I’m going to start off by telling you a truth. Women are better singers than men. Period. There is nothing that you could tell me which would convince me otherwise. Women can do something so unique with their voices to convey every last drop of emotion that I have rarely heard in male singers. Why is this? I honestly have no idea, but does it really matter?
The female voice can add something so succinct and precious to a track that can’t be done by men. Take dance music. There are plenty of male producers out there, but rarely do you ever hear them use a male vocal sample. It is almost always female. Take pop music. The charts are completely dominated by female artists, with a few exceptions. There are always collaborations between male and female singers. Why? Because most male singers just can’t get that emotion and feel from their voices.
I rate artists mostly on their voices. There’s always exceptions to the rule, but when I listen to an artist the first thing I’m listening to is their singing voice. The range, the control, the timbre. It is what makes or breaks an artist for me. Sure, there are plenty of artists I listen to now who don’t have a fantastic singing voice, that I absolutely love – but an artist with a set of pipes, male or female, has me in a heartbeat.
I want to take a look at some of these female artists, and talk about why I love them. I’ll give some reference tracks (for those you may not know of, which should be highly unlikely!), but mostly I just want to talk about the talent. The female singers who when they start to sing can make you completely forget where you are. The type of singer who makes you feel what they feel. The type of musician who leaves everything out there when they sing. Also, I would like to acknowledge my favourite female-lead bands and the women at the front.
- Norah Jones – I have to start here. Her style, the smoothness of her voice, the feel, the emotion, the piano-skills – she has it all. Her first full length album has been the backdrop to many a quiet night at home. That perfect mix of jazz/lounge and pop is just pure genius. Plying her trade with jazz bands for years, Jones finally decided to record an album and the rest is history. Songs like ‘Don’t Know Why’, ‘Come Away With Me’ and ‘Don’t Miss You At All’ are the best places to start.
- Tina Arena – Australia’s best female singer in my opinion. If you don’t know her, then you’re either extremely ignorant or have been living in isolation for the past few decades. Such a powerhouse vocal, one that is instantly recognisable. ‘Heaven Help My Heart’, ‘Wasn’t It Good?’, ‘Chains’ and ‘Sorrento Moon’ should kick things off for you.
- Alicia Keys – I am convinced that Keys will go down as the greatest singer of our time. There is nothing this woman cannot do. I shouldn’t even need to begin to tell you just how talented this woman is. It doesn’t matter which song I name, you’ll instantly be hooked. Keys should be right up there with Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey in terms of influence of a generation. Pick a song, any song – and enjoy.
- Sarah Blasko – I wouldn’t call Blasko a powerful vocalist, but definitely one of my favourites. A little shy and awkward, but extremely talented, Blasko has been doing the rounds on the Australian scene for almost 15 years. Her first two albums ‘The Overture and the Underscore’, and ‘What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have’ are definitely worth the listen.
- Regina Spektor – I think it was her cover of The Beatles ‘Real Love’ on Triple J that made me sit up and pay attention. I had heard her previously but never really sought out more of her work. A fantastic vocalist, completely unique and left-field. How someone can get famous on ‘Fidelity’ is beyond me, but it was that quirkiness that thrust her into the limelight. ‘Samson’ is simply unbeatable.
Some of my favourite female lead bands:
- Daughter – An England-based band led by the timid Elana Tonra, Daughter are a unique type of indie-rock. Little bit of a gothic influence at times, and Tonra likes to sing about some strange subject matter, yet producing some very memorable tracks. I wouldn’t say Tonra has an amazing voice, but it’s perfectly suited to the style of music they play. Have a go with ‘Youth’, ‘New Ways’, and ‘Numbers’.
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Two words – Karen O. Such a charismatic and entertaining front-woman. This band has no doubt been on your favourite music festival line-up and will continue to be for a long time. Seeing them live was a real treat! Try ‘Maps’, ‘Heads Will Roll’ and ‘Zero’.
- Fleetwood Mac – Pushing it a little here to include them in this list, but can you ever leave Stevie Nicks off a list of great female artists? I couldn’t. The hits are endless, the songs are timeless and the legacy enduring. Nicks was responsible for leading some of their best work – including ‘Rhiannon’, ‘Landslide’, ‘Dreams’ and countless others.
- No Doubt – The first female lead band I ever got into, way back when. ‘Don’t Speak’ was on every cassette that I recorded from the radio. Gwen Stefani embodied the punk/rock movement and took the reins from that left behind by Joan Jett and Janis Joplin, eventually moving on to a very successful solo career. Never forget where it all started – and No Doubt were a refreshing change from the male lead grunge that was dominating the mid to late 90s.
Other great individual songs by female artists that I love:
- Michelle Branch ‘Everywhere’ – One of my favourite pop songs of all time.
- Sixpence None The Richer ‘Kiss Me’ – An extremely close second.
- Sara Bareilles ‘Manhattan’ – A perfect jazzy piano song.
- The Cranberries ‘Linger’ – Timeless.
- Kelly Clarkson ‘My Life Would Suck Without You – Those harmonies – wow!
- Tracy Chapman ‘Baby Can I Hold You’ – Another great vocalist.
- Garbage ‘When I Grow Up – Just a solid rock song.
- Kate Miller-Heidke ‘Words’ – Quirky and glorious.
- Goldfrapp ‘Happiness’ – How good is the film clip?
- Sia ‘Soon We’ll Be Found’ – A real gem.
No doubt there are countless others which I have missed. The list of female artists who I haven’t mentioned but have made their mark on the world is astonishing – Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Adele, Nina Simone, Cyndi Lauper, Lauryn Hill and Roberta Flack. I could go on…
Who are your favourites? Who should I be paying more attention to?