The Problem with NPR’s ‘150 Greatest Albums Made by Women’ List 

Julie Tippetts

Source: The Stranger. NPR recently published a list of the 150 greatest albums made by women, and of course, some parties took issue. Here, the Stranger provides a list of its own that includes Annette Peacock, Julie Tippetts, Sarah Davachi, Éliane Radigue, Catherine Ribeiro, Moor Mother, and many others.

NPR’s list of “Turning the Tables: The 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women” has been generating much internet chatter and many arguments, and spurred a handful of counter lists. The Stranger has a history of nitpicking about such lists, and this new one spearheaded by highly respected veteran journalist Ann Powers has also triggered our reactionary impulses. Now, NPR’s feature contains many worthy entries, but it seems like a missed opportunity to expose the public to more obscure and adventurous female musicians. NPR’s list—composed by several respected music journalists and radio DJs—strikes me as an attempt at canon-building and a corrective toward many media outlets’ diminishment/erasure of non-male cultural creativity. But my main problem with the feature is that it comes off as the 21st-century internet equivalent of the Rolling Stone Album Guides of the ’70s and ’80s. Essentially, it suffers from the same pervasive conservative groupthink as those tomes.

All lists of this ilk are, of course, purely subjective and when compiled by committee, prone to hive-minded middle-of-the-roadness. That being said, NPR’s list possesses several stone classics with which I agree 100 percent: Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidananda, the Pretenders’ self-titled debut, Pauline Oliveros’s Deep Listening, Slits’ Cut, Raincoats’ self-titled debut, Grace Jones’s Nightclubbing, Diamanda Galás’s Litanies of Satan, Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band, Laurie Anderson’s Big Science, Nico’s Chelsea Girls, Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, the Bangles’ All Over the Place, and others.

However, NPR’s critical consortium largely ignored records made by avant-garde composers, electronic-music producers, and jazz musicians. Perhaps it wasn’t on Powers and company’s agenda to go that deep into the underground, but I think it would’ve been more worthwhile to spotlight artists working in these fields than to devote precious space to huge pop stars who’ve already accrued overwhelming mindshare.