To celebrate Women’s History Month, here are our top 10 greatest female rockers. Not in order, of course.
As we approach the end of Women’s History Month (boo!), I’ve taken it upon myself to commemorate some of rock’s greatest and strongest women. Being a singer myself, I can understand if this list is biased, however I believe a woman’s most powerful assets are her heart, mind, and voice- all of which go into writing and conveying their beautiful and life-changing pieces of poetry. These incredible voices and minds have influenced me in my life, one way or another, and continue to influence generations of powerful women in music.
So lo and behold, the women who have lit the eternal flame of rock and flipped off the rock patriarchy:
Known as one of the most successful and prominent female voices of the late 60s, Joplin came into the mainstream spotlight upon her appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, singing with Big Brother and the Holding Company, then later pursued a solo career. Within her four year career, Joplin recorded her first two albums with the band Big Brother and the Holding Company – their self titled album (1967) and Cheap Thrills (1968), which featured a hit cover of Erma Franklin’s “Piece of My Heart”. After leaving the band, she recorded two solo albums – Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! (1969) and the posthumously released Pearl (1971).
Joplin suffered for many years of her teens regarding her weight, sexuality (later identifying as bisexual), and even the fact that she supported integration and African-American civil rights. As she left college and became famous, she continued being herself in such fashion, New York Times reporter Kim France commented that “Once she became famous, Joplin cursed like a truck driver, did not believe in wearing undergarments, was rarely seen without her bottle of Southern Comfort and delighted in playing the role of sexual predator”. Joplin famously had relationships with famous men such as Kris Kristofferson and Country Joe McDonald, as well as some relationships with women. Joplin handled this, as only the iconic Janis Joplin would, by telling Grateful Dead’s road manager, Richard Hundgen that she heard “…a rumor that somebody in San Francisco is spreading stories that I’m a dyke. You go back there and find out who it is and tell them that Janis says she’s gotten it on with a couple of thousand cats in her life and a few hundred chicks and see what they can do with that!”
Joplin sadly passed away on October 4th, 1970 due to a heroin overdose, which is believed to be an accident. She passed at age 27, only 16 days before fellow 27 Club member Jimi Hendrix died.
Quatro is believed to be the first female bass player to become a major rock star, reaching number 1 with “Can the Can” (1973) and “Devil Gate Drive” (1974) in Europe and Australia. The self-taught bass player and multi-instrumentalist has sported the same 1957 Fender Precision bass since 1964, and has stated her influences lay with that of Elvis Presley and Billie Holiday. Famously leather clad, Quatro was inspired by Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las “because she wore tight trousers and a waistcoat on top – she looked hot”, and appeared leathered up on American sitcom Happy Days as Leather Tuscadero.
Quatro fronted and played bass for her sisters’ all female band The Pleasure Seekers (later Cradle) when she was a teen later moving to London, after being spotted by Mickie Most, to pursue a solo career. “According to the Elektra president, I could become the new Janis Joplin. Mickie Most offered to take me to England and make me the first Suzi Quatro – I didn’t want to be the new anybody.”
As the support act for talents such as Thin Lizzy and Alice Cooper, Quatro was often criticised for appearing to “lack variety” and “lacking punch”, as well as her songs being “second-rate fillers” (commented by Alan Betrock).
“I was the first to be taken seriously as a female rock ‘n’ roll musician and singer. That hadn’t been done before. I played the boys at their own game.”
Quatro in a 2012 interview when asked what she thought she had achieved for female rockers.
Right on, Suzi Q.
Named one of the world’s greatest singer/songwriters of all time by Rolling Stone, Nicks has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: First as a member of Fleetwood Mac in 1998 and again in 2019 as a solo artist. Nicks met Lindsey Buckingham in her senior year of high school, joining his band Fritz after their original lead singer left for college. The band opened for such acts as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, however the group disbanded in 1972 and Nicks and Buckingham continued as a duo until joining Fleetwood Mac in early 1975.
Nicks ultimately improved Fleetwood Mac’s dynamic and success with her contribution to the new and improved band’s albums Fleetwood Mac (1975) and Rumours (1976) in which she contributed tracks such as “Rhiannon” (voted one of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone), “Landslide” (achieved over three million airplays), and “Dreams” (the band’s only Billboard Hot 100 number-one hit single). Not only was Nicks a fantastic poet, she was also an effervescent entertainer with a magical and passionate stage presence, which Mick Fleetwood described as being “…like an exorcism”. Known for her mystical aura, Nicks famously twirled and draped herself in flowing skirts and dresses and wrapped herself up in a triangle-shaped tassel shawl, adopting the nickname/persona of the White Witch.
After the release of Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 album Tusk, Nicks released her first solo album Bella Donna (1981) which rightfully earned her the number one spot on the Billboard 200, and four of the singles appearing on the Hot 100. Following her success of her debut solo album, Rolling Stone named her “the Reigning Queen of Rock and Roll”.
With the press dubbing her the “Godmother of Punk” and the “Original Riot Grrrl”, Jett founded the all-female rock band The Runaways, where they gained international success but struggled in the US. The band supported acts such as Cheap Trick, Ramones, Van Halen and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and disbanded in 1979. Later that year, Jett pursued a solo career in London and ended up forming Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, releasing I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (1981) with the album’s self titled track reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982 for seven weeks in a row, named Billboard’s #56 song of all time, and has been in inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016.
Following I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, Jett and the Blackhearts released Album (1983) and Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth (1984) as well as several other albums that followed, and they continue to perform together to this day.
As a prominent figure in the punk rock movement in NYC and dubbed the “punk poet laureate,” Smith is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee (2007), recipient of the 2011 Polar Music Prize, and named one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists (2010). Smith spent much of her younger years busking and writing poetry, and is known to be the first performer to have a poetry recital sold out at New York’s CBGB’s music club. Smith is a an avid philanthropist and activist, as well as continuing on her love for writing and poetry- writing a memoir Just Kids in 2010 about her life, and the importance of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe- the “artist of her life”.
A former beautician and Playboy bunny- and starting off as a backing singer- Harry formed Blondie in 1974 with Chris Stein, after both playing in the girl group Stilettos. Whilst originally struggling as a group, Blondie soon became one of the most successful bands of the 70s/early 80s. Harry is known as a sex symbol and bisexual in the industry, but always supports women in music: “The only place left for rock to go is toward more girl stars. There’s nothing left for men to do. There’s bound to be more male stars, but they can’t express anything new.” Harry is responsible for writing one of the first popularised rap songs to reach number one in the US, “Rapture”, and has been named the 12th greatest woman of rock n roll (VH1‘s 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll). Harry also does philanthropy work, specifically with charities that work with cancer and endometriosis.
(25 Oct 1959 - 21 Apr 2013)
One of Australia’s most iconic rock front-people, Amphlett rose to fame with her rock band Divinyls in the 80s. Amphlett was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2006 and The Age Music Victoria Hall of Fame along with music icon Ian “Molly” Meldrum in November 2018. The Divinyls track “Science Fiction”, co-written by Amphlett, was named one of the Top 30 Australian Songs of all time by APRA in 2001.
Ella Hooper of Australian band Killing Heidi said Amphlett ”personifies the term powerhouse” and is “…one of the greatest front people ever”. Amphlett lost her battle with breast cancer and multiple sclerosis complications in 2013, having her hit I Touch Myself becoming an anthem in a campaign for breast cancer awareness.
Benatar originally had a background in opera singing, as did her mother, but later found a passion for rock singing from influences such as Led Zeppelin. Known as the “Five Foot Giant”, Benatar is one of those artists that is little but has a BIG voice, winning four consecutive Grammys for “Best Female Rock Vocal Performance” from 1980-1983) and nominated for four more during the remainder of the 80s. VH1 has ranked her at #74 in their top 100 Greatest Hard Rock Artists, and #39 on their top 100 Greatest Women of Rock N Roll. She has earned herself two RIAA-certified multi-platinum albums, five platinum albums, three gold albums, and 15 Billboard Top 40 singles. In her 2010 memoir, “Between a Heart and a Rock Place”, Benatar states “For every day since I was old enough to think, I’ve considered myself a feminist … It’s empowering to watch and to know that, perhaps in some way, I made the hard path [women] have to walk just a little bit easier.”
“Most chick-singers say “If you hurt me, I’ll die”…I say, if you hurt me, I’ll kick your ass.”
One of the world’s most successful female rock artists with a career spanning over half of a century, Turner has sold more concert tickets than any other female artist and sold over 60 million record sales just between 1983-99. Voted #61 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Artist of all time list and #17 on their 100 Greatest Singers of all time, Turner began her career with her then-husband, Ike Turner, whom she was a victim to domestic violence. Herself and Ike share a Grammy award for Best R&B Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental for “Proud Mary” in 1972, however the remainder of her awards consist of seven competitive awards, three Grammy Hall of Fame awards, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition to her Grammy nods, Turner has been awarded a star on both the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the St. Louis Walk of Fame, an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (with Ike Turner), and a recipient of the Kennedy Centre Honors in 2005. Turner has also received the Lifetime Achievement prize at the MOBO awards at the Royal Albert Hall, showing her prominence and influence to all artists of black origin around the world, and shines a light for future artists and performers to overcome any adversities.
As the hardcore front woman of the hard rock band Heart, alongside her sister Nancy, both have been awarded Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording as well as being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Heart in 2013. Wilson was listed by Hit Parader Magazine in 2006 as one of the “Top Heavy Metal Vocalists of All Time” and has been honored at VH1 Rock Honors in 2007. Wilson’s younger years consisted of being introduced to a variety of music genres, “…everything from classical music to Ray Charles, Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, bossa nova, and early experimental electronic music.” As the lead vocalist and songwriter for Heart, the band’s track “Magic Man” was their first hit in the US, hitting #9 on the Billboard 100. Wilson has been ranked by VH1 as #40 on their 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll and #57 on their 100 Greatest Hard Rock Artists.
Want more from these fantastic femmes? Listen and follow below.