Our top 10 Ani DiFranco songs list looks at the body of work of a female singer-songwriter best known for her songs that defined a generation of protest on so many issues. Born in 1970, Ani DiFranco has been among the influential artists in the folk and alternative rock music scenes of the Gen-X timeframe. Ani DiFranco’s rise to fame has been attributed to her audacious musical themes. This has seen the singer described to be more than just a singer but an influential activist.
There is no better person to have taken inspiration from than the American folk singer Pete Seeger. The legendary Pete Seeger established himself as a social activist, with most of his songs classified under the protest music category. In a similar way, Ani DiFranco is among the most vocal artists who have had a history of activism, especially towards the appreciation of the LGBTQ community.
While Ani DiFranco’s songs have been classified under the folk/alternative rock genres, some of her releases feature some punk, jazz, funk, and hip hop sonic influences. All her records have been issued through her independent record label, Righteous Babe Records. Other artists who have recorded songs under the label include Nona Hendryx, Andrew Bird, and Jennifer Knapp.
Ani DiFranco’s Career Beginnings and Breakthrough
In 1990, Ani DiFranco launched her independent record label Righteous Babe Records which she has used throughout her career for her releases. On November 1, 1990, the folk/alternative rock musician released her eponymous debut album. Ani DiFranco’s sound blended folk and indie rock elements. While the album failed to achieve commercial success, it helped Ani DiFranco mark her entry into the music industry.
“Both Hands” and “Talk to Me Now” are some of the best Ani DiFranco songs from the LP. Ani DiFranco’s momentum in the music scene built over the years. By the mid-’90s, she became among the most sought-after folk/alternative rock artists. Ani DiFranco would soon establish a musical figure for artists who wished to live a life opposed to contemporary society.
Ani DiFranco’s Album Releases over the Years
After releasing her eponymous debut album in 1990, Ani DiFranco returned exactly a year later with her sophomore LP, Not So Soft. Not So Soft saw Ani DiFranco released songs with folk-rock and indie rock sonic influences. Once more, the artists collaborated with Dale Anderson in producing the album. The fourteen-track album failed to achieve success but solidified the singer’s ground as a reputable folk singer.
In June 1992, Ani DiFranco returned with her third studio album, Imperfectly. This time, Ani DiFranco teamed up with Ed Stone to produce music for the album. The thirteen-track album was also not enough to catapult the singer to mainstream and commercial success despite her dedicated efforts. Ani DiFranco put in more effort the following year, releasing her fourth studio album, Puddle Drive, on Valentine’s Day.
Puddle Drive saw the singer team up with both of her recent producers, Ed Stone and Dale Anderson. While the album failed to receive critical acclaim, it featured notable releases, including “God’s Country.” The folk/alternative rock singer later returned with her fifth LP, Out of Range, in 1994. Out of Range is home to some of the best Ani DiFranco songs, including “You Had Time” and “Building and Bridges.”
In July 1995, Ani DiFranco released her sixth studio album, Not a Pretty Girl. The album brought the singer to a new level despite not making it to the charts. “Shy,” one of the songs from the album, was nominated for a Grammy Award for the Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 1997. Other notable songs from this reputable album include “Light of Some Kind,” “32 Flavors,” and “Not a Pretty Girl.” The album marked the singer’s breakthrough moment, setting the pace for albums that followed.
After the release of the successful (though non-charting) album, Ani DiFranco was ready to push her music career even higher with her later releases. Her next effort, Dilate (issued in 1996), was a successful release, peaking at number eighty-seven. This was her first album to make it to the Billboard 200. Dilate also became the singer’s best-selling LP. Some of the musical gems from the LP Dilate include “Untouchable Face,” “Shameless,” “Joyful Girl,” and “Napoleon.”
Ani DiFranco took a sabbatical from the annual album release in 1997, focusing on her 1998 eighth LP, Little Plastic Castle. The preparation and efforts towards the LP were worth the wait, having the album become Ani DiFranco’s highest-peaking album. Little Plastic Castle peaked at number twenty-two on the Billboard 200. “As Is,” “Little Plastic Castle,” and “Glass House” are some of the best Ani DiFranco songs from the album. “Glass House” saw the singer nominated for a Grammy Award for the Rock Female Vocalist.
In 1999, returned with her ninth studio album, Up Up Up Up Up Up. The album is home to some of the popular Ani DiFranco songs, including “Jukebox,” “The Arrivals Gate,” and “Angry Anymore.” Ani DiFranco saw the album rise to the twenty-ninth spot on the Billboard 200. “Jukebox” saw Ani DiFranco earn yet another Grammy Award nomination, now in the Female Rock Vocal Performance category.
Ani DiFranco went on to release her tenth LP, To the Teeth, in the same year. To the Teeth is home to lyrical gems such as “Soft Shoulder” and “Hello Birmingham.” Ani DiFranco was joined by the legendary singer Prince on the hit “Providence.” To the Teeth went on to rise to the seventy-sixth spot on the Billboard 200.
Revelling/Reckoning, issued in 2001, marked Ani DiFranco’s eleventh LP. The album was Ani DiFranco’s first album to top the Billboard Top Independent Albums chart. It also managed to rise to the fiftieth spot on the Billboard 200. On the Australian Albums chart, Revelling/Reckoned peaked at number seventy-eight. Revelling/Reckoning is home to “Your Next Bold Move,” one of the best Ani DiFranco songs of the early 2000s.
Unlike the previous years, 2003 saw Ani DiFranco experiment with new sonic influences for her new album, Evolve. The album saw Ani DiFranco add some funk and jazz influences to her usual indie/folk-rock sound. Evolve topped the Billboard Top Independent Albums chart, peaking at number thirty on the Billboard 200. Ani DiFranco won the 2004 Grammy Award for the Best Recording Package, thanks to Evolve.
Later in 2004, the singer released her thirteenth LP, Educated Guess. Educated Guess made it to number thirty-seven on the Billboard 200. The album also marked Ani DiFranco’s last chart-topping release on the Billboard Top Independent Albums chart. Ani DiFranco collaborated with the Grammy Award-winning producer Joe Henry in 2005 for the release of her fourteenth LP, Knuckle Down.
Joe Henry is also renowned for his successful work with other singers Bonnie Raitt, Billy Bragg, and Elvis Costello. Knuckle Down peaked at number forty-nine on the Billboard 200. The singer has released six more albums, all of which made it to the Billboard 200, except her 2021 LP, Revolutionary Love.
Ani DiFranco’s Other Musical Pursuits
In 1996, Ani DiFranco teamed up with fellow folksinger Utah Phillips to release a collaborative album, The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere. The album was released under Righteous Babe Records. Other than the singers’ usual folk sound, The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere featured some spoken word.
The two would later link up in 1999 to release their second collaborative album, Fellow Workers. Fellow Workers featured some folk and indie rock sonic influences. Ani DiFranco has also produced music for Peter Mulvey, Dan Bern, and Margret Cho.
Ani DiFranco’s Accolades and Legacy
Over her more than thirty-year-long career, Ani DiFranco has won one Grammy Award out of nine nominations in different categories. Her only Grammy Award was in 2004, thanks to the album Evolve, which won the Best Recording Package. Ani DiFranco has won other accolades for her awe-inspiring music and influence in the folk/alternative rock scene.
Her support of the LGBTQ community hasn’t gone unnoticed over the years. However, Ani DiFranco’s activism goes beyond the sexuality topic, having her music support different cultural and political aspects. Here we look at the ten best Ani DiFranco songs of all time.
#10 – Shameless
Ushering us to the top 10 Ani DiFranco songs is the touching hit “Shameless.” The song is featured on the singer’s most commercially successful LP, Dilate. Ani DiFranco is credited with having penned the lyrics to the song. The singer also handles the production of this song. “Shameless” alludes to getting into an awkward and senseless relationship.
#9 – Jukebox
“Jukebox” is one of the best Ani DiFranco songs from her ninth studio album, Up Up Up Up Up Up. The song features some of the best acoustic guitar vibes from Ani DiFranco, establishing her as one of the most vicious guitar players of the ‘90s. “Jukebox” led Ani DiFranco to a Grammy Award nomination in the Female Rock Vocal Performance in the 2000 ceremony.
However, she lost the award to “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Sheryl Crow. Other songs that had been nominated for the award include “Bliss” by Tori Amos, “Angels Would Fall” by Melissa Etheridge, and “Possession” by Sarah McLachlan.
#8 – Your Next Bold Move
Our number eight spot on the ten best Ani DiFranco songs goes to the pulsating hit “Your Next Bold Move.” The song is featured on the singer’s eleventh studio album, Revelling/Reckoning. Ani DiFranco penned this political hit that showcases her progressive standpoint in her musical journey.
The song’s lyrics allude to getting astounded by matters that you almost throw in the towel on ever finding some hope for life and peace for all. Like most of the songs from the album, “Your Next Bold Move” remains one of Ani DiFranco’s political-oriented hits.
#7 – Glass House
“Glass House” is one of the best Ani DiFranco songs from the singer’s highest-charting LP, Little Plastic Castle. Ani DiFranco is credited with having penned the lyrics to the song. “Glass House” was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1999 for the Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. However, it lost to “Uninvited” by Alanis Morissette. Other songs nominated for the award include “Can’t Let Go” by Lucinda Williams, “There Goes the Neighborhood” by Sheryl Crow, and “Raspberry Swirl” by Tori Amos.
#6 – Shy
Not a Pretty Girl is home to our number five hit on the ten best Ani DiFranco songs, “Shy.” The song is yet another lyrical gem by the singer. “Shy” has its lyrics tell of an escapade that involved a one-night affair. Matt Skiba of the American rock band Alkaline Trio uses the song’s second verse while performing the hit “Ninety-Seven” live.
“Shy” led Ani DiFranco to a Grammy Award nomination for the Best Female Rock Vocal Performance category. However, the song lost to “If It Makes You Happy” by Sheryl Crow. Other songs that were nominated for the same award in the 1997 Grammy Awards ceremony include “Burning Down the House” by Bonnie Raitt, “Spider Web” by Joan Osbourne, “Give Me One Reason” by Tracy Chapman, and “Mother Mother” by Tracy Bonham.
#5- You Had Time
“You Had Time” is one of the best Ani DiFranco songs from the singer’s LP, Out of Range. In this song, Ani DiFranco employs the use of the piano, as opposed to her usual guitar. The song proves to be one of the most emotive hits, with the piano riffs delivered in a somber mood. Ani DiFranco makes this magnificent delivery for about two minutes and a half before she mesmerizes us all with her moving vocals.
One of our favorite Ani Difranco albums has always been her sensational record Not a Pretty Girl. The album was released on July 18, 1985. The album was fueled by Ani Difranco’s emotional and spirited vocals and guitar playing and the virtuoso percussive playing of Andy Stochansky. The duo set the tone of the album with the grand opening track entitled “Worthy.” Ani’s playing is so incredibly soulful as her strumming wraps around her vocals in an angry but playful rhythm that is simply captivating. That’s the way to open up an album.
#3 –Buildings And Bridges
It’s so tough just picking ten Ani Difranco songs because her catalog is so vast. This is one of her songs that echoes the spirit of the 70s in both its rhythmic and lyrical qualities. There is also a chord that sounds almost out of tune in the groove, but its consistency throughout the song makes it work and defines Ani Difranco’s creativity. It’s that chord that seems to define the point of the song which is building and bridges can sway or bend just like that chord, but they never break. That’s art!
#2 – Untouchable Face
When I first heard this song so many years ago, I became an instant Ani Difranco fan. The song reminded me of Harry Nilsson’s “Your Breaking My Heart.” Both songs speak to their ex-partners in the same direct manner. A manner that we all have felt at one point in our lives towards an ex. It’s the perfect expression that is vulgar but says it so perfectly. This is a song that won Ani DiFranco a lot of fans, especially of the female gender. It’s actually quite brave as an artist to record a song like this, but Ani DiFranco is probably one of the bravest and most genuine artists we have ever had the joy to listen to.
#1 – Do Or Die
As we come to a close on our Ani Difranco songs list we present the song “Do Or Die.” If we had to choose one song that defined Ani Difranco the artist, Ani DiFranco the person, it would be this very important recording called “Do Or Die.” Ani Difranco has always been one of the most committed musical artists to utilizing art as an expression for justice. Ani has been a voice for racial justice, gender justice, and political justice. All three are pretty much one in the same. While there are some who may think that artists should not dive deep into politics or social issues, those are the voices of the people that don’t usually care about justice, people who just care about themselves.
Ani Difranco has always been a voice of protest. While we could write an entire book on the impact Ani DiFranco has had on so many in the minority, we simply would love for our readers to just watch the entire video below that was directed by Zoe Boekbinder. This astonishing video defines who Ani Difranco really is. It’s a work of art that is both incredibly genuine and was an impactful call to action during one of the most turbulent times the United States has faced since the 1960s. If you are a person of soul, of passion, of justice, you will be touched and moved by this brave work of art by Ani Difranco
Top 10 Ani DiFranco Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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