When listening to the eponymous debut album by Fanny the other day, I knew immediately I was going to love this all-female rock band. I have to thank fellow blogger Max from PowerPop, who pointed them out to me. Not only were Fanny’s songs and musicianship compelling, but these four young women were true trailblazers for all-female rock in the early ’70s. Bands like The Runaways, The Go-Go’s and The Bangles were still unheard of. What’s also intriguing is that Fanny were formed by two Philippine-American sisters.
Before getting to some music, here’s a bit more background. Fanny were founded by June Millington (guitar) and her sister Jean Millington (bass) after they had moved from the Philippines to Sacramento, Calif. in 1961. Initially, the group was called Wild Honey that in turn had evolved from The Svelts, a group the sisters had started in high school. As Wild Honey were about to call it quits since they felt they didn’t have a chance to make it in a male-dominated rock scene, they were spotted during an open-mic appearance at LA’s prominent Troubadour Club by the attentive secretary of record producer Richard Perry.
Perry, who apparently had been looking for an all-female band to mentor, liked what he heard and convinced Warner Bros. to sign them to their Reprise Records label. Prior to recording their debut album, the group was renamed Fanny. According to their AllMusic profile, the name was suggested to Perry by none other than George Harrison. At the time, the band’s line-up included June Millington (vocals, guitar), Jean Millington (bass, vocals), Nickey Barclay (keyboards, vocals) and Alice de Buhr (drums). The Millington sisters had previously played with de Buhr in The Svelts.
This brings me to the band’s self-titled debut album, which appeared in December 1970 and was produced by Perry. Let’s kick it off with opener Come and Hold Me co-written by the Millington sisters. I love this tune, which sounds a song Christine McVie could have written for Fleetwood Mac in the ’70s. The excellent harmony singing is reminiscent of The Bangles. And check out Jean’s melodic bassline – so good!
I Just Realised is a great mid-tempo rocker penned by Barclay and June Millington. The raspy vocals are fantastic, which I believe are Barclay’s. I also love her honky-tonk style piano. Again, Jean does a great job on bass. June’s guitar work is cool as well. Man, these ladies were rockin’ and doing so at a pretty sophisticated level!
As I started listening to Conversation With a Cop, a great ballad by Barclay, I thought, ‘wait a moment, when was that tune written, in 1970 or in 2021?’ Check out the lyrics: …And I wonder how it feels to be afraid of everyone you see/I wonder why you keep those nervous fingers on your gun/I’ve done no wrong; I’m just looking for some place to walk my dog/Yeah, now don’t get me wrong, I’m just looking for some place to walk my dog. Just remarkable!
Here’s a cover of Cream’s Badge, which earned Fanny some radio play. Co-written by Eric Clapton and George Harrison, the tune appeared on Cream’s final studio album Goodbye from February 1969, and became their second-to-last single – all after the group already had broken up. I like how Fanny made the rendition their own!
The last track I’d like to call out is the closer Seven Roads – and, boy, what an outstanding final track! The smoking rocker was co-written by the Millington sisters and de Buhr. Again, there’s great guitar work and a killer keyboard solo by Barclay.
According to Wikipedia, Fanny weren’t happy with Perry’s production of the record. They thought it didn’t show them at their best or reflect their live performances. Apparently, their sentiment improved on the next two records, which Perry produced as well.
Fanny was the first of five studio albums during the band’s run. June Millington, who felt constrained by the group’s format and had clashes with Barclay, left after the September 1973 release of Fanny’s forth album Mother’s Pride that had been produced by Todd Rundgren. Subsequently, De Buhr also departed. Fanny with a different line-up released one more album, Rock and Roll Survivors in 1974, before they split in 1975.
A forthcoming film, Fanny: The Right to Rock, documents the band’s history. For more information, visit https://www.fannythemovie.com. Here’s the trailer. This looks quite intriguing! As Bonnie Raitt notes, “Fanny was the first all-female rock band that could really play and really get some credibility within the musician community.” I think Raitt’s statement captures the essence of what made Fanny trailblazers, i.e., their high level of musicianship and great songs, I should add, not the fact that they were an all-female group.
To conclude, here’s what David Bowie wrote in colorful words about the group in Rolling Stone in late December 1999, as documented by the website Fanny Rocks: “One of the most important female bands in American rock has been buried without a trace. And that is Fanny. They were one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extraordinary: They wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful, and nobody’s ever mentioned them. They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time. Revivify Fanny. And I will feel that my work is done.”
Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Fanny Rocks website; YouTube