Before girl rock bands became a thing, albeit rare – before the Runaways and the Go-Go’s, before the Indigo Girls and riot grrrls, before Heart, Le Tigre, and Haim – there was Fanny. This early Seventies band, anchored by sisters June Millington on guitar and Jean Millington on bass, put out five albums between 1970 and 1974 and had two songs hit the Top 40 during their career. Fanny opened for bands such as Jethro Tull, Humble Pie, and Chicago, and were extolled by David Bowie in Rolling Stone as “one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time.”
Nearly 50 years later, as members of the band reassembled to write, produce, and perform a new album, Fanny Walked the Earth, Bobbi Jo Hart filmed Fanny: The Right to Rock, a documentary about these rock dinosaurs/survivors. The movie serves as an eye-opening look into one of the most important bands of whom too few people have heard. It’s also an informative and memory-buttressing study of a band whose misfortune to never gain vast popular traction has made them seem practically a faded delusion to those of us who did actually hear and buy their music during their heyday. “Revivify Fanny,” Bowie went on to say in that Rolling Stone plug. Fanny: The Right to Rock goes a long way toward resurrecting the band’s memory.
The movie’s thesis is that Fanny showed the way for generations of women and endowed women with the “right to rock.” In other words, to not just be the eye candy, girl singers, and muses, but the artists who compose their songs, master their instruments, and live the rock & roll lifestyle. Heavily punctuated with performance clips, the film gives the kind of visual and aural testimony that mere history books cannot. To see and hear June shredding on lead guitar, to listen to their socially relevant lyrics and observe a group of women doing something that few women of their time had ever done remains inspirational. Musicians such as Bonnie Raitt, John Sebastian, Todd Rundgren (who produced one of their albums), Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, the Go-Go’s Kathy Valentine, the B-52s’ Kate Pierson, and many others sing the band’s praises throughout the film.
Observations and commentary from Fanny’s various band members (who at various times included, in addition to the Millington sisters, drummers Brie Darling and Alice de Buhr; pianist Nickey Barclay, who does not appear in the film; and guitarist Patti Quatro) recall the band’s formation and typical band travails (e.g., their biggest hit, “Butter Boy,” charted after the band had already broken up). On top of that, the Millingtons were Filipina Americans, who had to contend with racism growing up in the U.S., in addition to the “show us your tits” sexism of their time touring. Now in their senior years, the members of Fanny also have ageism to contend with as they attempt a comeback. Even if it still isn’t the band’s time (as Bowie might say), Fanny: The Right to Rock is essential viewing for every student of rock history, not to mention feminism.
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