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I AM WOMAN, STILL ROARING

Helen Reddy was lying in bed, her career going nowhere special, when something remarkable happened.

The lines: ‘I am woman/hear me roar’ popped into her subconscious, words she was convinced were ‘delivered’ to her by a higher force.

Fortunately, she had a notepad handy. The rest is history.

This month marks the 40th anniversary of ‘I Am Woman’, a song that became the anthem of a powerful and vibrant social force — the so-called ‘women’s movement’ — that scared the pants off those who still believed women belonged in the bedroom.

Strong willed and outspoken, Reddy was quite the force herself, the perfect spokeswoman.

‘I Am Woman’ came with a complicated bloodline. Originally recorded in 1971 for Reddy’s second solo album, it was then tapped for a long forgotten film named Stand Up and Be Counted, a Hollywood quickie designed to cash in what the (male) producers dismissed as some passing fad: women’s lib.

Reddy duly re-recorded ‘I Am Woman’ and with the help of some 20 appearances on US daytime TV — Reddy virtually reserved a spot on Dinah Shore’s couch — the song slowly worked its way onto radio playlists. Reddy, however, was a little preoccupied when it finally hit number one; she was giving birth to son Jordan, her second child, at the time.

But Reddy did seize the moment soon after with her famous Grammy speech. ‘I would like to thank God,’ Reddy declared, barely suppressing a grin, ‘because she makes everything possible.’  

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmifO2sKT7g[/youtube]

So what anthems of sisterhood have followed in the wake of ‘I Am Woman’? Did the revolution end in 1972?

Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5’ may have lacked the emotional wallop of ‘I Am Woman’, but it did capture the early 80s zeitgeist, wherein the modern woman strived to juggle a career and kids. And, in Dolly’s case, what to do once you’ve kidnapped the boss.

Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls just want to have fun’ could best be described as the Me-generation answer to ‘I Am Woman’. Cyndi and her good-time crew weren’t so much burning their bras as burning holes in their Macy’s store cards while shopping for fancy new bras.

The Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin’s ‘Sisters Are Doing it for Themselves’ was more like it, a punchy, catchy and strong-willed celebration of solidarity. Bonus points for bringing together Franklin, the legendary queen of soul, and Annie Lennox, the high priestess of 1980s pop.

Destiny’s Child ‘Independent Woman’. Now, I can’t help but see Beyonce Knowles in action and imagine a lioness stalking its pray (sorry, it just happens, must be her hair), but trace elements of ‘I Am Woman’ can be found just beneath the shiny surface of this R&B smash.

So what of Helen Reddy? She’s about to return to the stage after a self-imposed silence and forgo her monk-like existence in Sydney for a new life in LA. She’s spent the past 10 years as a practicing hypnotherapist, specialising in helping clients gain a glimpse of ‘the other side’. (Reddy had her own out-of-body experienced at the age of 11.)

 

Helen Reddy earlier this year after a cataract operation. Image via news.com.au.

 

And while Reddy has discarded many of the hits that followed in the wake of ‘I Am Woman’  – ‘I have no desire to sing “leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone” over and over again,’ she admits — Reddy still performs her signature song, but strictly as a spoken word piece.

“I found it had more impact; it was more dramatic, being recited. The woman are on their feet; they go nuts.”

Even at 71, Reddy continues to go her own way.

 

Got any great women’s anthems to add to the list?

 

 

MORE ARTICLES BY JEFF APTER

Yothu Yindi in the Hall of Fame

INXS. Keep on Walkin’

I was Kasey’s Ghost (Writer)

 

*Jeff Apter’s latest book is Shirl: The Life of Legendary Larrikin Graeme “Shirley” Strachan (Hardie Grant). You can visit his website at www.jeffapter.com.au.

 

 

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17 Comments

  • Reply December 7, 2012

    Penster

    Today’s women probably don’t understand the struggle for the gains they take for granted. And this is probably a good thing – like access to education & healthcare, you SHOULD expect and therefore be able take for granted, equality.

  • Reply December 7, 2012

    TraceyA

    Less mainstream, but another great feminist song is ‘Listen Up Ladies (This is a New Day)’ by Cedella Marley Booker. It’s so funny and fabulous. Any song that contains the lyric “being female don’t mean you’re somebody’s footstool” is okay with me. Cedella is Bob Marley’s mum – clearly his talent didn’t just come from the ether.

    And if we want to include feminist songs written by blokes then surely Peter Gabriel’s ‘Shaking the Tree’ deserves an honourable mention.

  • Reply December 7, 2012

    Wendy Harmer

    I did love this one by Carol Bayer Sager:

    So pack your toys away
    Your pretty boys away
    Your 45s away
    Your alibis away
    Your Spanish flies away
    Your one-more-tries away
    Your old tie-dyes away
    You’re moving out today

  • Reply December 7, 2012

    Jennifer Barlow

    Massive Attack’s “Protection!” Brilliant, haunting. And well worth another listen.

  • Reply December 7, 2012

    Tracy

    My eldest daughter found the album and bought it for me a few years ago, she kew I loved it. The song is also set as the ring tone on her phone when I call her! It is a favouite with us feminists!

  • Reply December 7, 2012

    DeeDee

    um respect by aretha; you oughtta know, alanis; best beyonce empowerment song has to be who runs the world (girls) – video is amazing!

  • Reply December 7, 2012

    DeeDee

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBmMU_iwe6U

    Beyonce Run The World (Girls)

  • Reply December 7, 2012

    Christine Gates

    OMG I loved the blast from the past Wendy Harmer, with the Carol Bayer Sager fabulous words – must YouTube that one. Aren’t we the lucky ones to have been young through the 60’s and 70’s and still around in this new century

  • Reply December 7, 2012

    MoniqueN

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fx227986hc8

    I am what I am, by the incomparable Shirley Bassey… often imitated, never duplicated (although if you want something with a disco beat you can’t go past the Gloria Gaynor version)

  • Reply December 7, 2012

    Glenis

    Call me old if you, I was at uni when that song came out and it was a mantra. I STILL love it. It takes me right back instantly. Nothing since has the same impact in my opinion.

  • Reply December 7, 2012

    ro.watson

    Good to see that old girl do her thing. Agree Shirley Bassey is incomparable. Annie and Aretha same. For acting out possibilities on the dance floor~maybe “I will survive”(as long as I have love to give).

  • Reply December 8, 2012

    Shannon

    John Lennon wrote a pretty good one, if you’re not afraid of confrontational lyrics, “Woman is the n****r of the world”. (I’m a wuss, can’t bear to type that word) Pretty powerful if you ask me

  • Reply December 9, 2012

    Olivia

    “You Don’t Own Me” sung by Leslie Gore in 1963 – way before Helen Reddy (I was surprised such a feminist song was around well before Helen’s)

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  • Reply December 17, 2012

    Pauline

    Was reading a book the other day, had a reference to the Suffragettes in it, protesting to gain the right to vote in England in 1917. Glad to hear Oz was a bit ahead of that, but it’s still amazing to see how much women have achieved, throughout history, but especially in the last hundred or so years. Maybe sometime soon we’ll be able to figure things out and women can have rights to do whatever we want and can, and so will men. :-)

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  • […] I am Woman. Still Roaring […]

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