Off key?

This weekend, Australian radio station triple J aired it’s Hottest 100 of all time – voted for by listeners.

Of the 100 featured songs, only two were sung by female vocalists.

The station’s talk back show Hack then hosted a discussion on the lack of women in the league table.  It all prompted a conversation I had with a couple of pals last night (over our first knitting lesson – but more about that another time) – who was missing?

I struggled to come up with which women that I thought should be in there that were missing.  The list of really-rather-good female singers that we came up with at the time was short.  But I have now thought on it a little longer and there *are* people missing.



Tori Amos


The Carpenters

Fleetwood Mac


PJ Harvey


Amy Winehouse


Diana Ross

Shirley Bassey

Eva Cassidy

Carly Simon

Lauryn Hill (the ‘fugees)


While everyone always contests the results of these things (should Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit rate higher than Lennon’s Imagine?) it is still incredibly interesting that the demographic that listens to one of Australia’s main radio stations should be attracted to only male singing voices.

I don’t imagine men massively outvoted women, which means we *all* voted for the men.  Can women not write or perform memorable songs?  Is the pitch of the female voice somehow inadequate at providing the emotional attachment required to label their song as your greatest ever?

The list (as you would imagine by the music Triple J plays) was dominated by a lot of rock – is that just more of a male genre?

But Triple J looked into their current playlist and found that female singers are strongly represented, making up close to half of the songs they categorise to be played regularly.

Why do you think women didn’t make the list?  To get you thinking about who might have been there, this is a nice alternative female only list – a little tongue in cheek!


5 responses to “Off key?

  1. Polly Johnson

    Maybe music “classics” are old and therefore dominated by male bands because there were more of them in the 1960s, 70s, 80s even?
    Maybe men don’t like listening to female vocalists? Maybe the majority of female singers occupy a different more pop-like genre that are of the here one day gone the next variety? Maybe it’s just a crazy coincidence? Maybe we just don’t think of female vocalists first when thinking of our favourites? Think of the people considered the ultimate 20th century music legends: The Beatles, Elvis and Michael Jackson. All men!

  2. Agreed, the names you’ve listed are good enough – and some great– artistes in their own right irrespective of gender, including the all-female list of Vaginas Rock…but best of all time. I could name many more, the whole genre of symphonic metal is full of some really talented female vocalists. but best best song ever. guess not.

    It’s got nothing to do with gender of the vocalist, but just the music. that’s it. it’s a subjective call based on musical preferences and likes. Beond that is also the effect that certain songs made on people and their cultural impact too needs to be considered and seen in that light, maybe Teen Spirit is the right choice. who knows?

    not all things should be seen with feminism-tinted glasses. some things just are. like music. and what’s gender got to do with it?

  3. The music industry has always marketed men and women differently. Men are thought of as “universal”-you don’t need to belong to a special interest group to listen to them. Women, though, unless they’re being sold to men as sex objects, are more associated (due to marketing and promotion strategies, as well as gate-keeping functions at the record companies) with female audiences. I think Polly Johnson is right, in that this was especially the case at the time when “classic” rock was being made. (I’d add Madonna to the list of music greats, though 🙂 )

    shenoy- the idea that it’s “just the music” and gender isn’t an issue implies that all men and women have had an equal shot at making music and being heard, which has not been the case (until recently, maybe). Maybe Teen Spirit is the right choice (I think it’s a pretty awesome song), but the issue here is that the list reveals sex (not talent) discrimination in the music industry that has lead to very few female artists achieving the recognition they might have.

    Calling feminism a set of tinted glasses implies that it’s an unrealistic or non-standard way of looking at the world, whereas misogyny (the opposite of feminism) is the norm. It’s ridiculous considering that half of the people doing the looking are women (not all feminists, but many are), and a lot of men are feminists as well.

  4. Hey Lady Ludley…
    Firstly let me clarify a point…I never called feminism a set of tinted glasses. I typed, and I copy-paste (from my previous comment) ‘…not all things should be seen with feminism-tinted glasses.’ Operative phrase ‘not all things’. I do hope you get that.

    I say so cuz that’s a ridiculous stand to take that everything should only be seen in terms of man & woman and not as ‘person’ or in this case ‘musician’. Why should I listen to any band because it’s made up only of men or vote for a song just because it’s by a woman? I will look at the artistic quality of the song, and what it means to me and how I relate to it because that’s how songs should be judged not by whether the composer/singer was male or female. That’s as ridiculous as the uber-feminist movement of (starting with) spelling ‘history’ as ‘herstory’ even though the ‘his’ in ‘history’ has nothing at all to do with the male possessive pronoun. I remember reading a list at the turn of the century about a Top Books Ever or something like that…it was topped by Jane Eyre (written by a woman), and many in the top list included Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, etc. – all written by women. But did you see the men complaining? No. Because those that know that a writer is a writer irrespective of whether you know the author as George Eliot or Mary Ann Evans. In a weird twist of fate it is some women who cannot see this point that queer the pitch by making up only-women list and scream injustice at everything, irrespective of what it is. I hope you get the point.

    Also, misogyny is NOT the opposite of feminism (unless my basic understanding of what feminism is – and supposed to do – as an idea and movement is wrong). Misogyny is hatred of women. Most, if not all men, are definitely not misogynists, but not quite philogynists either. The rest of us think women and men are equals.

    Coming to this particular music list in particular, you contend that the list reveals discrimination. But do keep in mind the particular genre in question i.e. Rock and you will probably see why. A Janis Joplin or a Joan Baez were never “marketed as sex-objects”. Biologically and hormonally men and women are different, you cannot deny that. And just the way men are built makes them better suited to certain tasks, scratch that, no not better suited to certain tasks but rather ‘better at some things’ and the same holds true the other way ‘round. Take athletics for example, the 100 metres sprint timings. Not a single woman has broken the 10-second barrier. While male athletes do it all the time. And that’s a statement of objective fact. Not some objective audience-polled list. Does it prove that men are superior? No, absolutely not. Just that men can run faster. Does that imply Ms..Joyner didn’t try her best? Of course she did. Am sure a woman will somewhere down the line break the barrier, and it couldn’t happen sooner enough, but you get the point. Some things just are. Admit them as such and the world will be happier for it. If you had your way, you would probably asked the male athletes to slow down no? You wouldn’t understand. Go ahead, accuse me of being a ‘man’. I am male and proud of it. I know my strengths and limitations and am willing to acknowledge the opposite gender’s strengths and limitations, and think they are as good as me. Wish you would too.

  5. shenoy- I think I should clarify a couple points. You say that, “that’s a ridiculous stand to take that everything should only be seen in terms of man & woman and not as ‘person’ or in this case ‘musician’.” I believe 100% that what should matter is talent, regardless of gender, and I don’t argue that the songs on this list weren’t most of the best (allowing for subjective disagreement).

    What I am arguing is that because of gender discrimination, many women never had a chance to be considered for this list because the music industry didn’t allow them to be heard. It’s not an argument about music-it’s an argument about history. So, although we absolutely should be able to consider everything in terms of people, without thinking about gender, the way history was made (and is being made) has been influenced by gender relations and to consider it otherwise would lead to incomplete understanding.

    I understand that men aren’t necessarily as aware of this, because men and women have different histories, have experienced life differently. I believe that’s why men tend to get indignant when discrimination is pointed out-I don’t think men are inherently bad, and most men I know are wonderful people-they just don’t see the same things women do, and are naturally unhappy when they are asked to help fix [or blamed for, which is Not Cool in my book] things they didn’t know were broken. Women are more sensitive to discrimination because we have experienced it.

    When I say that feminism and misogyny are opposites, I mean in practice. Misogynists are against gender equality because they believe women to be bad/inferior/insert-negative-quality-here. Feminists are for gender equality because they don’t believe women are bad/inferior/etc.

    I hope that clarifies what I was arguing.

    In response to your contention that men and women are biologically better at different things, I’ll just point out that “men” and “women” are not all alike. Some men have more estrogen, some women have more testosterone. Some people are born with indeterminate sex organs. Some are born with organs of both sexes. Some have prominent sex organs, others quite small. There’s a continuum of sex characteristics on which we all fall at different points, not a pair of boxes in which we are entirely one thing or another. For this reason, no argument that assumes two distinct, unified sexes holds water, scientifically speaking.

    I would never ask male athletes to slow down-what they do is an awesome example of human endurance and skill. I would ask schools to encourage girls to go out for sports instead of believing all the advertising that says they’re only supposed to enjoy shopping. I would ask sports channels to give equal time to female athletes. Feminism isn’t about giving women a leg up, or taking men down. It’s about equal opportunities.

    By the way, I know my strengths and limitations, and they have nothing to do with what’s between my legs.

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