In its August 1999 issue, British music bible Q magazine polled their readers in order to discover what they considered to be the 100 Greatest Stars of the 20th Century. The results were the usual jumble of good intentions and fashion bloomers. Both of Oasis' Gallagher brothers finished ahead of any Rolling Stone. Pulp mainman Jarvis Cocker and Catatonia singer Cerys Matthews were favored over seminal jazz artists like John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Bez, the non-playing member of Happy Mondays, was four slots above Igor Stravinsky. Thom Yorke of Radiohead got number 16. The number one slot predictably went to John Lennon (a musician who retained artistic validity mainly through the tireless efforts of his much-maligned second wife).The most glaring omission in the poll, however, is females. There are just 10 women in the Top 100: Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Patti Smith, Cerys Matthews, Blondie's Debbie Harry, Billie Holiday, Diana Ross, and Lauryn Hill -- with just two artists in the Top 25 (Madonna and Aretha Franklin). Likewise for highly respected specialist English music publication Mojo, whose readers voted 28 female artists into the June 1999 poll for the Top 100 Singers of the century. Sure, Aretha Franklin triumphed in the number one slot, and Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and Joni Mitchell were all voted into the Top 20 -- but 28 percent is still a very low ratio.

The fault doesn't solely lie with either magazine's readers or their editors, however -- try naming one musical genre from this century in which women are perceived to have the predominant voice. Impossible, because this poll is sadly indicative of the way creative women are -- even now -- continually overlooked in favor of their less talented male counterparts, due to centuries of fucked-up social conditioning.

Music has always proudly boasted that it can bridge generations and creeds: It should not be so proud of that boast, not at all. The most vital music has always been that which creates generational and social divides, that which appeals to the individual, not that which reinforces the status quo. In a century where notable revolutions took place in all aspects of women's lives (political, sociological, cultural), how can any poll be taken seriously that doesn't include The Female Voice? What use is rock music -- or jazz, or blues, or soul, or hiphop, or classical, or dance, or reggae, or any of the other countless variants of popular listening culture this century has thrown up -- if it doesn't provide an alternative to the norm? What use is culture if it doesn't provide an outlet for the voices overlooked or discriminated against in everyday life?

Take the Q readers' poll, for example. Where are the inspirational voices of blueswomen Bessie Smith and Dinah Washington, disco diva Donna Summer, gospel icon Mahalia Jackson, punk pioneers like Chrissie Hynde and PJ Harvey, country music's peerless Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton? Forget sex for one moment. All these artists are clearly talented enough to be included in any poll purporting to represent a cross-section of this century's music.

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