Carole. Aretha. Dolly. Stevie. Joni. Carly. Ellie. Chrissie. Cynthia. Laura. Karla.
These women songwriters, with their stellar bodies of work, made unforgettable names for themselves. So much so that we’re actually able to identify them on a first name basis.
OK, with a few exceptions, perhaps. “Cynthia who?” you may be wondering. That would be Cynthia Weil, who wrote one of the most performed pop songs in history, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” with her life partner Barry Mann. You might not know her name but you know her songs. To me, she is royalty. As is “Karla” (Karla Bonoff, who penned a number of my favorite Linda Ronstadt songs) and “Laura”: Laura Nyro (“Save The Country,” “Eli’s Coming”).
If you happened to be around in the ’60s and ’70s when these gals stormed onto your favorite radio station and claimed their rightful territory, they most likely influenced the trajectory of your life and how you would come to regard things like unconditional love, jealousy, ego, motherhood, joy, heartbreak, make-ups, breakups, the passage of time, yellow taxis, working 9-to-5 and landslides. (And even if you weren’t there, you probably still feel their influence today.)
I know that they opened my eyes wider. They filled me with a sense that there’s something deeper than skin that we need to examine within ourselves.
I learned from them through their songs. For instance:
Carole (King) impressed upon me how necessary it would be to find a partner with whom I didn’t have to put on pretense because “natural” is the best way to feel with someone. That message, especially when belted out by Aretha (Franklin), was quite compelling.
And speaking of Aretha … she got me telling the people I love to call me the moment they get to wherever they’re going. We sleep better knowing they’re safe.
In words and melody, Dolly (Parton) painted a picture of how a girl might drop her defenses when her crush simply smiles that smile. That’s all it takes sometimes. And Dolly broke it down in a simple universal fact. Thanks, Dolly. I will always love you!
And let’s not forget Stevie (Nicks), who, in one of her many prescient moments, touched on the idea that even when we think we’re older we’ll look back one day and realize we were young. But time has a way of making us brave. It’s true. Thank you, Stevie, for your clarity and brutal honesty.
Joni (Mitchell) helped me look at love and life from all different angles, whether I was up in the clouds or driving across a parking lot in search of paradise. She also got me thinking about how the seasons come and go like carousels going ’round and that there’s nothing we can do to escape time.
Time, of course, is a popular subject for wise women, and Carly (Simon) taught me that anticipation is a lustful place. What would life be without something to look forward to? That’s a concept to which I was introduced via a song on a boombox in 1971: The state of longing is a luxurious window.
“Be My Baby,” my favorite Ellie (Greenwich) song, brought me so much joy singing in my car (along with the Ronettes) as soon as I got my driver’s license — top of my lungs, windows down. You can still catch me on the freeway doing the same when it comes on an oldies station.
Did someone say Chrissie? Chrissie (Hynde) has been rockin’ it for decades. Never gives up. Never gives in. Says and sings what’s on her brassy mind. I have extra special affection for Chrissie because anyone who can write their own massive hits and still choose to record a song I wrote gets extra worship. Thank you, thank you, thank you Chrissie.
These are the women whose voices were a profound influence on my personal coming of age. Whose vinyl I wore out (and sometimes bought two copies of). Who left an indelible impression on my youthful self and on the woman I was to become. Who formed the soundtrack of my life.
There’s a commonality here. These are all deep-thinking women, with rich histories they longed to share. In many cases, they faced uphill battles but they were persistent and had an unfailing belief in themselves. They had fires in their hearts and a desire to reach people like me, and to touch us with their unique view of the human condition.
You may have your own list of women songwriters whom you cherish and who will live on in your psyche as trail blazers and torch carriers — the ones who shape your universe. Taylor, Beyonce, Xtina, Mariah, Gaga. They’re also recognizable on a first name basis. That says something.
Let’s honor them all. Not just during Women’s History Month, but every month of every year.