*Photo of Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, unidentified woman, and Emmy Lou Harris taken from the internet and likely copyrighted
I’ve been thinking about women a lot lately… in truth I think about women all the time but in this case I’m talking about singers… female singers. I am a huge fan of women. Frankly I think they should be in charge, the world would be a better place. Like Lou Reed once sang, “I love women, I think they’re great, they’re a solace to the world in a terrible state.” Lou was right about so many things… and indeed I can emphatically agree with his words, “I love women, we all love women.”
But that said, I’ve been wondering about women in the context of my music collection. I watched this fabulous documentary on Linda Ronstadt last week, Documentary Review: The Sublime ‘Linda Ronstadt, The Sound Of My Voice’, and in it they talk about what a male dominated world rock and roll was in the 70s. Frankly I’m not sure that’s changed. Pop music may be dominated by women like Beyonce, Lizzo and someone named Cardi B (?) but rock and roll? That’s another story. I tended to agree with Ronstadt’s opinion and I couldn’t help but think about my own music collection and indeed, BourbonAndVinyl itself. If I flip through my vinyl collection, it’s overwhelmingly male in nature. If I look at the blog posts on this humble enterprise it’s mostly about dudes and dude bands. I’m the biggest equal opportunity guy you’re ever going to find – be that gender, orientation, race, creed, color, etc. I like what my friend The Mayor once said, “Live your life, man.” And yet examining all of this makes me wonder, have I fallen into the sexism of rock and roll just by default? I started examining my past…
My parents weren’t into music like my brother or I am. They bought a stereo (that was rarely used) when I was in grade school and eventually acquired a small and very eccentric album collection. They had some interesting stuff like Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits or the Beatles’ 1967 to 1970 (aka The Blue Album). They had some “cool-adjacent” records like albums from Jim Croce and Elvis’ Live In Hawaii. But then they had a Roger Whitaker album. Like I said, these were not musical people. Thinking about it though, they didn’t have a single album by a female artist that I can think of. I didn’t grow up listening to women singers.
One Christmas after I was married, I asked Santa for some old school country music from the likes of Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. Having met the Rock Chick’s family, I had started to become exposed to that kind of music and dug it. As part of this Christmas booty, I got a greatest hits double-disc by one of the greatest singers in history, Patsy Cline. I was playing all this stuff, mesmerized by it really, and Patsy’s belting out hit after hit and my father-in-law leaned over to me, nose wrinkled in disapproval, and said “Hey, put that Haggard back on, I can’t listen to this chick.” I’m beginning to wonder if my lack of a selection of female singers was handed down from the generation who raised me…
When I started to get into rock and roll, the first female singer I became aware of, and whom I heard on the radio was, of course, Janis Joplin. I love blues and blues rock but I never really connected with Janis. I dug her rather shambolic live stuff and “Mercedes Bens” is a good bit of fun. I was aware of Aretha, you couldn’t not be aware of the Queen of Soul, but I never really got into her until I saw The Big Chill. I was never really into Motown and don’t like the Supremes (I know, blasphemy). I did love certain tracks by Martha and the Vandellas, “Nowhere to Run” is one of the all time greatest songs ever.
It was tough as a teenage boy, full of testosterone and low on brains or life experience to commit to buying a record by a woman. Masculinity is fragile when it’s most raging, I guess. In the late 70s, early 80s, the aforementioned Linda Ronstadt was big but I was always afraid of buying something that would be considered “mellow.” I avoided her, to my detriment. If you were going to shell out $9 for an album, man it better rawk. There were only a handful of artists who were Dude Approved… Pat Benetar was the Queen of Rock for us boys in the suburb. Beautiful and classically trained in opera, she just rocked. I loved “Hell Is For Children.” I bought her third album, Precious Time, which is where she began her creative decline and even the black guys who lived across the hall would listen to that album. None of us were cool enough for Patti Smith so we cranked Benetar.
Heart and the glorious Wilson sisters, Ann and Nancy were also big when I was discovering rock and roll. They’ve been described as a poor man’s female Zeppelin and the comparison is not without merit. Tunes like “Crazy On You” and “Barracuda” were more rock n roll than a lot of what guy bands were putting out. Sadly though the Wilson sisters were always plagued with rumors that they were incestuous lesbians. The Stupid 70s.
The woman whose albums we all owned and would gladly admit is Stevie Nicks. We all dug Fleetwood Mac, and props to Christine McVie, but it was Stevie who went solo with smash hits like Bella Donna and The Wild Heart. I always jokingly refer to Stevie as the Mistress of a Generation, not because of her varied love life, but because we all wanted her. She was like that cool chick you would see smoking cigarettes and joints out behind the school. She was everybody’s naughty girl. She hung out with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, her songs were the best of the Mac, and she was just cool. She was dancing around in shawls and throwing doves in the air while singing about Witchcraft and Wicca. Talented, dangerous and hot, what’s not to love?
As I got older and more secure in my rock fandom, I started to branch out into more female singers. Lucinda Williams is a huge artist that I just love. My friend Doug turned me onto the Cowboy Junkies and I love Margo Timmins as as singer. Doug had a girlfriend once who contended that women singers had to be quirky to get on the radio where as any dude could sing and they’d play it. I’m not so sure about that, but I rarely hear the Cowboy Junkies on the radio (other than NPR) any more. Norah Jones may not “rock” but her voice is like that of an angel. I’ve gotten into chicks who can really rock, like the Runaways (Lita Ford and Joan Jett’s 70s band) and I like No Doubt (although I hate Gwen Stefani’s solo work). I recently really got into Starcrawlers (LP Review: Starcrawler’s Sophomore Effort, ‘Devour You’) and I think Arrow de Wilde is someone to keep your eye on. This band is gonna be huge.
All of that said, I still felt like I needed to really branch out and explore the world of female rock stars. I wasn’t sure where to turn or which direction to head, so naturally I reached out to my “North Star,” the Rock Chick. As usual, she had some great suggestions. I finally asked her to give me her Top 10 Female Rock Singers list and I want to share it with B&V. These are all artists you should check out, I know I’m better for having done so.
- Karen O (The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs) – This punky band rocks! “Maps,” “Zero,” and “Heads Will Roll” are all great tracks. She’s got an intense, frosty voice that really drives their songs. Definitely a great listen.
- Alanis Morrisette – The Rock Chick is the only person I know who owns more than Jagged Little Pill. Having listened through all of these albums, I have to say, wow, she’s a great songwriter. Jagged Little Pill is her magnum opus, but there’s a lot more to love here. “You Owe Me Nothing In Return” is the greatest song ever about unconditional love.
- Annie Lennox (Eurythmics, solo) – Annie could simply be the best singer ever, male or female. I largely ignored the Eurythmics in the 80s but everything this woman has done has been great.
- Alison Mossheart (The Kills, The Dead Weather) – A rocker so cool she dates Jack White. They formed the Dead Weather together. Both her bands are kick ass.
- Dale Bozio (Missing Persons) – I love this band. My roommate in college actually bought their debut album. She was Lady Gaga before there was such a thing.
- Debbie Harry (Blondie) – Blondie was one of the few artists with a female singer that punctured my male-centric teenage consciousness. New Wave goddess with a phenomenal voice.
- Joan Jett – I love her in the Runaways, love her solo. She’s amazing to this day. I remember when her first single, “I Love Rock and Roll” came out and everybody went wild, especially the girls.
- Shirley Manson (Garbage) – Garbage is an amazing band and I’m so delighted the Rock Chick turned me onto them. She saw them live and said Shirley brings it live too.
- Courtney Love (Hole) – I love Hole. I actually always did and love that Rock Chick digs them too. Courtney was one of the greatest grunge singers of that era. Her voice is slightly ravaged now, but I still love it.
- Siouxsie (with her Banshees) – Oddly I always got Siouxsie confused with the gal in Bow Wow Wow. The Rock Chick sorted me out on that. She’s an amazing vocalist. She owns Iggy Pop’s “the Passenger,” and the Beatles “Dear Prudence” in this house.
There you go folks. I recommend all of the Rock Chick’s favorite female singers/artists. You will be rewarded if you take the time to do a little musical exploration on the pink side! If you have additional female singers that you think I should check out, by all means, please put it in the “comments” section and I will turn it up, post haste.
11 thoughts on “Women In Rock: My Search For Female Singers Leads to the Rock Chick’s Top 10”
I think female rockers are much more common from the 1990s onwards. One big name missing from the list is PJ Harvey.
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I’ve heard good things about her but alas, have never investigated her work. I’ll check it out! Thank you for reading and for your comment!
Looks like PJ has quite a body of work… where do you recommend I begin… ‘Rid of Me’ looks like Allmusic’s pick of the litter… Open to your thoughts and suggestions and again, thank you!
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Rid of Me is very raw, so if you like abrasive music it’s a good place to look. Her later stuff is more relaxed. Something like 1995’s To Bring You My Love might be a good starting point?
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Thank u! I’ll check them out
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More names too:
Patti Smith (as opposed to Patti Smyth….)
Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders)
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Oh God, Patti Smythe, just NO. I did mention Patti Smith who I like but so few people I know like… Chrissie Hynde was an egregious omission on my part, I even had her name written down on the notes I made for this post and somehow overlooked it. Good catch! Cheers!
I’d add the Cranberries, Aimee Mann, and Sinead O’Connor. In each case the music went beyond the woman as the voice of the band to having a woman’s perspective. They all rock too. Now if you want to add a contemporary to this group, I’d throw out Lana Del Rey but that might be asking too much.
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Excellent additions! As usual! I always forget about Aimee Mann, she’s really had a remarkable career. Thank you for reading and for commenting!