Music

Screaming Females

Reviews and recommendations of musical girl gangs.

Nice Ass
Free Kitten
1995, Kill Rock Stars

Pretty much a perfect record. With Free Kitten, indie-rock superstars Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth), Julia Cafritz (Pussy Galore), Yoshimi (the Boredoms), and Mark Ibold (Pavement) joined forces to form a super-group of awesomeness and RAW POWER. The songs are strident and fuzzy and deliberately sloppy in a way that is both emblematic of the ’90s and a total feminist statement in its “we don’t have to make it pretty for you to listen” sorta way. And they don’t, of course, because these three women (and Mark!) have proved their awesomeness beyond words and with this record you basically get to hang out and eavesdrop while they shoot the shit about all the stuff in their lives. Stuff like dealing with sexist assholes when you’re on the road with your band, how much you love being onstage, talking smack about lame dudes in bands who think they’re hot stuff, and randomly name-dropping Hugh Grant and Michael Jackson. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. On “Revlon Liberation Orchestra” there is a constant loop in the background that says “oppression killin’ me soft and sexy,” which, when paired with Kim’s signature quasi-atonal voice rappin’ about “good hair like Barbie,” is almost like a battle cry, cutting through all the shit you have to deal with every day and psyching you up to TAKE OVER THE WORLD NOW! Every song is a gem, every muddled guitar riff a place to bury your frustrations. 100% essential. —Laia

Pretty Little Baka Guy
Shonen Knife
1986, Subversive Records

One of my strategies for dealing with a bad day is to put this album on and bounce around the house, singing along and proclaiming my love for choco bars, ice cream, space cats, marshmallows, baths, sleeping in my bed, and other happy treats celebrated by the pop-punk Japanese trio. It’s one of those records where you can actually hear the band having fun, and it’s hard not to have fun right along with them. By the time the record ends, my mood is improved by approximately one million percent. And I really, really want a choco bar. —Pixie

The Runaways
The Runaways
1976, Mercury

Nobody can deny that the lyric “HELLO DADDY, HELLO MOM, I’M YOUR CH-CH-CH-CH-CHERRY BOMB!” from the song “Cherry Bomb” is just begging to be sung along to. The Runaways self-titled debut album is THE ultimate collection of sexy rebel-girl anthems. I would go as far as to say “Cherry Bomb” was the first Riot Grrrl song! The Runaways were an all-girl rock band in the ’70s, a decade when dudes usually ruled the genre. With classic hard-rock songs like “Drive Me Wild” and “Blackmail,” this entire album makes me want to skip school forever and be a professional badass/wild girl for the rest of my life. The next time you feel like screaming, thrashing, and rocking out like a madwoman, put The Runaways on! —Hazel

Bricks are Heavy
L7
1992, Slash Records

“When I get mad and I get pissed, I grab my pen, and I write out a list….” Or I just bust out Bricks Are Heavy by L7, and put on the song I just quoted from, “Shitlist.” I also like to pretend I’m the girl in the song “Everglade,” holding her own against the “rednecks on parade,” who think she’s too girlie to be in the mosh pit. Speaking of pretending, “Pretend We’re Dead,” is battle cry against apathy complete with a catchy riff that stands up well beside Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” You can tell by the grinding melodies and sludgy guitar that this album came out in 1992, but L7’s blend of punk, metal, and grunge topped off with snarling female vocals is still perfect for a bad day—or starting a revolution—almost 20 years later. —Stephanie

“Chapel of Love”
“People Say”
“Iko Iko”
“Little Bell”
The Dixie Cups
1964-1965, Red Bird Records

The Dixie Cups make music that’s perfect for adapting into “Miss Mary Mack”-style hand games or double-dutch rhymes. From 1964 to 1965, they slayed popular radio with their tales of love ’n’ marriage, the first being “Chapel of Love.” Even if you’ve heard it a million times, this sunny, rollicking song will easily inspire new versions if you throw it on at a party, because it basically guarantees you and your friends an adorable sing-along session. They followed this up with “People Say,” my favorite Dixie Cups song. You know how when you first become romantically infatuated with somebody, you think that no one else in the history of the world could possibly understand how much you like them, because you’re the first person to ever feel that strongly about another human being? This song is totally the soundtrack to that feeling. You don’t care what the people say, and neither do the Dixie Cups. Next came “Iko Iko,” which the family band adapted after hearing their grandmother sing it to them. The story gets better—the recording of the song happened by chance when the ladies were playing around between official recordings in a New York City studio and they broke into an impromptu version of “Iko Iko,” accompanied only by drumsticks on the studio’s ashtrays. They recorded this classic without even realizing the tapes were running! It went on to be covered by other music luminaries such as the Grateful Dead, Warren Zevon, and, perhaps most notable to me in the second grade, Aaron Carter. Then came the underrated “Little Bell,” which is essentially a much dreamier version of “Chapel of Love.” I think it’s really sweet that their music covers such mature thematic territory while also sounding like updated schoolyard chants. These tracks are perfect for the playground, the chapel, and everything in between. —Amy Rose

Tinderbox
Siouxsie and the Banshees
1986, Geffen/Warner Bros

“Cities in Dust,” off of this, Siouxsie and the Banshees’ seventh album, always reminds me of dancing in my favorite black dress with the enormous bell sleeves that were perfect for swooping around like batwings. If you’re in the mood to put on a flowy black dress and dance or you’re just trying to keep your energy up while cleaning your room, this is your album. Other excellent swirly-dancing tracks include “Party’s Fall,” “Candyman,” and “92 Degrees.” Pay attention to the dark lyrics layered on top of the poppy music to get the full effect. The “Candyman” Siouxsie sings about is no Willy Wonka; he’s the guy in the van you were warned about as a kid; and “92 Degrees” is the temperature when it’s said that the most murders are committed. Creepy and danceable, what could be better? —Stephanie

Banarama
Banarama
1984, London

The 1980s were a golden time for inexplicably cute and cool girl groups. Banarama’s music always had an innocent quality, like they were a trio of synth-pop angels dressed in graphic prints and too much blush. Their vocal harmonies and peppy beats remind me of early-’60s girl groups, and all the songs are quirky with a bit of innuendo. Songs like “Robert De Niro’s Waiting” and “Rough Justice” might seem like adorable pop songs, but a closer listen reveals some serious, and weird, messages. “Cruel Summer,” their most popular song (and my favorite), perfectly captures those hot, helpless summer days where all you can do is be bored and stick your head in the freezer. Bananarama is just one of those perfect ’80s albums made by a totally cool girl gang! —Hazel

We Be Xuxa
Mika Miko
2009, Post Present Medium

I think there’s this false assumption floating around that the best angry lady punk music came and went in the early ’90s. California band Mika Miko formed in 2003, releasing albums on labels like Kill Rock Stars (they that brought you Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Huggy Bear) and Sup Pop (L7, Sleater-Kinney). Though Mika Miko (heartbreakingly) broke up in 2010, this last record of theirs, on Dean Spunt from No Age’s label, shows they were nowhere near losing steam. It’s filled with the fast, fun songs for which the band was known. Mika Miko had a reputation for putting on wild live shows, and part of me continues to mourn that I never got around to seeing them play, though listening to this record at top volume seems to be a pretty good substitute. —Anna

Different Light
The Bangles
1986, Columbia

Any song on Different Light, the best album by the Bangles, would work perfectly on a soundtrack for a spunky-but-corny ’80s movie about high school, aka the most fun movies around. Just listen to “Standing in the Hallway” and try not to envision James Spader beating down your classroom door (the Pretty in Pink-era Spader, not Robert California…shudder). The bubbly highschoolosity of the album is underscored by cheerleader-style harmonizing, with plenty of ooh-rah-oohs. For those of you who prefer to synchronize-dance in private, “Walk Like an Egyptian” is a great song for bedroom choreography with your pals. The other big hit on the album, “Manic Monday,” was written by none other than Prince under the unassuming pen name “Christopher.” I have no idea how he thought he could go incognito when he’s fucking PRINCE, a person whose entire career is based around flauntiness and ostentation, but whatever, the song is classic and amazing no matter what appellation he chose. Different Light is occasionally a little bit college-a-cappella-group-y sometimes. But this totally be forgiven in the scope of everything else, especially their punk sensibilities and their affinity for awesome girls like themselves and us. I’m all over the grammatically incorrect “If She Knew What She Wants,” originally by Jules Shear, for this reason. It’s all about a guy who’s crazy in love with a girl who’s too busy with her own “ideas traveling around in her head” to notice him, and you’ll wish it was written about you. The Bangles also cover Big Star’s “September Gurls,” which is a tricky thing to carry off since the original is so great, but it fits right in with their lunchroom-romance sound. Download this to blare in your headphones during study hall, or just for when you feel like walking in the style of the Pharisees. —Amy Rose

Release Me
The Like
2010, Geffen

There are lots of reason to like the Like: the drummer’s name is Tennessee and the lead singer goes by ‘Z’; they’ve written the first really wonderful bad-friend song (“Narcisscus in a Red Dress”); they do killer hand-claps and harmonies; they wear dresses that spell out L-I-K-E on their album cover; they’ve got hair I would die for; their songs have ooh-oohs and tambourines galore. If you dance alone in your bedroom to ’60s girl groups (and why wouldn’t you), you will love the Like. —Emma S.

The Bird of Music
Au Revoir Simone
2007, Our Secret Record Company

On paper, Au Revoir Simone seems like they were invented just to listen to while you flip through the latest Anthropologie catalog: a trio of ladies from Williamsburg playing twinkly songs on the keyboard with lyrics about dreams and stars. But to dismiss them as such would be doing them a disservice. There’s substance to their ethereal noise and a method to their fantasy—it’s sort of like finding out that the floaty, whimsical dress you bought has strategically placed pockets. This album is a great soundtrack for right before you fall asleep and the moment you wake up the morning. —Anna

21 Comments

  • sweeteelou November 10th, 2011 11:11 PM

    I hoped someone would mention The Like! I love them! Can’t wait to check out these other girl groups too.

  • November 10th, 2011 11:25 PM

    Please don’t judge me, but I spent a ridiculous amount of energy trying to perfectly match my hand-claps up with those contained in the Friend’s theme song (like every night). So a band where they feature!?!?!

  • Chimdi November 10th, 2011 11:34 PM

    The Like!
    YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY

  • Pinkwitchcraft November 11th, 2011 12:26 AM

    HELLO DADDY HELLO MOM, I’M YOUR CH-CH-CH-CH-CHERRY BOOM
    HELLO WORLD I’M YOUR WILD GIRL
    I’M YOUR CH-CH-CH-CH-CHERRY BOOM!

  • MichyMich November 11th, 2011 12:59 AM

    L7 was such an awesome band and their music reminded me of Babes in Toyland.

  • Pashupati November 11th, 2011 1:57 AM

    Funny. I was just preparing an inspiration non-collage in some online place with a picture of The Like.
    Let me look for tiny spy cams.
    Makes me want to check the others! (except the Runaways, already a fan.)

  • prettyontheinside November 11th, 2011 2:54 AM

    Yeah, Babes In Toyland is definitely my favorite all girl band, I think they are severely underrated. But yeah, this is a great list!

  • kira-kira November 11th, 2011 8:18 AM

    Another amazing list! Thanks Rookie, for helping a busy girl find some good music :)

  • Lascelles November 11th, 2011 9:15 AM

    Yay Au Revoir Simone! I think Lynch likes them because they are a lot like the dream pop from This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins, a sound which Lynch replicates all the time (aka Twin Peaks). The sound is that kind of sad, you should be happy, Virgin Suicides, disturbing fifties vibe… that maybe what you hear Anna.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdtvZPVT0zU
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFG-cUQ1a8k

  • rosiethehammer November 11th, 2011 9:24 AM

    As awesome as this list is, I’m sad that Screaming Females isn’t on it! True, only one of the three is female, but as they’ve said: the band name isn’t so much a description as it is a *concept.*
    http://www.screamingfemales.com/

  • ieathipsters November 11th, 2011 10:00 AM

    The Like sound awesome, I’ll have to check them out. I love discovering new music!

    http://ieathipsters.blogspot.com/

  • romagrrl November 11th, 2011 11:06 AM

    I have a really great memory of crowd surfing at an L7 concert back in ’94. I was rocking out in my black vinyl outfit with Doc Marten maryjanes. L7: such a good band!

  • cancercowboy November 11th, 2011 12:46 PM

    is that Runaways movie any good?

  • fizzing November 11th, 2011 3:18 PM

    So glad to see The Like on here! I can’t wait to listen to Shonen Knife, either!

  • insteadofanelephant November 11th, 2011 7:23 PM

    au revoir simone <3

    instead of an elephant

  • Amy Rose November 11th, 2011 10:38 PM

    SHONEN KNIFE! Amazing call, Pixie.

  • Vickena Fu Foo November 13th, 2011 11:58 AM

    An awesome list of music, loved Bananarama and The Bangles for their pop genius! Shonen Knife and L7 were such fun!
    I will be sure to check out some of the other bands, especially The Like

  • talia November 13th, 2011 7:18 PM

    Another great group is Jack Off Jill. They scream a lot and feature song titles like French Kiss the Elderly and CumDumpster on albums named stuff like Humid Teenage Mediocrity and Cannibal Song Book.

  • DITP November 13th, 2011 9:27 PM

    Though they’ve faced difficulty with changing their sound and members quitting, The Pipettes were a great all-girl group when they first came out. Their debut album from 2006, We Are the Pipettes, is one of my favorite albums of the previous decade.

  • Colleen November 13th, 2011 10:46 PM

    I. Love. The. Runaways. Great list!

  • bemboozled November 14th, 2011 12:51 AM

    I suppose this is a bit off topic, but I’ve been noticing the theme of girl gangs/groups popping up on the site a lot lately which is really great in some respects, like showing and celebrating how women don’t have to be catty to eachother and get along really well in group dynamics. However I feel like another great dialogue that could be explored in addition, which is how we sometimes grab onto and artificially create groups. I feel like in high school, and even a bit in college, we need the security blanket of a set group where we have a bunch of special rituals and do almost everything together, and having been on both sides of that in all girl, and co-ed groups, I think they can be really dramatic under the surface especially when it becomes clear what bonds are stronger and which are not, under the pretense of a unified cohesive group. I know this is super rambly, but I feel like my Mom always praised me for being a bit of a floater in high school, for having a couple groups of friends that I balanced instead of dealing with a clique, and I hope that this kind of social dynamic could be explored more here as well because I think the group ideal isn’t for everyone or only works at certain times in each person’s life.