According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, an album is a collection of songs, but it is also “ a book with blank pages used for making a collection.” And that is the definition that most intrigues for our purposes in compiling The Greatest Lesbian Albums (Of All Time) – the idea that a collection of recordings has the power to create an indelible impression on the listener. Certainly, lesbian music fans have lovingly co-opted albums for decades to help provide aural snapshots of their experiences.
While spectacularly crafted albums can elicit visceral responses from listeners universally, it feels even truer for the LGBT listener, who continually turns over a phrase, a lyric, a harmony to infer a sense of solidarity with the artist.
In endeavoring to nail down The 100 Greatest Lesbian Albums (Of All Time) we enlisted the help of lesbian friends, colleagues, musicians and entertainers spanning 6 decades in age and asked them to name the albums that provided the soundtrack to their lives as women.
With singer songwriters of the seventies, punk divas, folk goddesses, gutsy rockers, jazz chanteuses and synth pop darlings, please enjoy our list, continuing below with albums 50-26. We will roll out the top 25 next week and finally reveal the number one “Greatest Lesbian Album of All Time.” (Even if you don’t see your favorite album this week, you may see it in the top 25, or in our the list of albums 100-76 and 75-51.)
50. Madonna, Like a Prayer 1989
Maybe it was the involvement of fellow gender-bending pop culture icon Prince. Maybe it was the confessional nature of the songs, all co-written and produced by Madge herself that made her 4th album ring so true for LGBT fans especially. Delightfully mixing funk, pop, and even gospel musically, Madonna's sexy, gender bending "Express Yourself" video sealed the deal with her lesbian fans.
49. No Doubt, Tragic Kingdom 1995
Far more than "Just A Girl,” No Doubt lead singer/songwriter Gwen Steffani was a breath of ska-influenced fresh air on the pop rock charts and would become an iconic woman in rock. Ushering in a new age of “Girl Power,” Gwen was sexy, authentic, and alternative. Her blond bombshell good looks and buff biceps turned more than a few young women’s head in the mid 90s.
48. Sade, Diamond Life 1984
The debut album from the distinctively beautiful Sade became a worldwide hit thanks to memorable its “Your Love Is King” and “Smooth Operator.” Perfectly blending old world soul with new wave pop, critics and fans alike struggled to find fault with the flawless sound.
47. The Gossip, Standing In The Way Of Control 2006
The raw punk power of lead singer Beth Ditto’s voice instantly set the band apart form their contemporaries; not to mention her unapologetic sexy performance style -- dancing and often stripping off clothing on stage -- and attitude. In addition to designing a successful plus-sized fashion line, and modeling for major designers, Ditto, a lesbian, lends her outspoken support to both LGBT and feminist causes.
46. Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, I Love Rock & Roll 1981
Jett’s first studio album with her backing band the Blackhearts is still her biggest hit to date. Though it was a cover, Jett’s definitive snarl and skilled lead guitar on single “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” make it the stand out version. All black leather, eye liner, and attitude, women everywhere wanted to the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll to touch them there.
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45. Paula Cole, This Fire 1996
While she’d released her album “Harbinger” two years earlier, garnering a loyal fan base, Paula Cole hit the big time with “This Fire” and its first single “Where Have all the Cowboys Gone,” a feminist anthem for the ages. Her next single “I Don’t Wanna Wait” became a massive hit and the theme for the popular teen show "Dawson’s Creek." Cole was also part of the inspiration for Lilith Fair, as Sarah McLachlan wanted to tour with Cole and execs told her two women could never sell out a show. Cole was one of the first added to the Lilith line-up and the rest is women’s music history!
44. Bonnie Raitt. Road Tested 1995
Widely hailed as one of the best slide guitarists in the biz, Bonnie Raitt had been churning out her brand of blues since the early 70’s. She enjoyed a surge of mainstream attention in the late 80’s and early 90’s with her back-to-back masterpiece albums “Nick of Time” and “Luck of the Draw.” Raitt’s 1995 live album “Road Tested” features stellar performances of this pioneering musician's early work from “Angel from Montgomery” to “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”
43. Luscious Jackson, Fever In, Fever Out 1996
This all-girl band played their instruments and wrote their own songs. The group toured on Lilith Fair to support the songs that spoke to women and spawned radio and MTV hits with “Naked Eye” and “Lady Fingers.” It didn't hurt the band's appeal with the ladies that drummer Kate Schellenbach is openly gay.
42. Joni Mitchell, Court And Spark 1974
During the early 70’s Joni Mitchell churned out one classic album after another. “Court and Spark” featured two early classics including her spot-on assessment of producer David Geffen with “Free Man in Paris” and her free-falling love song “Help Me.” Considered one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time Mitchell’s albums provided the soundtrack for many a budding lesbian’s love and life.
41. Fleetwood Mac, Rumors 1977
A band with wide appeal and two strong female vocalists -- Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie -- Fleetwood Mac’s song stylings provided an antidote to the disco divas and the male-fronted rock bands permeating the airwaves during the 70’s. Nicks and McVie sang lead respectively on “Dreams,” “Gold Dust Woman” and “You Make Loving Fun.”
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40. Chely Wright, Lifted Off The Ground 2010
Grammy Award winning country music artist Wright’s 7th album was different. It coincided with her official ‘I’m a Lesbian’ People magazine cover, the release of her revealing memoir, and was essentially the soundtrack to her coming out. Breaking boundaries in the conservative country music scene in the process, Wright’s pride and inner peace lifted fans off the ground as well.
39. The Pretenders, Pretenders 1980
With her in your face punk leanings softened by, at turns, hauntingly mournful vocals, Chrissie Hynde made one sexy, badass front woman. The Pretenders eponymous first album featured college radio station hit after hit like “Kid,” “Stop Your Sobbing” and “Private Life.” But Hynde’s ultimate naughty girl anthem “Brass in Pocket,” really made the girls listen up.
38. Nina Simone, Anthology 2003
A jazz singer/songwriter and civil rights activist, Nina Simone’s heartrending interpretations of the “Porgy and Bess” classic “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” as well as “To Love Somebody” and “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” brim with pathos. Simone’s troubled personal life coupled with her activism and gift for displaying deeply wrought emotions has made her a favorite to anyone whose ever felt like an outsider.
37. Kate Bush, The Kick Inside 1978
While she would become an 80’s alt darling, Kate Bush’s debut album “The Kick Inside” featured what felt like a brand new sound with Bush’s quirky, if not, studied soprano. The album spawned Bush’s musical ode to Victorian lit and instantly secured her with the lesbian college girl set. Her “Wuthering Heights” was a haunting homage to the Bronte classic that has become a legend in its own right.
36. Fiona Apple, Tidal 1996
The debut of epically talented singer/songwriter Fiona Apple is considered one of the finest albums of the 90s. Her poetic, deeply introspective lyrics, soul soaked vocals, and skill for tickling the ivories made her the best - and hottest - girl to touch a piano since Tori Amos. Her sexy, scantily clad video for “Criminal” was a calculated message to the industry: "I decided if I was going to be exploited, then I would do the exploiting myself," she told the press.
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35. The Murmurs, Blender 1998
Known to some only as an L Word star, Leisha Hailey teamed up with Heather Grody in 1991 to write and perform songs. After building an initial following in New York the duo broadened to include bassist Sheri Ozeki and drummer Sherri Solinger in 1997 and went on to release the power-pop perfection of old and new traks on “Blender.”
34. Carole King. Tapestry 1971
A respected songwriter, penning tunes for the girl groups of the sixties long before she began singing her own tunes, Carole King’s “Tapestry” is just about the gold standard for singer/songwriters. Nearly every cut off this near-perfect album has become an integral part of the American songbook, including the mega-hits “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “You’ve Got a Friend.”
33. Natalie Merchant, Tigerlily 1995
The former 10,000 Maniacs frontwoman and human rights activist had long been an indie crowd darling before she wowed fans with her first solo release. Natalie Merchant’s “Tigerlily” was rife with hits like “Carnival,” and “Wonder” while still giving fans that signature Merchant cerebral component within her songs. Smart, sexy and complicated – Natalie Merchant was a shoo-in with the girls.
32. Melissa Ferrick, Freedom 2000
A brutally honest diary-like album that explored love, the cost of artistic creation, and life on the road, Ferrick bared her soul with her sweet, honest vocals over bittersweet guitar strumming. Written almost entirely single-handedly by Ferrick, the intimate album offered a look inside the mind and heart one of our favorite openly gay artists.
31. Holly Near, Imagine My Surprise 1978
Considered one of pioneers of the women’s music movement of the 70’s, Holly Near’s music was borne out of her social justice and subsequent LGBT activism. Near’s 1978 release featured an appearance by her partner of three years, another women’s music trendsetter, Meg Christian. “Imagine My Surprise” features a mélange of love and women’s issues songs that spoke to lesbians of the era.
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30. Catie Curtis, A Crash Course in Roses 1999
Poignant love songs and thoughtful contemplations on her growing up made Curtis’ 5th studio album a hit with queer ears. "What's the Matter," a criticism of her hometown of Saco, Maine for rejecting her when she came out as a lesbian, and "Roses,” the story of a soldier conscripted into World War I, were two of the standout tracks that highlight her power as a songwriter.
29. Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out 1997
A modern reinvention of girl-punk, Sleater-Kinney made the strongest and most convincing statement yet with their 3rd album. With a strongly defined sound and style, the all girl group delved deeper into their driving melodies and blossomed, rather than breaking, under intense critical praise. The all out undeniable rock vibe of “Dig Me Out” resonated with angry, idealistic and newly empowered young lesbians.
28. P!nk, Greatest Hits.. So Far 2010
What is it about P!nk? Is it the hair, her fierceness, her LGBT activism, the abs or just her big pop/rock voice that has the girls hooked? While the answer is likely all of the above, there is just no denying P!nk’s appeal. While several of her albums could have landed on this listed “Greatest Hits … So Far” offers a smattering of her best work with a few choice new tunes including “Raise Your Glass,” her infectious ode to “dirtly little freaks,” which is destined to become a pride week classic for decades to come.
27. Melissa Etheridge, Brave & Crazy 1989
Rocker Melissa Etheridge came busting out of the gate with her self-titled album, but it was on her second release, “Brave and Crazy,” that she proved her staying power. From the love/road song “Sleep While I Drive” to the rock/gospel “Testify” Etheridge’s impassioned voice was matched only in intensity by her lyrics. While she wouldn’t come out as a lesbian until a few years after “Brave and Crazy” the girls knew she was one of us.
26. Annie Lennox, Diva 1992
Eurythmics fans mourned when Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart went their separate ways in the early 90’s but it wasn’t long before the woman with the soaring alto, famed for chameleon-like appearance, delivered her stellar solo album “Diva.” Nearly as great a performance artist as a vocalist, Lennox’s “Diva” delivered hits with “Why,” “Walking on Broken Glass” and “Little Bird,” with visually breathtaking videos to match. With “Diva” Lennox proved she was a force that women loved - with or without Eurythmics.