17 songs by inspiring women that shaped my life

My favourite songs of all time by female artists

Although the world is full of amazing female musicians I always come back to songs by these women because they are particularly amazing and always inspiring. I hope you will also share your favourites with me too in the comments below.

The Knife – A colouring of Pigeons

A colouring of pigeons by Swedish Electronic outfit, brother and sister Karin and Olof Dreijer. At first gasp, this song sounds like a cacophony of operatic voices, squelching sounds and semi-organic rustling sounds from an alien world. It’s unlike any other song ever created. It could be a symphony sung by highly developed beings from another realm. Or alternately some long-forgotten ritual chant from an ancient and long-exitinct civilisation.

This weirdness is slowly supplanted on several listens. It’s darkly genius, apocalytpic, spine-tingling, emotional and disturbing. It’s like the two of them have delved as deeply into their own imaginations as they dared to go – gone the full id as Freud might say. You can listen to this and feel as though you’ve just woken up from a dream. That sort of child-like openness and vulnerability exposed briefly. The complex layers of unrealness in this song stay with you like an uneasy time signature on your reality for the rest of the day.

PJ Harvey – Good fortune

PJ oozes confidence and sexiness in her album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. The guitar riff in Good Fortune is pretty amazing and the vocals exhultant and devil-may-care. The video clip of her dancing in the darkened streets of New York City looking absolutely amazing was so perfect for the song. This album was the perfect soundtrack for vagabond women in their 20’s.

Portishead – Strangers

Dummy was a classic 90’s dinner party album for sure. However aside from this seemingly innocuous enjoyment by absolutely everyone in the 90’s, this album always hinted at something far darker and more dangerous for me. I always imagined how the characters at that dinner party might descend into chaos. It’s that kind of album. A beautiful and decadent aural story draped in velvet and blood. The ultimate soundtrack for a thousand Hitchcock films.

Björk – Joga

Something about this song by Björk is reminiscent of the dark, ancient and wild plains of Iceland for me. All of the orchestral chords are, to my untrained ear, as beautiful and raw as an Icelandic epic.

Air – All I Need

A melancholic ballad about young love and being carefree. It gives you a sense of longing and sadness without any real reason, but of course from listening and getting carried away, you can conjure up a reason.

Fiona Apple – Sleep to Dream

Fiona Apple’s album Tidal from the mid-90’s was an ingeniously crafted and deeply stirring playbook of one women’s anger, jealousy and insecurity. A zeitgeist album for the 90’s, but still just as timeless now. The single Sleep to Dream still sounds as raw and edgy now as it did then.

Nina Simone – Just in Time

The perfect bubbly, effervescent musical narrative that describes two people who meet through pure kismet and lucky coincidence. We have all had those fortuitous moments in life where the infinite complexity of everything seems to align perfectly and you meet the person you were meant to meet, the person who subsequently became THE PERSON for you. In capitals, in bold and italics. Yes. THE PERSON. This is a song for that meeting.

Kate Bush – Jig of Life

In Jig of Life, Kate Bush delved into her Celtic roots. This song was part 5 of the Ninth Wave on the Hounds of Love album from 1985. Something about this fervent, energetic track resonates with me deeply. Years after hearing and loving this song, I went to a Ceilidh in Edinburgh. I realised that the essence of this song could be discovered in the real world – in the visceral, flirty, joyful Ceilidh’s in Scotland.

Cat Power – Ramblin Woman

Cat Power’s Jukebox is smoky loungebar music for when you meet a lover for the first time over a smoky whisky or two. The album features remakes of songs by legendary crooners of times gone by. However Cat Power’s versions sound nothing like the originals and have sultry, melancholic and sensual feel to them.

Feist – The Water

Feist’s timeless album The Reminder from 2007 was full of whimsical, happy and quirky songs about love and obsession (Brandy Alexander/ My Moon, My Man). Other songs were used in countless commercials for its whimsical puppy-like rollicking enthusiasm (I Feel It All). A remake of Nina Simone’s See-Line Woman, simply called Sea Lion was another stomper. The Reminder was made of upbeat and optimistic pop gems that never grew old. The entire album has the warm, inviting feel of going into a mountain hut in the middle of winter to a raging fireplace and a cup of hot cocoa.

However it was Feist’s lovely, melancholic and deep song The Water that really captivated me. It was turned into 15 minute short film starring the ever-enigmatic and gorgeous Irish actor Cillian Murphy. See film and song below. The actual meaning of the film isn’t ever overtly explained, but it’s steeped in exquisite longing and memories of a lifetime of love. The film is well worth watching.

Peaches – Fuck the pain away

I love how Peaches makes everything sound so raw, rabid and aggressively sexual. She seems to be either abhored or loved, either one or the other. I think the more vanilla and conventional you are – the less you can actually understand her and her music. I once saw her live and she came on stage dressed as a clitoris and then dry humped all of her dancers. You could say its gimmicky and full on. You could say that’s outrageous and stupid. But I still love that she’s so skanky and doesn’t give a shit at all. She’s a hot mess, a cosmic aberration and really there are very few women who have the guts to be so feral and wild. Love her!

Fever Ray – Keep the Street’s Empty for Me

Ditto for Karin Dreijer’s side project Fever Ray. A hypnotic and timeless album of songs for wandering late at night in seemingly abandoned cities during the witching hour. If you have ever lived in a big city and stepped out when everyone is asleep – that feeling of expansive loneliness and insignificance, the feeling of being able to take a wholesome breathe and the secret delight of enjoying a place that’s free of people – you will love this album and particularly this song.

Hole – Violet

I loved Hole back in the early 90’s when Courtney was imbibing a lot of heroin with Kurt and was at her most outrageous, edgy and dangerous. I loved listening to the album Doll Parts at full volume while performing witchcraft and all kinds of completely ridiculous suburban voodoo. This album was the perfect background music for the incipient goth and the teenager who really was angry with the world and how shit everyone and everything was.

Suzanne Vega – Tom’s Diner

I remember listening to this on my pink Sanyo radio as a child and revelling in the deep rolling drum beats along with Vega’s angelic voice. Thirteen year old me was thinking, “that sounds so elegant, so sublime. there’s a big world out there, full of adult things and I really want to drink from the marrow of it.”

Janis Joplin – Piece of My Heart

Joplin’s soulful, gravely, wild, fiery voice is one of the most timeless of the ages. She seemed to scream like a banshee at times and the tragic, raw trembling nature of her sound seems to reach right into the heart and rip it out.

Sade – Hang on to your love

Sade in the 80’s was elegance personified with her trademark leather gloves, perfect red lips, pulled back braid and floaty blouses. The whole look at that time seemed to be the antithesis of 80’s pop at the time with her contemporaries Madonna and Cyndi Lauper and others. And yet Sade being Sade was so charmismatic – the look, the music worked. Her suave, sensual and silky voice and jazzy sound was timeless then, as it is still today. She still looks amazing despite her age!

Chaka Khan – I Feel for You

I Feel For You featured lyrics by Prince, Stevie Wonder on harmonica and vocals by the goddess Chaka Khan. What more could you want in a pop song?


7 thoughts on “My favourite songs of all time by female artists

  1. Oh my, that was so great CC! For some unknown reason i do really enjoy other people faves! i know, i am a bloke but i think i have to do a whole blog post in reply of my fave female songs, i will give you a link when i get it done, OK?
    Cheers again 🙂

    1. Thanks William, so glad you enjoyed it. With enough context of why songs mean so much to people,you can really get a sense of who people are with the music they love. Music/Identity/Soul are all one and the same I think. Yeah I love other people’s fav lists too, especially yours, you show me music that I either haven’t heard before or that I have heard in years. I really look forward to seeing your list!!

    1. William its a remarkable list. It’s ok to refer to me as she/her, I am a woman. I’m confused by all that gender pronoun bullshit if I am being completely honest. Love your list and while looking at it I thought…damn I wish I had of included some of your gems in my list. Especially Adalita, early PJ Harvey, the Breeders…such top picks. Some of these songs I haven’t heard, at least I don’t remember if I have. So I’ll have a listen on youtube and let you know my thoughts. An absolute epic list my friend. Talk soon, Athena

  2. Hi Athena,

    A great list.

    Following William’s lead, here are 30 of my favourite women singers with my favourite song of theirs (though I could just choose 30 of Joni Mitchell’s ouevre really). They are in chronological order, newest first.

    Klara and Johanna Soderberg (First Aid Kit) (Sweden) – Hard Believer (2010)
    Sarah Blasko (Oz) – All I Want (2009)
    Laura Marling (UK) – You’re No God (2008)
    Neko Case (USA) – Hold On, Hold On (2006)
    Traceyanne Campbell (Camera Obscura) (Scotland) – Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken (2006)
    Lucinda Williams (USA) – Righteously (2003)
    Beth Orton (USA) – Central Reservation (1999)
    Jane Siberry (Canada) – Begat Begat (1995)
    KD Lang (Canada) – Constant Craving (1992)
    Harriet Wheeler (The Sundays) (UK) – Here’s Where The Story Ends (1990)
    Andrea Croft (Honeys) (Oz) – Monster (1989)
    Debra Conway (Do-Re-Mi) (Oz) – Man Overboard (1985)
    Juliet Ward (Lighthouse Keepers) (Oz) – Springtime (1984)
    Christina Amphlett (The Divinyls) (Oz) – Boys in Town (1983)
    Annie Lennox (Eurythmics) (UK) – Love is a Stranger (1982)
    Chrissy Hinde (The Pretenders) (USA) – Brass In Pocket (1980)
    Debbie Harry (Blondie) (USA) – Heart of Glass (1979)
    Patti Smith (USA) – Gloria (1975)
    Sandy Denny (Fairport Convention) (UK) – Who Knows Where The Time Goes (1972)
    Carly Simon (USA) – You’re So Vain (1972)
    Carole King (USA) – It’s Too Late (1971)
    Joni Mitchell (Canada) – Big Yellow Taxi (1970)
    Dory Previn (USA) – Beware of Young Girls (1970)
    Janis Joplin (USA) – Summertime (1968)
    Laura Nyro (USA) – Stoney End (1968)
    Dusty Springfield (UK) – Son of a Preacher Man (1968)
    Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane) (USA) – White Rabbit (1967)
    Martha Reeves (Martha Reeves & The Vandellas) (USA) – Nowhere to Run (1967)
    Cass Elliot (The Mamas and the Papas) (USA) – California Dreamin’ (1965)
    Diana Ross (The Supremes) (USA) – Baby Love (1964)

  3. Absolutely love your list Peter, I’m kicking myself right now as I can see how many in your list I completely forgot to include in my own list, Chrissy Amphlett is one of them, and that’s my favourite Divynls song too – Boys in Town, classic and from a classic movie as you would know – probably one of my favourite Australian movies Monkey Grip…that’s the best scene isn’t it!

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