Not your usual warblers…

On a Friday night at 9pm BBC4 occasionally show some of the best documentaries on rock and pop music I’ve ever seen. Yes, they are indeed worth the license fee on their own. A couple of weeks ago they showed Queens of British Pop and it got me thinking.

Women sing differently to men, obviously. Higher, for one thing. But there are women who are not just different from men but also different from virtually everyone – no mushy, drippy ballads or straightforward rock and roll belters for them. Here is my choice of four that have made hobnailed impressions, at least on me.

I should admit that back in ’78 it was Blondie’s Debbie Harry that had me clutching my pillow tightly, so to speak. But looking back it’s Siouxsie and her Banshees that are memorable. Or, to be honest, scarily memorable. This twelve year old found her both fascinating and terrifying: a Barbed Doll.

Around about the same time another of my favourite things was the Saturday night Chinese takeaway treat, which in those days always featured phosphorescent, possibly radioactive, sweet-and-sour sauce accompanying deep-fried bullets of meat. It’s therefore unsurprising that this track strikes the chord. Incidentally, pop music that referred to things like your Saturday night takeaway made you feel at the heart of things, even if you did live in the middle of nowhere. It’s somehow impressive that this is a song lyric: “Chicken Chow Mein, Chop Suey / Hong Kong Garden takeaway”.

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A Lazy Sunday Afternoon on this theme would not be close to complete without Kate Bush. I don’t have anything to add on all the good stuff that’s been written about her. Here she is covering Elton John’s Rocket Man, knocking it out of the park. I’ve only recently managed not to start crying when I hear this having listened to it numerous times whilst walking up and down a ward in a London hospital wondering when I’d ever get out. If you’ve been involuntarily away from your family for a spell the lyric become unbearably poignant.

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I’m not sure there’s been a piece of pop music as beautiful as Fleetwood Mac’s Sara. Again, I can’t add anything to the masses written about Stevie Nicks and the Mac – it’s all quite legendary. Indeed, this is probably quite a hackneyed selection. But I make no apologies – if it introduces one person to this piece of transcendental gorgeousness it’s been worth including it. (Incidentally, YouTube saw fit to run ads for ‘Prepaid Funeral Plans’ when I was checking this video played ok – I hope this is more of a reflection of pop’s aging demographic than the morose and prudent nature of Fleetwood Mac fans).

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Finally, back to something punchier: The Selecter, fronted by rude girl Pauline Black. You’ve got to love her style in this video. In fact, having gone on to act on stage and screen she could have made a great first female Felix Leiter (Felicia Leiter?).

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  1. George on Sunday 18, 2012

    Dabblers who find themselves in Washington, DC, in the next month or so can check out an exhibit on “Women who Rock” at the National Museum of Women in the Arts: http://www.nmwa.org/exhibitions/women-who-rock . I’m not sure whether any of Gaw’s picks made it in, though.

    • Gaw on Sunday 18, 2012

      Thanks George – would love to but sadly I won’t be able to make it.

  2. Toby on Sunday 18, 2012

    Lovely Kate Bush track – never heard it before. Thanks for the intro.

  3. Worm on Sunday 18, 2012

    loved the Kate Bush, immediately added to my favourites playlist on youtube! And the Fleetwood Mac too – but I have heard it before

    Old Siouxsie has made numerous comebacks and still hasn’t managed to hold a single correct note in all that time I don’t think!

  4. Brit on Sunday 18, 2012

    I’ve never liked Siouxsie apart from that duet with Morrissey, but you can’t beat a bit of Bush.

    Moving to more contemporary performers (and I realise this transgresses your 1990 rule, Gaw), we’re in a golden age of quirky pop queens. PJ Harvey’s in her prime, Florence has conquered the mainstream, then there’s Joanna Newsome, Bat for Lashes, and – who kicks the ass of them all – the astounding Karen O.

  5. Joey Joe Joe Jr. on Sunday 18, 2012

    This talk of quirky pop ladies made me think of Candie Payne, she released what I thought was a cracking album four years ago or so, it had a bit of a sixties feel to it.

    • Gaw on Sunday 18, 2012

      Thanks Joey and Brit, I must try harder to keep up.

  6. Hey Skipper on Sunday 18, 2012

    Generally, I find female singers tedious; however, I happily make exceptions for each on Gaw’s list.

    Fifteen years ago, I was wandering the halls of a hospital, wondering if my wife was going to come out of it brain damaged, or even alive.

    Even now, Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” is a sledge hammer to the solar plexus.

    You’d think I’d have the sense to purge it from my library, and I would, except she is just too darned good.

    (Don’t know if it is Youtube, or being in the US, but not one of those links works.)

    • Gaw on Sunday 18, 2012

      The overwrought element in Kate Bush’s music does sometimes seem to make a lot of sense!

      BTW the links work over here so it must be a US thing.

      • Hey Skipper on Sunday 18, 2012

        Must have been a YouTube thing; they are working perfectly now.

        It is the first time I have heard Kate Bush do Rocket Man. She is completely unique.