Welcome to AdHoc’s Femme Fridays, a weekly column highlighting the work of trailblazing femmes throughout music history. In this week’s edition, we’re featuring the illustrious Aretha Franklin, whose 12th studio album, Aretha Arrives, came out this week in 1967.
Aretha, mother of rhythm and blues, queen of soul and spirit—you knew what you were doing when you named your 1967 album Aretha Arrives, didn’t you?
It was as if to say, “I’m here, I’m still here,” when you already had twelve records under your belt. Or, “There’s more where that came from,” after topping the charts with songs like “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You,)” and Otis Redding’s “Respect,” both released earlier that year. Aretha, it was as if you knew Aretha Arrives would mark the zenith of your success—and so it was named accordingly.
It’s often a tall order for any album of mostly covers to resonate with listeners; but, Aretha, you made even that possible. It’s that fearless tone, that deep texture in your voice. Even the album’s version of “You Are My Sunshine” sounds less like a child’s song, and more like you’ve actually found the sun on Earth itself.
Is that hyperbolic? Maybe. But Aretha dealt in hyperbole. Her bodacious spirit, sly humor, sequined dresses, elaborately coiffed hair— they were all expressions of her innate star's disposition, destined for greatness from the moment she stepped into her Baptist church as a young girl.
Years later, this was the same spirit that would bring her to a stage in Amsterdam to perform for a raucous crowd. Flowers and gifts would shower onto the stage as she sang her cover of “Satisfaction” from Aretha Arrives. In the video below, you can see Aretha Franklin belting with her unmistakably rich, booming cadence, taking a cock-rock song by the Rolling Stones and turning it into her own hefty anthem of desire.
Welcome to AdHoc’s Femme Fridays, a weekly column highlighting the work of trailblazing femmes throughout music history. In this week’s edition, we’re featuring Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, whose incisive album, Dirty, was released this week in 1992.
“What’s it like to be a girl in a band?”
It was a question that followed Kim Gordon everywhere. Stunning in its ignorance, it’s the kind of inquiry that seems to answer itself: To be a girl in a band is to be immediately Othered.
Gordon, at first, “never really thought about it,” she admitted in her 2015 memoir, Girl In a Band. But as her work with ‘90s rock outfit Sonic Youth developed, the vocalist and bassist would answer this question with her rebellious performances. On Dirty, released this week in 1992, Gordon would dedicate the song “Swimsuit Issue” to exposing sexual harassment. “Don’t touch my breast, I’m just working at my desk,” she fiercely insists early on the track. Much of her work with Sonic Youth would feel similarly confrontational, her snarling voice and raging lyrics acting as feminist manifestos in themselves.
Just over a week after the release of Dirty, Gordon would put these frustrations on show at a live MTV studio recording, captured in the video below. It’s an amazing clip; on “Kool Thing,” we see Gordon grabbing the mic and growling through the lyrics: “I just wanna know, what are you gonna do for me? / I mean, are you gonna liberate us girls / From male white corporate oppression?”
Originally written in response to an uncomfortable 1989 interview Gordon conducted with rapper LL Cool J, “Kool Thing,” like many of Gordon’s songs, can be read in a variety of ways. On the one hand, her lyrics mock LL Cool J: “Kool Thing let me play it with your radio / Move me, turn me on, baby-o,” mimicking his sexist comments during the interview. But one might also read these lyrics as self-mocking. Essayist Elissa Schappell suggests that Gordon’s ranting is a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of her own relative privilege as a white woman:
"Kool Thing’ is more than Kim’s assault on LL Cool J’s ego, but a self-mocking jibe at her own liberal politics. The sarcasm in her voice when she addresses ‘Kool Thing’ in the breakdown is self-mocking— the female voice inflated by privilege and naïveté."
Whatever her intentions may have been, Gordon was never afraid to be blunt. To anyone who expected otherwise: I don’t think so.
Welcome to AdHoc’s Femme Fridays, a weekly column highlighting the work and talent of trailblazing femmes throughout music history. In this week’s edition, we’re honoring the sensational Joni Mitchell, whose celebrated album, Blue, came out 47 years ago today.
Blue is a mutable shade. In the sky, it’s all sweet radiance; in our seas, it churns and laps. It’s an oscillating hue, but it carries with it a note of melancholy: We feel blue. We are blue. Some of us sing the blues—those sorrow songs birthed of Blackness, of plight. Joni Mitchell sang the blues, too, albeit of a different sort: hers was a blues of the mundane, of the individual, needling out her heartbreak with an Appalachian dulcimer. Her 1971 album, Blue, ebbs and flows like the sea, her voice weathering each pitfall and hard knock with breathtaking serenity.
From imagistic moments like, “I want to wreck my stockings in some jukebox dive,” on album opener “All I Want,” to the elusive divinity of “you’re in my blood like holy wine,” on the classic “A Case of You,” Mitchell’s Blue sows a public world out of her intimate musings, one that always seems just shy of tapping into some feminine truth. In a 1999 interview with Ottawa Citizen, Mitchell recounted the first time she performed Blue for a group of her male contemporaries:
“They were embarrassed for me. The feminine appetite for intimacy is stronger than it is in men. So my songwriter friends listened and they all shut down, even Neil Young. The only one who spoke up was Kris Kristofferson. ‘Jesus, Joni,’ he said. ‘Save something for yourself.’”
It isn’t uncommon to find descriptions of Blue that lean on Kristofferson’s famed quote; yet they’re missing something. What is there to save when you are a woman in the public eye, whose every relationship— from Graham Nash to James Taylor— is exposed for public consumption? What Mitchell understood, whether deliberately or not, was the power of her own self-representation: she released an album so rich in detail and soul-bearing that it could scarcely warrant poor criticism, especially when touched by her gentle acoustic plucks and fluttering voice. The strength of Blue, and of Mitchell herself, is the ability to take that dangerous stab at honesty and weave it into something beautiful.