The Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock: Trouble Girls

The Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock: Trouble Girls

by Barbara O'Dair

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Written and photographed entirely by women, this book includes articles by some of the best music critics at work today on such artists as Bonnie Raitt, Tina Turner, Carole King, Janis Joplin, and many others. 175 photos.  See more details below


Written and photographed entirely by women, this book includes articles by some of the best music critics at work today on such artists as Bonnie Raitt, Tina Turner, Carole King, Janis Joplin, and many others. 175 photos.

Editorial Reviews

Cynthia Joyce

Reading The Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock reminded me of an experience from my college days -- and not just because so many of its essays read like academic theses. When I was a senior, I was asked by the women's studies department to sit on a panel about Greek life on campus. The idea was to show the freshman women how happy and well adjusted we "independents" were, and thus dissuade them from going through sorority rush.

There was one problem. "I did rush," I told the event's organizer. "I can't tell them not to. I was a Theta for a month before I quit."

"They don't need to know that," she told me. "I'm having a hard time finding people that would make the right impression. You have to do it."

Why did The Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock dredge up these uneasy memories? Maybe it's because there's an unsettling willingness on the part of the collection's editors to spin doctor any details that could jeopardize the book's larger (and largely legitimate) thesis -- that women have always been a formidable, if unacknowledged, force in rock 'n' roll history. Similarly, the more than 40 women writers who contribute essays to this collection are eager to clean up history's dirty little details.

According to Diane Cardwell, in her contribution to the chapter on "Sparrows and Powerhouses," Diana Ross never sold out by dressing like white stars, as she was often criticized for doing in her heyday. She was being subversive by intentionally "out-whiting whitey." Ann Powers tells us that being a groupie was never about putting yourself in a subservient position to male musicians. It was a rebellious act against authority that planted "the seeds of womens' liberation." And if Tammy Wynette encouraged women to be submissive with lyrics like "Stand by Your Man," Holly George-Warren explains, her real-life example (i.e., ditching four husbands) "more effectively and positively influenced her listeners than the compliant words to songs that attracted their attention."

Not surprisingly, the best essays here are the ones that ignore the assignment -- and in some cases, the essay format -- altogether and stick to the music, offering biographical information only where it informs each woman's development as an artist. (Terri Sutton's quest to distinguish Janis Joplin the singer from Janis the legend, for example, results in a telling 12-part kaleidoscopic view of her various roles.) And the contributions that detail the impact of music in the writers' own lives are ultimately the most compelling: Kathie Dobie's account of how she had been labeled a slut as a young teenager living in white suburbia, but found salvation in the overtly sexual music of Chaka Khan; Ariel Swartley's disconcerting discovery that ever since Joan Baez, America has been strangely receptive to women revolutionaries -- "especially if [they are] young, beautiful, and from a well-connected family"; and Donna Gaines' bold admission that the market-fabricated girl groups of the '70s have always been her biggest influence, even if "the whole thing was just false consciousness ... They've helped make me the woman I am."

The writers here -- all of whom have had far more interesting things to say elsewhere -- have a harder time assessing the full cultural impact of contemporary women musicians. Essays on Liz Phair, Courtney Love and P.J. Harvey (written by Lorraine Ali, Katherine Dieckmann and editor Barbara O'Dair, respectively) -- easily among the most interesting phenomena rock 'n' roll has seen in years, regardless of gender -- are disappointingly ambivalent, raising more questions than they answer. But the most egregious error of Women in Rock is that it makes reading about women rockers about as interesting and visceral an experience as watching slides in an art history class. O'Dair is right in stating that "radical feminism created the undercurrent that the bad girls of rock are now riding." But if making rock 'n' roll sound boring is what the Rolling Stone editors call progress, then they can keep it. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
If the 1990s have been the Decade of Rock Women, Madonna and Alanis Morisette didn't sneak past the guards disguised as groupies. As O'Dair and her all-female staff of contributors point out, women have played significant roles in popular music as far back the earliest recorded blues sessions. That pop history's scribes have often slighted these women's many accomplishments is finally righted. In this outsized collection, O'Dair collects works by Patricia Romanowski, Amy Raphael, Holly George-Warren, Evelyn McDonnell, Ann Powers and Ellen Willis on the full range of women's influence. Blues stomping foremothers Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton and Koko Taylor are no less important to today's Riot Grrls (Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear) and Alterna-Divas (Polly Jean Harvye, Me'Shell Ndegocello) than the punk these women cut their teeth on. The history that allows a Bessie Smith to influence a Polly Jean Harvey is the story told in each of the included artist entries, from Patsy Cline to Karen Carpenter to Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth). But O'Dair's staff offers more than mere biography; they examine a subculture within what, until 20 years ago, was itself another subculture. In doing so, they reveal a lot about the making and marketing of popular music. Extensive discographies and a bibliography of further readings will gratify even hungrier fans. Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)
Library Journal - Library Journal
It's a rare collection of magazine articles that can claim to provide "comprehensive [coverage of] the role of women in the development of popular music." But this impressive anthology can both make and back up that claim-its 56 essays cover the work of women in popular music from the earliest recordings of female blues singers to the work of today's postpunk and experimental performers. Most articles round up such usual suspects as Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Yoko Ono, and Laurie Anderson, but there are also pieces treating transsexual singer Jayne County, pop chanteuse Karen Carpenter, and the phenomenon of the woman record producer. US magazine editor O'Dair, formerly a music editor at Rolling Stone, took most but not all of these articles from that music magazine of record. The writing is of consistently high quality. Strongly recommended for all pop music and women's studies collections. (Index and photos not seen.)-Rick Anderson, Penacook, N.H.
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
YA-An impressive collection of 56 essays by 44 female writers about the role of women in popular music. Divided into six sections, the book opens with "The Pioneers of Rock & Roll: Blues, Jazz, Gospel, Rhythm & Blues, and Country" and features such artists as Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, and Patsy Cline. Subsequent chapters cover solo artists and girl groups of the `50s and `60s; the ladies of rock in the `60s and `70s; and the pop singers and punksters of the `70s. Sarah McLachlan, Bjork, Madonna, Salt-n-Pepa, k.d. lang, Janet Jackson, and Selena are just a few of the "Divas and B-Girls" spotlighted in another chapter. The volume wraps up with "Oh You Pretty Things!: Toward the Millennium" and includes the Go-Go's, Ani DiFranco, performance artist Laurie Anderson, and Riot Grrls like Bikini Kill. O'Dair and her troupe of well-credentialed writers have produced a comprehensive, well-written, and visually appealing volume that has an excellent index, bibliography, and discographies with each chapter. A must-have for libraries wanting vibrant, accessible material that will appeal to adolescent readers, especially women.-John Lawson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA

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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
7.98(w) x 9.23(h) x 1.29(d)

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