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Hottest (white male) 100

Listening to Massive Attack’s Teardrop today at Number 22 in Triple J’s Hottest 100 of All Time, it struck me that there was something very different about that song from the others I had been hearing. The difference, it had female vocals. Thinking back over the countdown so far, I noted that it was way back at Number 93 – Unfinished Sympathy, another Massive Attack track, that female lead vocals had last been heard during the countdown. In the first 80 songs of the countdown, there has been not one female soloist, not one female lead band. Even the photo on the Triple J website of Massive Attack for Unfinished Sympathy features two men, and the bio notes that they don’t have a “frontman”, that they are anonymous and “cipher-like.”

Some time ago, in a different place, I noted that the 100 Greatest Movie Characters of all time list was sadly lacking in both female and black representation. In that list there were only 12 women and 4 black characters. So I have had a closer look at the Triple J list (to date – the top 20 songs are not revealed until Sunday).

(a) as noted above, there have only been 2 songs so far which have featured female lead vocals. Only eight tracks feature any female performer, but those are divided between five bands: Massive Attack, The Smashing Pumpkins, New Order, Pulp and The Pixies. Only four songs give a woman a writing credit – the two Massive Attack tracks, Blue Monday by New Order and Common People by Pulp.

(b) there are only 9 songs which feature black performers – and two of these Michael Jackson songs. Smashing Pumpkins, in addition to a female band member, also feature an Asian band member – James Iha – but despite this diversity still tend to be identified with their lead singer (white, male) Billy Corgan.

The results so far leave some very obvious gaps. There have been no black rap/hip hop songs: although there has been Rage Against the Machine and the Beastie Boys who (to paraphrase Eminem) have used black music to get themselves wealth. Well, to be honest they have embraced an approach to music and made it their own, but the absence to date of any NWA or Public Enemy or their contemporaries does seem to be a significant gap. Similarly, while we have had Michael Jackson, surely the better black performer and writer of the period, Prince (or whatever we have to call him nowadays) has been completely overlooked. Blondie have been absent – though to be honest, the only punk era song to make it to date (disappointingly) has been London Calling. And Kim Deal’s vocals in  The Pixies have been ignored versus those of the blokes – and no look in for The Breeders either. And if The Beatles and The Beach Boys can be featured, why not the Dusty Springfields and the Aretha Franklins. Similarly, I am yet to be convinced that Goyte or The Killers are that far ahead of Lily Allen or Magic Dirt.

What it does reveal is the extent to which the alternative music industry is still dominated by white men. Looking at my own collection of CDs and my own nominations for the Hottest 100, I share the guilt (although NWA’s Express Yourself was one pick but my Pixies track was not a Kim vocal).   If you compare the break up of women and non-white performers in the current Australian Top 50, there is a marked increase in the number of both black and female performers as a proportion. However, it seems highly unlikely that Miley Cyrus or Nikki Webster or Katy Perry are ever going to produce songs which would make it  into a greatest song of all time list. Perhaps it is that women and blacks are pushed toward the commercially disposable and interchangeable, where image and marketing sell songs as much as their musical memorability does (in classic grumpy old Adorno interpretation) while white middle class boys can pursue the “truth” of their music. Or perhaps it is that we as consumers of culture are used to the idea of men in the role of the great singers and song writers, in the way that newsreaders were all once male to reassure their audience. As someone who spent many hours at concerts back in the day, the world of alternative music was always very boysy – I wasn’t the only woman at the shows, but I was usually outnumbered by my male friends.

Anyhow, whatever the reason, I hope to be somewhat corrected by the final 20. With any luck we will see at least one female performer, and a better representation of non-white singers and writers. In the meantime, what are your suggestions for entries in the Alternative Hottest 100 – No white, male vocalists allowed!

My early suggestions:

Heart of Glass – Blondie

Express Yourself and/or Fuck tha Police – NWA

Canonball – The Breeders

Pace It and/or Dirty Jeans – Magic Dirt

Smile – Lily Allen

Don’t Believe the Hype – Public Enemy

Cream – Prince

Kool Thing – Sonic Youth

The Message – Grandmaster Flash

Son of a Preacher Man – Dusty Springfield

Lovely Head – Goldfrapp

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13 responses to “Hottest (white male) 100

  1. Kristen ⋅

    You’re missing mention of PJ Harvey!!

  2. Andrew ⋅

    There are a few high profile female indie artists around though. One hears from time to time about Cat Power and people rave about her, and Feist has a following as well. Plus groups like the Ting Tings, although I’m not personally a fan. I wouldn’t say any of them have managed a best ever song yet, but they could in time.

    I agree with Goldfrapp as a nomination, although I’d pick Strict Machine (and I did).

    Imogen Heap also made it to my list, with Hide and Seek

    I also have much fondness for Garbage with Shirley Manson’s vocals, although I just picked my personal favourite.

    • godardsletterboxes ⋅

      Garbage is definitely a goer. I guess the big question is why are there so many fewer female indie artists. It’s a questions worthy of contemplation….

  3. downtownnewtown ⋅

    Here Here.
    I was hoping for some Cranberries.

    • godardsletterboxes ⋅

      Cranberries is another good one.

      On the black side of the equation, it suddenly strikes me there is now Michael Franti in any of his many guises either.

  4. taniaarrr ⋅

    Yeah Yeah Yeahs? Karen O’s vocals off their first album, Fever To Tell, was great.

  5. germ ⋅

    I would have loved to have seen some Kristin Hersh / Throwing Muses in the Hottest 100, but it is a popularity contest, and they’re nowhere near popular enough. Hole are a much maligned band, but leaving aside Courtney’s doubtful sanity they have some awesome songs, none of which made it into the list.

    The Gossip, Sleater-Kinney, Portishead, Regina Spektor, Sarah Blasko, Architecture In Helsinki, Little Birdy, The Distillers, Peaches, Tegan and Sara, Martha Wainwright, Veruca Salt, L7, Tanya Donnelly, Bikini Kill, Le Tigre (Kathleen Hanna got an honourable mention as the inspiration for the number 1 song, but neither of her aforementioned bands were in the countdown). That’s from just a quick glance at my own CD collection, which is by no means dominated by women.

    There’s no shortage of bands with female vocalists. Over half a million votes were apparently collated to give us this list, I guess it says something about the Australian psyche that we don’t consider female artists to be as worthy of recognition. Would the results be different if a similar poll were held in the UK, or US?

  6. berryblade ⋅

    I’d like to make a few suggestions!
    Made to Measure – My Ruin (until 05/06 it was a three female one male band!)
    Transylvanian Concubine – Rasputina (I used to hear this on triple J when Buffy was still on seven)
    The Skank Heads – Skunk Anansie
    Spellbound – Siouxsie & the Banshees
    Paper Planes – M.I.A

    And I’m only naming a few, and there are more in that list than just singers. Triple J seems to have forgotten that women can do more than sing too! Like play bass, drums, guitar, cello… oh wait, that’s just me 😉

    “Canonball – The Breeders”

    Oh gods, I’d forgotten how much I’d loved that song as a child!

  7. Daniel ⋅

    I think that the triple j countdown says more about triple j’s demographic. I don’t think it’s a sexist thing or a racist thing. I would be hard to draw any true conclusion from unless you looked at every single vote. There were also alot of genres that were under-represented or didn’t get represented at all. So it’s hard to tell whether people didn’t vote for any women or they just couldn’t agree on the same songs.

  8. Abby ⋅

    I really enjoyed this article. I voted for Natalie Merchant, Tori Amos & Portishead. Though on review of my record collection it is very much male orientated. I suppose female artists are marketed more on image in a lot of cases, so perhaps it’s more difficult for them to break into the market. With so many amazing female artists out there, it’s a shame there wasn’t more recognition for them in the count down. With regards to black artists, I can’t imagine my life without the wonderful musical influences of Michael Franti and Marvin Gaye and many more brilliant black artists.

  9. Abby ⋅

    And of course, my favourite song of all time – Gorecki by Lamb, couldn’t leave that one out.

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