Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Media: Women in Music and Women and Music

Women and music.  The problem there isn't just NPR's ALL SONGS CONSIDERED -- as two NPR voices e-mailed us following "Media: The hatred of women runs deep -- even at NPR" and "Media: The people holding back women -- including other women."  We never thought it was just NPR, by the way.  The history of women in music is a history of women having to fight to get attention and then having to fight to keep it.  It's never that hard for men. 

"Suppose all ya ever had for breakfast was onion rolls. Then one day, in walks a bagel! You'd say, 'Ugh, what's that?' Until you tried it! That's my problem--– I'm a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls. Nobody recognizes me!"  Barbra Streisand offered that explanation in the play FUNNY GIRL and then later in the film of the same name.


A lot of Barbra's own experiences were used for the part but in the quote above, she's not just speaking about the struggle she had winning over America but also the struggle so many female artists have.  Confused?


Let's convert it to candy.  Say you love Milky Way Dark and you know a lot of people who do.  You try to convince more people to try it but every gas station in the world refuses to stock it while stocking the Zero candy bar that really no one likes but, since it's stocked everywhere, people buy it and it appears popular and wanted.

 Something readily available will always sell better than something hard to find.  

 How does this apply to music?

In 1975, desperate to bring in bucks for  ELEKTRA-ASYLUM, David Geffen started planning THE BEST OF CARLY SIMON (released November 1975) and THE EAGLES GREATEST HITS (released February 1976).  He didn't release a Joni Mitchell collection.  Joni wouldn't have allowed it and she was his friend -- and house guest.  Why?


In those days, the bulk of music sales came from vinyl records (8-tracks were second in popularity).  You either joined COLUMBIA HOUSE and got your music in the mail or you bought it at the local record store.  The local record store had limited shelf space.  Joni knew that a greatest hits would mean they stocked that and one of her older albums.  Catalogue?  Not an issue for The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Paul McCartney and Wings, etc.  Men were stocked -- their new albums, their old albums, even greatest hits didn't reduce their volume on the shelves.  


THE BEST OF CARLY SIMON immediately meant record stores no longer stocked her classic album WE HAVE NO SECRETS (it'll pop up again later in this piece) or ANTICIPATION or HOTCAKES.  Instead, it would just be THE BEST OF CARLY SIMON and her most recent album.  By contrast, James Taylor -- whose albums never sold as well as Carly's did -- would see his back catalogue stocked in record stores both before and after THE GREATEST HITS OF JAMES TAYLOR was released in 1976.  

David needed to make money.  He needed it bad.  He was trying to transition, after all.  He'd was in 'love' with Cher and had turned that into a production credit on her CBS show CHER.  He'd also angered WARNER BROTHERS -- parent company of ELTRKA-ASYLUM over the deal he made for Cher.  No one ever talks about that, by the way.  You're reading about it for the first time.


Cher has solo hits in the sixties ("You Better Sit Down Kids," "Bang Bang," "All I Really Want To Do," etc.) and hits with Sonny ("I Got You Babe," "The Beat Goes On," "Baby Don't Go," "Little Man," etc.).  This was followed by a few years of no hits.  Then, four years later, Cher rebounded and a string of solo hits followed ("Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," "Dark Lady," "Half-Breed," "They Way of Love," "Train of Thought," etc.) and a few hits with Sonny ("When You Say Love," "A Cowboy's Work Is Never Done," "All I Ever Need Is You" and "Mama Was A Rock And Roll Singer").  


But the hits had come to a half as had the marriage to Sonny and their joint-comedy-variety show.  David was now navigating Cher's career.  In the last few years, people have begun to note that he did more than get her a new record contract with WARNER BROTHERS, they've noted that he got her a $2.5 million record contract   It was a three album deal.  $2.5 million was a deal to impress Cher by suitor David.  It did not impress the label -- and that was before every album bombed.  But one of the reasons it didn't impress the label was because David did something unheard of.  He negotiated a deal where she would get the rights to those albums.  Not in 25 to 30 years, here are your masters.  She'd get them pretty much right away. 


Want to buy STARS today?  Can't.  Not a new copy.  WARNER BROTHERS doesn't have the rights, Cher does.  Same with the other two albums: I'D RATHER BELIEVE IN YOU and CHERISHED.  Those three albums were never released on CD -- not even in the CD-crazy nineties.  Why?  Cher owned the rights not WARNER BROTHERS and she wasn't keen on releasing them after she'd been ridiculed for the albums and they hadn't sold.  (STARS is now considered a classic.)


David was trying to move into film and TV and he'd been the golden boy of music.  Been.  The Cher deal didn't please his bosses at WARNER BROTHERS (they accused him of giving away the store -- fortunately for labels, neither Cher nor any other artist ever caught on that she got a once in a lifetime deal).  And his music work wasn't looking too good.  Joni's THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS only went gold.  This after her huge selling COURT & SPARK.  Carly's PLAYING POSSUM was banned from SEARS' shelves (among others) and didn't go gold as a result.  Bob Dylan's PLANET WAVES had captured a lot of press but not much in sales.  Tim Moore had been a high-profile signing (and David got into a bidding war with Clive Davis over Moore) who had already failed by 1975.  Jo Jo Gunne, another David 'prize,' had four stiff albums in a row by 1974.  Likewise David Blue had served up nothing but flops after David Geffen poached him from REPRISE (also part of WARNER BROTHERS).  

David Geffen needed hits and incoming money so he served up GREATEST HITS and BEST OFs by any artists on the label who were not part of his inner circle (Joni and Jackson Browne were among the protected).  Carly, Bread, the Eagles and all the others he rushed out hits collections on weren't his kindred.  

What does it matter?  Again, Joni grasped that it mattered and she barred David Geffen from doing a hits collection for decades.  This allowed her album BLUE to become a million seller domestically.  BLUE is a classic, no question.  But it was not a million seller when it was released.  It became a million seller over the years (1986) and that was because (a) the album was talked up and (b) people could walk into stores and find it.  The same is true of her LADIES OF THE CANYON.  COURT AND SPARK was a gold record within its first year of release but being stocked on shelves allowed it to become a two million seller.


By contrast, Carly's WE HAVE NO SECRETS left store shelves with the arrival of THE BEST OF CARLY SIMON.  It became that album and her latest release only at record stores and music outlets for years and years.  This was true throughout the seventies for all women except two.  Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Carole King, Natalie Cole, Roberta Flack, Cher, Dionne Warwick, Bette Midler, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Donna Summer, Linda Ronstadt, Gloria Gaynor, Olivia Newton-John, Anne Murray and other solo female artists were poorly stocked when compared to their male counterparts like Elvis, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Jackson Browne, James Taylor. David Bowie, etc would have five to ten albums stocked at even the smallest record store.  Are you noticing that they're all White?  Smokey Robinson, Luther Vandross, Rick James, etc. weren't treated any better than women of any color.  The only three men of color that this was different for were Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Prince.  For Stevie, multiple albums as well as collections were stocked throughout the seventies and eighties because he had one gold album after another throughout the seventies and one platinum album after another throughout the eighties.  Michael Jackson?  With THRILLER, he became the best selling artist of all time.  Record stores immediately began stocking his solo MOTOWN albums as well as his classic OFF THE WALL.  The MOTOWN efforts to cash in on THRILLER (collections like FAREWELL MY SUMMER LOVE and ANTHOLOGY) would be carried as well.  Through the end of the 90s, you would find multiple Michael albums stocked: THRILLER, OFF THE WALL, DANGEROUS, BAD, FAREWELL MY SUMMER LOVE, HISTORY and more.  For Prince, it was 1984's PURPLE RAIN -- which swept the 1985 American Music Awards -- that would allow his back catalogue to be stocked.

So what two women were the exception?  Clearly, Joni Mitchell.  She was smart enough to say no to collections for as long as possible.  Other than her?  Barbra Streisand.  She doesn't own her masters but Marty Erlichman worked wonders as her manager from the beginning.  And by the seventies, she was COLUMBIA's biggest seller so she was treated the same as Bob Dylan -- record stores stocked her full catalogue and did so do to incentives and deals that Columbia reached with them.  

Let's look at two hit albums Barbra released.  In 1980, she released GUILTY and the album went gold (half a million sold) and platinum (a million sold) in its first year of release.  Because it was stocked, people were able to buy it for years.   By 1984, as a result, it had sold four million in the US.  By 1989, it had sold five million.  These are RIAA figures -- labels have to pay for the audits for these certifications.  GUILTY has continued to sell and were an audit done today, it would probably be at over six million copies sold -- we'd guess around 7.5 million and we'd expect a bump in sales of the 1980 album in the year in 2005 when Barbra reteamed with Barry Gibb for GUILTY PLEASURES.  Also, don't e-mail us that the album has sold 15 million copies.  When we're noting sales numbers, we're noting northern American totals, not worldwide.


Another album Barbra released that benefited from being stocked for years was THE BROADWAY ALBUM.  By April of 1986, the 1985 release had sold three million copies -- roughly a million sold after she won a Grammy for the album.  Even without a hit single, keeping the album on the shelves allowed it to continue to sell and, by 1995, it had sold another million copies for a total of 4 million. 

If you weren't Joni or Barbra, you didn't get that treatment.

Carole King didn't get that treatment.  Prior to THRILLER, her TAPESTRY was the best selling album in the US by a solo artist.  Despite that, the 70s didn't find record stores stocking all of Carole's albums.  This despite the fact that her follow ups to TAPESTRY were the gold albums (all certified gold within 12 months of their initial release) MUSIC, RHYMES AND REASON, FANTASY, WRAP AROUND JOY,  THOROUGHBRED and SIMPLE THINGS.  Seven bestsellers in the 70s including the monster album TAPESTRY.  But Carole, like pretty much every other female artist, was relegated to one new album on the shelves and TAPESTRY.  TAPESTRY, it's often been noted, sold like a greatest hits album.  That's due, in part, to the fact that the number one hits "I Feel The Earth Move" and "It's Too Late" (a double-sided single) are on the album as is her top twenty hit "So Far Away," as well as her version of "You've Got A Friend" (which James Taylor would take to number one -- his only number one, a song Carole wrote), her version of "Smackwater Jack" (which would be a hit for Quincy Jones) and her covers of sixties hits she co-wrote "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."  It sold like a greatest hits and was stocked like one.  Carole's actual greatest hits album, HER GREATEST HITS: SONGS OF LONG AGO, was a gold album that finally hit one million copies in sales in 2001.  A lousy cover and no real interest from music lovers kept it from selling.  But TAPESTRY sold like a greatest hits and was stocked like one, carried in any medium sized or large record store, year after year, allowed the album to sell 10 million copies by 1995.


Patti Smith should have a million seller in her catalogue.  But by the time DREAM OF LIFE was released in 1985, most stores weren't even bothering to carry a woman's older albums.  Had HORSES been stocked, Patti's album would have had steady sales and be a million seller today.  The same is true of Dusty Springfield's classic DUSTY IN MEMPHIS.


A long with this practice resulting in lower sales for music created by women, it also helped erase them from the music scene of the day as well as history itself. 


CDs came along int he mid-80s and not a lot changed.  By the mid-nineties, for example, every Diana Ross and the Supremes album from the sixties and every Diana solo album from the seventies would be out of print.  They'd been released in 1986, on CD, as part of MOTOWN's push to cash in on the CD craze.  But Berry Gordy sold MOTOWN to MCA in 1988 and MCA didn't give a damn about the history of MOTOWN (or making some easy money with re-issues).  


What changed things?  Another wave of feminism and some strong selling female artists including Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette, Mariah Carey and others.  Also important was BMG.  For years, the record/CD company COLUMBIA HOUSE has been happy to ignore women.  A token album or two by a female was in their big once-a-year catalogue (the exception being Barbra).  BMG, by the nineties, was making huge inroads and was the go-to for college students wanting to get CDs by mail (actually wanting to get 12 free ones with the promise of buying X number of new ones in the future).  BMG kept pushing the labels for CDs from female artists, specifically back catalogue.  They instituted their once a year look at women's music during Women's History Month and the labels responded by re-releasing older albums by Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell.  BMG customers could get Carly and Joni's catalogue -- albums from that decade, from the 80s and from the 70s.  It was a major moment but, a women's history moment, so it went unremarked upon by many.


Changing times, the music stores also began to stock these older albums by women.  However, by the end of the 90s, the internet would change things in many ways.

If you can remember record stores like Tower Records, you are nodding along and maybe smiling as you read the above.  That's because you remember the thrill of walking into the music store eager to buy something you knew about or find an album you'd never heard of.  A trip to a record store or, later a CD store, was something.  Really good ones had listening stations set up.  You could sample an album before purchasing it.  You'd leaf through the stacks to see if there was an album you wanted.  Or check out the new inventory displays.  If they carried used vinyl or used CDs, you could check that out.  The thrill of discovering a surprise in the bins was always a rush.

The late nineties saw the rise of the internet.   By 2002, Wherehouse Music (formerly Blockbuster Music and Sound Warehouse) closed its stores with cardboard signs put up (per company orders) in the windows saying, "Thanks Napster."  Napster did not lead to the closures.  AMAZON continued, for example, to sell music online in vinyl and CD formats.  Streaming was popular and that popularity would only continue to grow.  But the price fixing regarding CDs did more to hurt the physical stores than anything else.  In the UK, CDs were much cheaper.  In the US, the lie to consumers was that the price would come down eventually.  As more and more CDs were produced, the price would come down.  That never really happened.


With the stores now online, it seemed we might finally reach equality in music.

That wasn't the case.  MOTOWN turns fifty and AMAZON 'celebrates' with a banner -- that doesn't include any woman, not even Diana Ross.


They control who gets promoted, who gets emphasized.

They control, as we noted last July, who gets suggested:

Another irritation is suggestions.

We know what we want to listen to.

Nothing is more irritating for us then pulling up AMAZON MUSIC on the TV and seeing in the first square under "Playlists Just for You" the ugly mug of James Tayler and "HANDPICKED with James Taylor."

We don't listen to James Taylor.  That's not an oversight, it's an active choice.

He's a woman hater supreme.  He broke up with Joni Mitchell in a rude manner and then ignored her and treated her as though she was dead.  Carly Simon overheard a phone conversation where James told Joni she was dead to him.  Which is why Carly shouldn't be all that surprised at the way James has repeatedly treated her since their divorce.  His refusal to speak about her in interviews, his refusal to credit her gifts and give her the artistic praise she deserves is appalling.  They weren't just married and they aren't just the parents of two children, they also worked together.  They wrote songs together.  They recorded songs together.

There are more reasons we don't listen to him.  James is the worst singer -- he has a horrible intonation issue..  (Listen to the chorus of "Shower The People.")  Is it cold in the studios he poses for photos in?  Is that why he wears the hats?  Or is because he's bald.  (It's because he's bald.)  He's a bald man who still writes likes he's a fresh-faced 18-year-old falling in love for the first time.  Of all the many things James Taylor's music misses, perspective is the most obvious absent quality.  He's not a very good songwriter to begin with.

There are those and many other reasons we don't -- and won't -- listen to James Taylor.

So why does try to pimp him to us?

And here's another issue -- we listen to Diana, we listen to Carly Simon, to Melanie, to Aretha, to Cher, to Tori Amos, to Fiona Apple, to Erykah Badu, to Joni Mitchell, to Laura Nyro, to Sade, to the Rolling Stones . . .

Did you notice something there?

We listen to more women than men.  So why are we getting these recommended "Playlists Just For You"?

HANDPICKED with James Taylor
Classic Standards
Best of Frank Sinatra
REDISCOVER Louis Armstrong
Best of Louis Armstrong
Side by Side with Michael Buble
Best of Dean Martin

That's all on the top row of the TV screen.  If we click the continue button we finally find one woman on the long list "Best of Amy Winehouse."  Over 30 suggestions -- over 30 ridiculous suggestions -- including "Chris Pratt's Workout Playlist" -- and only one woman's on it?

This isn't about what we listen to.  And shame on AMAZON for the sexism.

Since we wrote that, we've continued to listen to Diana Ross, Carly Simon, Melanie Safka, Arethat Franklin, Cher, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Erykah Badu, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and Sade and we've added Dionne Warwick, Alicia Keys, Cass Elliot, Carole King, Patti LaBelle, Chaka Khan, Joss Stone and others.  We made a point to listen only to women since July so that we could see what impact -- if any -- that had on 'suggestions' that come on our screen when we pull up our AMAZON MUSIC account.  What's being suggested?


14 suggestions of work by men before we even get to a woman being suggested.

Does AMAZON ever plan to address their sexism?

They're not the only ones with a problem.  This is from Roberta Flack's CRAPAPEDIA entry:

Flack's minimalist, classically trained approach to her songs was seen by a number of critics as lacking in grit and uncharacteristic of soul music. According to music scholar Jason King, her work was regularly described with the adjectives "boring", "depressing", "lifeless", "studied", and "calculated";[12] AllMusic's Steve Huey said it has been called "classy, urbane, reserved, smooth, and sophisticated".[26] In 1971, Village Voice critic Robert Christgau reported that "Flack is generally regarded as the most significant new black woman singer since Aretha Franklin, and at moments she sounds kind, intelligent, and very likable. But she often exhibits the gratuitous gentility you'd expect of someone who says 'between you and I.'"

Reviewing her body of work from the 1970s, he later argued that the singer "has nothing whatsoever to do with rock and roll or rhythm and blues and almost nothing to do with soul", comparing her middle-of-the-road aesthetic to Barry Manilow but with better taste, which he believed does not necessarily guarantee more enduring music: "In the long run, pop lies are improved by vulgarity."[12]

That's from the section labeled "critical reputation."

You know what Roberta's critical reputation is?  Fourteen Grammy nominations.  Fourteen nominations.  Four wins.

Where the hell is that in their slam on Roberta?


It's not.  And in the section on Grammys, they wrongly have her nominated 13 times. It's 14, use our link two paragraphs up -- it goes to the Grammy website's page on Roberta Flack.

So Robert Christgau's sexism permeated the seventies and because he still alive, we're going to quote him?  Why in the world are women being defined by sexist male critics?

Earlier this year, music critic Ann Powers wrote a lengthy essay on Roberta for NPR which included the following:

She is best known for majestic ballads like 1973's "Killing Me Softly With His Song," which laid the groundwork for the neo-soul sounds of R&B in the 21st century. But real heads, as the perennially hip Flack might say herself, continually find their way to her albums, which are funky, sexy and political, blending jazz and Latin and rock and, always, classical elements in ways that defy the "adult contemporary" label often attached to her work. She's so often been ahead of the curve in her 50 years recording, bringing the Brazilian arranger and composer Eumir Deodato out of the jazz world into her sessions in the 1970s, helping R&B stalwart and future Disney balladeer Peabo Bryson break through to the mainstream in the early '80s, connecting with new wave reggae star Maxi Priest for a Top 10 hit in the 1990s. Long before "post-genre" was a cliche on a million pop aspirants' lips, Flack showed how to build a legacy based on a quiet belief in limitlessness. Starting with First Take -- which will soon be reissued in an extras-packed deluxe edition -- she established her own parameters and then continually transcended them.

Though she does occasionally co-write her material, Flack came to fame as an interpreter as bold and discerning as her role models Nina Simone and Frank Sinatra. Like them, she had no fear of putting a Broadway ballad like "The Impossible Dream" next to a Bee Gees song on her setlists. Her inventiveness and panache placed Flack beside Aretha Franklin, Judy Collins and Joan Baez as prime revisionists of the American songbook at the turn of the 1970s. She made room in the repertoire for the new generation of singer-songwriters emerging from the folk revival, like Cohen and Laura Nyro, and for civil rights movement-inspired black composers like Eugene McDaniels, who authored many of her most powerful and political songs. Later she would work with McDaniels and others to invent a new style of R&B that built musical all-inclusiveness into its circulatory system -- the marketing term applied to it was "quiet storm" -- and which, after too many years of critical underestimation, would reveal itself as a prime element in 21st century pop.

Flack is primed for the kind of critical and popular renaissance that brought Nina Simone back into the forefront of the musical conversation not long ago, and unlike that lost genius, she is still with us to enjoy it during her lifetime. As the only solo artist to win the Grammy for Record of the Year two years in a row -- in 1973 for "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," and in 1974 for "Killing Me Softly With His Song" -- she should have been granted, at the very least, a spotlight tribute during this year's televised ceremony, especially since host Alicia Keys owes Flack a considerable (and, by her, acknowledged) artistic debt. Instead, there was merely one quick shot of Flack smiling beatifically in the audience. Perhaps that cutaway did capture something: the failure of popular music's official institutions to fully track Flack's importance. She is beloved, yet underestimated, a treasure too rarely held up to the light.

One reason for this, unavoidably, is racism. After the 1980s, when new radio formats and outlets like MTV did much to undo the genre-busting experiments of the previous decade, Flack continued to be a regular presence on both the black-oriented R&B and white-dominated adult contemporary charts. But the influence of this firebrand who had openly defied others' definitions of "soul" was increasingly downplayed within the emerging histories of both rock and soul. (One obvious slight: Though she has been eligible since 1994, she's never even been nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.) The values her music conveys -- virtuosity's attention to detail; the warm sensuality and tender eroticism shared by longtime friends and lovers; revelations reached slowly and thoughtfully instead of in a clattering crash -- didn't coalesce within a rock and roll-defined hierarchy that puts rebels and gritty individualists at the top. Within black communities and among artists of color, Flack's music has always remained a central guiding force. But to fully acknowledge Roberta Flack's importance is to rethink the presumptions that have haunted popular music for as long as she herself has been making music. Really listening to her seems like a good place to start.

Oh, yeah, quiet storm which births neo soul.  Roberta pioneered that genre, defined it.  Marcella Hemmeter (VINYL ME PLEASE) selected the 10 most important albums of the quiet storm genre.  Oh, look, there's Sade, Smokey Robinson, Maxwell, Erykah and, wait, it's . . .  Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson for their album BORN TO LOVE.  Oh, look, over at CRAPAPEDIA's list of quiet storm songs, Roberta's got four on the list (don't miss the duet with Peabo Bryson -- if you only see three, you missed "Tonight, I Celebrate My Love").

The distinctive magic of Roberta Flack is inextricably related to the minimalist quietude of her classic ballads.  Songs like 1975's slinky "Mr. Magice" and the dreamlike "Feel Like Makin' Love" are some of the most hushed, low-key R&B recordings ever released.  Writing in ROLLING STONE, Julius Lester identifies her gift: "More than any singer I know, she can take a quiet, slow song (and most of hers are) and infuse it with a brooding intensity that is, at times, almost unbearable.  Some of Flack's album titles, like QUIET FIRE and BLUE LIGHTS IN THE BASEMENT (named after slow jam-only parties), confirm her penchant for damped understatement.  Clues to Flak's musical sensibility can be found in her cover of Lori Lieberman's "Killing Me Softley With His Song," a perfect song choice for Flack, winning her a second consecutive Grammy for Record of the Year, as well as Song of the Year and Pop Vocal Female trophies.  The killing, of course, is both ironic and metaphorical: the narrator feels as if she is being sensually turned ''inside out'' by a guitar-wielding ''young boy'' singer.  It is as if her intimate thoughts have been exposed, even though he is a ''stranger'' and they've never met.  The lulling, delirious reverb and echo effects turn Flack's stacking choral harmonies into a pillowy, floating soundscape.  Eumir Deodato's clever arrangement gradually fills out, particularly on the famously scatted bridge.  But the subdued delicacy of the instrumentation remains consistent throughout the track.  What's ingenious about "Killing Me Softly" is that form is inseparable from content: it's a rapturous, delicately rendered performance of a song about the process of being enraptured by a delicately rendered performance of a song.  The laid-back breeziness of the record helped mark the drift toward more mellow sounds in American popular music of the 1970s.  Soft rock, forged by artists like Carole King and Fleetwood Mac, found its R&B analogue in quiet storm, the tenderized style that became home to artists like Flack, the Isley Brothers, and Frankie Beverly and Maze.


We could go on and on with that excerpt.  But what are we quoting from?  LISTEN AGAIN: A MOMENTARY HISTORY OF POP MUSIC by . . . Jason King.  It's the book, or rather the essay in the book, that CRAPAPEDIA pretends to be quoting from.  King writes Roberta "remains an underestimated trailblazer."  His essay is not slamming Roberta and the section quoted is where he is talking about how certain critics felt the need to slam Roberta for not being their stereotypical version of Black (critics like Robert Christgau).  It's not for nothing that the essay King contributes to the book is entitled "The Sound Of Velvet Melting: The Power of 'Vibe' in the Music of Roberta Flack."


CRAPAPEDIA has completely misconstrued Jason King's essay and, yes, it was intentional.  The quotes -- even the Christgau quotes -- appear on page 183 of the essay  -- that would be the essay that starts on page 172 and concludes on page 196. 

That's the world we live in.  CRAPAPEDIA serves up an argument that Jason King rejects in page after page of an essay on the lasting contributions of Roberta Flack.  Things are better in the digital age?

In the digital age, vinyl now outsells CDs -- true of the first half of this year.  And Saturday, October 24th is Record Store Day.  Looking at press coverage of the upcoming event, we saw a plethora of male artists and Aimee Mann the sole female.  


Knowing nothing about Record Store Day (other than you by vinyl on that day) we contacted RECORD STORE DAY and  Carrie Colliton kindly walked us through explaining that, "While we do make suggestions and work with labels and artists to provide special releases for the stores on special days throughout the year, Record Store Day doesn't own, produce, or license the releases themselves."  She also explained, "Record Store Day is run by a staff of two, and half of us are female.  We highlight female artists, staff and store owners throughout the year on our website, in our social media and on our podcast, and we offer stores the ability to call out female and other minority ownership on their individual store listings on our site."  Carrie seems like a caring person with a wonderful sense of humor and we thank her for her input.

Our NPR buddies could use some of her humor.  Two of the critics participating in NPR's ALL SONGS CONSIDERED e-mailed us.  To complain.  We were wrong about the lack of women on ALL SONGS CONSIDERED?  No.  They knew better than to claim that, the numbers spoke for themselves -- that's the thing about statistics.  So since they couldn't argue with what we've discussed, they instead tried to divert us.  Yes, the two e-mails said (did they plan out the e-mails together ahead of time?) ALL SONGS CONSIDERED should have more women but why are we letting PBS off the hook?

That was their 'answer' to the inability to offer female panelists in an equal number to male panelists on ALL SONGS CONSIDERED: Why are you letting PBS off the hook?

We weren't letting PBS off the hook, we were holding NPR accountable.  Someone needs to.

But to wrap this topic of women and music up, let's note what the two NPR music critics were talking about.

PBS has a new show.  If you know PBS, you probably know a detail that NPR e-mailers didn't.  The show in question is produced by the BBC.  PBS is only carrying old episodes of it.  The program in question is entitled CLASSIC ALBUMS and each episode explores a classic album.  UK viewers have seen 23 episodes so far.  PBS stations carrying the program are on season one so there's much more to come.  

23 episodes means 23 albums.  How many of those albums are by women?  Three.  Some will insist that it is three because RUMOURS was recorded by Fleetwood Mac when two of the five members were women (Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks).  RUMOURS also had three men in the group (John McVie, Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham) so calling it an album by women may grate on some.  But we'll be kind and say three.  The other two?  The late Amy Winehouse's BACK TO BLACK is one and the other is Carly Simon's NO SECRETS.  That's it.  23 albums and that's it for the albums featuring women.

NPR e-mailers thinks this is the big problem -- a bad show from the UK that PBS is airing.  We would argue that the weekly sexism in the choice of panelists for ALL SONGS CONSIDERED is a greater problem but we won't deny that CLASSIC ALBUMS is a problem.  Hopefully, as this long article has made clear, there are many problems and many obstacles.  Women made music, they make music history, they have to fight for their moment on the stage and for their moment on the page when history is written.  We thought and hoped things would be different in the digital age but that has not been the case.  


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