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Women Who Rock: The 50 Greatest Albums of All Time

The fiercest albums that female musicians have given the world

From Blondie to Beyonce, from Aretha to Adele, these are just 50 of the fiercest albums that female rock & rollers have given the world. There are plenty more where these came from – but these are all essential musical statements. Including, but not limited to: girl-group glamazons, guitar warriors, blues wailers, country cowgirls, disco queens, rappers, folkies, gold dust women, sweethearts of the rodeo, funky divas, punks and poets and pop stars. A little toot toot. A lot of beep beep. And of course, Lady Gaga.

jagged little pill
50

Alanis Morissette, ‘Jagged Little Pill’

Maverick, 1995

The jagged little Canadian with the jagged little voice manages to make sensuality and rage act like kissing cousins. So give her a hug. She's not angry at you. And her record is hook-y as hell.

Essential moment: From "You Oughta Know": "Will she go down on you in a theater?"

49

The Breeders, ‘Last Splash’

4AD/Elektra, 1993

The Pixies' Kim Deal eclipses her old band – if only for one album – with loud, crazy songs about summer, sex and cars – plus her twin sister Kelly on guitar. 

Essential moment: "Cannonball," one of the most ridiculous songs ever to crash the pop charts.

48

Bonnie Raitt, ‘Give It Up’

Warner Bros., 1972

This scrappy redhead has been singing and playing the blues for almost half a century, but the blueprint for her whole journey is right here on her second album.

Essential moment: "Give It Up Or Let Me Go," her not-quite-laid-back theme song.

47

Lucinda Williams, ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road’

Mercury, 1998

This country-rock veteran spent years fighting to make music her own way, turning ordinary lives into poetic ruminations with her melancholy yet indomitable voice. 

Essential moment: "Jackson," the achingest, prettiest song this side of Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By."

46

Salt-n-Pepa, ‘Hot, Cool and Vicious’

Next Plateau, 1986

Yo! baby, yo! Salt, Pepa and DJ Spinderella burst out of Queens to make a classic hip-hop debut, boasting "I'll Take Your Man" even though he's probably just a tramp. This dance ain't for everybody – just the sexy people.

Essential moment: "Push It," which got the entire world chanting "Ooh, baby, baby!" for months.

45

Taylor Swift, ‘Speak Now’

Big Machine Records, 2010

She might get played on the country station, but she's one of the few genuine rock stars we've got these days, with a flawless ear for what makes a song click.

Essential moment: "Long Live," the best Bon Jovi song Bon Jovi never wrote.

44

Siouxsie and the Banshees, ‘Once Upon A Time’

Polydor, 1981

Somebody needed to create the ultimate goth archetype. But only one woman had the style, the pretensions, and the demon-queen voice for the job, and she spelled her name with an X.

Essential moment: "Spellbound," a psychedelic guitar meltdown.

43

Lauryn Hill, ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’

Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1998

The former Fugee puts her heart, mind and soul into telling you everything she knows about love and life, and unites hip-hop, R&B and reggae under a single groove.

Essential moment: "Doo Wop (That Thing)," where her warmth and strength are not a combo but one quality.

42

Linda Ronstadt, ‘Heart Like a Wheel’

Capitol, 1974

A hippie country sweetie-pie becomes the star of the burgeoning LA. soft-rock scene, with gorgeous tributes to Buddy Holly, Hank Williams, the Everly Brothers and the McGarrigle sisters.

Essential moment: "You're No Good," revving up a great old Betty Everett song with dread and paranoia.

41

Cyndi Lauper, ‘She’s So Unusual’

Portrait1984

She was a girl, she just wanted to have fun, and she gave hope to kooks everywhere that they could be rock stars or just feel like one.

Essential moment: When Lauper tells the world how girls really have fun in "She Bop," her brazen, self-penned ode to getting yourself off.

40

Yoko Ono, ‘Walking on Thin Ice’

Rykodisc, 1992

An essential collection, condensed from the six-CD Onobox set, of this rock weirdo's most powerful work.

Essential moment: "Midsummer New York," a "Heartbreak Hotel" for the damned.

39

Fiona Apple, ‘Extraordinary Machine’

Epic, 2005

This complex song cycle wasn't easy to make – it took three years of sweat and turmoil. But since when would Fiona Apple do anything the easy way?

Essential moment: "O Sailor," a showcase for her mournfully sultry vocals.

38

Bjork, ‘Post’

Elektra1995

Bjork's artistic stature grew by yards in the course of this strange, affecting work, by turns harshly industrial, meditative and neon jubilant.

Essential moment: The soul-feeding beat on "Headphones."

37

Beyonce, ‘4’

Columbia, 2011

Ever since she broke out of Destiny's Child, Beyonce has been the world's favorite pop princess, whether she's in a feisty mood or making nice.

Essential moment: "Countdown," which swerves from abstract beats to killing-me-softly soul.

36

X-Ray Spex, ‘Germ Free Adolescents’

Blue Plate/EMI1978

London punk at its trashiest and catchiest, led by the thrilling screech of Poly Styrene.

Essential moment: "Art-I-Ficial,” where Poly sticks up for all the losers and outcasts like her in a consumer society.


35

The Ronettes, ‘The Best of the Ronettes’

ABKCO1992

All the simmering passion of a Catholic schoolgirl who's traded in her uniform for a slit skirt and a bullet bra oozes from Ronnie Spector's one-of-a-kind vocal cords.

Essential moment: The teenage longing and lust of Spector's "Whoa oh oh oh oh oh oh" on "Be My Baby."

34

Go-Go’s, ‘Beauty and the Beat’

I.R.S., 1981

SoCal vixens-next-door fuse punk attitude with pop exuberance, full of garage-band overdrive, get-up-and-go handclaps and classicist melody.

Essential moment: Gina Schock’s drums on the chorus of "How Much More" demand some kind of Nobel Prize in Awesome.

33

Irma Thomas, ‘Soul Queen of New Orleans’

Maison De Soul1978

A soul sister from the Big Easy with indelibly emotional pipes – she sobs in time with the raindrops in "It's Raining," but she reads her man the riot act in "Hittin' on Nothing."

Essential moment: Her own out-of-nowhere "Wish Someone Would Care."

32

Dolly Parton, ‘Best of Dolly Parton’

RCA, 1975

One of Nashville’s toughest songwriters ever, putting her complex psychological epics over – from "Travelin’ Man" to "Touch Your Woman" – with one of Nashville’s most deceptively pretty voices.

Essential moment: "Jolene" is one of the most obsessively complex love stories ever captured in a country song.

31

PJ Harvey, ‘Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea’

Island, 2000

The otherworldly lass hits the concrete hard, sweaty from sex, looking for weapons and heading toward hope. With Stories, Harvey moved from punk to celestial, and took you with her.

Essential moment: "I can't believe that life's so complex/When I just want to sit here and watch you undress."

30

Alicia Keys, ‘As I Am’

J Records, 2007

A classically trained piano girl from Hell's Kitchen, Keys was one R&B prodigy who knew how to put a song together, and her magnificently smoky voice proved she was the real deal.

Essential moment: "No One," a lullaby that builds into the essence of modern soul.

29

M.I.A., ‘Kala’

XL, 2007

Maya Arulpragasam took hip-hop places it had never been before, from Third World battlegrounds to the Pineapple Express trailer. The Sri Lanka-born provocateur sounds festive and enraged at the same time.

Essential moment: "Paper Planes," a Clash-sampling rap chant that somehow stormed the Top 10.

28

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘It’s Blitz!’

Interscope, 2009

The New York art punks crash the dance floor, juicing their guitars with robot-disco synth-beats until heads start to roll.

Essential moment: "Hysteric," Karen O's most nakedly soulful love song.

27

Dionne Warwick, ‘Presenting … ‘

Scepter, 1962

Warwick, Hal David and Burt Bacharach galvanize early-Sixties girl-group longing with orchestral-pop sophistication, as Warwick's voice moves London's savoir-faire Stateside.

Essential moment: The goody-goody girl getting churchy on the chorus of "Don't Make Me Over."

26

Janet Jackson, ‘Rhythm Nation’

A&M, 1989

The baby sister in the family grows up with a bang, flexing her girlish voice over those sleek, rocking Jam & Lewis funk beats. We still don't know what "1814" means, and we don't care.

Essential moment: "Rhythm Nation," biting a Sly Stone guitar lick for a headbanging good time.

25

Heart, ‘Little Queen’

Portrait, 1977

Two sisters – Ann and Nancy Wilson – take over hard rock, led by Ann's supreme pipes and Nancy's ax-picking finesse. The boys fell in line, and the records flew off the shelves.

Essential moment:"Barracuda," an aggressive Zeppelin-esque stomp that burns, burns, burns it down to the wick.

24

Hole, ‘Live Through This’

Geffen, 1994

You know how you sometimes catch yourself wondering, "Remind me again – why did people ever take Courtney Love seriously?" This grim, passionate grunge masterpiece is why.

Essential moment: "Softer, Softest," the Widow Cobain's confession of her painful past – although she had no way of knowing that her pain was just beginning.

23

Donna Summer, ‘Bad Girls’

Casablanca, 1979

The late great Queen of Disco pulls out all the stops for an album that sums up Seventies radio, from ladies-choice smooch jams to filthy funk.

Essential moment: The final minutes of the title hit, with the chant, "Toot toot, hey, beep beep!"

22

Liz Phair, ‘Exile in Guyville’

Matador, 1993

A smartass indie-rock rebel grabs her guitar and cooks up a perfect debut album of wisecracks, obscenities, tortured love songs and freewheeling sex songs. She's never topped it, but who has?

Essential moment: "Fuck and Run," in which the ironic ice queen breaks down and admits to a sentimental streak. Of course, she takes it all back in the next song.

21

Carole King, ‘Tapestry’

Ode, 1971

The Brooklyn piano woman who co-wrote "You've Got a Friend" and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" reaches the Seventies with her marriage broken but her soul intact, singing some of the most painful divorce songs ever.

Essential moment: "So Far Away," a wistful melody with all the loneliness of the album cover.

20

Etta James, ‘At Last!’

Chess, 1961

The epitome of wide-screen soul, nothing on this landmark of variegated R&B, blues and standards is less than thrilling – not the swoop of the immortal title song, the raunch of Willie Dixon's "I Just Want to Make Love to You" or the delicate phrasing of ye olde "Stormy Weather."

Essential moment: "At(tuh) laaast …."

19

Joan Jett, ‘Bad Reputation’

Boardwalk1981

The happy product of a lifetime devoted to the pursuit of the perfect three-chord black-leather beer-bottle-smashing rock & roll record.

Essential moment: "Bad Reputation," all buzz-saw guitar and sneer.

18

Madonna, ‘Like a Prayer’

Sire, 1989

Such a nice quiet Catholic girl, at least for the first 30 seconds. Then she starts getting out of hand. Madonna’s best album has her brightest pop along with her most cathartic confessions.

Essential moment: The title song, when she gets down on her knees to feel the power in the midnight hour. 

17

Sleater-Kinney, ‘The Hot Rock’

Kill Rock Stars, 1999

Carrie Brownstein (later of Portlandia fame) and Corin Tucker blend their off-kilter voices and guitar noise, surfing through pain and politics with undeniable energy.

Essential moment: "Get Up," a propulsive postpunk meditation on sex, death, and the dizzy sensation of getting ripped apart by your desires.

16

Labelle, ‘Nightbirds’

CBS/Epic, 1974

Disco with a pedigree (girl-group Motown) and ambitions (art rock), Labelle zoomed dance rock into the future. Nightbirds was a concept album with a beat – a kaleidoscopic masterpiece of feminist striving.

Essential moment: The hey-sister go-sister intro to "Lady Marmalade," featuring the ultimate disco cowbell.

15

Patsy Cline, ‘The Patsy Cline Collection’

MCA, 1991

Representing Winchester, Virginia, a badass cowgirl drama queen belts some of the torchiest, weepiest country songs ever, hitting high notes that make you sob into your margarita.

Essential moment: "Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray," a bizarre love triangle with an unhappy ending. Smoke 'em if you got 'em, Patsy.

14

The Pretenders, ‘The Pretenders’

Sire, 1980

Bad-news girl Chrissie Hynde flees Ohio, goes punk in London, becomes a rock star and tells Rolling Stone, "For every act of sodomy I was forced to perform, I'm getting paid £10,000 now."

Essential moment: "Up the Neck," a painfully beautiful swirl of anger, lust, revenge and guitars.

13

Mary J. Blige, ‘My Life’

MCA, 1994

The queen of hip-hop soul still has plenty of drama on this one and proves herself one of the most expressive vocalists of any decade. Opaque, seductive, endlessly fascinating.

Essential moment: Her pure, wordless improvising on "You Bring Me Joy."

12

Janis Joplin, ‘Pearl’

Columbia, 1971

The blues-belting mama’s last stand, released posthumously. Joplin helped invent modern country rock with songs such as the poignant a cappella "Mercedes Benz" and her definitive take on Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee."

Essential moment: Joplin scat-screaming "Hey, hey, hey, Bobby McGee!" as the band cascades behind her.

11

Lady Gaga, ‘Born This Way’

Streamline/KonLive/Interscope, 2011

It’s already hard to remember a world where we didn’t have Gaga, although we’re pretty sure it was a lot more boring.

Essential moment: "Edge of Glory," where a born glam-rocker earns her meat-dress bloodstains.

10

Bikini Kill, ‘The Singles’

Kill Rock Stars, 1998

These punk rock hellions blasted out of the Pacific Northwest, setting off the riot grrrl explosion. No band this side of the Clash could top them for savage rage and humor.

Essential moment: "Rebel Girl," an air-guitar rant for a grrrl with the revolution in her hips.

9

The Supremes, ‘Anthology’

Motown, 2001

If any group ever sounded like clothes, it was the Supremes: three ghetto-fabulous Motown singers fluttering queen-size eyelashes and teetering on their heels as they sang of love and its torments.

Essential moment: The sighing and crying of "Come See About Me."

8

Blondie, ‘Parallel Lines’

Crysalis, 1978

Deborah Harry and her crew might have started out as CBGB punks, but her voice was clearly always meant for the big time. She poses and preens, with a heart of glass and a heart of stone.

Essential moment: "Hanging On The Telephone," when she growls, "I can’t control myself."

7

Missy Elliott, ‘Under Construction’

Elektra/Wea, 2002

The Virginia hip-hop freak-master drops her loudest bomb, mixing old-school rap, double-dutch playground chants, and avant-garde funk.

Essential moment: "Work It," as Missy puts her thing down, flips it and reverses it.

6

Adele, ’21’

XL, 2011

The British belter had a timeless source of inspiration – as she put it, "a rubbish relationship." But she turned her fiercely wounded heart and soul-on-fire voice into the hugest pop success of our time, doing for rubbish relationships what Thriller did for zombies.

Essential moment: The window-rattler chorus of "Rolling In The Deep."

5

Patti Smith, ‘Horses’

Arista, 1975

Rock & roll poetry was a bore until this Jersey girl showed up – suddenly, it was all sex and sweat and switchblades and Jesus in black leather and horses and sweet young things humping the parking meter. And she had a really sick drummer.

Essential moment: "Gloria," a six-minute blast of fast, filthy garage rock with "1-2-3-4! " energy.

4

Fleetwood Mac, ‘Rumours’

Warner Bros., 1977

Anyone even remotely tempted to date a guitarist should be required to investigate Rumours first, as Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie report from their free-love commune of the damned.

Essential moment: "Gold Dust Woman": Nicks takes a silver spoon to dig a grave for the Seventies.

3

Dusty Springfield, ‘Dusty in Memphis’

Atlantic, 1969

Sixties pop songbird combines with the orchestrations of master producer Jerry Wexler and the soft girlie glow of Gerry Goffin and Carole King's songwriting. Result: British soul masterpiece.

Essential moment: The sweet ruffles and stiletto swing of Dusty's vocals on "Son of a Preacher Man."

2

Joni Mitchell, ‘Blue’

Reprise, 1971

An acoustic tour de force with a swinging cast of beautiful losers, cafe romantics, sugar daddies, drunkards, liars and Rolling Stone-reading jet-setters in Spain. The one-liners cut sharp enough for a Preston Sturges film.

Essential moment: "Carey," a jaded love ditty.

1

Aretha Franklin, ‘I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You’

Atlantic, 1967

The greatest rock, pop or soul singer ever steps to the mike and clears her throat. Franklin was shocking in 1967, and still is: Nobody has ever sung with more intensity, more swagger, more soul.

Essential moment: "Respect," which never stops kicking your ass.

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