Sunday, March 08, 2020

My List of the 100 Best Albums by Women (81-100)

Sometime in 1995, when I was in high school, I bought my first ever music albums: Mariah Carey's Daydream and Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill. Two modern classics from rather different genres. Genre-wise, my taste in music mostly settled in the pop-rock spectrum in the early years of my being a purchasing fan. Eventually, I discovered alternative music with Tori Amos and Björk, "New Age" with Enya (though she has never warmed to the term or her inclusion among its stalwarts) and, much later, jazz with the legends, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. My love for anime and Japanese culture in general also got me hooked on J-Pop in the 2000s. Long story short: my taste in music is rather eclectic and even perhaps a little unconventional (I don't know if anyone among my friends even knows who the Mediæval Bæbes are, and I have three of their albums), but there is one thing that all (save for two, and of course the compilation albums and soundtracks) my albums have in common: they're made by solo women or female-fronted acts. I enjoy music by male acts just like most others, but I've almost never found the urge to buy any of their records. Women's records, on the other hand: my wall's covered with shelves of their cassette tapes and CDs.

NPR has an awesome list of "The 150 Greatest Albums By Women" (here's the link:, but given how much I absolutely love women's music, I decided to come up with my own list. I've been working on this for maybe two months, and there's no better time to start sharing it than today, on International Women's Day. Most of these have been albums that I've listened to and sang to countless times, while some are things that I felt I had to listen to first before I could justifiably come up with a list that was anywhere close to just and properly representative. Still, at the end of the day, it's my personal taste, so I'm bound to have missed many of your own personal faves.

Anyway, here goes. As with my lists of movies, my goal is to encourage people to try some of these out if they haven't yet. So enjoy reading and, more importantly, listening!


Year of Release: 2001
Labels: Almo, Interscope
Key Tracks: "Androgyny," "Cherry Lips"

The third album of Garbage was probably its most polished up to that date and gave the band's fans a different, more pop-dance feel. The beats of "Androgyny"--as well as its message--were infectious, and vocalist Shirley Manson's voice is sweetly versatile on "Cherry Lips." But it's hard to top their first album, coming later in this list, for its pure burst of intelligence and rawness.


Year of Release: 2013
Key Tracks: "Boxes and Squares," "Human"

Last year, Tank and the Bangas was thrust into the limelight by that shocking Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. I had not heard of Tarriona "Tank" Ball prior to that, so I had to look them up. Such a discovery! Their performance in the NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert (which you can see here), especially of their signature song "Boxes and Squares," is pure joy. A lot of the spontaneity of their live performances is lost in the transition to a recorded album, but their debut is still so enjoyable. The biologically informed ode to the uniqueness of the human body, "Human," is beautiful in its reminder of how special each individual is, as music should remind us more often.


Year of Release: 1996
Label: Mercury
Key Tracks: "Shake Your Groove Thing," "Zoom," "Dance With Me"

Philippine media has a risible (at best) tendency to label some of the country's artists as Asia's this or that, even if their career hasn't quite earned them the moniker. However, Regine Velasquez, "Asia's songbird," has somehow earned it. Retro is the third and last of the great trio of records that made her a popular artist in the region. Retro might not be the most pop of the three and mostly consists of covers of classics, but it's certainly the best technical production. Regine's singing was also probably at its best, but a lot of that had to do with the great arrangements on each song, especially the Peaches & Herb classic "Shake Your Groove Thing." "Dance With Me" is a sweet gem where she duets with her mother.


Year of Release: 1967
Label: Mercury
Key Tracks: "Sweet Georgia Brown," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," "Every Day I Have the Blues"

Such a voice! Ella Fitzgerald's vocal power and scatting calisthenics are incomparable, but the pureness of Sarah Vaughan's voice, and her level of control of it, have rightly made many critics--and fellow artists like Frank Sinatra--consider hers to have been the most beautiful voice in jazz. It is perfection here, especially in her rendition of the Tony Bennett signature "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."


Year of Release: 1995
Label: Almo
Key Tracks: "Only Happy When It Rains," "Stupid Girl," "Milk"

Beautiful Garbage and Version 2.0 were worthy follow-ups with their own earworms, but the raw energy of the band's self-titled debut album is unbeaten. With five singles, it gave listeners a lot of reasons to recognize the band's genius and the bright future that they would have in the music industry.


Year of Release: 1997
Labels: Kedar, Universal
Key Tracks: "On and On," "Rimshot," "Next Lifetime"

Speaking of earworms, probably no one had an easy time shaking off the beats (from opening to end!) of "On and On," the song that launched the wonderful Erykah Badu into public consciousness. But "On and On" is far from being the only song in Baduizm that showcases her unique vocals and musicality. True to its name, the album defies its listeners not to declare themselves disciples of this new philosophy or religion.


Year of Release: 1995
Label: Island
Key Tracks: "Down by the Water," "To Bring You My Love"

The alt-rock queen rawness of PJ Harvey has catapulted her to the top of many people's lists of icons in those genres, and "Down by the Water," with its eerie image of a child drowning, was the perfect introduction to her unique flavor. Many of her later albums are more critically acclaimed and have shown her considerable growth as an artist, but she got me hooked with her whispered incantation of "Little fish, big fish, swimming in the water
Come back here, man, gimme my daughter." Shivers.


Year of Release: 1991
Label: A&M
Key Tracks: "Every Heartbeat," "Baby Baby," "That's What Love Is For," "I Will Remember You"

Released in 1991, the saccharine Heart in Motion took the best of pop flavors from both the 80s and the 90s, producing some of the cutest love songs ever ("Every Heartbeat," "Baby Baby") but also heartfelt pieces like "That's What Love Is For" and "I Will Remember You," which deserve to be remembered more as the love song gems that they are.


Year of Release: 2001
Label: J
Key Tracks: "Girlfriend," "Fallin'," "A Woman's Worth"

Now one of America's most loved and respected artists of her generation, Alicia Keys debuted her soulful singing and piano-playing with hit after hit from this album. If just based on the singles off it, I'd be ranking this much higher, but I didn't quite fall in love with the rest of the 16 tracks. But even then, one thing was crystal clear: Alicia Keys is an intelligent and masterful artist...and she would prove it again with her next album. 


Year of Release: 1991
Labels: Polydor, Geffen
Key Tracks: "Kiss Them For Me," "Fear (of the Unknown)"

Siouxsie Sioux and her band are stalwarts of the post-punk, goth rock movement that would influence many artists after them, and their debut album The Scream started them off loudly on that trajectory. It's a strong album, but for me, Sioux's voice and the band's performance as a whole are much more colorful--an odd word to use for a goth band, I know!--and dynamic in Superstition, their 10th studio album. They earned a new following from their wonderful song "Kiss Them For Me," made mesmerizing by the instrumentation of Tabla player Talvin Singh. The rest of the album is similarly wickedly melodic.


Year of Release: 1995
Labels: Polycosmic, Mercury
Key Tracks: "You've Made Me Stronger," "My Love Emotion," "Fast," "Perfect"

Regine Velasquez was at the peak of her popularity in the Asian region when she released My Love Emotion, which rode on the strength of "You've Made Me Stronger," written by the great composer Trina Belamide. The album is pure, quintessential 90s Asian pop, the type you'd hear from the Cantonese and Japanese pop idols of the time. Belamide's second contribution to the album, "Fast," is more mellow but no less beautiful, and Regine's collaboration with local a cappella group The TUX on "Perfect" is another highlight. While Velasquez is still active in the local music industry, I can't help but lament the end of her blossoming career in the region and the zenith of her artistry with her decision to change management and labels.

89. 25 (ADELE)

Year of Release: 2015
Labels: XL, Columbia
Key Tracks: "Hello," "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)"

Spoiler alert: another Adele album ranks MUCH higher on this list. 25 is a strong follow-up to the phenomenon that is 21, with the amazing Hello (which has an equally amazing music video directed by Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan) and the super-catchy "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)," but I wish I loved more of the album. Still, there's no denying the serious talent of this Brit music royalty.


Year of Release: 2002
Label: Tao Music
Key Tracks: "Dosayan," "Maghimaya Ka, Maria," "Golpiadu Makimallo"

It would be unfair to simply label Grace Nono, the almost mystical legend of Philippine ethnic music, as the "Filipino Enya" or "Filipino Loreena McKennit," but that might be a good introduction for the uninitiated. Nono is high priestess of indigenous-meets-pop/soul; her voice is deep, powerful, and unmistakably her own. Her music, often a collaboration with partner Bob Aves, is made more accessible with gorgeous packaging in the physical copy of the album, but it's always about the music. It's almost hypnotic. This magnificent album should have made waves in world music. 


Year of Release: 1997
Label: Columbia
Key Tracks: "Burn," "If I Didn't Love You," "Now I Can Dance"

Australian pop superstar Tina Arena had been long popular in her home country, but her international career really took off with the hit singles "Burn" and "If I Didn't Love You," both of which showcased her astounding vocal cords and capacity to express ache and longing in her tone. The rest of the album is really good stuff, too, and "Now I Can Dance" is the uplifting piece that gives it a good balance.


Year of Release: 1996
Label: Columbia
Key Tracks: "Sunny Came Home," "Get Out of This House," "Wichita Skyline"

Shawn Colvin won loads of acclaim and awards for this album, including Song of the Year and Record of the Year Grammys for the haunting "Sunny Came Home," a misleadingly light-sounding song about a woman who burns her family house down to escape from her past. "Get Out of This House" is similarly empowering, lent strength by Colvin's poetry and her warm tones. The album as a whole is pure artistry. 


Year of Release: 1996
Labels: Columbia, Epic
Key Tracks: "It's All Coming Back To Me Now," "Because You Loved Me," "All By Myself"

It shouldn't be surprising that Falling Into You is one of Celine Dion's most successful projects to date, one of the best-selling albums in history and a Grammy winner for Album of the Year and Best Pop Album. I mean, with singles like "Because You Loved Me," "Falling Into You," and that most awesomely legendary camp epic ballad "It's All Coming Back To Me Now," should it be? Add to the mix the vocal powerhouse that is "All By Myself," plus a few other pop gems, and it's simply speaking one of the best that this Canadian icon has ever released.


Year of Release: 1981
Label: Island
Key Tracks: "Nightclubbing," "I've Seen That Face Before (Libertango)," "Demolition Man"

I've long known the intimidatingly statuesque Grace Jones as an actress and singer, but always more as the former. Listening to Nightclubbing for the first time, however, made me forget that she was ever anything but a formidable musical icon. Straddling several genres, including reggae and punk, this album will not allow itself to be pigeonholed. Don't force too many labels on it! Just listen and prepare to be astonished. Truly, Grace Jones is a force of nature.


Year of Release: 1991
Label: WEA
Key Tracks: "Caribbean Blue," "No Holly for Miss Quinn," "Book of Days," "Marble Halls"

Full disclosure: I am a BIG Enya fan. I have all her albums. So no, this won't be the last Enya album on this list. Aside from having strikingly beautiful jacket art, the music itself is among the best and most characteristically Enya that the artist--who is almost a brand unto herself--has ever produced. Enya has always been wonderful at combining Celtic mysticism and pop sensibilities, and she would take herself further into the latter with some of her later work, but Shepherd Moons is one of her purest, especially with the title track and the often used "Book of Days." Tolkien fans would be pleased to discover that one of the tracks is entitled "Lothlórien" and is an ode to that Elven kingdom--surely a foreshadowing of her eventual involvement in the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.


Year of Release: 2012
Labels: Young Money, Cash Money, Universal Republic
Key Tracks: "Starships," "Pound the Alarm," "Right By My Side"

Really, just for the unforgettable and unshakable "Starships" and "Pound the Alarm"--which, incidentally, have produced two of the most memorable lip sync battles in the herstory of "RuPaul's Drag Race"--it's worth getting the album. But the rest is great, too, whether you're more into Nicki Minaj's rap stylings or you prefer her pop princess schtick. What I love most about the album--and Minaj herself--is that it's crazy fun but, if you listen closely enough, she has a lot of important things to say. A true artist who, I must admit, I have long underestimated.


Year of Release: 1997
Label: Mercury
Key Tracks: "From This Moment On," "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!," "You're Still the One," "That Don't Impress Me Much"

I could have listed a few other key tracks for this album; such is the strength of the package! With this phenomenal success of an album (the best-selling of any solo female), Shania Twain blurred the boundaries between country and pop, making a crossover with some of the most honest lyrics and catchy tunes airing on the radio at the time. She never quite duplicated the success of the album, but at least we'll always have it with us. I am not a big fan of country music (as you will realize as you go through this list), but this made me come very, very close to changing my mind about the genre.

TOP 20
Numbers 21-40
Numbers 41-60
Numbers 61-80

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