PopOff! Commentary: Heart Problems (The Check Up)

This piece is not about you, unless it is. And you will know if it is.  It is also about rock music on radio.  I’ve also said this before but it needs to be said again, unfortunately.

I added audio an audio version because this one needs my vocals.

I don’t ascribe to tokenism when it comes to music, no matter how well the intentions. So when some special day or month rolls around and suddenly I am supposed to celebrate X Y or Z I grin because I know I’ve been doing it all year long.

That said, it is Women’s History Month and during this month I’ve been listening to and playing only women artists in March ever since I wrote my epic poetic screed, Life, Love, And The Blues. It was a poem about being at a record store and seeing a compilation titled, “The Only Blues Album You Will Ever Need”. You can hear that pentecostal poetic holy-roller gospel here.

But it was that compilation that led me to spend most of my later 20s well into my 30s researching women in music who paved the way and did it first. So don’t tell me females didn’t or were not allowed to play guitar, or banjo, or Hammond etc. Or were not allowed to be in rock bands or lead big band orchestras.

But on that specific day, I discovered out of some 20+ tracks on this particular compilation only one female artist was present, Koko Taylor. No Etta James, Ruth Brown, Billie Holiday or Bessie Smith. And of course it was a token female singer. No instrumentalists or female fronted bands. No Bonnie Raitt, no Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Susan Tedeschi, Marcia Ball, Odetta, Elizabeth Cotten, or Ana Popovic. And it is particularly egregious for blues music because females were the first national and worldwide superstars of recorded music in the US and elsewhere. Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Ido Cox, Sippie Wallace were basically the Whitney’s and Beyoncés and Swifts of their time, all female and all black.

Oooh… I was incensed and infuriated because upon further browsing almost all the blues anthologies had at best MAYBE two women present at worst none. Jazz was the same. Rock ‘n’ roll same. But classic rock, alternative rock, reggae, salsa, heavy metal, punk… all, worse. I am pleased to say country and bluegrass music fared somewhat better. But NOT by much. And usually it was the same obvious choices in both artists and songs. Classical music was somewhat better in terms of soloists and performers but in terms of composers and conductors…? Yeah… Classical music might want to work on that.

The best female representation came/comes on all those yearly pop compilations followed by disco and dance anthologies. And I am pleased to note that Irish/Celtic compilations do a decent job in most areas, so tip of the hat to my emerald side of the family. But the rest of these documents of popular music were largely sausage shops and COMPLETELY inaccurate to the history they were supposedly representing. Now when I said, at best there were 2 women and worst none- let me say the “none” outweighed the 1-2 by such a wide margin you’d be right to think women didn’t record or perform much music at all, especially before the 1980s. Maybe the representation has improved with streaming and places like Spotify and iTunes but if radio is any indication… It looks like I have more screeds in my future.

At the time (and even today) I’ve found compilations with titles like; Women In Jazz, Ladies Of The Blues, Divas of Dance, Queens of Salsa. I also have, Girls Gone Rockin’ a fabulous 5 CD compilation of ladies from the rock ‘n’ roll era of the late 50s.

And you might look at that and say:

“Women get there own special compilations so what is the issue here? They are being represented.”

“We don’t have male-centric compilations called, Men in Jazz”.

Ahem- Men have PLENTY of male only compilations and anthologies, we just don’t slap the pronoun markers on those covers. Why do we need to? It’s a given men were the only one’s making grunge music in the 90s or playing saxophone in the 60s right? Right????

To quote Björk, “Everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times.” Just imagine if you bought a 70s classic rock compilation titled Legends Of Classic Rock and there were no male acts on it. You would rightfully double take or scream heresy. Dare I say it might even give you a Heart attack.

Yes, shake your head at that lay up. But this brings me to the point of today’s screed for Woman’s History Month. Those of you who listen to my shows know that I require 40-60% female representation or I will not do a specific theme or set. So, The Bear Cave does not have a Heart problem.

But from my personal experiences in the past, I took it upon myself to listen to rock radio this past week around the country to see if things have changed from what I remember. And from what I heard most radio dials I sampled from, definitely have a Heart problem. On average over an 8 hour period I heard two Heart songs. And the SAME two heart songs out of three choices; Barracuda, Magic Man, & Crazy On You. This is not the fault of the on air DJs who left to their music nerd devices would assuredly deliver programming far more unique and varied than what corporate allows them to do. And it is not any one single station it is a nation wide issue no matter the demographic region.

Now, do I think they should be playing more Heart? Duh! Do I think they should be playing more variety of Heart songs? Duh! They had HUGE hits in the 80s. But for classic rock radio Heart is the token female with MAYBE Stevie Nicks showing up with Fleetwood Mac once a day to sing “Dreams”. And it is a two for one so I imagine some feel especially inclusive about it.

This is unacceptable for a whole host of reasons, the obvious one being that it presents the false idea that women were not allowed to, or simply did not, rock out! But from were I sit, this is basically an insult to the fact there are a wealth of kickass female rockers worth playing on radio from every decade!

And just to give you an idea of what classic rock is playing these days, I heard a sampling from Kansas to Metallica; Tom Petty, The Who, Steve Miller Band, Dire Straits, Nirvana, Soundgarden, The Kinks, Queen, Huey Lewis and the News, The Police, Lou Reed, Counting Crows, Black Crows, R.E.M., Night Ranger, Weezer, AC/DC, INXS, Bon Jovi, U2, Alice Cooper, T. Rex, David Bowie, Elton John, Eddie Money, Kiss, Fall Out Boy, & Judas Priest, Ramones….

Rock, especially classic rock radio has certainly widened the pool in terms of sound since I was teen. Back then it was pretty much just Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Boston. And that is great but uh… when they widened the pool they forgot to add more women! Well- to be frank they didn’t forget. Much of mainstream radio has a policy that you do not play two female artists back to back. That is easy to do when you only play one female act twice in 8 hours of programming. I don’t think it is deliberate so much as nobody has brought it up at any of the meetings since… I don’t know… 1992 when I first was listening to rock radio.

I have been fighting this tokenism battle for over a decade and I would’ve thought during #metoo this sort of radio programming would’ve matured or at least been addressed. But it seems Heart is all the women rock radio programmers can stomach. Side Note: For the past 10+ years country music radio has not been playing any women outside the token Miranda Lambert. So it is not just rock radio but…

When I did my PopOff! episode on Glam Metal I read a story lead singer for 80s metal act Femme Fatale, Lorraine Lewis, told about going to pitch their music to radio stations.

I am paraphrasing her words, “If we went into a radio station and they had a poster of Lita Ford on the wall we knew we were not getting played”.

And guess what? Classic rock radio doesn’t even play Lita Ford now!!! Let alone somebody like Liz Phair or Tori Amos. To which, If I hear that, “Nobody wants to hear a screeching woman and her piano,” line one more time…

And it is not just radio but even twitch streams and mixcloud mixes largely ignore women when it comes to classic/alternaative rock, rock ‘n roll, metal, blues etc. unless it is produced by a super music nerd. Even Pandora and other streaming platforms ignore women in their algorithms. I had to manually add female reggae singers to my reggae playlists. And that doesn’t even take into account the dearth of female reggae singers they had for me to add in the first place.

Also the Billboard charts are notoriously bad for women in rock and alternative and have always been so on a recent Throwback Thursday live stream I was celebrating 1984 and VERY good year for music over all. And I went into the Mainstream Rock Airplay chart history for that day to get some ideas of stuff to play on stream.

The #1 Song on the Mainstream Rock Airplay Chart for March 16th 1984 was Christine McVie’s, “Got A Hold On Me”. Yay! A woman on top! Other women in the top 50 rock this day:

Eurythmics – Here Comes The Rain Again
Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Want To Have Fun
Thompson Twins – Hold Me Now
Nena – 99 Luftballons
Pretenders – Time The Avenger, Middle Of The Road, Show Me

That is quite the variety (especially for “rock”) and it was quiet the variety for male acts too including heavy metal like Judas Priest and acts like John Mellencamp and Yes and The Cars and all kinds of such variety.

I had discussed charts and women on them in another article for WHM last year but just stay with me here and let’s take the same date and jump head five years when Billboard introduced the Alternative Airplay Charts to give a chart to all the new acts that were not quite pop but also not just rock, many of which we see above landing on the actual rock chart. Think of it like a college “rock” or “kidz rock” chart vs “classic rock”.

And here we see we’ve come down from 6 female acts to 3 in the top 50.

Talking Heads – Flowers (Nothing But)
Lita Ford – Kiss Me Deadly

And way down the bottom of the fifty

Joni Mitchell – Snakes And Ladders

Still keeping the same variety of music (mostly for men) but where are the women? OK, maybe women did not release much “rock” in 1988 after all this is just one day on the chart, no?

In my music collection just on brief glance in 1988 we had rock albums from Melissa Etheridge, L7, Girlschool, Pat Benatar, Smashed Gladys, Vixen, Patti Smith, and Roxette. All female fronted and two of them all female period. Only four of those acts landed rock hits, Vixen, Pat, Patti, and Melissa… not bad except we’re talking an entire year of “rock music charts” and a chart listing 50 songs. Roxette had “pop hits” that year… more on that in a moment but let’s mosey on over to the Alternative Airplay chart that debuted in 1988 to see how the women are doing.

Ah… at numero uno: Siouxsie & The Banshees – Peek-A-Boo

And there are ELEVEN other female acts out of thirty listed. A few like Joan Armatrading and Chrissie Hynde and Debbie Harry had all previously landed on the rock charts but were now moved to “alternative”. And the Primitives, 10,000 Maniacs, Tracy Chapman, and Sugarcubes… are just as rock, if not more so, than Talking Heads or Icehouse or Mike Oldfield or R.E.M., The BoDeans, and Bryan Ferry (in his post Roxy Music years).

Are you getting the picture here. And I belabor the charts because the charts often inform what radio plays or has played in the past exposing certain acts and not others and giving them more or less success. Now I’ve done the research and it very promising for me to see spike in female representation so let’s jump to the year I graduated high school shall we what many say was the peak of alternative rock.

Here we are June 24th 1996:

The #1 song on the Alternative Charts is:

Dishwalla – Counting Blue Cars

The #1 song on the Mainstream Rock charts is:

Metallica – Until It Sleeps

Out of the 40 rock songs listed only one was a female, Tracy Bonham with Mother Mother at #24. Yup. I can do this all day. Let’s look at the Alternative Chart now…

OMG! Tracy Bonham – Mother Mother is at #2!

Alanis, No Doubt, Jewel, Cranberries, and Patti Rothberg all doing time on the Alternative Charts this day. But keep in mind with Tracy Bonham that is SIX songs of FORTY that are female fronted or have female members. SIX!!! But hold up, “Billboard we have a problem”…

All these acts below have one thing in common. Can you guess what it is?

Butthole Surfers
Dave Matthews Band
Dishwalla
Everclear
Gin Blossoms
Goo Goo Dolls
Gravity Kills
Green Day
Metallica
Oasis
Rage Against The Machine
Soundgarden
Sponge
Stone Temple Pilots
The Nixons
The Smashing Pumpkins
The Verve Pipe

Spoiler ahead: So out of the rock and alternative charts top 40 almost TWENTY males acts landed on both charts Dishwalla was at #2 on the rock charts BTW. Meanwhile only one woman, Tracy Bonham was allowed to crossover. This is some grade A choice cut BS. But- there is a positive side maybe. This was the 90s and Lilith Fair was about to hit so women would get more play and we would finally move on from these issues. And as proof of this lets jump ahead ten years.

Here we are on June 24th, 2006

The #1 song both rock and alternative charts is Dani Califronia by Red Hot Chili Peppers! Tool is at #2 and #3 on both charts BTW.

Showing that Billboard can’t distinguish between alternative and rock. Or that maybe Alternative was always a BS label they came up with trying to appeal to “kidz rock”. I dunno… Anyway we’re here for the ladies riding that boon of Lilith Fair energy and the great sea change. So let’s check it out!

Success! We have Flyleaf on the rock charts and Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Damone on the alternative charts. Woo-hoo it’s gotten… better? Oops! And just REAL quick how the F can Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tool make both charts but not Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Has rock radio never listened that band?!

Anyway…

10 Years
AFI
Blue October
Breaking Benjamin
Buckcherry
Disturbed
Foo Fighters
Godsmack
Hoobstank
Korn
Lostprophets
Nickelback
Pearl Jam
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Shinedown
Stone Sour
System Of A Down
The Raconteurs
Three Days Grace
Tool
Wolfmother

Out of the thirty acts listed on the rock charts over twenty landed on the alternative charts with the same songs and some artists at similar rankings! I can do this ALL DAY. And I am going to because #metoo happened and well let’s just peak at 2016 for shits and giggles. We know the results already but come on… it can’t be worse can it?

Mainstream Rock Charts has *Gasp!* THREE female acts, Halestorm (Fuck Yeah), Stitched Up Heart, and Sick Puppies.

Alternative Rock Charts has TWO female acts, Lumineers (at #1 with Ophelia) and Broods. Neither are a solo act or an all female act. And the female member of Lumineers is no longer playing with the band.

blink-182
Disturbed
KALEO
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Twenty One Pilots

Well, at least we are way down on the crossover, however it still makes very little sense. Considering what I saw on the alternative charts is pretty damn rockin’ such as The Struts among others. But still women can’t get in the door! And I know women were making rock and alternative then because I’ve been doing my show for over tens years now. I am forming the theory that much like country over the last ten years, because all the corn dogs couldn’t make it on the Hot 100 and dominate, they shut out women on purpose.

Side Note: Since the mid 80s the Hot 100 has become less and less varied in terms of what makes the chart and the variety and styles of acts you would see. This is true for most charts but especially prominent in the Hot 100 and especially so in the age of Stans and streaming.

Side Side Note: Christine McVie would have been pushed off the rock chart in the 90s onto the pop Hot 100 world or Adult Contemporary where they ultimately pushed Jewel, Sarah Mclachlan, Aimee Mann, Tori Amos, and Alanis. It’s just that the rock chart was still kind of new and they hadn’t so narrowly defined rock as, “things that boys do”.

OK close your eyes for a second. The date is March 23rd 2024 and on the rock chart we have

OMG! An all female act called The Warning with a song called S!ck! Yes! And we have another female Royale Lynn which the internet lists as country or alt-country. So… country music is still try to keep out woman so bad they get pushed to rock. But I listened to some of their songs, definitely rock not country and not even southern rock, just rock.

On the Mainstream Alternative Chart we OMG! What is this an ALL FEMALE band here too? The Last Dinner Party… I am Lovin’ this sound.

Also synth-pop act Cannons and St. Vincent are on the chart here. That is three out of forty. So after all this I am reminded that I have said repeatedly and more recently charts don’t matter. And they don’t matter… except when they do.

Bad Omens
Cage The Elephant
Foo Fighters
Linkin Park
Papa Roach
Pearl Jam
Shinedown
Sum 41

OK well we now have only 8 crossover acts so Billboard maybe has found out what it considers alternative, which seems to be basically the modern new wave of the late 70s and the 80s. And most of the crossover is from acts one could and I will label, “classic rock”. But still the dearth of females going on 30+ years. I mentioned country music, I won’t get into that here because I have an entire screed on that fiasco specifically. And I am kind of curious if hip-hop is just as bad. I know metal is just as bad.

And so what this means is you have many more female artists all fighting over the same space in pop and adult contemporary, which then means less variety of female acts overall on that charts and heard on radio or streaming. The ladies are still dominating the dance chart but only as singers or features not as DJs or producers. Anyway, this post is about rock radio and is partners…

So in conclusion it would be very easy to just scream, “Play more women!” and leave it at that.

*eyes narrow*

But I’ve been here before and I know if you want it done right you have to do it yourself (hence my music shows) or it will just get phoned in or not done all. But also, if you complain and don’t offer up any ideas people just toss what your saying to the side. Laziness is becoming a tradition these days. So I’ve learned you have to make it as easy as possible to implement an idea or suggestion.

With that said, below is a list of over 60 (for starters) female acts that should be played on rock radio. And I won’t even deep cut THAT much here. Most of these female acts have catalogs just as good as the male acts played on classic rock if not better than some men occupying those slots on radio.

And I will start with the most glaring and most obvious omission I have been ranting about for over ten years, Suzi Quatro. I have NEVER ONCE heard her on rock radio. She pokes her jumpsuit clad body out on AM Gold with, “Stumblin’ In” every so often. But that song doesn’t feature her bass or guitar wizardry. I mean she’s Leather Tuscadero!!!!

You’re Mama Won’t Like Me
Can The Can
48 Crash
Bit Off More Than I Could Chew
Devil Gate Drive
Glycerine Queen
All Shook Up

Her cover of “Fever” is so greasy and sleazy. Granted, she was bigger in the UK for some reason that still befuddles and angers me. But that is still no excuse.

This list very likely will have you thinking both, Hell yeah! and What the hell?! if not, Who the hell?! My selections are based on the styles that rock radio is ALREADY PLAYING so these female artists should fit RIGHT alongside what is already on air. Meaning that, if classic rock radio can be as diverse as it is with male acts it can stop pigeonholing female acts into these narrow categories to avoid having to play them. For, how is “Hazy Shade of Winter” by The Bangles any less “heavy” than “Fire Woman” by The Cult? And how is “No Rain” by Blind Melon “heavy” at all. And again all of these women have far more than just one token song to choose from.

But hey, I’ll take what I can get. If, “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles is the only song you pull from her work, that’s something at least. But ya’ll need to revisit, “Still Got This Thing For You” or “Kick Start My Heart”, which I have played back to back with Motley Crue’s song of the same name.

So as to avoid any sort of assumptions about favoritism I will list these acts alphabetically.

10,000 Maniacs
Aaron Lee
Against Me!
Aimee Mann
Alanis Morrisette
Alannah Myles
Annie Lennox
Baby Animals
Belly
Beth Orton
Bikini Kill
Blondie
Bonnie Raitt
Bonnie Tyler
Bratmobile
Cher
Doro
Eurthymics
Fanny
Femme Fatale
Garbage
Girlschool
Go-Go’s
Grace Potter
Halestorm
Hellion
Hole
Janis Joplin
Jayne County and the Electric Chairs
Jefferson Airplane
Joan Armatrading
Joan Jett
Juliana Hatfield
L7
Linda Ronstadt
Lita Ford
Liz Phair
Mazzy Star
Melissa Etheridge
Nightwish
No Doubt
Paramore
Pat Benatar
Patti Smith
Phantom Blue
PJ Harvey
Plasmatics
Pretenders
Sarah McLachlan
Scandal
Sheryl Crow
Shonen Knife
Siouxsie and the Banshees
Sinead O’Connor
Skunk Anasie
Smashed Gladys
Sleater-Kinney
Stevie Nicks
Sugarcubes
Suzi Quatro
Susan Tedeschi/Tedeschi Trucks Band
Suzanne Vega
The Bangles
The Breeders
The Cramps
The Cranberries
The Donnas
The Primitives
The Runaways
The Sundays
Throwing Muses
Tina Turner
Tori Amos
Tracy Bonham
Tracy Chapman
Veruca Salt
Vixen
X
X-Ray Spex
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Warlock

Thank you for your time and I look forward to tuning into your station in the future to hear some or all these amazing women blasting out my car speakers speeding down the highway.

Peace, Love, Happiness, Music, Dancing,

Bear

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