Even More Great Albums By Women Outside Of The Top 150
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA")
JONI MITCHELL: (Singing) Sitting in a park in Paris, France, reading the news. And it sure looks bad. They won't give peace a chance.
NOEL KING, HOST:
That is the unmistakable voice of Joni Mitchell. That song, "California," is from her 1971 album, "Blue." And we're playing it because earlier this week, NPR Music released a list of the top 150 albums by women, albums made between the years 1964 and 2016. Joni's "Blue" was number one.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA")
MITCHELL: (Singing) California, I'm coming home.
KING: This list was chosen by a group of nearly 50 diverse music critics and music lovers, all of them women. Also near the top of their list? Aretha Franklin, Carole King and Lauryn Hill.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOO WOP")
LAURYN HILL: (Singing) Girls, you know you've got to watch out. Some guys, some guys are only about that thing, that thing, that thing.
KING: Greatest-album lists are subjective, and there are always going to be what you could call - what we will call - shocking omissions. To tell us more about NPR Music's Turning the Tables project, which is part of a collaboration with Lincoln Center, we have Jill Sternheimer. She's the director of public programming at Lincoln Center. And Jill is co-creator of the list, along with NPR's music critic, Ann Powers. Hey, Jill.
JILL STERNHEIMER: Hi there. How are you?
KING: We also have Paula Mejia, who was lead editor on the project. Paula, thanks for coming in.
PAULA MEJIA, BYLINE: Thank you so much for having me.
KING: Jill, let me start with you. What were you trying to say about the place of women musicians in the landscape of musicians of all genders?
STERNHEIMER: Well, in all of these lists, you know, you have the famous Rolling Stone lists the famous Pitchfork lists and so many lists through the years. Women, they're on the list, but they're sprinkled in sort of as an afterthought. And after four albums by Bob Dylan comes a Joni Mitchell album or three albums by the Beatles, then there's Carole King. They feel like an afterthought and not the main meal.
KING: What album, Paula, did you really want included on the list that didn't make it?
MEJIA: I personally was really rooting for Sister Nancy's "One Two," a seminal reggae album from 1982 that I was really pushing for. It didn't end up making the cut, so that was one that I was really hoping would make it.
KING: Let's listen to a little bit of Sister Nancy. This is "Bam Bam."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAM BAM")
SISTER NANCY: (Singing in foreign language).
KING: We just happen to have a little Sister Nancy lying around. Why do you think this album in particular deserved to be on the final list? I had never heard of Sister Nancy, to be honest.
MEJIA: I think that she's a voice that has always been present, but she hasn't quite gotten her due. I was actually just reading a story that came out last month in The FADER about how she finally is starting to get royalties from "Bam Bam." Like, and this was recorded in the early '80s.
MEJIA: And this song has been sampled so many times over. It's been used in commercials, but she was shut out of that. And so she's finally taking ownership of that. She was a DJ. And she got her start in dance halls in Jamaica in a very heavily male-dominated sphere. And a lot of people would tell her, like, you know, your voice is too fragile. Like, you probably shouldn't do this. And she just kept pushing on.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONLY WOMAN DJ WITH DEGREE")
SISTER NANCY: (Singing in foreign language).
MEJIA: These days, she tours full time, so glad to see her out there. I saw her a couple months ago, and she was amazing.
KING: And, Jill, what was your number 151 or 152? What do you wish had really made it?
STERNHEIMER: Well, I'm still kind of reeling that Dionne Warwick is not on this list (laughter).
KING: We're all reeling.
STERNHEIMER: I know. I know.
KING: We happen to have some Dionne here as well. This is "Alfie" from "Here Where There Is Love."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALFIE")
DIONNE WARWICK: (Singing) What's it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie? Are we meant to take more than we give?
KING: Everyone in studio here is swaying (laughter). I could listen to that all day. How did Dionne not make the list?
STERNHEIMER: There's no good reason or explanation that she didn't make the list. And to me, she's a core person, so yes.
KING: Agreed. I think that it was just an oversight on our part.
STERNHEIMER: Yeah, so.
KING: I know that you've got a lot of feedback about this list. And people on Twitter seem to agree with you about Dionne in particular. What else did you hear from people? I mean, I don't know if either of you are on Twitter, but I would imagine your feeds blew up if you are.
STERNHEIMER: Absolutely. And, you know, and instead of taking it as a criticism, I think that we're all taking it as that this is a big accomplishment. This - we're trying to expand this conversation. And the fact that everyone is arguing about more great women and more great albums that didn't make the list, we think that's the beginning of some good work and some ground break.
KING: No, definitely. I saw everything you can imagine on Twitter. I saw Joan Armatrading, Francoise Hardy, Nancy Sinatra - which is someone I was very bummed didn't make the final cut, either.
STERNHEIMER: Aimee Mann.
MEJIA: Aimee Mann, yeah.
KING: Diana Ross's "Diana."
STERNHEIMER: Oh, yeah. I was blown away. I mean, "I'm Coming Out," the quintessential gay anthem is on that album. How's that not on this list?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M COMING OUT")
DIANA ROSS: (Singing) I'm coming out. I want the world to know, got to let it show.
KING: This is fairly inspiring. I mean, it sounds like what you've motivated people to do is say, no, I think you're wrong, but let me tell you what's right. And that's probably a pretty good feeling.
STERNHEIMER: It is a very good feeling. And I feel like we've woken people up to look at things that are in their daily musical life and see them in a different way. I think that sometimes girl singers got marginalized as, oh, that's the girl singer with this incredible producer and these amazing musicians and songwriters. Well, we've had a few conversations about voice as a form of authorship.
KING: Paula, NPR Music is working on a Shocking Omissions project. What can you tell us about that?
MEJIA: The Shocking Omissions project is going to be part of this editorial sort of vertical that we're doing with Turning the Tables along with the list, where we have different writers coming together and talking about albums that they not only wish would have made the list but have a rightful place in this canon that we're building.
STERNHEIMER: One of the things that I know that we're really excited to talk about are the forebearers. I'm sure that that's going to come up 'cause there sure are a lot of incredible artists pre-1964 that we're all going to want to talk about.
MEJIA: I saw a lot of that on Twitter, too, people saying like, well, what about Billie Holiday and Patsy Cline. And I think that was just unfortunate that we started in 1964 that we couldn't include those artists because it was a little bit after their time, but we will have tributes and different essays to them and talk about what they contributed to this canon as well.
(SOUNDBITE OF PATSY CLINE'S "CRAZY")
KING: Paula Mejia and Jill Sternheimer. They worked on NPR's Turning the Tables project. You can see a full list of the 150 albums by going to our website, npr.org.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRAZY")
PATSY CLINE: (Singing) Crazy. I'm crazy for feeling so lonely. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.