking for […]

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