NPR has put together a list of 150 records that orient the established pop music canon around records made by women. The criteria were kept intentionally loose, with the 50 voters considering any “albums by artists who identify as female” and “some by mixed-gender bands” that the voters felt relied on “women’s creativity for their spark.”
In her accompanying essay, NPR Music critic Ann Powers talks candidly about the rationale for the list, and the many considerations and contradictions inherent in such a project.
Another way to look at a list is as the beginning of new conversation. One is still needed when it comes to women’s place in music history, despite decades of efforts by feminist historians, critics, activists and musicians themselves. For the past half-century — the period that this list roughly covers — most mainstream musical “best” lists feature startlingly few women, especially in their top ranks. Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, compiled in 2003 and updated in 2009, includes no women in the Top 20. Pitchfork’s “People’s List,” a reader-determined Top 200 list spanning the publication’s lifetime, included two bands with women in its Top 20. Recent lists by publications ranging from SPIN to Entertainment Weekly, Time and NME showed similar results. And the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has never remedied the problem of significant female underrepresentation in its ranks.
There are omissions—not a single metal album, despite NPR’s dogged coverage of metal over the past few years, and barely any records by out trans women—but a canon is there to be quibbled over, and necessarily tends toward the most broadly accepted choices. There are innumerable musicians working today who aren’t cis white men, producing vital, exciting work. This is just a blueprint! Go forth, and forge your own canon.
That said, let’s get to arguing. We’ll start: The Scream is absolutely not the best Siouxsie & The Banshees record.