Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch Series,” Lilith Fair Edition, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!
Twenty four years ago Sarah McLachlan and a rotating cast of fellow artists embarked on the women-centric traveling fest known as Lilith Fair. While the nostalgic view of the Nineties paints it as a decade where not just female-fronted, but female-populated acts surged on the pop and rock charts, Lilith’s presence bucked music industry norms that were still, quietly but firmly, directing radio playlists and tour routing. The venture was also a huge success, becoming the top-grossing festival of 1997.
Paula Cole is an American singer-songwriter. Her single “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” reached the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1997, and the following year she won a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. Her song “I Don’t Want to Wait” was used as the theme song of the television show Dawson’s Creek.
Paula Cole performed at “Lilith Fair”
In the song “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone,” Paula Cole plays a woman who is swept off her feet by a rugged cowboy in a ’56 Chevy. She’s happy to be his housewife while he provides for the family, but after a while lethargy sets in and her cowboy is more of a bum, hanging out at the bar while she takes care of the household.
In an interview with Cole, she said: “It’s so many things woven together: wit, irony, humor, melancholy, and gender role examination. It’s all these things put together musically in this plaintive, American pop rock way.”
Cole is a staunch feminist and wrote this song with a sideways glance at gender stereotypes. The nuance of the song was lost on many listeners, who thought it was simply about a woman yearning for a manly man to take care of her.
“Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” was the breakout hit from Cole’s second album, which she wrote and produced herself after working with Kevin Killen on her 1994 debut, Harbinger. She wrote the song and demoed it with a rumba feel, but that didn’t fly. “Nobody paid any attention to it with a rumba feel, and that bothered me,” Cole told Songfacts. “For some reason the song was speaking to my unconscious and was saying, ‘Believe in me. Hey, I’m down here, I’m good.’ It bothered me enough that I re-demoed it with like a Ringo Starr reprise of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ On that album, Paul McCartney counts off at the last song, ‘One, two, three, four… [drum beat].’ That’s Ringo.
So, I sampled Ringo and looped it for just home demo purposes, not for the recording, and then I put on the catchy BVs [backing vocals] and added a bridge and suddenly everyone was really over the top about the song. And I knew going into This Fire that it was an important song and it was probably going to be my first single.
I loved the way “When Doves Cry” sounded, from Prince, and the lack of bass and how it sounded coming through a piece of s–t car stereo system all high end. It translated beautifully. I wanted it to translate to radio without bass muddying this particular song. I wanted crowd noise throughout the track to give it feel and ambience. I wanted the catchiness of the background vocals, and most of all I wanted humor and wit, like XTC of England, that wonderful British rock group. I was really in admiration of their wit and their humor and I thought, ‘What do I need to write with some wit and humor and irony.'”
Cole earned seven Grammy nominations in 1998, three specifically for this song: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. This Firewas up for Album of the Year and Best Pop Album, and Cole was also nominated for Best New Artist and Producer of the Year. “Sunny Came Home” by Shawn Colvin won the Song and Record of the Year awards, and Bob Dylan got Album of the Year for Time Out Of Mind, but Cole won for Best New Artist, beating out Erykah Badu, Fiona Apple, Hanson and Puff Daddy.
At the ceremony, Cole performed part of the song (ending with some impressive beatboxing) in a whiparound segment where Colvin and Sarah McLachlan also sang their hits. Cole had never watched the Grammys before she was on it, and she didn’t bother to shave her armpits, which was noticeable in her acceptance speech. This became a talking point, which irked Cole as it shifted the story from her accomplishment to her appearance. “I hated the fashion statement element of pop,” she told Songfacts. “I had hairy armpits and they made such a big fuss about it. I was touring in Europe where they don’t even give a f–k about that. I came back and it was just weird.”
With her Producer of the Year nomination, Cole became the first woman nominated for the award on her own. The following year, Sheryl Crow and Lauryn Hill were up for the award.