People say that when women hear a song, the thing that they pay attention to first is the lyrics, but when men listen to songs, they hear the music first. I’m not sure if this generalization is particularly true for everyone, but it does generally apply to my listening habits (unless the song is in a foreign language, of course). I particularly enjoy listening to those songs that are about unusual subjects, ones with double-meanings or those that are straight out “in your face.” When it comes to these types of songs, it seems to me that female singer-songwriters are more adept in writing lyrics that make you think, and some even go so far as to shock you with their words. If this sounds interesting to you, here are a few female singer songwriters you might want to give a listen.
Regina Spektor – Regina is probably one of the most creatively versatile of all singer-songwriters around today. Instead of writing endlessly about love and heartbreak, Spektor is an observer of both the mundane and the strange. It is these observances, which she puts into her songs. For instance, in her album Far she has a quiet little song about finding a wallet. The lyrics here take us through the contents she finds there, and we are with her when she finds the expired Blockbuster membership card and figures she can bring the wallet to them so they can look the owner up and get it back to him. How many other artists do you know of who would writ e a song about that? This is just one small example of her ability, and she certainly earns her place among today’s most interesting female singer-songwriters.
Nancy & Ann Wilson (aka Heart) – Back in the 70s, these sisters broke through the rock scene’s gender glass ceiling by becoming the first female rock band with hits like “Magic Man” and “Crazy on You” their iconic album Dreamboat Annie, as well as “Barracuda” from their second album, Little Queen. While many of their songs deal with conventional subjects, in many cases the lyrics are highly suggestive of things like drugs and sex (as opposed to love, although they do have a few of those). While this was and is hardly unusual for the genre, the group stood out because of their lead singers being women, and set a standard of no double standards for female rockers that came after them. The Wilsons’s lead influenced such varied artists as the ‘New Wave’ rocker Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders and Country Pop singer Shania Twain.
Joni Mitchell – no discussion of remarkable female singer-songwriters could go without mentioning this icon of the folk-rock genre. Joni’s ability to grow as an artist is second to none, and songs she wrote in the 60s are no less relevant today than those that appear in her latest albums. Moreover, she’s always been very much the poet with her songs, and her subject matter varies from observing a street musician, to protests against war. My personal favorite album of Joni’s is The Hissing of Summer Lawns, which is evocative just as a title for an album, and the contents are no less amazing. Mitchell inspired other female folk singers such as Joan Baez, Carole King, Carly Simon, and many more.
Sara Bareilles – Sara is a relative newcomer to the list. What made me notice her was the way she hides jibes and raw honesty of her lyrics in sugarcoated melodies. That’s not to say that her musical side is overly sweet, since her basic pop style has rock undertones with blues and jazz influences showing through. The deceptively entitled “Love Song” was her first hit from her debut album Little Voice, with lyrics that state (ironically) that she won’t write a love song! Her first single from her second album Kaleidoscope Heart is her self-proclaimed “f**k you” song. It tells people who give her advice that she isn’t going to listen to them, asking them who died and made them the “King of Anything.” This is proof of her rougher side behind the soft exterior, and you’ll always need to listen to the words of her songs carefully to get her message straight.
Lily Allen – here’s a girl who is probably the most in-your-face artist on the market today. Surpassing even Lady GaGa in being avant-garde, Allen uses her words and not her costumes or showmanship to surprise and shock. Proof of this is in many of her songs, but mostly with two, in particular from her second album It’s not me, it’s you – “F**k You” and “Not Fair.” The later song actually talks about how disappointed she is that her very sweet, loving and kind boyfriend doesn’t satisfy her in bed – with some very explicit lyrics indeed. This only proves that what The Guardian said about her is right – she’s a real individualist, despite having famous parents.
Of course, there are many other great female singer-songwriters out there, both past and present, but these are among my favorites just because I know they’ll always produce something just a bit different and unique. There is one song in particular that – although written by a man – really sums up the attitude behind these songs and the women who write them. That song is “Words of Love” first recorded by Cass Elliot, better known as Mama Cass from the folk group The Mamas and the Papas, which was a hit off their 1966 self-named album. The lyrics to this sweet sounding song tell us that
Words of love, so soft and tender,
Won’t win a girl’s heart anymore.
If you love her, then you must send her
Somewhere where she’s never been before.
When it comes to listening to music, the soft and tender words just don’t cut it for this girl’s heart. Give me something that takes me to another place and time, an experience I’ve never had, or just tells it like it is, and you’ll win a place in my musical heart.
(Graphic from Pixabay; Album Cover from Wikipedia)
I'm originally from Evanston, Illinois and moved to Israel at the tender age of 21. I now live in Jerusalem with my husband and three wonderful children. Aside from my passion for chocolate (I'm a gourmet, not an addict), I love to bake, am on a bowling league and have been writing online content (reviews of all kinds) since about 1998. My "day job" is in Resource Development for the non-profit sector.