Second-wave feminists in the late 60’s and early 70’s had a rock and roll voice, sung by bands such as the Chicago and New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Bands. Precursors to today’s riot grrl and queercore bands, they broke through and gave women in the liberation movements their own rock and roll anthems.
In 1972, Rounder released a record called Mountain Moving Day consisting of four songs each from the Chicago and New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Bands. It was an attempt to capture the power of their live performances, and neither band was experienced with recording in a studio. This shows through in the roughness of the arrangements, but only if one is looking for it. The power of their songs and the statements they made to women and rock goes beyond these technical issues.
Rounder is set to release Papa, Don’t Lay That Shit On Me, which includes all eight tracks of Mountain Moving Day remastered and restored. This reissue includes four live tracks and two previously unreleased studio recordings, as well as contributions from contemporary feminist performance artists Le Tigre (“TGIF” and the second half of “I’m On My Way”). “I’m On My Way” was originally recorded at Alice’s Restaurant in 1970 by the Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Band. By having Le Tigre finish out the song on this reissue, the hope is, as the liner notes state, to symbolize the “continuity of the second wave of women’s liberation with the third, current wave of feminism. (Also, Le Tigre rocks).”
The liner notes include an essay/introduction by Jennifer Baumgardner, author of Manifesta and generally considered to be the voice of Gen-X feminists. The original liner notes for Mountain Moving Day are reprinted with all of the lyrics and chords for the songs. While the lyrics are included for the new tracks, the chords have not been included. I suspect that they are not far off from the blues rock chords in the other songs, with perhaps the exception of the Le Tigre song.
Okay, so that’s the details on the reissue. Now I’m gonna tell you what I thought of the recording.
It. Fucking. Rocks.
There are two tracks on the CD that stand out the most to me for the irony and dark humor they contain. The first is a spoken-word piece by Naomi Weisstein, a founder of the Chicago group, called “Defending Yourself with Karate.” The pertinent portion goes as follows:
Now here’s where the magic power of words comes in. He’s just asked me if I waned to fuck, and so I turn around and tell him to go fuck himself.
I’m offering him an alternative.
No, I don’t want to fuck, but you could always fuck yourself, you know.
This track is followed up by the other one that stands out. It’s a grainy, live recording. The women sing in slow-moving choir style, acappella, the following lyrics:
Fuck You, fuck all like you
And fuck all you like, too
So direct, so brazen. Much like Ani DiFranco’s “Untouchable Face,” this song is a release of pent-up frustration and anger at the injustice of sexism, with the ironical twist of using a musical style not known for aggressive lyrics and politics.
These bands could be transported ahead thirty years and no one would blink an eye. The fact that they were doing what they did and singing what they sang back in the early 70’s is even more impressive. The music is creative and nuanced, for all their inexperience at the time. The lyrics are powerful and speak to me, a woman born fifteen (or more) years to late to have any first-hand experience with the kind of sexism and powerlessness that they were fighting.
Prior to listening to this recording, my experience with womyn’s music from that era came from folk pop singers like <insert your favorite Olivia Records artist here>. While the womyn-centered lyrics gave me some connection with the music, the genre left me empty and wanting something more. As much as I like trad folk and old time music, deep down I’m a rocker at heart. Womyn’s music from the 60’s and 70’s couldn’t speak to me musically like the rock and roll of the male bands, but neither did the content of the male-centered women-objectifying rock and roll speak to me. Discovering the Chicago and New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Bands is like finding my home. I suspect that there are many other bands like these two and I only need to keep looking before I will find them.