Turning The Tables: The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women NPR's list of the greatest albums made by women, from 1964 to the present.
NPR logo The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women

The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women

Joni Mitchell strums her guitar outside The Revolution club in London in 1968. Central Press/Getty Images hide caption

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Central Press/Getty Images

Joni Mitchell strums her guitar outside The Revolution club in London in 1968.

Central Press/Getty Images

Wild and Peaceful by Teena Marie

130. Teena Marie
Wild and Peaceful (Motown Records, 1979)

Teena Marie's debut album, Wild and Peaceful, couldn't have had a more accurate title. Released in 1979 and largely composed by her longtime collaborator Rick James, the album bounced between moods and moments that represented either end of the emotional spectrum. On it, Marie also flits deftly from high-energy disco and funk to ballads that are steeped in rhythm & blues and jazz. She was signed to the Gordy imprint of Motown, which intentionally marketed her overtly soulful album to black radio. The cover of the album itself didn't feature Marie, but instead portrayed a serene scene of an ocean and a cloud-filled sky. When the album was released, listeners had no artist image to go off of; consequently, many listeners assumed Marie was black, based on her uninhibited singing style and the record's production. This assumption was proven wrong when she performed the album's lead single "I'm A Sucker For Your Love" with James on Soul Train, making her the show's first white female guest. Wild and Peaceful was the world's introduction to Marie and her powerhouse vocals, which were fully embraced in a space that was traditionally reserved for black artists. Kiana Fitzgerald (Contributor)


Broken English by Marianne Faithful

129. Marianne Faithfull
Broken English (Island, 1979)

Eager to escape the pigeonhole of being Mick Jagger's beautiful girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull dropped out of her life of privilege and wound up a heroin addict on the London streets. In 1979, she resurfaced with her seventh studio album, the new wave-inflected Broken English. Her sweet and lovely lilt had disappeared, replaced by a gravelly snarl that was the permanent aftermath of an untreated case of bronchitis. It turns out that this was the voice she needed to unleash her innate powers; she spat sonic bombs in the title track, summoned her dark tribe in "Witches' Song," and eviscerated a cheating lover in "Why'd Ya Do It." But it's in "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" that her masterful reading of a lyric really shines. Here Faithfull invoked the Shel Silverstein story of a suburban housewife who, realizing "she'd never ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair," slowly becomes untethered, ending up on the roof before being taken away to a mental institution. Performed with chilling empathy, Faithfull showed that even a woman who has ridden in that sports car and stood at dizzyingly glamorous heights can still end up on that proverbial roofthe singer and the song intertwined. Jill Sternheimer (Lincoln Center)


Deep Listening by Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster, Panaioti

128. Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster, Panaiotis
Deep Listening (New Albion, 1989)

Throughout her long and distinguished life, Pauline Oliveros abided by the philosophy and practice of deep listening, which is still actively studied by many people today. The album Deep Listening, made with the trombonist and composer Stuart Dempster and the vocalist and composer Paniaotis, was a signpost for a different way of making music. By playing inside of a massive underground cistern, they were able to craft an entirely unique sound on the album. The huge cistern they used at Fort Worden in Washington was effectively an instrument of its own. It supplied massive reverban astonishing 45 seconds of reverb, in fact, meaning that the notes they played seemed to hang in midair and stay there. Additional notes would then add to these notes, combining and recombining to create great big clouds of sound. Deep Listening was ambient music taken to the next level. Generations of laptop noodlers that followed had nothing on Oliveros and her collaborators, who were happy to suspend themselves into abandoned metal bins to get the the most interesting sounds. Oliveros was a stalwart in the mostly male field of electronic music, supplying some the deepest, weirdest and most revelatory music on the scene for six straight decades. (Her electronic music from the 1960s, collected on an indispensable 8-CD box set, is also without parallel to this day.) Deep Listening, the first album made by what became known as the Deep Listening Band, is similarly unmatched in its genius. —Geeta Dayal (Contributor)


Sister by Sonic Youth

127. Sonic Youth
Sister (SST, 1987)

Kim Gordon's persona in Sonic Youth was dry, distant, deadpan and centered around ideas of elective inaccessibility. Yet she recognized the very real of the power of embracing sexuality on stage and off, and that those ideas weren't solely reserved for the assumed polarity of art school and pop music. Regardless of her talent and fearless performance approach, Gordon is often written off as merely adjacent to her ex-husband and former bandmate Thurston Moore. But it's Gordon's genius that ultimately made the band's 1987 album Sister -- its first foray into melodicism, into indie rock territory — successful, with its characteristic atonal noise never fully removed. On Sister, "Beauty Lies in the Eye" exuded a goth-y psychedelia, while "Pacific Coast Highway" mirrored the beautiful and winding road of its namesake without the California lightheartedness. In "Cotton Crown," Gordon and Moore harmonized with mournful precision, a rarity in Sonic Youth's droning discography and the closest thing to a romantic gesture from the band (before it gets into love song territory, it unravels into a joke). If Sister signified Sonic Youth's inching towards convention, Gordon's presence placed a crucial boundary on its version of rock and roll. Here she confirmed that musical eclecticism works thematically, through a combination of force, aggression, humor and experimentation. —Maria Sherman (Contributor)


A Song For You by The Carpenters

126. The Carpenters
A Song for You (A&M Records, 1972)

The late Karen Carpenter's singular voicea no-frills contraltoshone whenever she stepped onstage, but nowhere more brightly than on The Carpenters' A Song for You. While "Top of the World" was the 1972 album's biggest hit, its first single, "Hurting Each Other," was a power ballad turned loving, angsty and dramatic. Besides displaying her mastery of the lower vocal range on the album, Karen Carpenter also showed off her talents on the drums here. On A Song for You, you get a sampling of her chopsamong others, as she also played electric bass -- on instrumental tracks like "Flat Baroque." In the years following her death, many prominent musicians would point to her complementary skills as a singing drummer as a key influence, one that still rings true today. Tanya Ballard Brown (NPR Staff)


Tidal by Fiona Apple

125. Fiona Apple
Tidal (Work Group/Clean Slate/Columbia, 1996)

Fiona Apple unfurled her debut album with a roll of thunder, in the form of "Sleep to Dream." Over the course of Tidal's ten songs, the clouds may part, but the threat of a storm is always on the horizon. Just 19 years old when Tidal was released, Apple put a voice to the crushing swirl of emotions familiar to so many teenagers, a heady combination of disdain and uncertainty, barely-contained rage and rebellious independence. As it turned out, her songwriting sprang from a past checkered with trauma and deep pain, which she plumbed to write songs right at the edge ofor just pastwhat many listeners were comfortable with. What's remarkable about this album, especially twenty years later, is its maturity. It doesn't read like a sullen teenager's diary. Instead it's a declaration, a willful confession, and a mission statement from a woman wrestling power back from her demons and trying to own all the parts of herself that make her human. Sarah Handel (NPR Staff)


No Secrets by Carly Simon

124. Carly Simon
No Secrets (Elektra, 1972)

In 2013, Taylor Swift asked a sold-out stadium crowd in Foxborough, Massachusetts: "Before I bring out my special guest, I have this question that I've always always had. Who is the song 'You're So Vain' by Carly Simon written about?" Then, Simon joined Swift onstage to perform the former's hit, which they did with the joyful abandon of pre-teens singing into hair dryer microphones while dancing around their bedrooms. That one of the biggest pop stars in the world today would be fixated on a who's-dating-who tabloid story from 1972, and that tens of thousands of her young female fans would sing along to every word of a tune that came out forty years prior, makes no sense. Except that it does when you consider Carly Simon as one of the most influential artists of her generation, and one who essentially templated the break-up song that's since become ubiquitous. "You're So Vain" alone is not what makes Simon's breakthrough 1972 album No Secrets significant, but it does point to Simon's gift for getting at universal and eternal truths through personal confessionsa gift that's exemplified in simple and profound lyrics like, "Often I wish that I never knew some of those secrets of yours." Simon's deft storytelling, coupled with her stunningly precise vocal performance, made this album feel automatically nostalgic upon its release and absolutely timeless today. Talia Schlanger (Host, World Cafe)


The Changer and the Changed by Cris Williamson

123. Cris Williamson
The Changer and the Changed: A Record of the Times (Olivia Records, 1975)

"I'm kind of hand-carried, person to person," Cris Williamson told the journalist Ben Fong-Torres in 1981, when asked how people discovered her music. "There are secretaries who've told me they can't get through the day without running home during lunch hour and playing it." Such was the impact of the Wyoming native's voice, clear as a mountain stream, and her empathetic songwriting, which made this album one of the best-selling independent releases of all time and the cornerstone of the feminist "women's music" movement. Produced by Williamson and featuring dozens of the era's finest women musiciansincluding guitarists Meg Christian and June Millington, bass virtuoso Jacqueline Robbins and vocalists Holly Near and Margie Adam — Changer blended pop, country and folk elements in songs that were both cuttingly intimate and generously communal. (A few featured large choruses inspired by the sing-alongs women's music artists inspired in concert.) Williamson's own keyboard playing ranged from contemplative to dance-floor funky. The clear and confident lesbian desire behind love songs like "Sweet Woman" and "Dream Child" made Williamson a sex symbol; her philosophical side made Changer a record of spiritual growth, too. Speaking what at the time remained mostly unspoken in pop, this album truly changed lives. Ann Powers (NPR Music)


The Scream by Siouxsie and the Banshees

122. Siouxsie and the Banshees
The Scream (Polydor, 1978)

The English singer-songwriter Siouxsie Sioux has stood as a fearless post-punk priestess since she released The Scream with her band, The Banshees, in 1978. An artist as well known for her style as her voice, Siouxsie's graphic eye makeup inspired scores of goth girls to explore the depths of black eyeliner and black hair dye. But the boldness of Siouxsie's look doesn't distract from her sound; it makes her all the more powerful and mysterious, especially when coupled with her idiosyncratic music. The Scream starts slow and then thrillingly takes off, propulsive and heavy, with the high notes of her voice pulling everyone to the futureechoing, calling, wailing and yearning on the likes of "Pure." The second side of the album reveals more hard-driving punk tunesthe guitar, bass and drum slowly hammering in a way that earned the band frequent comparisons to The Velvet Undergroundbut it's her voice that grounds the music and pierces your heart. —Nina Gregory (NPR Staff)


Hejira by Joni Mitchell

121. Joni Mitchell
Hejira (Asylum, 1976)

There have been few artists who have evolved with as much artistic integrity and conviction as Joni Mitchell. Hejira (whose title, in short, means "journey") was composed during a series of cross-country trips by Mitchell in 1975 and 1976. It's an album inspired by solitude, using the highway as both metaphor and muse. As her sound started to incorporate more jazz influences, Mitchell recruited renowned jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius for the albuman ambitious move that paved the road for her work with other acclaimed jazz artists like Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Charles Mingus. The bass lines on Hejira weave in and out of its songs with minimal melodic repetition, much like her vocal parts; the combination paints the perfect backdrop to Mitchell's deeply personal stories and observations. "I suppose a lot of people could have written a lot of my other songs," Mitchell has said, "But I feel the songs on Hejira could only have come from me." While the lyrics tell tales of Mitchell's past, the music hints at the musical journey she would take during the next 30 years of her careera journey that has made Mitchell one of the most influential and universally beloved artists of all time. Amy Miller (KXT)

Turning The Tables: The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women