Guess who’s among the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s nominees this year? Joan Jett and Heart! It’s about time, too. Too few awesome female artists have been inducted.
The Hall is also drawing attention for its recently established “Women Who Rock” exhibit. While I do appreciate the Hall’s attempt to recognize artists that it previously ignored, I can’t help but feel the attempt is somewhat misguided. After all, the female artists it spotlights haven’t actually been inducted. When the exhibit ends in February 2012, the non-inducted artists (who compose the majority of the exhibit) will presumably vanish from the Hall once more. Forgetting pioneers like Sister Rosetta Tharpe again would be simply criminal. (Something that annoys me: how could they leave out Fanny? They paved the way for most of the artists in that exhibit, but they didn’t even get mentioned on its website.)
Of course, the exhibit is not without its benefits. Carla DeSantis Black makes the point that, despite the exhibit’s problems, seeing successful female musicians can inspire girls to play music. Also, the usage of the term “Women Who Rock” annoys some feminists less than the label “Women In Rock.” The latter term grates on readers’ nerves due to its association with “Women In Rock” issues created by music magazines, especially Rolling Stone, that merely acknowledge the presence of women in music and then proceed to ignore their contributions in subsequent issues. Additionally, Gayle Wald argues that the “Women Who Rock” label is an improvement because “[it] envisions rock as a dynamic practice, not an ossified tradition…[and] represents women in terms of cultural agency, not their static presence—their doing, not their being”. However, both Carla DeSantis Black and I wonder why we still need a separate exhibit for female musicians. How come in the 21st century, we still can’t properly integrate excellent female artists with male ones? Why can’t the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame put female pioneers next to and among their male counterparts, so they look like they belong in the standard rock canon and not like their gender makes them less important?
The Hall has a chance to start fixing this if Joan Jett and Heart get inducted. You can (and should) vote for the nominees online; I voted for The Cure, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Heart, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Guns ‘N Roses. So far, Heart and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts are in the top five, with 8.96% and 8.03% of the votes respectively. Let’s cross our fingers, everybody. I’ll be really annoyed if two of my favorite artists are ignored again.
What do you think about these recent developments in the Hall? Share your thoughts in the comments!
“One of the most important female bands in American rock has been buried without a trace. And that is Fanny. They were one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extraordinary: They wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful, and nobody’s ever mentioned them. They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time. Revivify Fanny. And I will feel that my work is done.”
—David Bowie in a December 1999 issue of Rolling Stone
Fanny rocks. What’s that? You’ve never heard of Fanny? Oh man, you’ve been missing out.
Fanny was the first all-female band to get a record deal, and with good reason. With Jean Millington’s funky, perpetually audible bass lines and pure rock ‘n’ roll voice; her sister June’s amazing skills on the guitar, comping in the background during songs’ verses and then exploding into the spotlight with amazing solos; Nickey Barclay’s skills on the keyboard, rocking harder than any other keyboardist I’ve seen; Alice de Buhr’s powerful drumming, belying her shy face half-hidden behind her long hair; and the vocal harmonies all the band members contributed to, these women rocked cohesively as a group. Every single one of them was absolutely essential to the group’s sound; no one of them could be easily replaced, which is something not all bands can say. No drummers hiding behind their kits or bassists thudding away in the corner for Fanny. All of the members shared the spotlight.
The band toured all over the United States after releasing their first album in 1970. Despite the fact that they never truly broken into the mainstream—even though they were the first all-female band to have a top 40 hit, with “Charity Ball” at number 40 and “Butter Boy” at number 2—the impact they had on their audiences was unquestionable. Lynne Shapiro wrote in a 1974 Ms. article on the band, “If Fanny had been around when I was 16, I might be a feminist rock ‘n’ roll musician today” (Gaar 125).
Reading about the struggles the band went through can be appalling. Guitarist June Millington recalls, “The pressure not to play rock music was unbelievable. And of course in those days without any role models, we couldn’t say, ‘Well, look at so-and-so, they made it!’” (Gaar 122).
She continues on, “All I can say is, it really fed our spirits. We really wanted to have an all-girl band. It was like we were obsessed. I can’t tell you why. I think we always knew that we were supposed to do something. We didn’t know what it was, but there was something beckoning us. I really believe it was our destiny. We were meant to do it” (Gaar 123).
Only twenty-seven Fanny songs are available on YouTube. (I scoured the site for their albums.) I can’t believe this amazing band has been relegated to obscurity; even if you ignore the fact that they were trailblazers of the most determined sort, their music alone makes them deserve recognition among the best. They should be played on the radio along with the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, placed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the highest of honors. I would like to correct Mr. David Bowie, who I quoted at the beginning of this article: Fanny is not one of the most important female bands of all time; they are one of the most important bands of all time, period. Their achievements are not only important to women, and their hard work is not only impressive for female musicians. It is impressive for any musician, period. “Making it” in the music business—finding band members who are both friendly and solid musicians, creating good music, rehearsing said music, playing gigs, promoting yourself, trying to get signed to a record label—is hard enough without adding “dealing with horrible, ridiculous sexism on a daily basis.”
Here is a list of Fanny’s albums, with the songs on them that are available on YouTube and the places on the Internet where they can be purchased. Happy listening!
not available on Amazon
Charity Ball (1971)
available in vinyl on Amazon
Fanny Hill (1972)
available in vinyl and CD on Amazon
Mother’s Pride (1973)
available in vinyl on Amazon
Rock & Roll Survivors (1974)
available in vinyl and CD on Amazon
First Time in a Long Time: The Reprise Recordings (2002)
This anthology contains songs from all of Fanny’s albums, plus a number of unreleased tracks. It has 90 songs and is available on Amazon and iTunes.
Go to FannyRocks.com to learn more about the band’s history and discography.
Gaar, Gillian. She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll. 2nd ed. New York: Seal Press, 2002. Print.