I wasn’t even alive for the 70s, but there’s something about looking at photos from the decade – with their washed out lighting, feathered hair, and polyester galore – that makes me nostalgic. I picture myself cruising between N.O.W. and Black Panther rallies, with a stopover at a Germs or Blondie show thrown in for good measure. The 70s got to see some of the idealism from the late 60s take form in both policies and protests, but aside from free love, Black Nationalism, and second-wave feminism (and aforementioned polyester), the decade also provided us with some great music from some stellar ladies. This list took me months of thought and is my eight favorite tracks, all female-fronted, all 70s-licious.
1. X-Ray Spex – Oh Bondage
Years before bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney hit the Riot Grrl scene, the X-Ray Spex were grinding out feminist punk tunes – with a saxophone, no less! Pals Poly Styrene and Lora Logic (who had only played the sax for six months before joining X-Ray Spex and who would go on, after recording Oh Bondage, to form another great British punk band Essential Logic) only released this song together, and the band itself (sans Logic) only recorded one album, Germ-Free Adolescents, but it would be hard to imagine the U.K.’s punk catalog without it.
2. Dolly Parton – Sweet Summer Lovin
In the 70s, when Dolly Parton’s musical style started getting a little poppy, and her country fans started getting a little nervous, she reassured them, “I’m not leaving country, I’m taking it with me!” I love Dolly, and I love her country twang stuff, but this song is a true 70s Dolly pop gem.
3. Marianne Faithfull – The Ballad of Lucy Jordan
If you’re thinking that her voice on 1979’s Broken English sounds a whole lot different than when she recorded As Tears Go By in the 60s, you’re right. After a tumultuous relationship with a couple of the Rolling Stones (who allegedly stole some of her songs without paying royalties), she fell into London’s underbelly where she dealt for years with homelessness and a heroin addiction. Her voice singing this song (written by Shel Silverstein – that’s right, the guy who wrote the Giving Tree!) really helps to get across the rock bottom that its subject is dealing with.
4. Fleetwood Mac – Gold Dust Woman
I was talking one day to my friend Michael who is one of the biggest Stevie Nicks fans I’ve ever met. We had recently encountered someone who was fervently anti-Stevie Nicks, and I was pondering how anyone could possibly be anti-Stevie. He said to me, “You know, some people get Stevie, and some people don’t, and if they don’t get it they never will, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
5. Betty Davis – Anti-love Song
Even the free lovin’ 60s and 70s couldn’t prepare American radio stations for Betty Davis’ funk-filled jams. Her music was widely banned for being too risqué, but luckily her work has been reissued and rediscovered in recent years anyway.
6. The Slits – Ping Pong Affair
The Slits is one of the greatest bands ever. Cut is one of the greatest albums ever. Ping Pong Affair is one of the greatest songs ever.
7. Tammy Wynette – My Man (Understands)
The woman who would become the First Lady of Country Music was originally a hairdresser, and kept her certification up-to-date until she died so that she’d have a career to fall back on. This song’s lyrics are probably the least feminist in my playlist, but it’s a whole heap of fun anyway, and I have so much respect for the 70s’ leading ladies of country music.
8. Joni Mitchell – You Turn Me On I’m a Radio
In her Bitch Mix, Annalee gave a shout out to Bratmobile for helping her get through her teenage years, and I think I’ve got to do the same for Ms. Joni Mitchell. When I first heard her music – and I mean her music, not one of the 5 million covers of Big Yellow Taxi – I didn’t even know what to do with myself. It was everything my angsty 16-year-old self needed. She’s one of the greatest songwriters ever, period. This song was written after a friend dared her to write a really poppy, radio-friendly hit. She won the bet, and while this is no doubt a pop hit, it still has Joni written all over it. Her songs about lost love and lessons learned consistently hit the nail on the head, but it’s nice to listen to her hopeful lyrics about free and easy lovin.