With a bevvy of wonderful female artists from the ‘60s serving as inspiration, woman pushed their musical artistry even further in the decade that followed. In addition to making outstanding music, these women built lasting legacies that continue to encourage girls and women to sing, learn how to play an instrument or write songs. Of the 10 artists featured in this fourth series installment, seven are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with two others being in the Country Music Hall of Fame (the 10th had a member who was later enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist). Looking for the perfect 10? You can’t do much better than the 10 artists listed below.
#31: It’s Too Late – Carole King (Ode, 1971)
Having established herself as a hit songwriter by teaming with husband Gerry Goffin to pen such ‘60’s gems as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “One Fine Day,” “The Locomotion” and “Goin’ Back,” King attained stardom as a recording artist with 1971’s Tapestry. One of the best-selling albums ever, the disc occupied the top spot on the Billboard charts for 15 weeks while spawning four hit singles. Two of those hits were on the double A-sided “It’s Too Late” b/w ‘I Feel the Earth Move.” With lyrics by Toni Stern and music by King, the former brought maturity to AM radio by combining a timeless melody with words about ending a relationship without assigning blame. A Grammy winner for Record of the Year (one of four Grammys won by Tapestry), “It’s Too Late” is one of a dozen reasons why the album still sounds fresh.
#32: Coat of Many Colors – Dolly Parton (RCA, 1971)
The musically diverse year of 1971 seemed to have something for everyone. This was particularly true for women, who could revel in a trio of female singer-songwriter albums in Carole King’s Tapestry, Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors. While the first two artists are regularly (and deservedly) lauded for their songwriting prowess, Parton is sometimes overlooked. Perhaps this is due to her profile as a country artist placed her outside the “hip” rock mainstream. Or maybe it’s because Johnny Carson’s frequent jokes about her physique made it impossible for many music fans to take her seriously. Her best album, Coat of Many Colors is highlighted by the heartfelt title track in which a woman reminisces about her childhood love of a raggedy coat that her mother made from rags. The other 12 songs are also stellar, thus securing Coat of Many Colors a spot alongside Tapestry and Blue among essential singer-songwriter albums by women.
#33: I’ll Take You There – The Staple Singers (Stax, 1972)
Formed by Roebuck “Pops” Staples in the late ‘40’s, The Staple Singers were originally a gospel quintet comprised of Staples, his son Pervis and daughters Mavis, Yvonne and Cleotha. Incorporating elements of soul and R&B into their sound, the group later evolved into a pop sensation. While the elder Staples’ tremolo-laden guitar would inspire John Fogerty, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder and countless others, the group’s star eventually became youngest member Mavis. Utilizing her dynamic contralto, Mavis’ singing made the group vital during the Civil Rights Movement. Her gospel-derived style of singing reached its zenith during a Muscles Shoals recording session that yielded the hits “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There.” With its feel-good vibe and, depending on one’s viewpoint, lyrics about either heavenly or carnal devotion, the latter was a funky #1 hit that propelled gospel – and Mavis’s earthy voice – into the American mainstream.
#34: Midnight Train to Georgia – Gladys Knight & the Pips (Buddah, 1973)
Combing Southern grit with pop sophistication, Knight was one of music’s most respected vocalists during her hit-making years. Having recorded hits for the King and Motown labels in the ‘60s, the seven-time Grammy winner enjoyed her greatest success after signing with Buddah Records in 1972. Their lone #1 pop hit, Knight & the Pips’ rendition of Jim Weatherly’s “Midnight Train to Georgia” elegantly relates the song’s theme of how love conquers all. The song’s protagonist is the girlfriend of a musician who left his native Georgia in hopes of becoming a superstar in Los Angeles. Having fallen short of his dream, the musician decides to board a train and “go back to the life he once knew” in Georgia. Though the woman is contented with her west-coast life, she opts to accompany him as Knight famously sings, “I’d rather live in his world, than live without him in mine.” Soul music has seldom been better.
#35: Boulder to Birmingham – Emmylou Harris (Warner Bros., 1975)
Despite her being in the Country Music Hall of Fame, it is easy to forget that Harris was once a major country star. Twice named the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year, she accumulated 27 top-ten country hits from 1975-88 with seven of them going to #1. Harris was so highly regarded in ‘70’s that she received airplay on both progressive rock and country stations. Her acceptance by the former was in part driven by her relationship with Gram Parsons, who mentored Harris prior to his death in 1973. To honor Parsons, she regularly recorded his songs on her early Warner Bros. albums. Written by Harris and Bill Danoff, the stirring “Boulder to Birmingham” recounts the grief she felt following Parsons’s death. Though not released as a single, the song was instrumental in kicking off Harris’ influential career.
#36: Cherry Bomb – The Runaways (Mercury, 1976)
When The Runaways’ self-titled debut album was released in 1976, rock radio was mainly a boy’s club that paid little attention to female artists. While The Runaways didn’t change that, they were important in that their mix of hard rock and punk showed that an all-female band could rock as convincingly as male bands. This opened the door for all-female bands like The Go-Go’s and The Bangles to be taken seriously in the ensuing decade. Written by rhythm guitarist Joan Jett and producer Kim Fowley during the audition of lead singer Cherie Currie, “Cherry Bomb” is a play on the pronunciation of Currie’s first name. Though it failed to crack the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., the song made The Runaways stars overseas where it was a huge hit. The group disbanded after four albums, with Jett and Lita Ford launching successful solo careers.
#37: Songbird – Fleetwood Mac (Warner Bros., 1977)
One of the most pronounced band makeovers in music history was Fleetwood Mac’s conversion from British blues band to California-based soft rockers. This transformation would not have occurred without the contributions of Christine McVie. After painting the cover of the band’s Kiln House album from 1970, the singer-songwriter joined Fleetwood Mac on keyboards. McVie’s presence in the band’s lineup paved the way for a second female to come on board when Stevie Nicks joined along with boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham in 1975. The result was Fleetwood Mac’s commercial breakthrough, highlighted by the runaway success of their Rumours album in 1977. A piano-and-vocals track on which McVie is the lone band member to appear, the splendid “Songbird” is vital in that it provides the breakup-themed album with a moment of quiet reflection. It’s pure class from a woman who personifies that description.
#38: I Feel Love – Donna Summer (Casablanca, 1977)
Often viewed as a musical scourge in the ‘70’s, disco at its best was an innovative form of record-making that was later assimilated into various other genres. Among solo artists, disco had no bigger star than Summer. More than just mindless dance music, the Boston’s native’s best-loved songs introduced Top 40 listeners to such themes as eroticism (1975’s moaning-and-groaning “Love to Love You, Baby”), female stereotypes (“Bad Girls”) and independent womanhood (“She Works Hard for the Money”), with the video of the latter being the first by an African American woman to be in MTV’s regular rotation. With five Grammy Awards and numerous pop, R&B and dance hits, Summer defied the critics who predicted she would be a flash-in-the-pan. The Giorgio Moroder-produced “I Feel Love” is her most innovative recording, creating a hard-driving template for future electronic-dance recordings while also being the first house record.
#39: Heart of Glass – Blondie (Chrysalis, 1978)
Considered unlikely candidates for stardom in their early days on New York City’s punk underground, Blondie bucked the odds with a glorious run of international hits. With Debbie Harry’s sex appeal attracting much of the attention, the sextet mixed their punk pedigree with a hook-filled ‘60’s pop sensibility. A disco tune that has more to do with Donna Summer than punk or new wave, the irresistible “Heart of Glass” not only made Blondie stars but opened the door for new wave as being commercially viable. Blondie would amass four #1 hits in the U.S., which is three more than the combined total of fellow punk/new wave standard-bearers Patti Smith, the Sex Pistols, The Pretenders, The Clash, The Ramones, The Police and Talking Heads (The Police, with “Every Breath You Take,” is the only one of those seven acts to top the U.S. singles charts).
#40: Dancing Barefoot – Patti Smith (Arista, 1979)
A poet prior to becoming a singer-songwriter, Smith played a significant role on the Greenwich Village punk scene. Her 1975 debut album Horses was crucial in that regard, demonstrating to would-be female rockers that glitz and glamor were not necessary to be a successful artist. Although the Bruce Springsteen co-written song “Because the Night” rates as her lone chart hit, Smith’s popularity and influence far exceeds the notion of her being a cult artist. The second single off 1979’s Wave, the addictive “Dancing Barefoot” is one of Smith’s most-enduring original songs. The magical ode to sexual rapture was dedicated in the album’s sleeve notes to Jeanne Hébuterne, common-law wife and frequent subject of painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani’s work. Smith has been cited as a major influence by numerous stars, including Michael Stipe, Morrissey, Madonna, Courtney Love, KT Tunstall, and the members of U2.