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The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women

Laura Nyro records in the studio in October 1968 in New York City.MoreCloseclosemore
Laura Nyro records in the studio in October 1968 in New York City.

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90. Barbra Streisand
Funny Girl, Broadway Cast Album (Capitol Records, 1964)

Any number of doors -- the blues, gospel, r&b, country, rap, rock and roll, even operacan lead to pop music. Barbra Streisand entered via Broadway. While ambivalent about a pop career in the early 1960s, Streisand nevertheless sang at New York City nightclubs before landing her first Broadway theater role. Her second job, as the 1920s comedy star Fanny Brice in the musical Funny Girl, changed popular culture, launching Streisand to super stardom as both a vocalist and actor. "She threw her head back, sang her heart out and knocked New York on its ear," Joanne Stang wrote of Streisand in her 1964 New York Times review. The original cast album is neither Streisand's first, nor most successful, but it captured a rare cultural moment in which one performer emerges bigger than the medium itself, outshining an entire Broadway cast with an unmistakable voice and a most extraordinary musical ear. This recording features Streisand singing on a dozen numbers, including "Don't Rain on My Parade" and the ever-popular "People," which inspired covers by Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Nat King Cole, and The Supremes, among others. Gwen Thompkins (WWNO)


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89. Shania Twain
Come On Over (Mercury Records, 1997)

Whether you love or hate today's mainstream country, you gotta give it up to Shania Twain for inventing its urbane sensibility and much of its forward-thinking sound. Her blend of country and pop, including big rock drums and dance-music synthesizers, revolutionized the genrebut only because her songs and delivery made those innovations feel right to country listeners. Instead of a nostalgically wistful cowboy in a turquoise belt buckle and ten-gallon hat, here was a modern woman in leopard skin prints and pumps she kicked off after a hard day conquering the workplace (which, in Twain's case, was the recording studioshe deserves credit as a true collaborator there with her then-husband, producer Robert "Mutt" Lange). Twain provided the worldview that made her and Lange's sonic innovations work in a tradition-minded genre. Her songs about equality in marriage (her "9 to 5" update "Honey, I'm Home"), femininity that was never passive ("Men's shirts, short skirts, oh, really go wild," she sang in "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!," perfecting the Southern gal-on-a-bender trope that persists throughout country to this day), and mutually satisfying sex ("If You Wanna Touch Her, Ask!" she sang, lending her trademark positivity to the feminist idea of consent). With Come on Over, Twain's third album, she and Lange got her balance of home truths and forward thinking totally right -- and shipped 40 million copies worldwide, making this the best-selling country album of all time. Ann Powers (NPR Music)


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88. k. d. lang
Ingénue (Sire, 1992)

Early adopters who recognized the power and grace of k.d. lang's voice behind her early cowpunk performance art were graced with the ultimate gift in Ingénue. More torch than twang, it announced a new stylistic chapter for lang, who has proven her ability to embrace new aesthetics with artful flair time and again. Co-written and produced by Ben Mink, the album is a capital-R romantic listen on the surface — with a sound rounded out by fiddles, pedal steel and sitar — but has so much more to say. Specifically, there's intimate, personal lyrics about love ("Save Me") and the lack of it ("Season of Hollow Souls"), gender questions ("Miss Chatelaine"), obsession ("Wash Me Clean") and desire ("Constant Craving"). Big ballads with sweeping choruses were not mainstream fare in 1992, but Ingénue turned out to be the album that got lang all over the radio. The awards followed, as did the media storm over her Vanity Fair cover photo with Cindy Crawford, in which the model, in a high femme leotard, shaved the face of the besuited lang. Bold, butch and beautiful, k.d. lang made an album that was never of its time, and as such, is timeless. Rita Houston (WFUV)


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87. X
Los Angeles (Slash/Rhino, 1980)

X is a propulsive rock machine made up of two singer-poets, Exene Cervenka and John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom and the classically trained drummer D.J. Bonebrake, who stomped into the world in 1980 with Los Angeles and are still going strong. From the first distorted chords of the album's opening song "Your Phone's Off the Hook, But You're Not," X's raw sonic script scrawls you a dark description of the City of Angels. Their debut album is a simple, unique punk formula: the deadpan-yet-melodic singing style plus the literate lyrics of Exene and Doe. X is at their best on the more melodic tracks, kicking into high gear with the anti-rape song "Johny Hit and Run Paulene," the cautionary tale "Los Angeles" and the wry and glorious "Sex and Dying in High Society." Yet Exene and Doe's call-and-response vocal style on the swaggering likes of "The World's a Mess; It's In My Kiss" is what makes X one of the most riveting punk bands of all time. Not that their was their intention; it just happened. "Nobody was planning on a career," Exene has said of X. "It was just a bunch of misfits who didn't know what they were doing, playing music and inventing fashion. People would pull over on the side of the road and flip you off. You knew that it was important because people were fighting it." Michele Myers (KEXP)


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86. Alice Coltrane
Journey in Satchidananda (GRP/Impulse!, 1971)

Alice Coltrane made some of the deepest, most luminous and spiritual music of any musician, jazz or otherwise. She died in 2007, and left behind a long and varied legacy. It is strange that she is still continually compared to the accomplishments of her husband, John Coltrane, who died in 1967, or thought of as being in John Coltrane's long shadow. Alice Coltrane was her own artist. Alice McLeod was an accomplished musician before she met Johnshe was a respected player in Detroit's diverse and thriving music scenes, and was an incredible pianist (awesome 1960s footage of her furious performances can be found on YouTube.) She soon mastered many other instruments, most famously the harp, which underpinned so many of her greatest records. Journey in Satchidananda was named for Alice's guru, the charismatic Swami Satchidananda, who was a great source of support and solace for her after her husband's untimely death; Alice later became a guru of her own, adopting the name Swamini Turiyasangitanda, and establishing her own ashram in California. Journey in Satchidananda is a transporting experience combining oud, tamboura, bass, harp, drums, bells, tambourine and piano. There's a cast of all-star jazz players on the recordPharaoh Sanders, Charlie Haden, and Rashied Ali among them — but the true star is Alice and her cosmic harp. —Geeta Dayal (Contributor)


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85. Joan Baez
Diamonds & Rust (A&M, 1975)

Joan Baez was more than fifteen years into her music career when she struck out in a new direction, in 1975, with her album Diamonds & Rust. While she was used to interpreting other people's songs, it's here that she began to trust her own voice as a songwriter. How brave she was. Not only was she becoming increasingly more vocaland more criticalabout America's controversial actions in the world, but she also started sharing her original songs with an audience used to her voice, and not to her words. That took a leap of faith, for sure, much like the album's title track, which lays bare her intensely personal relationship with Bob Dylan in 1960s New York City. Dylan shows up again in the Baez-penned "Winds of the Old Days," while "Children and All That Jazz," another Baez original, offers a slicker sound with experimental vocal harmonies and jazz instrumentation. Her cover of Dylan's "Simple Twist of Fate" is a more upbeat version of this existential loner's theme song and her covers of tunes by John Prine and Stevie Wonder (among others) round out an album that works on two levels: Baez as "the voice of a generation," and Baez as the songwriter with a unique perspective to share. —Elena See (Folk Alley/Minnesota Public Radio)


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84. Roberta Flack
First Take (Atlantic, 1969)

The first time most Americans came around to Roberta Flack's chamomile voice was with her hit song "The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face," which shot to the top of the Billboard charts in 1972 after being featured in Clint Eastwood's Play Misty for Me. But the rest of the country was a few years late in discovering what supperclub audiences in Washington, D.C., already knew — that the teen piano prodigy-turned-junior high school music teacher had a seemingly innate knack for tapping into the joy and pain of the times through song. Because of the delayed timing of Flack's breakout success, her debut album, First Take, is commonly associated with the early 1970s, but it was actually recorded in 1968 and is heavily anchored to the struggles of that year. A simmering jazz cover of the protest song "Compared to What" and urgent reading of Donny Hathaway's "Tryin' Times" delve into the same social issues that the nation is still grappling with five decades later. The way Flack's voice pivots nimbly between prayerful reverie and untethered defiance gives the listener the impression that she alone is capable of tackling societal tensions with such depth. What's more, First Take firmly established Flack as one of the most versatile and expressive vocalists of the soul era. Andrea Swensson (Minnesota Public Radio)


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83. Bobbie Gentry
Ode To Billie Joe (Capitol Records, 1967)

After a 15-week reign that lasted through the Summer of Love and well into the fall of 1967, the album that bumped the psychedelic three-ring English circus Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band off the top of the charts was debut singer-songwriter Bobbie Gentry's dispatch from the sweatiest, swampiest bottom of America. Ode to Billie Joe is a richly atmospheric production, juxtaposing the sounds of the deepest American Southraw, funky blues guitar, sprightly fiddles, rattlesnake percussioninto a gorgeous slice of country soul. The title track, of course, became one of American music's most compelling riddles, the splash off the Tallahatchie Bridge heard 'round the world forever. The power of "Ode to Billie Joe," a Southern Gothic mystery about the loneliness, distance and ultimately, tragedy lurking beneath a pleasant family scene, is so enduring that it almost distracts from the extraordinary storytelling craft of the album as a whole. All of the songs are complex and abstract, full of bright detailsa checkered feed-sack dress, two postcards from Californiaand few of them tell you the whole story. Dramatized by Jimmie Haskell's cinematic string arrangements, Ode to Billie Joe is a compendium of intriguing, evocative scraps of poetry that always hint at something more lingering just outside the frame, in the dark. Alison Fensterstock (Contributor)


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82. Laura Nyro
New York Tendaberry (Columbia, 1969)

When New York Tendaberry came out, Laura Nyro was a well-regarded songwriter whose compositions had been hits for bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears and The 5th Dimension. Songs from Tendaberry -- "Save The Country," "Time And Love"would also be successfully covered; label exec Clive Davis later noted in his memoir that Nyro's own recordings effectively served as demos for other artists. But such an attitude undercuts how surprising and intensely moving New York Tendaberry was, not to mention how deeply the Bronx-born singer and pianist influenced artists from Rickie Lee Jones to Billy Childs. Released well into the guitar's long era of pop dominance, this album barely incorporated the instrument. Instead, Nyro's jazz-inflected piano playing and expressive, birdlike voice grounded each song, whether built up cinematically with brass and strings or left stark and sighing. Lyrically somber, Tendaberry teemed with allusions to the devil and darkness, brightened briefly by the gospel strain of "Save The Country," which she'd written in response to Bobby Kennedy's assassination. Perhaps the album's most apt review came from the artist herself, in a 1970 Down Beat interview: "It's abstract, it's unobvious and yet I feel that it's very true." Rachel Horn (NPR Music)


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81. Sleater-Kinney
Dig Me Out (Kill Rock Stars, 1997)

Following the 1996 release of its album Call the Doctor, the members of Sleater-Kinney were beloved next-gen riot grrrls. And by the time the band released its next record The Hot Rock, in 1999, they were rock stars. Dig Me Out is the album that took the Olympia, Wash. trio from one echelon to the other, and the one that made Sleater-Kinney as we know it. Drummer Janet Weiss joined co-founders Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein before recording the 1997 album, after years of the band rotating through drummers. The cosmic effect of those three musicians finding each other was immediate. Here, Weiss tightened up the group's sound, honing its strengths while giving Tucker's gargantuan voice and Brownstein's emotive guitar an unshakable foundation. At its core, Dig Me Out drew the blueprint for feminist musicians aiming to maintain their integrity, politics and vision while honing their craft and expanding their reach. Katie Presley (Contributor)

Copyright NPR 2017.

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