Wednesday, March 18, 2020

My List of the 100 Best Albums by Women (41-60)


Year of Release: 2004
Labels: Warner, 12Stone
Key Tracks: "Same Ground," "Bulong," "Huwag na Huwag Mong Sasabihin"

In the early 2000s, when rock was taking a backseat to other genres, from gigs at the local bar Gweilos emerged the super talented Kitchie Nadal, who has a beautiful voice and commanding, intelligent lyrics, whether in Filipino or in English. She played a role in the return of rock to the local music scene, even as her songs were straying beautifully into pop-rock sensibilities that allowed them to take a foothold on popular radio. She hasn't come up with material anywhere near as strong as this, but this debut should always be a reminder of what she'll always be capable of. Let's hope she makes a strong comeback soon.


Year of Release: 1998
Labels: Ruffhouse, Columbia
Key Tracks: "Doo Wop (That Thing)," "To Zion," "Everything Is Everything," "Forgive Them Father"

Her stint with The Fugees hardly prepared us for the gem that was spitfire Lauryn Hill's debut solo album. The funky tune of "Doo Wop (That Thing)" proved to catchy to resist. When I purchased the album, I quickly realized that what I had in my possession was the work of a musical prodigy, and in a genre that I didn't usually listen to all too much. Sick beats propel the more upbeat songs. Always, the lyrics provoke thought and emotion, especially the very personal "To Zion," a song about the son the people around her discouraged her from having. We should be grateful that despite Lauryn Hill always putting her family first, she was able to give us this musical gem.


Year of Release: 1994
Label: Columbia
Key Tracks: "As I Lay Me Down," "Don't Don't Tell Me No," "Only Love (The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty)," "Mr. Tugboat Hello"

Sophie B. Hawkins exploded into the music scene in 1992 with the explicit "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" off her debut album Tongues and Tails. That her second most famous single is the romantic, almost saccharine "As I Lay Me Down" was somewhat surprising but nevertheless welcome. Propelled into fame by its use in the film Now and Then and the TV series "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," it became a regular on mainstream radio, where I first heard it and fell in love with it. It remains one of my top 10 favorite pop songs to this date. The rest of the album is diverse in style and almost messy, but Hawkins is always earnest and all of the songs are quite enjoyable.


Year of Release: 1994
Label: Go! Beat
Key Tracks: "Glory Box," "Sour Times," "Wandering Stars," "Roads"

"Glory Box" and "Sour Times" are those songs that are ultra-popular but you won't necessarily recognize them from the titles alone. What you likely won't forget when you hear them is that they're songs by the trip-hop pioneers Portishead. Aside from their music not sounding like most popular music out there, vocalist Beth Gibbons has a ghostly quality to it that's unlike most others'. And in tracks like "Roads" and "Glory Box," she sounds so anguished that you can't help but feel your heart twinge. Trippy would be a good word, but happy certainly wouldn't be.


Year of Release: 2010
Labels: Wondaland Arts Society, Atlantic, Bad Boy
Key Tracks: "Faster," "Come Alive (The War of the Roses)," "Cold War," "BaBopByeYa"

Few debuts are as sure and confident as Janelle Monáe's The ArchAndroid. She immediately knew what she wanted and how to say it. She'd carry the "cyborg" theme through her three albums not only with the titles and album covers but also with how much of a hybrid her sound is. There's rap, soul, R&B, rocks, dance, techno, jazz, etc. And she doesn't go wrong with any of them.


Year of Release: 2002
Label: Epic
Key Tracks: "A Sorta Fairytale," "Amber Waves," "Don't Make Me Come to Vegas," "Gold Dust"

Be warned: this is the first of many Tori Amos albums in this list. It's a very beautiful album, with "A Sorta Fairytale" and "Amber Waves" probably being among the most sublime songs in her discography, but I've always been partial to her more bizarre, unhinged sounds, pre-Tash (her daughter). Having a daughter did not reduce her musicality or her insane talent with the piano and deeply insightful lyrics, just her anger. My preferences aside, this might be the best album to introduce a Tori Amos virgin to, if you think album covers where she suckles a pig would shock him or her. True to the theme of the album, it's a great one to hit the road with.


Year of Release: 1997
Label: Tao Music
Key Tracks: "Anungan," "Ader," "Ay, Leng"

While Diwa (number 88 on this list) is technically more polished, Grace Nono's ethereal Isang Buhay is on another realm of beauty altogether. Like with Loreena McKennit, Nono's voice and the authentically indigenous lyrics and music take you on a journey, this time to the mountains, hills, grasslands, rivers of rural Philippines, where the mystical still takes hold and the culture is rich and pure. For championing this culture, Nono deserves the label of national artist. For her beautiful music, she deserves to be discovered by music fans all over the world, especially fans of McKennit, Enya, and Kitaro.


Year of Release: 2016
Labels: Streamline, Interscope
Key Tracks: "Perfect Illusion," "Hey Girl," "Million Reasons," "A-Yo"

I love the energy and beats of Lady Gaga's earlier dance hits, but I truly learned to appreciate her voice and musicality in this album, especially in her sweet pairing with Florence Welch in "Hey Girl"--an ode to sisterly solidarity--and the pounding "A-Yo." Of course, her singles "Perfect Illusion" and "Million Reasons" also stand out. Only haters wouldn't be able to appreciate the astounding talent of Gaga, especially in this very "complete" album.


Year of Release: 1971
Label: Columbia
Key Tracks: "Me and Bobby McGee," "Cry Baby," "Mercedes Benz"

It is with an unavoidable sadness that one listens to Janis Joplin's second and last album. While most would know her for her powerful cover of "Piece of my Heart," Pearl includes sublime interpretations of "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Cry Baby" as well as the enjoyable ditty "Mercedes Benz," which she wrote herself. In these and all the tracks, Joplin's raw, rugged vocals take centerstage. A phenomenal talent gone too soon.


Year of Release: 2004
Label: Interscope
Key Tracks: "Hollaback Girl," "What You Waiting For?," "Harajuku Girls," "Rich Girl"

Gwen Stefani's Harajuku-inspired persona was just my gateway to her first album as a solo artist. Ultimately, it was the music that made me a big fan. What's not to love? Stefani breaks out of the confining corners of No Doubt and fully realizes herself as a music and style icon that easily crosses the boundaries of bubble gum pop, pop-rock, hip hop. Just the four tracks I've listed along are reason enough to put the album on repeat for pure fun.


Year of Release: 1998
Label: Reprise
Key Tracks: "Lead Balloon," "Love Puts On a New Face," "Man From Mars," "No Apologies"

With this album, the one and only Joni Mitchell goes full-tilt jazz. And the result is a strong, assured project that is every bit as colorful as the painting on the album cover. It's not career-defining or monumental, but it's always nice to see that a true legend like Mitchell can still turn out tonally and lyrically rich narratives like the ones that fill this album, top of which for me is the angsty, somewhat feminist "Lead Balloon." It's like you're being visited by a tough-as-nails but secretly sweet aunt who has seen much of the world and shares her stories over bourbon. With providence, Mitchell will have many more stories to tell.


Year of Release: 1995
Labels: Maverick, Warner Bros.
Key Tracks: "Love Don't Live Here Anymore," "You'll See," "One More Chance," "I'll Remember"

What a way for Madonna to remind the world of her brilliance as a musician! This "compilation" album (that nevertheless has three completely new songs, two previously unreleased tracks, and a completely reworked one) is, simply put, a gorgeous reminder that Madonna puts out some of the all-time best pop songs. Were haters capable of changing their minds and hearts, they'd be hard-pressed to deny the Queen of Pop's capabilities here. Just look at that list of key tracks, and add "Take A Bow," "Rain," "Crazy For You," "This Used To Be My Playground!" One of the best pop albums of the 90s, hands down.


Year of Release: 1992
Labels: RCA, Arista
Key Tracks: "Little Bird," "Why," "Walking on Broken Glass," "Money Can't Buy It"

When I want to listen to a song to perk myself up, or get myself into the groove, I usually listen to "Little Bird." It's just that type of song. The music video, with multiple personas of the chameleon Annie Lennox, always makes me crack a smile, too. And then you listen to the whole album and you're treated with modern classics like "Why" and "Walking On Broken Glass." Even when she was still in Eurythmics, her voice was always phenomenal. She unleashes it in this debut album with gusto, giving us multiple shades of a true diva, and they're all awesome.


Year of Release: 2016
Labels: Parkwood, Columbia
Key Tracks: "Sandcastles," "Pray You Catch Me," " Don't Hurt Yourself," "Hold Up"

What to say about Beyoncé, the Queen B? Without a doubt, hers is one of the most beautiful voices in pop today. She's a fantastic live performer. I've had every reason to love her, but I never really did because I was never much into the R&B that she was primarily doing with Destiny's Child and her early years as a solo artist. But then I listened to Lemonade and OH GOD THIS IS WHY SHE'S THE QUEEN B. This concept album was a sucker punch. It's trippy, it's fun, it's sacred, it's tormenting. All of a sudden, Beyoncé is a high priestess of urban pop. And her "Sandcastles"--goosebumps. Has she ever been more raw and vulnerable? 


Year of Release: 1961
Label: Verve
Key Tracks: "Take the 'A' Train," "You're Driving Me Crazy," "Blue Moon," "Mr. Paganini," "Air Mail Special"

Come for the "A" Train and stay for everything else! That eight-minute track is insane because virtually the whole song is Ella Fitzgerald showcasing what she is best at: scat singing. Absolutely spectacular. There's more scat in "Air Mail Special" (five minutes of it!) and "Mr. Paganini," then pure vocal bliss in the other tracks especially the divine "You're Driving Me Crazy" and the playful "Blue Moon." Truly, this is Lady Ella at her glorious best.


Year of Release: 2018
Labels: Wondaland Arts Society, Bad Boy, Atlantic
Key Tracks: "Crazy, Classic, Life," "Screwed," "Dirty Computer," "Make Me Feel"

Yes, she's three of three in this list. And the middle child is the best one. All the great things that I said about her two other albums are multiplied here. As always, she does so well with collaborations. Here, "Screwed" with Zoë Kravitz and "Dirty Computer" with the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson are definite highlights. But hey, she does extremely well even on her own, thank you very much. Which is not to knock her band, of course, because one of the other fantastic things about Monáe is that she and her crew put together such a whole sound. I feel like the more I listen to this album, the more steadily it will rise up this list in future years.


Year of Release: 1996
Label: A&M
Key Tracks: "No Cheap Thrill," "Caramel," "Headshots," "Thin Man," "World Before Columbus"

Who hasn't sung or hummed along to the catchy "Tom's Cabin?" The painfully real "Luka" is one of Suzanne Vega's other hits. That breathy voice! And the beats! Nine Objects of Desire, her fifth album, retains the magic of her past hits and gives us a perfect album to chill to (especially with the super smooth "Caramel") but still pay enough attention to the lyrics, which have always been a strength of her songs. Every Suzanne Vega song is a confessional. That she sings them so clearly and crisply certainly helps! Every song here is precious!


Year of Release: 1990
Label: 4AD
Key Tracks: "Iceblink Luck," "Cherry-Coloured Funk," "Heaven or Las Vegas," "Pitch the Baby"

Don't even try to make sense of the lyrics! It's an exercise in futility. Just soak yourself in the haunting tones of Elizabeth Fraser's vocals and the dream-like quality of the instrumentation. It's like a trip down Lewis Carroll's rabbit hole in music form. The subgenre is called dream pop for a good reason. I immediately fell head over heels for this album at the first listen and regretted not having tried their music earlier.


Year of Release: 1997
Label: Virgin
Key Tracks: "Stop," "Spice Up Your Life," "Too Much," "Move Over"

This is probably where the list really goes into personal taste and where some people will start questioning that taste. Spiceworld over Lemonade? The Spice Girls over Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell? And yet to be so dismissive of the Spice Girls is to dismiss not only their iconic place in popular culture but also their exuberant excellence at giving us what we really really want (oops, that's a different album) in pop. Pop is supposed to be fun, infectious, impossible not to dance to. And that's what the Spice Girls gives us for a second time here. A second helping of "Girl Power" wrapped in glorious dance-pop was most welcome, and it's still a go-to album for me when I want to feel energized or bathe myself in the nostalgia of the 90s, the best decade for music, especially pop. And come on, can anyone really resist "Stop?"


Year of Release: 2018
Key Tracks: "St. Cecilia," "What I Left Behind," "Dressed For Nowhere," "Even Such Is Time"

Cynthia Alexander is widely recognized in the Philippines as one of its greatest musicians. Her lyrics are pure poetry, she's a highly skilled and acclaimed bassist, and she has some of the best instrumentalists in her crew. Fans like me mourned her departure from the country to take up permanent residence in the US. So it was with pure happiness that we welcomed her newest album Even Such Is Time. It's not like the albums that came before it, which hook you from the very start, but the songs here are those that linger and demand that you return to them with a more open heart and mind. And when I did, I realized that Alexander had given us another precious gift. Like the dragonfly wings on the cover, the songs are almost fragile in their beauty, particularly "St. Cecilia," the best of the seven. Breathtaking.

TOP 20
Numbers 21-40
Numbers 61-80
Numbers 81-100

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