Today is my day to write about one of the youngest performers on this list, Billie Eilish and her debut album, “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?”. This remarkable talent reached #397 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time with this debut, which was recorded in a bedroom with her brother as her only real accompanying performer. Already, I was somewhat melancholy realizing the end of this project is near, and that this is the last release to be included from that Rolling Stone list. After several listens, I had several things I wanted to say about Billie and this record, and I will get to those in time, but a real-time discovery has shifted my train of thought so we will go there first.
Yesterday marked an unbelievable occurrence in the world of music, particularly with regards to influential female vocalists, when Joni Mitchell, accompanied by many artists, joined a full-set performance of her music at the Newport Folk Festival. In some cases, she watched or sang along with the lead performer, but as the show progressed, her engagement increased, and by the end she was taking the lead on several songs, and even stood up to play some guitar.
The world of music in every genre has not always been an equal-opportunity landscape for female performers, and one of the true pioneers in establishing women as not only capable, but brilliant singer-songwriters was Joni Mitchell. As you may recall, her album “Blue” was previously featured in this blog and is the #3 rated album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Watching this renaissance performance was as moving and emotional for me as when Aretha Franklin commanded the stage at the Kennedy Center to honor Carole King. They are and were generational talents, and I was both elated and saddened to see Joni perform. As powerful as this moment was, it reminded me yet again that in the next few years, we will say goodbye to the rest of an entire generation of performers from the 1960s who changed music like no others in modern history. As you watch all the other legends onstage with Joni, there isn’t a dry eye on stage as she sang “Both Sides Now”, one of her most profound and relevant songs, particularly at this stage in her life. If you haven’t watched it, I highly encourage you to do so.
As I tie this back to Billie Eilish, I realize that our children and their children will each have their own generational talents they look to for inspiration, hope, and impact. It is very early in her career, so only time will tell, but from her highly successful start, it appears Billie Eilish has the potential to be one of those artists. Stylistically, even her tone and delivery bear some comparison to Joni Mitchell. There are roots of folk music in both of their sound, although a better label for Eilish might be indie rock with a really thick bass. There were some songs that were difficult for me to properly hear, as she sings very softly, but if you turn them up loud, the bottom really drops on that house bass line. It is a compelling mix indeed, but I probably need an isolated space to play it at a volume that it deserves.
The songs she wrote and performed with her brother are dark, compelling, intellectual, and seemingly wise beyond her years. My favorite is “wish you were gay”, which confronts that disheartening moment in a relationship when your partner just isn’t into you, so you are left clutching for reasons why and wishing there was a way out that shifted your view of the blame somewhere else. My second favorite track is “all the good girls go to hell”, as it branches out a bit from the whispering delivery buried in a heavy bass mix.
I really do enjoy her songwriting, and I think the world has a lot more to see and hear from Ms. Eilish. Someday, long after I’m gone, someone will hopefully get to witness one of her last live performances at a ripe old age and reflect with warmth and a little sadness back on a shared life of experiences and beautiful music.