Turning The Tables: The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women (As Chosen By You)

The results are in for our reader poll, and your picks for the greatest albums made by women deeply modify and sometimes openly challenge our original Turning the Tables list.
A selection of artists from the first-ever NPR Turning the Tables readers' poll. Source: Courtesy of the artists

The results are in for the first-ever NPR Turning the Tables readers' poll, and they send a strong message to anyone fancying themselves a cultural justice warrior in 2018. It is this: check your intervention. The original list of 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women, assembled by a committee of nearly 50 NPR-affiliated women, sought to correct a historic bias against putting women's stories, and their artistry, at the center of popular music history. Your votes and comments, which deeply modify and sometimes openly challenge that list, challenged us to recognize that no matter how justified the correction may be, in popular music — happily — no center ever holds.

Instead, music's center shimmies and bops. Playing the game of lists and charts, we might serve music better with an animated version of the classic Venn diagram, in which circles overlap, obscure each other, and stay in motion. The queens of one era are the forgotten ancestors of another. Time can also amplify importance: Artists who found their places within loyal subcultures may eventually emerge as central figures in a generation's story, their legacies tended by fans until they grow sturdier and more vibrant. That's the one ruling principle in popular music — fans matter. You make history.

Nearly 4,500 voters participated in this poll, stumping for a total of nearly 8,000 different albums. The story of your voting patterns is one of passionate advocacy for artists whose music changed your lives. "Another album that undoubtedly saved the lives of LGBT people and allowed many families to postpone funerals," wrote one voter about Melissa Etheridge's 1993 album Yes I Am, released shortly after the rocker came out as a lesbian and ranked at 26 on this list. Commenters showed similar intensity about Kate Bush — one called 1985's Hounds of Love, which ranks at No. 4, "quintessential to being." For a fan who entered college the year Lauryn Hill released her masterwork (and your No. 3 pick) The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the 1998 album was "both formative and transformative... like a diary I didn't quite know how to write myself yet." The overall message, throughout your comments (excerpted below), is that while music made by women is as innovative, virtuosic and historically relevant as any made by men, emotional resonance — the risk of the personal — is as crucial a criterion.

Indeed, at the top of the list, the 20th century's greatest poet and analyst of the personal resides, as she did in the first version of Turning the Tables. Joni Mitchell, in fact, charted here an astonishing seven times — every album she released before making a hard experimental turn in 1977 with Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, excluding her folkie debut Song To a Seagull, makes the cut. Mitchell's predominance speaks to the way her albums serve as a guide to life's phases for many people, the earnestness of For the Roses giving way to the wounded catharsis of Blue, to the cool self-preservation of The Hissing of Summer Lawns and the soul renewal of Hejira.

Mitchell's impact shows on the list beyond her own work. , the original lists' Number One, barely edged out the album that has long been considered its chief rival in heralding the dawn of women's liberation — Carole King's , which jumped from 10 on the original ranks at 9, appears four times; so does Bjork, whose appears at 15. Many who could be placed in Mitchell's and King's lineage appear here, though they didn't make the original list at all: not only Etheridge, but Sarah McLachlan, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Neko Case, Aimee Mann and Brandi Carlile.

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