Is is just me, or do other people find women lead singers incredibly interesting? As a general rule I'm not into celebrity women - supermodels leave me cold and except for a brief fling with Catherine Zeta-Jones and a lifetime of lighting little candles at Audrey Hepburn's altar, I've never been into movie stars much. But there's something deeply seductive to me about a voice that soars powerfully above the urgent bass of drums and guitar, something sacred and untouchable, like the seagull's defiance of the sea. (Just to be clear, it's the sound I'm interested in, not what the singer looks like. What was it Tennyson said? "Not her, who is neither courtly nor kind /Not her, not her, but a voice.").
Understand I'm not talking about the Joni Mitchell's and Janis Joplin's and Joan Baez's of the world - much as I love their music. And I'm certainly not interested in god-awful equal opportunity bands like the Bangles (shudder!) or in pouty-mouthed wannabes like Gwen what's-her-face (though to be fair, No Doubt have a couple of half-decent songs). No, I'm talking about women who are lead singers for honest to the Devil rock bands. I'm talking about Chrissie Hynde's deep, magnetic voice on Middle of the Road, or the hallucinogenic sound of Grace Slick signing White Rabbit at Woodstock, or the raw, sensual power of Shirley Manson on Silence is Golden. Electrifying stuff.
The archetype of this set, the greatest of them all, is, of course, Dolores O Riordan. The howling aggression of Zombie, the ululating purity of Daffodil Lament, that last solo on Dreams, rising into the sky like a lark in flight, the quiet perfection of No Need to Argue, her voice in the song so naked, so helpless. Listening to O Riordan sing Yeats' Grave, hearing her recite No Second Troy in that perfect Irish lilt of hers, may be the closest thing to a religious experience I've ever had.