When most people think of a band, they think of a group of three or four young men, playing loud and raucous music filled with angst. Sometimes, a band like The Bangles or The Go-Gos or more recently, The Donnas comes along and we’re reminded that the ladies can bring the thunder just as mightily. Even more rare, is the band that can find that perfect mix of both masculine and feminine energies. When that chemistry is correct, there are no limits to what can happen.
The reason these bands can create such great music may just be that they can tap into both the testosterone laden rock and roll ethos as well as dive full-steam into the feminine ideologies and points of view. Essentially, they can hit the full range of the human experience, should they be up for the task. Also, usually harmonies that feature both male and female voices seem to have a much more fully-developed timbre and tonality, if you want to speak purely on technicalities. Here are now are some of the best bands with both male and female members.
Fleetwood Mac – Rife with tumult and turmoil, this band is the very epitome of everything that can go so right and so horribly wrong when couples play in bands together. On the bright side they gave us amazing songs like “Go Your Own Way,” “Don’t Stop,” “Rhiannon,” and “The Chain.” On the not-so-bright side, there was so much booze, drugs and sex (sometimes with other members of the band), that it’s a wonder that all out brawls didn’t take place at every Fleetwood Mac show. Undoubtedly though, Fleetwood Mac is proof that out of some terrible situations you can squeeze tremendous artistic material.
The Mamas and the Papas – Yet another band that was every bit as dysfunctional as it was brilliant. With soaring vocal harmonies, anchored to amazing effect by Mama Cass Elliot, The Mamas and the Papas drove home songs like “California Dreaming” and “Monday, Monday” with songs that were first and foremost showcases of their abilities to blend their voices at will. Sadly, only one of the founding members is still with us today, but there’s no doubt that the group has and had a lasting impact on the way vocals were treated by recording artists.
The White Stripes – Okay, so Meg White’s typical contribution to a White Stripes song is playing drums. I’ll even concede that her drumming style and technique doesn’t show any flashes of anyone you’d put in the Hall of Fame of Drumming (if such an institution existed). However, I’d argue that for what The White Stripes were built to do, no one was more perfect for Jack White’s guitar and singing prowess than Meg White. Jack’s songs were usually so stripped of all extra fluff, that he needed a drummer that could keep the back beat locked in, without becoming overly obsessed with “jumping out in front.” For an example of the more playful side of Jack and Meg’s relationship, listen to “Rag and Bone.”
Talking Heads – Admittedly, Talking Heads is a group that I “discovered” later in my 20s. It’s not that I didn’t like them before, but I think it took that long for me to truly get what was going on. They were certainly a band with an intellectual side, which is something to be admired, and sadly doesn’t happen enough in pop and rock music. Frontman David Byrne and bassist Tina Weymouth worked in a tandem that was funky, eclectic and genius. Weymouth really should be put in the pantheon of amazing bass players as well. For proof, see “Psycho Killer” or really any other song with a bass line in it all.
The Swell Season – If you want to talk about heartbreaking and beautiful vocal performances from a band with both a male and female front person, you’re going to have to put The Swell Season at the top of your list. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are the powerhouse duo behind The Swell Season’s moving and emotional music. For added pleasure, grab a copy of the motion picture “Once.” It’s the story of two musicians in Ireland who find each other through music and have an unrequited love for each other. It also happens to star and feature music from Hansard and Irglova. Not only are these two great musicians and singers, they also happen to be able to act a fair bit as well.