Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to find great music. Despite the lack of commercial success, these ten female musicians have had a lasting influence on the music industry.
Number Ten: Sarah Cracknell. Cracknell is best known as lead singer in the band Saint Etienne, but her body of work doesn’t stop there. Her musical career began with a band called The Worried Parachutes in 1982. She then formed the band Prime Time. She wasn’t the first choice for Saint Etienne, but ended up singing on most of the debut Foxbase Alpha and has fronted the band ever since. In 1997, she issued her first solo project, the indie dance disc Lipslide.
Although she wowed the critics, sales were poor. It resurfaced in 2000 with new artwork and a modified tracklist. Cracknell then issued her EP Kelly’s Locker which again got high marks from critics, but not much love. She has recorded for various artists in the new millennium including Marc Almond. The duo gave new life to the Dusty Springfield song, “I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten.” While she still leads the band Saint Etienne, she still records as a solo artist. In 2014, she signed a deal with Cherry Red Records, and an album is coming in 2015.
Number Nine: Plavka. Plavka is best known as the vocalist in the techno outfit Jam & Spoon, but she originally lent her Madonna-esque vocals to the Shamen and sang lead on the acid-house group’s first hit single, “Hyperreal.” She then toured with the group and recorded a session with the legendary John Peel Sessions. The singer’s stint with Jam & Spoon would lead to a partnership following the singles “Right in the Night,” “Find Me” and “Angel.” The first of the three found success in the UK, going to number 10 on the charts. They were invited to perform at the prestigious Top of the Pops and were nominated for the MTV European Music Awards. In 1990, she teamed up with Caspar Pound to form Rising High Collective. The duo were highly regarded in the underground trance and ambient circles.
Number Eight: Kate Bush. Kate Bush should be a huge star in the States, but she is confined to Europe for record sales. Bush is known for her eclectic take on music and her soprano vocals. We first heard from Bush in 1978 with the single, “Wuthering Heights” (later covered by Pat Benatar that same year), which made her the first female to have a self-penned number one hit in the UK. The song would chart all across Europe including Italy and Germany. But she was just getting started, and from that day forward, everything came up roses for Bush.
Of the ten albums, she has released, three have made it into the top 40 in the UK. She has enjoyed seven top 10 singles including her duet with Peter Gabriel on “Don’t Give Up” and 25 top 40 singles. In 1987, she was bestowed a Brit award and has been nominated for a Grammy award three times. The gifted singer-songwriter was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth herself. Despite all her accomplishments, she still is vastly ignored in the US.
Number Seven: Lene Lovich. Lene Lovich rode in on the ’80’s new wave scene, and though she was a force in the scene, her success was only prevalent in the UK with her 1979 song “Lucky Number.” It charted at the number three spot. By the urging of her colleague, Charlie Gillett, she recorded “I Think We’re Alone Now” (who had been recorded by Tommy James) and took it to Stiff Records. She signed to the label and issued her debut, Stateless. Though she would release two more albums, Flex and No Man’s Land, she couldn’t buy another hit.
In 1989, she issued the album entitled March which was met with positive reviews, but unfortunately, her “comeback” album was not embraced by the public, and only hardcore fans even know it existed. What makes Lene Lovich special is her quirky take on everything from fashion to her music. She is a dynamic performer who has a flair for the avant-garde.
Number Six: Maria McKee. While she is probably best known for her time with the cowpunk band Lone Justice, McKee had a lot more to offer. Her self-debut showed growth as a songwriter as well as a vocalist, but unfortunately, its over-production was noticed by critics. Despite her country-fried roots, she was and is only a star in the UK. Showing that she learned from her mistakes on the first disc, she offered her follow-up, You Gotta Sin to be Saved. The album was a nice mix of covers and originals as she crooned through two Van Morrison tunes, “The Way Young Lovers Do” and “My Lonely Sad Eyes.”
The original material was akin to ’70’s country rock from the likes of the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt. She did a 360 on her third disc, Life Is Sweet, as McKee dabbled in rock and roll. She played all the guitars on this rambunctious record and didn’t hold back on telling us how she felt. Subsequent albums would find her experimenting more, and we would never know where she would land next.
Number Five: Danielle Dax. If you’re unfamiliar with Danielle Dax, don’t kick yourself. She never had a hit record and was only prevalent in the club scenes of the 1990’s. Dax made her musical debut as a part of the band, Lemon Kittens, as keyboardist, flautist and saxophonist, but the group took an extended break in 1982, and Dax pursued a solo career. Pop-Eyes was released in 1983. For the album, she wrote all the music and lyrics, she played all instruments, she acted as producer and even designed the cover. The album was too experimental for the mainstream and too avant-garde for the new wave scene.
Her follow-up was entitled Jesus Egg That Wept on which she repeated the process as doing everything from scratch and by herself. Inky Bloaters followed, and this time, she shared songwriting duties and allowed another musician to take part. After signing to Sire Records, she released Dark Adapted Eye, which in reality, was an expanded edition of Inky. Though it was slotted for commercial purposes, it didn’t quite make it, even though it housed the Marc Bolan cover “Big Hollow Man” which would become a club favorite in the underground scene.
While trying to categorize her was difficult, Sire released Blast the Human Flower which contained the single “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The Lennon cover was unique as Dax put her personal stamp on it (which translates to weird and experimental). She would release two more albums, a career retrospective, and an instrumental record before calling it quits. She was just a little too ahead of her time.
Number Four: Dengue Fever. Okay, so I’m breaking my own rules by including a group, but it’s my list and I’ll do whatever I want. Dengue Fever is an LA band who are rooted in Cambodia pop with a psychedelic back drop. Do I have your attention? Brainchild of brothers Zac and Ethan Holtzman, the pair was inspired by a trip to Cambodia and set out to find a singer who knew Khmer. They did just that with the discovery of Chhom Nimol and headed into the studio. The band’s self-titled debut was sung in Khmer and included some covers from the 1960’s Cambodian rock songs.
The band would tour Cambodia in 2005 to the delight of their new found fans. In 2005, they issued their follow-up, Escape from Dragon House to critical acclaim. The disc featured the tracks “Ethanopium” and “One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula” which made it onto the Bill Murray film Broken Flowers. In 2008, they released Venus on Earth which would go on to be the best-selling “world” album on iTunes. Their latest, 2015’s The Deepest Lake, is experiencing, even more, accolades.
Number Three: Poe. Poe was here, then she was gone and I miss her. I was shocked that she was from America as she has a euro hipness about her. Ah, she’s from New York… that explains it. Poe first hit the modern rock charts in 1995 with her compositions, “Angry Johnny” and “Hello,” before disappearing for five years. But just so we wouldn’t forget her while she was on hiatus, she issued a maxi single of “Hello,” which featured remixes of the song by some of the hottest DJ’s in the field.
Her next outing was deeply personal. After the death of her beloved father, she set out to make a record in his honor. Haunted was issued in 2000 and contained snippets of her father’s voice. Critics fell in love with the album. The first single from the disc, “Hey Pretty,” would find Poe back on top of the charts. In 2001, she toured with Depeche Mode on their Exciter arena tour. After being dropped from Atlantic, she just disappeared on us. There were no follow-ups to Haunted, and many fans, including me, were disappointed. Poe, please record again.
Number Two: Nina Hagen. Often referred to as the Godmother of Punk, Nina Hagen was one of the most influential artists to emerge from the new wave scene. For more on this incredible talent, please visit my top ten greatest female rockers of all time.
Number One: Alison Moyet. Alison Moyet is a huge star in her native country, but has only found moderate success in the States. For more on this gifted singer, check out my top ten greatest female rockers of all time.