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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Sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy

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. This week and next, I’ll be examining the careers of two multi-talented singer/songwriters whose musical arcs briefly overlapped in the ’60s and then went in different directions through the ’70s and ’80s and beyond. This week in Part One, we’ll take a look at the amazing Steve Winwood. Next week in Part Two, we’ll explore the interesting path taken by the great Dave Mason.

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Summer 1969. Over the previous six months, I had become a huge fan of Cream, the British blues power trio featuring guitarist Eric Clapton, drummer Ginger Baker and bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce. The group had already disbanded, but that didn’t stop me from immersing myself in their albums. As a budding guitarist myself, I idolized Clapton and was eager to find out what he was going to do next.

By August, the record stores were touting a new album by a new “supergroup” called Blind Faith, comprised of Clapton and Baker with a keyboardist/singer named Steve Winwood, and bassist Ric Grech. I bought the LP immediately and, while I was at first disappointed by the absence of firepower Cream had been known for, I was particularly taken by the vocals of this guy Winwood. Haunting and beautiful, soaring and bluesy, his voice was a revelation to me, as was the fact that he’d been in not one but two successful groups previously, even though he was then only 21.

I am sheepish to admit that, at that time, I knew almost nothing of Traffic, the band Winwood had put together in 1967. It took another couple of years before I truly became familiar with the group through their albums in the early ’70s, and longer still to appreciate the fine work from the first three Traffic albums, or his contributions to the Spencer Davis Group before that, while still just a teenager.

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Winwood, a product of Birmingham, England, had been something of a boy wonder, learning piano early and developing his voice as he absorbed many different types of music. “I was a chorister in the High Anglican Church,” he said in a 2017 interview with Classic Rock, a British music magazine. “That music got under my skin somehow. Then along came skiffle and early rock ‘n roll and Buddy Holly. And later on came Ray Charles, who had a big influence on me and introduced me to this crossover from bebop and jazz into rock and R&B. I was so engrossed with learning all these different types of music, and trying to play them all, and realizing that being on stage was just part of it. It didn’t occur to me that there was anything I should shy away from.”

Spencer Davis Group, with Winwood at far right

Nevertheless, both Winwood brothers joined up and became key cogs in the Spencer Davis Group. Clapton, in his 2007 autobiography, recalls hearing Winwood for the first time in 1963. “He was only 15,” he recalled. “If you closed your eyes, you’d swear it was Ray Charles up there. He was like a much older man in a boy’s skin.”

By 1965, the group was making a huge splash, first on the British charts with the #1 R&B-flavored singles “Keep On Running” and “Somebody Help Me,” and then in the US in 1966 with the Top Ten hits “Gimme Some Lovin'” and “I’m a Man,” both written by Winwood. His outstanding vocals and organ dominated the group’s sound, and gave him the confidence to think about branching out.

Interestingly, Cream was just forming at that time, and Clapton was keen on asking Winwood to join, but Baker and Bruce stood firm on wanting the trio format. “There was a lack of synchronization at the time,” said Winwood, “and I guess the offer to be a part of Cream never came through. I certainly would’ve taken the job.” The mind reels at the thought of how different Cream would’ve sounded with Winwood in the fold…

Traffic in 1967. Dave Mason and Winwood in front, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood in back

The music that came out of those sessions turned a lot of heads. First came Winwood’s infectious single, “Paper Sun,” followed soon after by Mason’s trippy “Hole in My Shoe.” Both songs reached the Top Five in the UK. The debut LP, “Mr. Fantasy,” which peaked at #16, was dominated by songs written by Winwood (music) and Capaldi (lyrics), including “Heaven Is In Your Mind,” “No Face, No Name, No Number” and the anthemic “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” There was an alluring stew of soulful blues, strange psychedelia and blues rock. (In the US, the time apparently wasn’t right yet for Traffic; the album stalled at #88 and the singles went nowhere.)

Mason, spooked by the early immediate success in England, chose to leave, although he would return in time for sessions for the next LP, titled simply “Traffic.” The Capaldi/Winwood axis came up with great tracks like “Pearly Queen” and “40,000 Headmen,” and Mason brought well-crafted songs like “You Can All Join In” and perhaps his most famous tune, “Feelin’ Alright?” which ended up being covered by dozens of artists over the years, most notably Joe Cocker, whose definitive rendition reached the Top 40 in the US.

But Mason then split again — as his lyric states, “Seems I’ve got to have a change in scene…” — so Traffic soldiered on as a trio, expanding their touring to include their first visit to the US. Live recordings from those shows were used to augment several stray studio tracks like “Medicated Goo” and “Shanghai Noodle Factory” to produce a third Traffic LP, “Last Exit,” which sounded decidedly inferior to the first two.

At that point, Winwood concluded he needed a change as well and pulled the plug on Traffic — for now. He accepted Clapton’s overture to at last pool their talents to see what might come of it. They squirreled away in the same rural Berkshire cottage, jamming and trying out new song ideas. Baker heard about this and showed up too, and Winwood called his friend Ric Grech to join them on bass and violin, and Blind Faith was born.

Winwood, Ric Grech, Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton

The media hype surrounding the band doomed them from the get-go. “Blind Faith was pretty murky, really,” Winwood remembers. “That didn’t really work out quite as well as Eric and I had intended. I don’t think there was any one reason for that, but Eric didn’t want to carry on doing what he’d been doing with Cream. We were both looking for something else. The music that we started off doing was acoustic and jangly. It had a sort of folk element to it, which is not something that goes down too well in the arena rock environment. We had pressures from the business to start recording before we were ready, and we were suddenly playing big places. Neither of us were into that. We were starting to lose interest at different points and were drifting apart.”

The album reached #1 in the US and the UK, but after the tour, the group parted ways. But as we will see, the world hadn’t heard the last of the Winwood/Clapton collaboration.

Winwood thought the time was ripe for his first solo LP, and he began writing and recording songs for it. As sessions continued, though, he found himself missing input from Wood and Capaldi, particularly Wood’s flute and sax, so he invited them to participate. It became obvious that this was now going to become another Traffic album, and so it was: “John Barleycorn Must Die,” released in the summer of 1970, would become the highest charting Traffic LP in the US, peaking at #5. FM rock stations played it relentlessly, especially the jazzy instrumental “Glad,” the sax-driven rocker “Freedom Rider” and the more accessible “Empty Pages.”

Incredibly, Mason returned yet again (briefly) as part of a US tour, recordings from which comprised the so-so live album “Welcome to the Canteen.” Traffic’s lineup expanded at that point to include Grech on bass,

 

Traffic in 1971, from left: Wood, Grech, Gordon, Baah, Capaldi, Winwood

second drummer Jim Gordon (formerly with Derek and the Dominos) and Ghanaian percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah, which accentuated their tendency toward unusual rhythms and longer jams.

Late in 1971 came what many people (including me) feel is Traffic’s finest moment, the captivating “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” LP. The mesmerizing, 12-minute title track is still a classic rock favorite, and “Many a Mile to Freedom” and “Hidden Treasure” show the group still in command of their original semi-trippy sound. Two other tracks — “Light Up or Leave Me Alone” and “Rock and Roll Stew” — offered Traffic doing straightforward rock, with Capaldi handling lead vocals.

Winwood had been suffering occasional bouts of peritonitis (inflammation of the abdomen), which affected his stage performances and his interest in music in general, so after two rather uneven albums (1973’s “Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory” and 1974’s “When the Eagle Flies”) and another live LP, Traffic called it quits.

“In the mid-to-late Seventies,” he said, “I dropped out a little from the rock’n’roll world. I made a conscious effort to do a lot of sessions and work as a sideman, to try to learn how other people were putting music together. Then later on, of course, punk emerged. I found that tricky, because punk rock was almost a reaction against what I’d been doing. It was difficult for me to grasp that, so I suppose I sort of went underground a little.”

Winwood finally released his first solo album in late 1977, with help from a variety of session men, and reaction was decidedly mixed. It had its moments, like the mid-tempo “Vacant Chair” and “Time is Running Out” with its galloping rhythm, but it wasn’t the killer album everyone had been anticipating.

Instead, that album came in late 1981, when “Arc of a Diver” kickstarted his solo career big time. He teamed up with Texan songwriter Will Jennings to provide lyrics for a batch of great songs like “Second Hand Woman,” “Night Train” and the melodic title song. It was truly a one-man tour de force, with Winwood playing all the instruments himself. The leadoff track, “While You See a Chance,” peaked at #7 in the US, beginning his decade-long commercial success here, and the album reached #3. A retrospective review on AllMusic gushed, “Utterly unencumbered by the baggage of his long years in the music business, Winwood reinvented himself as a completely contemporary artist on this outstanding album.”

I never quite understood why the 1982 follow-up LP, “Talking Back to the Night,” didn’t equal its predecessor’s success, at least in the US, where it stalled at #28. Songs like “Big Girls Walk Away,” “Help Me Angel” and the amazing title song deserved more attention, as did “Valerie,” which did finally reach #9 five years after initial release when it was remixed and included on Winwood’s “Chronicles” collection.

A period of soul-searching and a divorce resulted in a move to New York, where he teamed up with some marquis players like Nile Rodgers, Joe Walsh, Chaka Khan and James Taylor and veteran producer Russ Titelman to make the outstanding, award-winning “Back in the High Life” album. Three hit singles — “The Finer Things,” “Back in the High Life Again” and the Grammy winner “Higher Love” — helped put the album at #3 in 1986. I loved this album for its crisp production and satisfying songs.

He concluded his commercial period in 1988 with his only #1 album, “Roll With It,” and another trio of Top Ten singles: “Roll With It” (strongly reminiscent of Junior Walker’s ’60s hit “Shotgun”), “Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do” and “Holding On.”

By this point, I was starting to tire of him because of overexposure, and apparently I wasn’t alone, for his sales and popularity (and, consequently, his recorded output) dropped off dramatically in the ’90s and beyond. I continued to buy his stuff — 1990’s “Refugees of the Heart,” 1997’s “Junction Seven” and 2003’s “About Time” — but rarely played them.

It was big news in some circles when Winwood announced a Traffic reunion in 1994, although it didn’t include Mason nor Grech or Baah, and Wood had passed away in 1983. So it was pretty much just Winwood and Capaldi who collaborated on the excellent “Far From Home” album, which reached the Top 30 in both the US and the UK. Some said it sounded like another Winwood solo album, and while it’s true that the majority of tracks wouldn’t have been out of place on “Roll With It,” at least two — “Here Comes a Man” and the superb “Far From Home” — recall the “Low Spark” era of Traffic.

Winwood asked Clapton in 2008 to play a solo on the track “Dirty City” from his final solo LP to date, “Nine Lives,” and it’s a beauty. Other songs also received airplay, like the beautiful “Fly” and “Secrets,” which helped send the album to #12 (although that kind of rating doesn’t have the same clout or meaning in the age of downstreaming).

That small project brought the two veterans together in a much larger way in 2009 for “Live From Madison Square Garden,” where Clapton and Winwood offered a dizzying set list of songs from Cream, Traffic, Blind Faith and both of their solo albums. That live album was so well received that the duo went on world tour for a year.

Today, at age 72, Winwood still performs periodically and had planned a tour with Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen (wow!) this year that was cancelled like every other tour because of the coronavirus. As a 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee with Traffic, and ranked #33 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, Winwood’s stature in the business is secure.

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