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10 Women That Rock The House
[Warning – some items contain explicit lyric or video content that may offend.] The Listverse archives are full of music-related lists, covering many genres and performers. There are even entire lists devoted to specific iconic acts. My favorites are the rock & roll themed lists, but one thing I’ve noticed is that women are woefully underrepresented; in fact, when it comes to the rock lists, they are all but forgotten. Well I’m here to rectify that. This list celebrates women who rock. I mean really rock. You won’t see these women performing at Lilith Fair.
My criterion for inclusion on this list is simple: I want women that bring it. And by “it”, I’m talking about good ol’ balls-to-the-wall hard rockin’ attitude. What? Did I just say “balls”? On a list about women? Hell yeah I did and every woman on this list has a pair, and if you don’t like it, go listen to Britney Spears. For those of you still on the page with me, I hope you’ll agree with my choices. Of course I expect there will be some omissions that you’d have liked to see included, so give your shout-outs in the comments. I’ve even refrained from showing my honorable mentions, just so you can have the pleasure of telling me what an idiot I am for “forgetting” to list your favorite. So turn it up, let it rip, and enjoy!
Kelly Johnson was the original lead guitarist for the British all-girl metal band Girlschool. They enjoyed moderate success in the UK during the fledgling “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” era of the late 70s and early 80s. Often tourmates and collaborators with fellow bangers Motörhead, Kelly even dated Lemmy Kilmister for a while (hell man, that alone is enough to put her on this list). They racked up several popular albums, their second effort reaching #5 on the British charts. Unfortunately, Girlschool wasn’t quite as popular Stateside, which is too bad because Kelly just lights it up and she deserves way more recognition as one of metal’s more talented guitarists. Seldom seen performing without her customary gold top Les Paul, she wielded the axe with the best of them. Sad to say, after a six-year battle with spinal cancer, Kelly passed away on July 15, 2007 at the age of 49. Here’s a nice little tribute video to her (the interview portion only lasts for the first 20 seconds or so, the rest is her performing, including a brief glimpse of a nice solo).
[Warning – explicit lyrics] Donita Sparks headed up the Los Angeles-based all girl punk band known as L7. She’s one badass chick, and her band just smokes. Their song Fast and Frightening should be the girl-power anthem for women everywhere. I would cite a lyric for you, but you’re gonna have to look it up yourself because I’m too emasculated to repeat it here. Donita is infamously remembered for dropping trou on the set of the UK television show The Word during a live taping of their song Pretend We’re Dead. During an outdoor performance by L7 at the 1992 Reading Festival in England, she retaliated in anger at some fans that were throwing mud at her by removing her used tampon on stage and throwing it into the crowd! Enough said? Well for those of you that can’t think of a word to describe my list, here’s a song for you, the studio version of which was featured on the soundtrack of the Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers.
Heavily influenced by her idol Suzi Quatro, (who some may say is also deserving of a spot on this list), Joan Jett co-fronted the often maligned and little respected mid 70s girl group The Runaways. But Joan proved to be more than a member of some lame novelty act when she achieved stardom after leaving them in 1979 to start her own band The Blackhearts (sorry, fellow Runaways alum Lita Ford doesn’t make the cut here). Jett and The Blackhearts scored a number one single in 1982 with their cover of a B-side Arrows tune I Love Rock ‘n Roll, a song that Jett had earlier tried convincing the Runaways to record. That chart success led to a string of albums and several more Top 40 hit singles. Jett is also involved behind the scenes, producing records for other bands on her own label Blackheart Records. In recent years, the Runaways have gained in stature, as they are recognized as being the first true all-girl rock and roll band and were an inspiration to many future female rockers. Joan is currently executive producer of a Runaways bio-pic that is scheduled for release this year.
[Warning – video images may be objectionable] WOW! Is it a coincidence that those are her initials? Well, that is her real name and it is the only way to describe Wendy Orlean Williams, aka The Queen of Shock. This is not a girl you’d want to bring home to meet your mother. Wendy is one outrageous chick, and was fearless onstage, which often led to controversy. During their heyday of the late 70s and early 80s, she and her band The Plasmatics raised the bar of outrageousness with their brand of high velocity punk fused with heavy metal power. Their wild stage shows included such antics as Wendy blowing up cars, sledge hammering TVs, and chain sawing guitars, often attired in little more than a g-string and strategically placed electrical tape. Oh, and a mohawk. She was arrested twice on obscenity charges, one time being severely beaten by Milwaukee cops. At one point, the group was banned from performing at London’s famed Hammersmith Odeon. It might be argued that her bawdy act masked a lack of actual singing talent, but for what it’s worth, she was nominated for a Grammy in 1985 for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance (losing out to number 3 on this list). Unfortunately Wendy’s personal demons got the best of her, and on April 6, 1998 she took her own life at the age of 48.
Ok, before you trip over yourselves rushing to point out an error in my intro, I acknowledge that the Pretenders once did play at Lilith Fair, in 1997. But I don’t care, Chrissie still rocks. Her voice kills, she’s legit on the Tele’, plus, she blows a mean harp. What more could you want? A big fan of 60s British pop and later inspired by punk and protopunk legends such as, the Pistols, the Clash, VU, and the Stooges, Chrissie moved to London from her native Ohio in the early 70s and put together a great lineup of British musicians, forming a band that went on to release several noteworthy albums during the 80s. The Pretenders were more than a punk band, as she and the boys blended her sultry vocal style with straight-ahead rocking. Unfortunately the band experienced some key personnel losses due to drug problems and overdoses (her 1982 hit Back on the Chain Gang is a tribute to fallen guitarist James Honeyman-Scott) and other lineup changes, but through it all Chrissie has kept the Pretenders going strong. In 2005, the Pretenders were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not Patti’s. She definitely marches to the beat of her own drum, with her eclectic personality expressed via performance art, spoken word, poetry readings and improvisational music. Patti was a regular performer at the famed CBGB’s during the burgeoning punk rock scene in mid 70’s New York City, and in fact is often referred to as the “Godmother of Punk”. Her voice has a haunting quality to it as it crescendos and falls while delivering her often convoluted and seemingly free-form lyrics. She suffered a near-fatal accident in 1977 during a concert, falling off the stage and breaking her neck, but came back in 1978 with her most commercially successful album, Easter. That record also contained her well-intended but controversial song Rock and Roll Nigger, which attempted to redefine the racial epithet in a positive light, but instead subjected her to unappreciative criticism. Overall, Patti holds an important place in rock history, and she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
[Warning – explicit lyrics] The Gits were an influential early-grunge era punk band on the Seattle scene, fronted by the talented and energy-charged Mia Zapata. Mia held back nothing, and she is often cited as a major influence by many of today’s harder-edged female performers, as well as being one of the inspirations behind the whole “riot grrrl” movement. As they were in the process of recording their second album, the Gits seemed to be on the verge of a major commercial breakthrough, but on July 7, 1993, Mia was brutally raped and murdered by an unknown assailant. The crime went unsolved for eight years, until finally cold-case detectives, using newly available technology, were able to match DNA evidence to the killer and put him behind bars. Mia’s legacy and career, brief though it was, lives on in the hearts and minds of hardcore punk musicians and fans alike.
Known as the Queen of Rock & Roll, Tina’s commercial breakthrough as a major superstar came in 1984 with the release of her solo effort Private Dancer and a number one single in What’s Love Got To Do With It. But in my opinion her best work preceded that. Born Anna Mae Bullock, as a teenager in 1957 she met local St. Louis R&B artist Ike Turner and joined his band The Kings of Rhythm as a backup singer. So impressive was she that soon Ike changed her stage name to Tina and renamed his band the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. A modest string of hits followed throughout the 60’s, culminating with a 1972 Grammy award for their single, a cover of CCR’s Proud Mary. They supported the Rolling Stones during their 1969 U.S. tour and are seen performing I’ve been Loving You Too Long in the Stones’ 1970 film Gimme Shelter. As a duo, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. However, unbeknownst to fans, Tina suffered years of physical abuse at the hands of a cocaine addled Ike, and finally in 1976 she left him. As a solo performer, she has since won many awards and accolades. Tina also has several film acting roles to her credit, most memorably playing the character of The Acid Queen (and performing the song of the same name) in the film version of the Who’s rock opera Tommy, and also a straight acting role as Aunty Entity in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. And if none of that is enough to justify a place on this list, then just look at those legs.
If ever there was a goose bump-inducing vocalist for me, it is Janis Joplin. Every performance that Janis gives was pure raw emotion. Her hard drinking and partying lifestyle actually disguised a shy and vulnerable side to her personality, as she was somewhat of an outcast and socially awkward as a child growing up in the small Texas town of Port Arthur. She immersed herself in blues and folk music as a teen and left for San Francisco in 1963. There, she eventually joined the struggling local acid rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1966, and as her addition brought them more attention, it was their landmark performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 that brought them fame. Her tenure with the band was a short-lived, but is highlighted by their second album Cheap Thrills, which charted to number one in 1968 and is regarded as a classic recording from the psychedelic era of the 1960s. Janis went solo shortly thereafter and recorded another two commercially successful albums but died of a heroin overdose on Oct 4, 1970, just before the release of Pearl. Posthumously, the single Me and Bobby McGee went to number one. This clip is Janis’ amazing performance of Ball and Chain at Monterey. Yes that’s a mesmerized Cass Elliot in the crowd being blown away by what she just witnessed.
You think the great Aretha Franklin is out of place on this list? Think again. Lady Soul should be tops on any respectable list of female rockers, and mine is no exception. Her powerful voice knows no bounds and she could effortlessly belt out soul, blues, rock, gospel, and R&B numbers with equal aplomb. Who can forget her scene-stealing cameo performance of Think in the classic 1980 movie The Blues Brothers? To date she has won 18 Grammy awards, including a record eleven for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (and the first eight ever awarded in that category). She’s charted numerous Top 10 singles, including two that reached #1. In 1987, she was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Recipient of many other prestigious awards and accolades, Aretha is nothing short of a legend.