If I could only find the words

In the early years of rock and roll, female singers, musicians and songwriters were the exception. Men dominated the picture, just like in most professions at the time.

By the Seventies, it was a new dawn, and women made big inroads into the charts as singers and songwriters, and as musicians as well. By the Eighties, they weren’t just acoustic, they were electric, fronting full rock bands. That progress has continued into the ’90s and beyond.

In honor of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and in honor of talented women everywhere, this edition of “Hack’s Back Pages Lyrics Quiz” centers around lyrics from songs written and/or performed by female artists of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Many of the 20 songs selected make reference to the ongoing battle for women’s rights.

Can you identify the song and/or the artist? Jot down your answers, and then scroll down to see the answers and find if your memory bank still serves you. Feel free to let me know how well you did in the comment section, or via email (bhhack55@gmail.com). Enjoy!

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1 “When my soul was in the lost and found, /You came along to claim it…”

2 “Lovers forever, face to face, /My city, your mountains, stay with me, stay…”

3 “We love our lovin’, but not like we love our freedom…”

4 “I’ve packed my bags, I’ve cleaned the floor, /Watch me walkin’, walkin’ out the door…”

5 “Still, I’m glad for what we had, and how I once loved you…”

6 “Well you’re the real tough cookie with the long history of breaking little hearts like the one in me…”

7 “But every night, all the men would come around, /And lay their money down…”

8 “My pretty countryside had been paved down the middle by a government that had no pride…”

9 “Prove that you love me and buy the next round, /Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?…”

10 “But I rehearsed those words just late last night /When I was thinking about how right tonight might be…”

11 “Coast to coast, L.A. to Chicago, western male, /Across the north, and south to Key Largo, love for sale…”

12 “And don’t tell me what to do, /Don’t tell me what to say, /And please, when I go out with you, don’t put me on display…”

13 “I never did believe in miracles, /But I’ve a feeling it’s time to try…”

14 “Go on now, go, walk out the door, /Just turn around now ’cause you’re not welcome anymore…”

15 “When the truth is found to be lies, /And all the joy within you dies…”

16 “They just use your mind and they never give you credit, /It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it…”

17 “A friend who taught me right from wrong, and weak from strong, /That’s a lot to learn…”

18 “Go on, get out, get out of my life, and let me sleep at night…”

19 “And you won’t need no camel, no no, when I take you for a ride..”

20 “You keep playing where you shouldn’t be playing, /And you keep thinking that you’ll never get burned, hah!…”

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Answers:

1 “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” Aretha Franklin, 1967

Songwriter extraordinaire Carole King wrote this women’s anthem and eventually recorded her own version, but it was the late great Aretha, the Queen of Soul, who made the song a hit, reaching #8, her fourth of five Top Ten hits in 1967. She had been stuck doing torch songs and show tunes on Columbia, but once she switched to Atlantic, the R&B hits came fast and furiously.

2 “Leather and Lace,” Stevie Nicks, 1981

After six years with Fleetwood Mac, helping to transform the former British blues band into a pop music sensation, Nicks took the solo plunge in 1981 with her “Bella Donna” album. It sold many millions, thanks to “Edge of Seventeen,” “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” and this charming duet with Don Henley that reached #6 on the charts. The twosome had an affair, but they weren’t “lovers forever, face to face”

3 “Help Me,” Joni Mitchell, 1974

Generally regarded as the finest female songwriter of her generation, and one of the finest songwriters, period, Mitchell has always been more interested in her artistry than fame and fortune. Consequently, many of her albums and singles charted modestly or poorly despite their high quality. This breezy single from the brilliant “Court and Spark” LP was her only Top Ten hit.

4 “Would I Lie to You?”, Eurythmics (Annie Lennox), 1985

Lennox and partner Dave Stewart formed the Eurythmics as a techno-pop duo but eventually evolved in a more rock/R&B direction. This hard-driving rock tune was a Top Five single for them in the U.S., one of three in 1985 from the album “Be Yourself Tonight.” Lennox sings about catching her man cheating and leaving him for good, which ties in nicely with her duet with Aretha Franklin, “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.”

5 “It’s Too Late,” Carole King, 1971

After a brilliant career in the Sixties as a songwriting duo with her husband Gerry Goffin in New York, King divorced and moved to L.A. in 1970, where she teamed up with Toni Stern to write most of her iconic “Tapestry” album. “I Feel the Earth Move” and “So Far Away” were also hits, and her own version of “You’ve Got a Friend” got airplay, but this song about an amicable breakup topped the charts for five weeks in June-July 1971.

6 “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” Pat Benatar, 1981

Benatar wasn’t the first woman to front her own rock band, but she was one of the best early successes. She came out of Brooklyn to take the country by storm in 1980 with her second LP, “Crimes of Passion,” which included the Top Ten hit “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” According to the songwriter, Eddie Schwartz, the song title is meant to be metaphorical rather than literal.

7 “Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves,” Cher, 1971

A Sixties icon as part of Sonny and Cher, she weathered a fallow period before working with producer Snuffy Garrett to record her first solo #1 single “Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves,” with lyrics that covered adult topics like racism, teenage pregnancy and prostitution. Cher has gone on to become the only artist, male or female, to chart a #1 single in six consecutive decades.

8 “My City Was Gone,” The Pretenders (Chrissie Hynde), 1984

A product of Akron, Ohio, Hynde moved to London in the mid-’70s and embraced both punk and New Wave genres. She formed The Pretenders there and began a career as one of the most badass female rockers of all time, writing hard rock and melodic tunes alike. On their third LP, “Learning to Crawl,” you’ll find “My City Was Gone,” an autobiographical song she wrote upon her return visit to Akron after years away.

9 “Mercedes Benz,” Janis Joplin, 1971

Janis came to the forefront at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 when she was singing with Big Brother and the Holding Company. By 1970 she was touring with The Full-Tilt Boogie Band, and recording her third album, “Pearl,” which included Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” her only #1 hit. The a cappella throwaway, “Mercedes Benz,” a spoof on consumerism, would be the last track she ever recorded.

10 “Anticipation,” Carly Simon, 1971

For the longest time, I couldn’t hear this song without thinking of the Heinz ketchup TV commercials that used it. It was Carly’s second big hit, with lyrics she wrote about the excitement she felt as she waited for her date to arrive (who happened to be Cat Stevens that night!). The song reached #13 and was the second of ten Top 20 hits she charted throughout the 1970s, most of which she wrote or co-wrote.

11 “Smooth Operator,” Sade, 1984

Born in Nigeria and raised in England, Sade seemed to come out of nowhere in 1984-85 with her single, “Smooth Operator,” from the album “Diamond Life.” She wrote the lyrics about a fashionable ladies’ man who is actually a devious, jet-setting criminal. Every studio album she has ever released reached the Top Ten in the U.S. and also did well throughout Europe, the UK, Canada and Australia.

12 “You Don’t Own Me,” Lesley Gore, 1964

This early feminist anthem spent three weeks lodged at #2 on the US charts in early 1964, kept from the top spot by The Beatles’ US debut single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Gore had been only 16 when “It’s My Party” had been a chart-topper, and by the time she was 19, she chose to give her career a rest and attend college, a bold move in the finicky world of pop music. Gore died in 2015 at age 68.

13 “You Make Loving Fun,” Fleetwood Mac (Christine McVie), 1977

When Fleetwood Mac was making the multi-platinum “Rumours” LP, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were breaking up, as were Mick Fleetwood and his wife Jenny. John and Christine McVie had just recently divorced, and Christine was already writing songs like “You Make Loving Fun” about her new boyfriend, the band’s lighting director. McVie’s songs have often been the band’s biggest singles, including “You Make Loving Fun” at #9.

14 “I Will Survive,” Gloria Gaynor, 1979

Although it was written by two men, “I Will Survive” came to represent the women’s movement during its battles for equality in the late ’70s and ’80s. It was actually released as the B-side of Gaynor’s single, but disc jockeys discovered it and played it relentlessly, turning it into a #1 song. Unfortunately, Gaynor’s success was short-lived, as the disco era was ending, but you can still hear the song in karaoke bars every night.

15 “Somebody to Love,” Jefferson Airplane (Grace Slick), 1967

The San Francisco Sound, as it came to be known, included, most famously, Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead. The Airplane had multiple vocalists but founder Marty Balin and especially Grace Slick were at the forefront. On songs like “Somebody to Love,” written by Slick’s brother-in-law, her powerful voice rings out above a solid rock tune about our universal need for love.

16 “9 to 5,” Dolly Parton, 1980

Parton had worked long and hard making a career for herself as a country singer, including one successful foray into the pop charts, “Here You Come Again” in 1977. In 1980, she was tapped to co-star in the working women comedy film “9 to 5,” and she wrote and sang the title song as well, which became a huge #1 hit on pop charts. Parton has established herself as a trailblazer for education and women’s rights in the years since.

17 “To Sir With Love,” Lulu, 1967

Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie, better known as Lulu, enjoyed a successful career as a singer and an actress in her native Great Britain, but in the U.S., her fame is mostly limited to her work on the Sidney Poitier film “To Sir With Love.” In addition to playing a part as a high school student, she sang the title tune, which rocketed to #1 and was the best-selling song of the year in the U.S. in 1967.

18 “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” The Supremes (Diana Ross), 1966

This Motown track by the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting/producing team is one of the best of The Supremes’ catalog, and rivals “Respect” as a song about women needing to rid themselves of the problematic men in their lives. As always, Diana Ross sang lead vocals, and within a year, she would have lead billing as well, which translated into a huge solo career a few years after that.

19 “Midnight at the Oasis,” Maria Muldaur, 1974

In the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early ’60s, Maria D’Amato was a regular, and sang with a jug band that included her eventual husband Geoff Muldaur. By 1972, she was on her own and recorded her first solo LP, which included “Midnight at the Oasis,” the track many fans have told her was responsible for their pregnancies because of the slyly suggestive lyrics about a love affair in the desert.

20 “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” Nancy Sinatra, 1966

Frank’s daughter surely had connections to score a record deal, but her biggest hit came from her friendship with country/pop singer Lee Hazlewood. He wanted to record his song himself, but Nancy convinced him it would be less harsh coming from a woman. “Boots” became her signature song, and took on a new life as a song about women fighting back against male oppression.

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Haven’t seen you in a while, how’ve you been?

Periodically, I use this space to pay homage to artists I believe are worthy of focused attention — artists with an extraordinary, influential, consistently excellent body of work and/or a compelling story to tell. Last week, I examined the career of the amazing Steve Winwood, a co-founder of the British band Traffic who also had a successful solo career. This week, we’ll explore the altogether different career path taken by another co-founder of Traffic, the great Dave Mason.

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If it’s true that a song may become popular because its lyrics hit a nerve with the music-listening public, then Dave Mason’s hit single “We Just Disagree” is certainly an example of striking a familiar chord. Whether you’re married or just dating, when you feel you’re no longer compatible, you throw in the towel, hopefully amicably. Consider these lyrics: “So let’s leave it alone, ’cause we can’t see eye to eye, /There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy, /There’s only you and me, and we just disagree…”

Mason in 1977

It was Mason’s highest peak on the pop charts, reaching #12.

He’s a talented songwriter, guitarist and singer, but his commercial successes have been few and far between. He has (or at least had) a loyal fan base, and for a while he was a huge draw on the concert circuit. I count myself among his biggest fans, having seen him in concert nine times between 1975 and 2014, and owning most of his recorded output. I can’t help but feel that Mason would have been a bigger star if not for a few mistakes he made along his musical path.

Born in 1946, Mason was one of those British kids who, in an attempt to find something to relieve the boredom and hardship of post-war life in England, discovered music. Like John Lennon, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend and others in the same time and environment, Mason found Elvis, Buddy Holly and early rock and roll, and the blues, all American-born genres that excited him, energized him.

He was only 15 when, after learning to play guitar, he joined his first band The Jaguars, and then The Hellions, playing clubs in his native Worcester as well as Birmingham and eventually the rock club mecca of Hamburg, Germany, just as The Beatles had done. Drummer/singer Jim Capaldi was also in The Hellions, and among the bands they performed with was The Spencer Davis Group, which featured the astounding vocals and organ of Steve Winwood.

Mason and Winwood in front; Capaldi and Wood in back, 1967

Sometimes Mason and Capaldi would jam with Winwood after shows, bringing in sax and flute player Chris Wood from another band. The foursome found that they enjoyed the music they were making, giving Winwood the reason he needed to leave Spencer Davis and form his own group, which they named Traffic (after waiting to cross a busy street one day, as the story goes).

The music that resulted from the group’s retreat to a quiet cottage in the Berkshires was a fascinating amalgam of folk, jazz, rock and psychedelic pop, using everything from Mellotron and sitar to flute and fuzz guitar. Winwood teamed up with lyricist Capaldi to write half the tracks while Mason contributed his own songs, and although that diversity was key to the band’s appeal, it also caused an internal tension that was never really resolved.

The infectious Winwood-Capaldi tune “Paper Sun” was a Top Five hit in the UK, and Mason’s quirky “Hole in My Shoe” just missed #1 there. Winwood, who preferred the give and take of jamming to produce a song, made no bones about not liking Mason’s songs much. “‘Hole in My Shoe’ was a trite little song that didn’t mean anything,” said Winwood years later. Mason said he felt like the odd man out, and shortly after Traffic’s debut album, “Mr. Fantasy,” was released (a Top Ten success in England), Mason left the group and headed to Los Angeles to explore musical possibilities there.

“I was young, and the early fame freaked me out a bit,” said Mason. “The other guys had a chemistry and a lifestyle I wasn’t really a part of, so I impulsively decided to try going solo. I hung around London for a while, then moved out to L.A.”

Hendrix and Mason, 1968

During that period, he befriended Jimi Hendrix and ended up contributing to his “Electric Ladyland” LP, playing acoustic 12-string on “All Along the Watchtower,” a song that would become a staple in Mason’s repertoire. He also was invited to add sitar to The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man.”

Now a three-piece, Traffic toured the U.S. in 1968, ending up in New York where they recorded their follow-up album, entitled simply “Traffic.” Mason came to the conclusion that he may have been rash in leaving, and reunited with the band for those recording sessions. Most important, he brought with him a song that would end up a bonafide rock classic over the years. Some say “Feelin’ Alright?” expresses Mason’s ambivalence about his time with Traffic (“Seems I’ve got have a change in scene…”), but he denies this. “It’s just a song about a girl. It’s just another relationship gone bad.”

Still, the uneasy vibes between Mason and the others remained. Winwood felt Traffic was his band and bristled when Mason’s songs upstaged his. Mason got the message and left again, although it turns out it didn’t much matter. Winwood also moved on, choosing to collaborate with guitarist Eric Clapton in the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith in 1969.

Mason returned to L.A., where he’d been making friends with many in the red-hot music climate there. He found himself hanging out with the likes of Stephen Stills, Leon Russell, Gram Parsons, Mama Cass Elliot, Delaney and Bonnie and others, and often performed on their albums (credited and uncredited). He and Cass Elliot recorded a fairly decent album together in 1969, with Mason writing the majority of material and Elliot offering up her fine harmonies, but it would be another two years before it was released to a lukewarm reception. (You’d be well advised to listen to “Walk to the Point,” “Too Much Truth, Too Much Love” and “Pleasing You” to hear the best moments.)

Cass Elliot, Ned Doheny (top) and Mason, 1970

By early 1970, Mason had compiled a group of eight or ten strong songs, and Mason pitched demos to a few companies. Bob Krasnow and Tommy LiPuma, who would become industry moguls running Warners and Elektra years later, were just starting out their label, Blue Thumb Records, and when they heard the demos, they were eager to sign Mason. “The songs were so strong, you had to be deaf not to hear it. He was such a great player and songwriter.”

Mason’s “Alone Together,” 1970

They offered the budget to bring in a stellar cast of players for the sessions: Jim Gordon and Carl Radle from Delaney and Bonnie’s band, Leon Russell on keyboards, singers Bonnie Bramlett and Rita Coolidge, and LiPuma himself co-producing with Mason. The result was the superbly titled “Alone Together” (solo but with plenty of help), easily Mason’s best and most consistent LP. Critics loved it, and it peaked at an impressive #22 on the US charts.

Mason’s songs were deeply melodic, and his distinctive 12-string guitar and husky, soulful vocals shone especially brightly on “World in Changes,” “Sad and Deep as You” and the infectious leadoff track, “Only You and I Know.” It had a disappointing showing as the single, stalling at #42 in the U.S., but when Delaney and Bonnie covered it the next year, it reached #22 and turned a lot of heads.

Although he was a minstrel at heart, Mason also played a mean electric guitar, demonstrated most clearly on “Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave” and especially “Look at You, Look at Me,” where his solo in the final minutes will have you picking your jaw up off the floor.

It was at this point that Mason made a fateful decision to play hardball with his record company. He insisted on making a double album, half studio and half live. He wanted a better contract too, and even went so far as to abscond with master tapes of the sessions in progress. Blue Thumb didn’t take it well.

“Mason wanted out because Columbia was offering him a deal,” said LiPuma. “The album sold well, and he was becoming an arena-rock draw on the road. But instead of negotiating, he took our tapes, which we saw as blackmail.” What Mason didn’t know is LiPuma had a back-up set of masters, and with them, he cobbled together “Headkeeper,” an album made without Mason’s approval that included four new but demo-like studio tracks and five live songs performed at L.A.’s Troubadour in 1972.

Mason in 1972

Because Mason was unhappy with the unfinished tracks, and he hadn’t approved the album’s song selection, mixing or cover art, he declared it “little more than a bootleg” and urged fans to avoid it. It wasn’t bad, but it could’ve been much better (it could only muster #50 on U.S. charts). It was an ill-advised turn of events that hurt his career momentum.

He couldn’t record elsewhere until the business mess could be resolved, so he went out on the road — a lot. Almost non-stop. It made him a lot of money and became a way of life for him. Columbia did sign him a year later and bought out the Blue Thumb contract, and their mostly amicable relationship lasted throughout the 1970s.

“It’s Like You Never Left,” 1973

The Columbia debut, 1973’s “It’s Like You Never Left,” sold reasonably well and was a favorite with Mason fans. It has a reworked, superior version of “Headkeeper,” an irresistible instrumental jam called “Sidetracked” and a lovely ballad called “The Lonely One” that features Stevie Wonder’s incomparable harmonica.

Mason’s solid covers of “Watchtower” and Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me” highlight his 1974 album, “Dave Mason,” temporarily hiding the fact that there seemed to be a growing sameness about his own songs, which carried over onto his substandard 1975 release “Split Coconut.” Still, there were always a few tracks that showed Mason hadn’t lost his touch (“Give Me a Reason Why” and “You Can Lose It”), and both of these albums went gold. As Peter Frampton’s juggernaut “Frampton Comes Alive!” soared up the charts in 1976, Columbia rushed out a lookalike package for Mason’s “Certified Live” double album, which was pretty damn good, but sales were flat.

“Let It Flow,” 1977

Mason needed the one thing he’d never had yet — a hit single. That came with his guitar compatriot Jim Krueger’s great song “We Just Disagree.” The recording was crisp and polished, as it was for the excellent “Let It Flow” album it came from. FM radio was good to Mason in 1977, putting “So High,” “Mystic Traveler” and “Let It Go, Let It Flow” in heavy rotation, as “We Just Disagree” reached #12 on the Top 40. One more gold album came in 1978, “Mariposa de Oro,” which sounds like a lesser sequel to “Let It Flow” — gorgeous production but only a few strong songs (“So Good to Be Home,” “Warm Desire” and a cover of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”).

There are those who say Mason should have cut back on his touring to focus more on honing his songwriting chops, and they may have a case. By 1980’s dud “Old Crest on a New Wave,” the jig was up. His songs had become uninspired and repetitive, and his attempt at disco funk on “Save Me” (with Michael Jackson on harmonies) was, at best, a failed experiment. Columbia dropped him, and he spent the Eighties and Nineties in relative obscurity.

I almost don’t want to mention his short stint in Fleetwood Mac in 1995 for the miserable “Time” album, mentioned on a few “Worst Albums of the 1990s” lists. Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were gone, and Christine McVie, who had quit touring, was on the sessions only as a favor to the label, so it was a radically different lineup with Mason, rockabilly guitarist Billy Burnette and Southern soul singer Bekka Bramlett, daughter of Delaney and Bonnie. A good time was not had by all.

“26 Letters, 12 Notes,” 2008

It wouldn’t be until 2008 when Mason released “26 Letters, 12 Notes” on a Sony subsidiary label. No one noticed (I admit it went under my radar too), but when I first heard it during my research this past week, I was thrilled by the quality of songs and production. The blues groove of “Good 2 U,” the inventive melodic lines of “How Do I Get to Heaven” and “Passing Thru the Flame, the pretty acoustic/electric instrumental “El Toro” — these rank up there with Mason’s best work, I’m delighted to say.

Mason was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 as part of Traffic. Chris Wood had died in 1983, but Mason, Winwood and Capaldi all attended and seemed to get along well, participating in the end-of-evening jam of “Feelin’ Alright” with Keith Richards, Jackson Browne, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, The Temptations and ZZ Top.

Over the past 15-20 years, Mason has remained active performing periodically, and had a tour planned for this year until COVID wiped that off the books. Just for fun this year, he convened a virtual band online called Dave Mason and The Quarantines that included Sammy Hagar, Michael McDonald, Mick Fleetwood, and Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston and John McFee of The Doobie Brothers to cut a new version of “Feelin’ Alright” that’s well worth a listen.

Mason is most active in philanthropies, including Little Kids Rock, a non-profit that promotes music education for disadvantaged children; YogaBlue, which promotes yoga as a therapy for those in substance abuse recovery; and Rock Our Vets, which provides food and clothing and access to computers for homeless veterans.

Mason in 2014

I saw Mason in 2014 at a members-only private show at the Grammy Museum in L.A., and while he played only 40 minutes, he didn’t disappoint. His voice and guitar skills were still mighty impressive.

No one can say whether things might have turned out better if he hadn’t temporarily lost his momentum and, seemingly, his songwriting muse. Regardless, I believe his artistry surely deserves more attention than it has received. With profile pieces like this one, and the Spotify playlist below, I hope I can contribute to a Dave Mason revival of sorts.

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