For as long as there has been rock music, women have played a role in its success. Some were a major influence on artists of their generation, and some were a major influence on the success of the bands with which they worked. All excelled at creating and performing rock music, as songwriters, instrumentalists, and singers. Below is a list of women in rock whose influence is still felt today.
One of the first women associated with hard rock, Pat Benatar’s rise from bank teller to arena rock star was meteoric. Success began with her first album, “In the Heat of the Night” in 1979. Her second album, “Crimes of Passion” put her in an ideal position to become one of the first and most frequently played artists on MTV when it launched in 1981.
Despite spending much of the ’70s unsuccessfully trying to form or permanently join a band, Chrissie Hynde finally got her demo tape to a record label owner whose backing enabled her to put together The Pretenders. On the strength of their self-titled debut album in 1979, the band rode rock’s New Wave movement through the ’80s, succeeding in spite of internal conflict and numerous changes.
After success in the mid-’70s with one of the first all-female rock bands, The Runaways, Joan Jett went on to even greater success with her own band, The Blackhearts. Their first album, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” in 1981 was an immediate hit. In addition to her talent as a vocalist, Jett has distinguished herself as a guitarist, songwriter, and producer.
Janis Joplin was one of the first female artists to break the “girl singer” mold that existed in folk and pop music in the mid-’60s. Her fusion of rock and blues-influenced both male and female artists. Her breakthrough came after performing with Big Brother and The Holding Company at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. She also performed at Woodstock in 1969. She was approaching the height of her success in 1970 when she died of a drug/alcohol overdose.
Since joining Fleetwood Mac in 1975, Stevie Nicks established herself as a major vocal and songwriting talent. While still a member of the band, she also launched a solo career in 1981. Artists in various genres have cited Nicks as a major influence on their music.
Suzi Quatro was the first female bass guitarist to become a major rocker. Her sister, Patti Quatro, had blazed the trail as a member of Fanny, one of the first all-female rock bands to sign with a major label. A long list of artists cites Suzi as a major influence on their work, including two rockers who are on this list: Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde.
Suzi got her first big break in the UK in 1971 when she came to the attention of producer, Mickie Most, who also nurtured artists like The Animals, Jeff Beck Group, Donovan and Herman’s Hermits. She started getting attention in her native America thanks to her recurring role on the TV series, “Happy Days”. In 1978, she released “Stumblin’ In” — a duet with British vocalist Chris Norman.
Grace Slick’s sometimes haunting voice and “let it all hang out” lifestyle (she once removed her blouse on stage and performed topless because of the hot weather) made her a perfect fit for psychedelic rock pioneers, Jefferson Airplane (and its successors, Jefferson Starship and Starship.) As a songwriter, Slick was responsible for two of the band’s best-known songs, “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love.” She retired from the music business in 1989 and began painting and drawing professionally.
She has been nicknamed “Godmother of Punk,” but Patti Smith has influenced artists ranging from U2 to Shirley Manson. Her classic debut album, “Horses” (1975), found a place on “greatest albums” lists of magazines like “Rolling Stone”, “Time”, and “NME”. In addition to performing, she is also a prolific author and social activist.
Nancy Wilson & Ann Wilson
When Heart came along in 1973, it soon became clear that two attractive women (sisters, no less) fronting a rock band was way more than just a young man’s fantasy. After their debut album, “Dreamboat Annie” in 1975, Ann and, with Heart, Nancy Wilson have had Top 10 albums in every decade since.