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So I’ve been working on this profile of Joan Jett for a client, and as part of my research, I noticed that she was on the VH1 list of the greatest women in rock. As is my wont, I questioned her ranking (she was #32 out of 100) and, since it’s slow at work, I decided to look at not subjective factors, but straight-up record sales of the people above her.

It turns out she’s placed about right in that respect; she’s had nine Top 40 songs and one #1 hit, and her record sales put her about where she should be on the list with the exception of a few people who are highly ranked for reasons other than sales (Patti Smith, to pick an obvious example).

I did find out some things that maybe shouldn’t have surprised me, but did anyway:

- Tina Turner hasn’t sold as many records as I thought. Don’t get me wrong — she’s sold tons of records and had huge commercial success -- but her twenty-three Top 40 songs and one #1 hit is a lot less than I figured she’d have, and is about half of Aretha Franklin’s, who’s #1 on the list to her #2.

- People who had a surprisingly small degree of commercial success: Janis Joplin, Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez. In the case of the first two, they died young, and Harris has always been more of a fringe act, but I dunno how Joan Baez makes a living. She’s been recording since the ‘50s and has the “female Dylan” rep, but she’s hardly sold any records at all.

- I have no idea why Bonnie Raitt is so highly ranked. She hasn’t had a long or storied career, she only has five Top 40 hits and no #1s, and to my ears anyway, she’s not remotely innovative or groundbreaking. It it jut because she’s a lesbian?

- This probably speaks more to my age and life experience than anything else, but I assumed the most commercially successful of the female artists would be Madonna by a country mile. And she’s close, but the title actually goes to Diana Ross. She has forty-nine Top 40 hits (!) and 18 #1 hits (!!) to Madonna’s 48 and 12, and in terms of total record sales over a lifetime, she obliterates Our Lady Ciccone. Basically, being Diana Ross for the twenty years between 1964 and 1984, you had a license to print money.

- Barbra Streisand was another one lower on the sales scale than I thought she’d be. Again, like Tina, she’s made a pile of money, and her hit count is very respectable — twenty-one Top 40 hits and five #1 hits — but I figured it’d be twice that. Apparently much of her music income is from touring and big shows rather than record sales.

- Joni Mitchell only had eight Top 40 hits, but all save one of them were Top Ten. Similarly, Debbie Harry only had eight as well, but half of them were #1.

- The one that absolutely shocked me the most? Stevie fucking Nicks. I knew she was big (I’ve seen her house), but I had no idea how big. The anal cocaine delivery advocate has had, with her Fleetwood Mac songs, her solo career, and collaborations, an astonishing twenty-seven Top 40 hits and four #1 singles. That’s more than Tina Turner, Gladys Knight, Linda Ronstadt, Barbra Streisand, Karen Carpenter, or Carole King and Joni Mitchell combined! Good grief.


Jun. 30th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)
is Bonnie Raitt gay? I don't think so. Though it would make "Let's give them something to talk about" more interesting.

Poor Joan Baez.
Jun. 30th, 2009 05:29 pm (UTC)
She's not gay? Who the hell I'm thinkin' of, then?

I wouldn't say "poor" Joan Baez. She seems to be doin' okay for herself. It's just not by selling records.
Jun. 30th, 2009 05:30 pm (UTC)
You're thinking of Melissa Etheridge.

Also..."anal cocaine delivery advocate" -- har.
Jun. 30th, 2009 05:32 pm (UTC)
Well, shit, now I'm even more confused at Bonnie Raitt's high ranking. What the hell.

Jun. 30th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC)
EW asks the same question -- see http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,272572,00.html

Jun. 30th, 2009 05:47 pm (UTC)
Actually, at #3, they're talking about Janis Joplin, but at least she died young, allowing people to imagine that she would have become super awesome later on. But Bonnie Raitt at #4 is just totally fucking bewildering. She's just not that special.
Jun. 30th, 2009 05:52 pm (UTC)
Heeeey Janis Joplin was always super-awesome (in my not-so-humble opinion).
Jul. 1st, 2009 07:30 pm (UTC)
Ah, shit. That was too much fun to be true.
Jun. 30th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC)
Joan Jett also produced The Germs' first album. Although, according to the movie "What we do is secret", her involvement was questionable. All Music says, "Joan Jett's production got knocked at the time for perceived thinness, but she and engineer Pat Burnette actually did a great job at recording the band with crisp, strong results."

On another note, Bonnie Raitt is a tantric sex enthusiast. She probably owes some degree of her high ranking due to her being a female blues singer, of which there are few.
Jun. 30th, 2009 05:48 pm (UTC)
Well, there are a bunch of female blues singers I could name who are better than her, but they're all, you know, ACTUAL blues singers. By which I mean black.
Jun. 30th, 2009 05:49 pm (UTC)
there's your answer.

I didn't mean, btw, that I thought she was the only one. I meant, "to the mainstream radio ear." Or, as you put it, "white".
Jun. 30th, 2009 05:53 pm (UTC)
And that's fair enough -- I suppose, despite my thinking she's bland MOR blues-pop, being a white blues singer in a pop milieu gives her a certain degree of uniqueness. But seriously, #4 on the list of the greatest women in rock history? Above Billie Holiday, Carole King, Patsy Cline, Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Ross, Etta James, and Joan Baez? Above fuckin' MADONNA? I just don't see it.

Jun. 30th, 2009 05:56 pm (UTC)
oh. my.

#4 is rather high. I would put her in the early teens.

etta. Now there is a voice. I didn't know she was still around until her appearance last season of dancing with the stars. I am glad she is still getting some scratch for "at last", but MAN that song is over used. most recent sin is to sell a cordless vacuum. because yes, i am sure that's what she envisioned when she and leonard were laying that one down.
Jun. 30th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)
where are Siouxsie, Kim Gordon, and Shirley Manson ranked?

Oh...maybe they're not.

everyone sux.

ps Linda Ronstadt is a lady that, in her prime, Ben and I both believe is ridiculously hot.
Jun. 30th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)
btw this is Corri. Heh.
Jun. 30th, 2009 05:49 pm (UTC)
Siouxie and Kim Gordon are on the top 100 list; I'm not sure about Shirley Manson.

Linda Ronstadt is another one where I was surprised at how many Top 40 hits she'd had. I knew she was big, but she was a lot bigger than I thought in the early '70s.
Jun. 30th, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC)
Jun. 30th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
Neither is Missy Elliott. Or Karen O.

And PETULA CLARK outranks Erykah Badu.
Jun. 30th, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC)
(huh, OK, apparently Petula Clark is actually the highest-selling female artist in British history, but still.)
Jun. 30th, 2009 05:50 pm (UTC)
Bonnie Raitt has gotten about ten Grammy Awards and considerable in-industry recognition. Might that have something to do with it?

As a side note, she also performed on Warren Zevon's 1976 self-named album with Stevie Nicks, which I only found out about recently.
Jun. 30th, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC)
I think it's probably due more than anything to the fact that the list was put together by VH-1, and Bonnie Raitt is the ultimate VH-1 artist.
Jun. 30th, 2009 05:56 pm (UTC)
Haha, that too...although apparently she was considered a not-obscure-but-still-outside-the-mainstream artist (kind of like, well, Warren Zevon) in the '70s (her best reviewed album, at least according to Wikipedia, is from that era). How things change.
Jun. 30th, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC)
Um, how exactly is Aretha Franklin considered a "rock" artist? Don't get me wrong - she probably ought to be #1 on any list of female singers anywhere, but nothing about her suggests "rock" to me, except in the loosest definitions of the word.
Jun. 30th, 2009 11:24 pm (UTC)
Hey, Bonnie Raitt's a really good blues slide player, and she has indeed been around for a very long time...I started listening to her in the early 70s. Other than that, though, you're right.
Jul. 1st, 2009 12:23 am (UTC)
I have no idea who Laura Nyro is.
Jul. 1st, 2009 01:41 am (UTC)
>>The anal cocaine delivery advocate

OK, that's just a little too much back-story (no pun intended) to "Gold Dust Woman," thenkyouverra'much....

Jul. 1st, 2009 07:27 pm (UTC)
Is Bonnie Raitt really a lesbian? Hey! I agree that she’s not innovative or groundbreaking, but her stuff is fun to listen to. Plus she’s cute.

Now I’m wondering whether saying “Is Bonnie Raitt really a lesbian?” is more along the lines of saying “Is Melissa Etheridge really a lesbian?”, or if it’s more of a Melinda Doolittle kind of a thing.


flavored with age
Gun-totin', Chronic-smokin' Hearse Initiator
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Leonard Pierce is a freelance writer wandering around Texas with no sleep or sense of direction. If you give him money he will write something for you. If you are nice to him he may come to your house and get drunk.

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