They’ve been described as both a punk and grunge band. However, the only adjective needed to describe this band is awesome. These ladies really deserve some more recognition.
Jumpy, ferocious bass? Fierce, relentless drums? Heavy, stuttering guitar coupled with edgy, screaming vocals? Yes, please. How come when VH1 documentaries discuss alternative rock bands of the 90s, all they talk about is Nirvana this and Smashing Pumpkins that? Babes in Toyland should at least get an honorary mention. After all, their first album Spanking Machine impressed the members of Sonic Youth so much that they were invited to tour with them. (Check out the documentary 1991: The Year Punk Broke to see the results.)
Their names are Kat Bjelland (guitars, vocals), Lori Barbero (drums), and Maureen Herman (bass on albums Fontanelle and Nemesisters; Michelle Leon played bass on Spanking Machine). Check them out; they might impress you just as much as they’ve impressed me.
Alison Mosshart is probably known best for her work in The Kills and The Dead Weather, the latter being one of Jack White’s bands. Yes, both she and our Drummer of the Month worked extensively with Jack White. What can I say? The man picks great musicians to collaborate with.
Mosshart formed the duo The Kills with guitarist Jamie Hince. The two produced very minimalist albums with a drum machine, inviting persistent comparisons to the White Stripes from the press. The vocalist would find herself helping Jack White out during a tour, singing lead vocals for the Raconteurs during a show because White was losing his voice. Mosshart and White formed The Dead Weather afterwards.
Mosshart’s work with The Dead Weather is simply amazing. She produces stellar vocals while completely losing herself to the music in the band’s “Live at the Roxy” videos, interacting with the audience all the while. She perches on an amp at the front of the stage and sings directly to the people in the front row. If one asked Mosshart if she ever got stage fright, she’d probably reply, “Stage fright? What’s that?” Just watch and see how awesome she is.
Meg White may have faced criticism for her minimalist drumming style, but as Jack White, her ex-husband and frontman of The White Stripes, put it in a Rolling Stone interview:
“It’s kind of funny: When people critique hip-hop, they’re scared to open up, for fear of being called racist. But they’re not scared to open up on female musicians, out of pure sexism. Meg is the best part of this band. It never would have worked with anybody else, because it would have been too complicated. When she started to play drums with me, just on a lark, it felt liberating and refreshing. There was something in it that opened me up. It was my doorway to playing the blues.”
With that being said, Meg White plays some of the most understated drum parts I’ve ever heard. They drive high-energy songs like “Fell in Love With a Girl” and “Icky Thump” without distracting from the heartrending emotion in songs like “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself.” Her skills are quite remarkable when one considers that she picked up the drums in her early twenties; her first gig was with Jack White in 1997, two months after she started playing. Learning an instrument is easiest when you’re young, but Meg was brave enough to begin drumming well into adulthood and play in public after only two months of practice. Let’s see her critics do that.
Is there a single Sonic Youth fan who dislikes Kim Gordon? Finding one who does is certainly a challenge. Gordon, whether it be because of her bass-playing, singing, songwriting, or sex appeal, seems to be universally beloved.
Where would the riot grrl movement be without Kim Gordon? Not much of anywhere, according to those who call her the “Godmother of Riot Grrl.” While she denied ties with the movement because Sonic Youth sounded dissimilar to groups like Bikini Kill, many young girls still saw her as a role model; indeed, girls would go up to her after concerts and ask, “Will you be our mother?” (Gaar 370).
What exactly did Gordon do that was so important? She played bass well while embracing her femininity, wearing dresses as she rocked out onstage. Any guy who thinks girly girls can’t rock will shut up after seeing Kim Gordon play. She wrote songs about women’s issues years before the riot grrl movement surfaced, covering sexual harassment in “Swimsuit Issue,” manipulation by the media in “Kissability,” and notions of female helplessness in “Protect Me You.” She adopted a calm, detached stage persona in a society where women are expected to wear their hearts on their sleeves. Perhaps most importantly, she helped to form one of the most influential alternative rock bands of all time, inspiring guys and girls alike and changing alternative music for good.
Thank you, Kim Gordon.
“Hey, Kool Thing, come here, sit down beside me.
There’s something I gotta ask you.
I just wanna know, what are you gonna do for me?
I mean, are you gonna liberate us girls
From male white corporate oppression?”
Pretty cool bass.
Sources used for this article:
Gaar, Gillian. She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll 2nd ed. New York: Seal Press, 2002. Print.
Sleater-Kinney was a fabulous band, no doubt about it. Janet Weiss pounded the drums like they owed her money, Corin Tucker played rhythm guitar and sang like nobody’s business, and Carrie Brownstein played lead guitar so well that Rolling Stone acknowledged her as one of the “25 Underrated Guitarists of All Time,” which is surprising given the publication’s usual sexism. (Yes, this list was decided by a reader poll, but that doesn’t make the appearance of awesome female guitarists in Rolling Stone any less rare.)
Carrie Brownstein redefined what a rock star looked like. An androgynous woman wearing modest button-down shirts and jeans in an industry that emphasized sex appeal, her love of music always showed through in the way she played. She did high kicks, jumped up and down, and swung her guitar around with infectious energy. Not to mention, she wrote great songs. I can listen to “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” over and over without getting sick of it. I’m pretty excited about her new project, Wild Flag, which just released an album.
Check out Sleater-Kinney and Brownstein’s other bands, like Excuse 17. You won’t regret it.
This is Sleater-Kinney’s song “Jumpers.”
One of my favorite Sleater-Kinney songs.
Wild Flag’s new music video for “Romance.”
For September’s Musicians of the Month, Queens of Noise is spotlighting musicians in alternative rock:
Guitarist: Carrie Brownstein (of Sleater-Kinney)
Bassist: Kim Gordon (of Sonic Youth and Free Kitten)
Drummer: Meg White (of the White Stripes)
Vocalist: Alison Mosshart (of The Dead Weather, The Kills, and Discount)
Underrated Band: Babes in Toyland
Rock ‘N’ Roll Pioneer of the Month: Big Mama Thornton
The Quotes of the Month and Musician’s Corner will be uploaded as soon as possible.
“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.
I like bassists. Really, I do, but that doesn’t change the fact that I usually notice a guitarist before I notice a bassist, and I usually like guitarists better than bassists. Even though Flea does excellent work in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I still like him and John Frusciante about the same, and we’re talking about a phenomenal bassist here.
I like Robin “Agent” Moulder, bassist of Jack Off Jill, better than any of the band’s guitarists, though. Granted, the band had five different guitarists over its eight-year run, while Moulder stuck it out for the whole ride. (Five different drummers served in the lineup as well; Moulder and Jessicka, the vocalist, were the only constants in the band.) That doesn’t change the fact that when I listened to their album Sexless Demons and Scars for the first time, the opening track “American Made” made me think, “Wow, this is cool bass. I like it better than the guitar, actually.” Jack Off Jill is also one of the few bands where I can usually hear the bass well, even on my crappy computer speakers. (I love Mindless Self Indulgence, but I can almost never hear the bass in their songs. That’s probably less of LynZ’s fault and more of the mixer’s, though.) But just being able to hear the bass isn’t a compliment. Agent Moulder is the kind of bassist I’d like to emulate if I played the instrument myself. Her confident playing drives the band’s sound forward.
Unfortunately, Jack Off Jill broke up after releasing only two albums filled with their weird goth/alt rock sound, and they remain fairly obscure and underground. They deserve more popularity. However, their former bassist still works as a musician, having created somewhat similar music with TCR. A band Moulder founded with vocalist TC Smith, TCR’s album The Chrome Recordings received rave reviews. TC’s dark, deep vocals and Moulder’s booming bass combined with screaming guitar and electronic beats programmed by Moulder creates wonderful gothic rock. (The entire album has been posted on YouTube; the track listing is listed here. The album can also be purchased from that link.) TCR’s Myspace describes the band’s music as, “A fusion of metal, industrial, rock, and goth, with a dose of punk aggression.” Information about Moulder’s current activities doesn’t seem to be readily available; hopefully we’ll hear about any new projects soon. As a bassist, keyboardist, and programmer, she certainly has a lot of talent to work with.
The song “Priscilla” by TCR.
Albums to listen to: Jack Off Jill’s Sexless Demons and Scars and Clear Hearts, Grey Flowers, and TCR’s The Chrome Recordings.