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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.

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 …."