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5 Great Albums from Female Artists (And Inspirational Lessons)

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​I could do the usual thing here for International Women's Day and write or talk about the many fantastic women that inspire me daily - from my wife to my daughter, to my mother, sisters, friends and my many fantastic female colleagues, mentors and role models in Cpl

But we will have many of those stories over the coming days- alongside stories which will, regrettably, highlight the continuing lack of true equality and the challenges still facing societies in creating universal inclusiveness. 

So instead let me introduce 5 (there are many more) great albums from legendary female artists that inspire me and have been part of my ongoing 1000 Album Creativity mission. All are a must listen- add at least one to your playlist today as a mark of solidarity.

In no particular order here are my top 5: Joni Mitchell - Blue, Carole King - Tapestry, Janis Joplin - Pearl, Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady and Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

Joni Mitchell- Blue

A must listen from the genius that is Joni Mitchel, Blue (1971), is a masterpiece. Deeply intimate and yet accessible, it is one of the truly great albums. Mitchell produced the sessions herself, directing a small band that included luminaries like James Taylor and Stephen Stills. 

It highlights the deep, deep knowledge of melody that she possessed and continued to hone in subsequent albums as she forayed into ever more improvisational and jazzy journeys of self-expression. 

There is also an honesty and transparency at the core of this album that quite simply cannot be found anywhere else. Lower the lights and listen to them without distraction!

Inspiration & Creativity Lesson (s): Honesty is beautiful- be honest in your ideas and how you express them. We are in an age where honesty has become something everyone is seeking, so many will be receptive. There is magic in depth. Don't shy away from being complex, sophisticated and playing with new ideas- cross the "white lines of the highway" (Mitchell)- play with complex idea arrangements.

Honesty is beautiful- be honest in your ideas and how you express them.

Carole King- Tapestry

My personal favourite, Tapestry (1971), is the album where Carole King cemented her place as one of the greats. Before this album King was already an accomplished and dependable hitmaker for many artists of the 1960's- (she is now the most successful female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century in the US, having written or co-written 118 pop hits on the Billboard Hot 100) but she was very much in the background. 

Here, she comes to the fore as composer, lyricist, musician and singer. Many of the songs on this album are stone-cold hits (the album has gone onto sell more than 25 million albums). Best listened to whilst driving, there isn't one filler' on this album- it is fully formed. Interestingly there were times during the recording of the album where she’d have her baby in the playpen at the studio. 

Toni Stern has said that during the making of Tapestry, King would be “playing the bass with her left hand and diapering a baby with her right.” King has said that having kids kept her “grounded in reality,”- and this has helped with the essence of the album.

Inspiration & Creativity Lesson (s): Hone your craft backstage through continuous work but make sure to come out of the shadows at some point and really let your ideas take flight in front of people. Family can keep things real and children keep you grounded- use it as a source of inspiration and reality for your ideas.

Come out of the shadows at some point and really let your ideas take flight in front of people

Janis Joplin- Pearl

Another classic album from 1971- Pearl- was Janis Joplin's last album, released posthumously, and is everything that Joplin stood for- rawness, pure feeling, and sexual charge. 

For this album, she put the band together, and approved the songs- as well as penning the opening track 'Move Over and the fantastic cappella 'Mercedes Benz'. Joplin overcame much adversity in her life- while attending the University of Austin in Texas, she was once voted “the ugliest man” by her classmates and was consistently bullied. She managed to stay a kind spirit whilst never really 'fitting in'. 

She was also a hard worker, who honed her craft across continuous live performances. According to her biographer Holly George-Warren she was also a 'real scholar of music'.

Inspiration & Creativity Lesson (s): Ignore the bullies and stay true to who you are. Embrace and celebrate your uniqueness and don't be afraid to be somewhat of an enigma. Become a 'scholar' of whatever you are into and consistently take the opportunity to practice whenever you can.

Ignore the bullies and stay true to who you are

Janelle Monae- The Electric Lady

The Electric Lady (2013) by Janelle Monae is as much a work of science fiction as it is a storming album of funk, rock, gospel and everything else besides. 

One of my all-time favourite songs is on this album- 'Sally Ride'- a song of soaring beauty and there are so many other great (and eclectic) songs on this album- including rock simmer-er 'Give Em What You Love' recorded with my musical hero Prince. 

The production values and the story-driven approach (she utilises alter-egos and a sweeping dystopian vision of an alternative future) of the album make it sound as fresh today as it did 8 years ago. Monae is a free spirit, multi-talented and spans multiple mediums. 

In her own words, she is a 'queer black woman in America' and considers herself to be a 'free ass m&*herf^&ker'. I love that quote and all of her albums are definitely worth a listen.

Inspiration & Creativity Lesson (s): Harness attention to detail and don't be afraid to micro-manage to ensure your ideas and productions are exceptionally excellent. Build your story world as the 'meta idea' and play with multiple concepts within the story world. Be a free spirit and don't be afraid to play in new mediums. 

Harness attention to detail and don't be afraid to micro-manage to ensure your ideas and productions are exceptionally excellent. 

Lauryn Hill- The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

A neo-soul, hip hop masterpiece, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998), was Lauryn Hill's debut solo album (before that she was a member of The Fugees). It became a monster hit- and Hill became the first woman since Debbie Gibson to have a song that she wrote, recorded and produced scale to number one in the Billboard charts. 

During her GRAMMY acceptance speech (she took 5 home that night- a first for a female artist) she said “This is crazy, because this is hip-hop music.” 

In fact, many credits this album as the one that finally brought hip hop truly into the mainstream. It was an album first and foremost of genuine impact. There are a boatload of killer tracks on this album- like “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and “Everything Is Everything” that seamlessly integrates both singing and rapping. Listen to this album- now!!

Inspiration & Creativity Lesson (s): No matter how niche the ideas you are working on are, by bringing a new perspective you might just make them more mainstream or accessible than ever before. Look to integrate things in deeper ways to create a new dynamic and a better version of what went before. 

I implore you all to listen to these fantastic albums. Take time to marvel at the uniqueness of these female artists and how they brought innovation and new perspectives through the music they created. And these albums are just a selection- I could easily have called out others like Beyonces Lemonade (2016), Patti Smiths Horses (1975), Christine and the Queens Chris (2018) and many more besides. 

On this 110th International Women's Day seek inspiration from the many incredible female artists across all mediums and join in solidarity as we strive for a truly equal and equitable world for all.

This article is dedicated to my female colleagues in Cpl - many of whom are friends, mentors and role models. For more information on The Future of Work Institute click here.