As for me, ever since my mom bought a bunch of Motown cassettes for family car trips when I was a child and I fell in love with Smokey Robinson, I’ve known how much influence women can have on each other’s listening habits. This question makes me think about trading mixtapes with middle school and high school girlfriends, featuring everything from Ani DiFranco to Britpop, my best friend Julia surprising me with Radiohead tickets right before we left for college, and coveting the Rufus Wainwright songs my college roommate Babs had on her Napster for my Napster. And it wasn’t just girl-on-girl sharing — there are quite a few men walking around the world who are conversant with the mid-’70s Bob Dylan albums Desire and Blood on the Tracks because my friend Mollie made me a mixtape with some of these songs on it, and I then felt a strong need to evangelize for Bob Dylan’s midlife crisis. You’re welcome, guys.
Puccini and Richard Thompson
My whole family is embedded in music well over our heads, but in early childhood, especially, I had a particularly strong musical bond with my mother and her mother, my Bubbe. Bubbe was an opera obsessive with unresolved dreams of singing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; my mom was a folk-rock writer for a period of time, a musician her whole life (having mastered piano and guitar, she picked up drumming most recently, in her 60s, and is currently in a band with my dad for the second time in her life). Our tastes were all so different — Puccini, Richard Thompson, and The Cure — but we shared with one another out of a sheer appreciation and respect for one another, for that shimmering joy that comes with listening intently and loving music intensely. Even as my tastes got darker and very harsh, as I became a teen skate-punk and got into serious noise, I could always find some common ground with them. Sharing music with them put family disagreements to bed, put new voices in my mouth, helped me listen differently, and indubitably shaped who I am as an adult. (You can see the apple rolling around at the roots.)
— Jes Skolnik, writer and vocalist/guitarist, Split Feet
“The Weight,” by The Band
My friend Jane introduced me to The Band via Martin Scorsese’s documentary capturing their last concert, The Last Waltz, and the song that left most of an impression with me was “The Weight.” Not only did it open with Levon Helm personifying cool, and feature goosebump-inducing vocals from Mavis Staples, but it felt like a journey with each verse marking turbulence only to return us to a sentiment of compassion; take a load off, Fanny, and put the load right on me. Given the current political climate of refusing aid and empathy to vulnerable communities in favor of fear and smallness, the small gestures are as powerful as ever. We all maintain a position of power, and while leaders may choose fear, our ability to choose love shouldn’t be taken for granted. It all adds up.
— Sara Haile-Mariam, writer and drummer, Music Bones
Chavela VargasI knew of Chavela Vargas growing up in a Mexican family, but I didn’t really appreciate her genius until my friend Elizabeth Mendez-Berry delivered a paper about her at the EMP Pop Conference in 2004. Almost 12 years later I can’t imagine my life without Chavela, not just for the passion within her music, but for the ground she broke, an open lesbian in early-20th-century México, singing male-centric rancheras in butch clothing, living the way she wanted. She died free in 2012, her last words being, “I go with México in my heart.”— Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, culture editor, Jezebel
Photo credit: Andrew Boyle
Tori Amos and Nine Inch Nails
A lot of women have introduced me to music. My main embarrassing superfandom, Tori Amos, came about because a female friend of my mom’s heard I was having a rough time in school, and gave my Mom a copy of her interview in SPIN for me to read. But the biggest musical service I received from fellow women came in middle school, in the form of Nine Inch Nails. You were no one in suburban Ohio in 1995 if you didn’t own The Downward Spiral, and I lived in a home where parental-advisory labels were the kiss of death. On my birthday, three of my substantially cooler lady friends did me a service: They got me the NIN albums, and snuck them into my home, where they could live in a secret shoebox and only ever be listened to on headphones. The most macho, profane, scary Dude Music I owned only came into my life because a few tween girls didn’t want their friend to miss out.”
— Sady Doyle, writer/critic
I always had a lot of female friends who loved music, but since I didn’t go to high school with most of them, we ended up mailing each other mixtapes. The one I remember best (probably because I played it most) came from my friend Anna, sometime during my sophomore year. It was full of riot grrrl and indie pop classics, and must have been my first exposure to a lot of those acts: Bratmobile, 7 Year Bitch, Heavens to Betsy, Sleater-Kinney, Jad Fair, Team Dresch. These are, of course, exactly the kind of bands that are best evangelized via mixtape. Listening to it, I felt like I’d been let in on a wonderful secret. — Judy Berman, editor-in-chief, Flavorwire
Jen Monroe is half of my favorite music site, Listen To This! where she and Brian Sweeney write about cosmically good albums. When they say so, I do (listen). Jen and I met IRL at a wedding and found a shared love, in particular, for the doomed Lee Hazlewood girl group Honey Ltd. But my best, most treasured recommendation from her was Virginia Astley, the classically trained British songwriter whose discography I’m ecstatically working through.
— Hermione Hoby, culture journalist
Prince, Purple Rain
My mom had Purple Rain on vinyl, and I was totally mesmerized by the cover. She played it for me on repeat when I first discovered her album as a kid. She also introduced me to Al Green, one of her favorite singers, after I found her cassettes of Let’s Stay Together and I’m Still in Love with You. She’s always geeking out about old blues, jazz, and soul. She’s really into all the Motown artists, too (and got me hooked early on). Her dad collected jazz records and was an indie radio DJ in his spare time (we have cassettes of his sessions, and they are amazing). It was a big influence on her musical tastes.
—Alison Nastasi, weekend editor, Flavorwire
The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground
You mean besides all the great music you, my spouse, have introduced me to? OK, here’s one. I thought I was cool for listening to The Velvet Underground and Nico when I was 16. Then I got to college, where a much cooler freshman-year friend told me to check out their other self-titled album, the third one, with “Candy Says” and “I’m Set Free” and “Pale Blue Eyes.” She was so right. The hours I spent listening to those soft, vulnerable songs late at night, alone in my dorm room, opened up my understanding of what music could do. To this day it’s far and away my favorite Velvets album.
— Simon Vozick-Levinson, senior editor, Rolling Stone (and husband of this post’s author)
Punk, emo, riot grrrl, Warped TourOnce I grew out of the “only listening to what my older brother listens to” phase of my life, I had no idea where to find music for myself, so I turned to the place I turned for all of my teen questions: LiveJournal. There wasn’t just one woman who introduced me to music, but a whole group of women who would tell me to buy riot grrrl records or download a pop-punk album or just introduce me to the androgynous hotness of emo frontmen with perfect hair. My comments were a treasure trove of amazing music recommendations by strangers who later become friends — and Warped Tour buddies.— Pilot Viruet, TV editor, Flavorwire
My best friend Amy in high school had a Honda civic. She drove me everywhere (thank you, Amy) and so she got to pick a lot of the music to soundtrack our trips. Amy got me into The Doors, Outkast, Lauryn Hill, and most importantly Erykah Badu, first via Worldwide Underground and then Baduizm. I think this was great music to hear as a teen! Been a massive EB fan ever since, all because of driving around the boring suburbs of metro-Detroit with Amy singing along with “On & On,” “Certainly,” “Love Of My Life” (a great tune about being in love with music), etc.
— Katie Alice Greer, singer, Priests
Patsy Cline and country musicChuck Klosterman once wrote, “The most wretched people in the world are those who tell you they like every kind of music ‘except country,'” and I was one of those wretched people, until I met an amazing woman who just so happened to work at a country music radio station, and decided to date me in spite of this wretchedness. She took me by my pretentious hand and introduced me not only to the pleasures of classic country (of Hank Williams, of George Jones, of Loretta Lynn, of Patsy Cline), patiently explaining how they were all of a piece with the classic rockabilly I loved (and often originated in the same damn studios, for God’s sake), but even got me listening to a carefully curated selection of modern sounds of country and bluegrass, like the Dixie Chicks and Alison Krauss. I was thus freed from this prejudice to be wretched for all sorts of other reasons — and yet in spite of them, that country music missionary ended up being my wife.— Jason Bailey, film editor, Flavorwire
Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes My mother was 26, the age I am today, when Tori Amos released Little Earthquakes. It was a heavy, uniquely profound debut, centering Amos’ struggle to reclaim her sexuality from her sexual trauma, and to extract her spirituality from the confines of Christianity. My mom would be grappling with similar dilemmas as a single mother in undergrad, when her friend Laura, a DJ at the campus radio station, gave her this tape. (Laura tried to get my mom into Green Day, too, but my mom is too much of a brooding poet for that.) Tori Amos used to put me to sleep in the backseat of my mom’s car, drooling on the collars of my dress shirts. Nowadays, Tori Amos is the balm that quells so many of my hangups around being a woman and a survivor. Even as she sits saintly from behind a grand piano, there’s something so defiant, so incredibly rock ‘n’ roll about her. — Suzy Exposito, online producer, Rolling Stone
When I was in what in America you’d call junior high school, I was an adamant teenage U2 fan who regarded the world of “alternative” music with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation. Happily, it was about this time I became friends with Paul — he’s still one of my best friends, and in 1992 he was a lanky kid with a skater undercut and a knowledge of all sorts of bands I’d only heard mentioned in passing by kids who were a couple of years older and a whole lot cooler than me. It turns out Paul got all his music from his super-cool cousin Irene — he showed me the mixtapes she made for him, which were carefully curated and involved people like Siouxsie, The Cure, Violent Femmes, etc. And then there was Dead Kennedys’ Plastic Surgery Disasters, which we’d listen to at inadvisable volume again and again when his parents were out. I never met the mysterious cousin Irene, but I have her to thank, indirectly, for starting me down a road that took me to all sorts of wonderful places.
— Tom Hawking, deputy editor, Flavorwire
Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway
I learned about vocalist Roberta Flack and black music – music from black artists whose lyrics spoke about the joys and more often, the struggles of black life – through my white mother. As a kid, I was drawn to Flack’s “Killing me Softly” and “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face,” partly because I’d never heard a woman sing so softly with enough emotion that as a 7-8 year-old kid, rummaging through my parents extensive record collection, made me wonder about the beautiful, afro -ed singer, who looked more like me than anyone in my family. The album, 1977’s Blue Lights in the Basement introduced me to Donny Hathaway, who guested on “The Closer I Get To You,” and began a life-long fascination with the emotional nuances that emerged between the lyrical content. In hindsight, it is a bit odd that my mother, who primarily listens to classical music to collect some seminal albums from the 70’s era of black soul singers, but they were pivotal in leading me to pursue music journalism and social activism as an adult.— Laina Dawes, music journalist and photographer