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Top 25 Women In Rock?

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Just a little tribute to the women in rock history. There are far too many important ones to limit to 25; expect a Part II at some point. There wasn’t any real criteria beyond importance, talent, or influence, although I reserved the right to sneak a couple of favorites in. I decided to be fairly ruthless in defining “rock”; great women of soul, country, blues, jazz, pop, and non-English singers have been omitted. It’s not a best-of, just an overview of sorts.

Some of the most important/influential women artists/songs include -in no particular order-:

1. Patti Smith: Gloria
Patti Smith: Horses (1975)
In terms of rock history, few women performers achieved the mix of critical respect, influence, and adulation from her audience as Patti Smith. With her band, the Patti Smith Group, she was an intellectual punk, famous for her spoken poetry/psychobabble intros and tough, keening, expressive singing; the latter was undeniably borrowed by Deborah Harry of Blondie. Her peak was short; 1975-1979, a stage accident slowed her down in 1978. However, she continues to release good, interesting albums well into her autumn years on an irregular basis. “Gloria” readapts the Van Morrison original into an epic garage rocker of lesbian seduction. An audacious conceit that she gets away with completely; the G-L-O-R-I-A part still raises the hairs on the back of my neck for their intensity and subversive new context.

2. Big Brother & The Holding Co.: Ball and Chain
Big Brother & The Holding Co.: Cheap Thrills (1968)
Speaking of history, Janis Joplin’s showstopping performance of “Ball and Chain” at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 was a true milestone for women as well; Cheap Thrills (1968) was the first rock album with a female lead singer (mostly; the men in the band sang, too) to reach #1. Joplin abandoned the group upon her success and embarked on an erratic solo career that ended with her death in 1970. “Me and Bobbie McGee”, written by Kris Kristofferson became her only #1 single, posthumously. “Ball and Chain” is from Cheap Thrills, which also includes her incredible versions of “Summertime”, “Combination of The Two”, “Piece of My Heart”, “I Need A Man To Love”, all pieces of some of the rawest, most original rock singing ever. Billie Holiday is probably her strongest influence, but she had plenty of Texas hillbilly in her voice as well. Big Brother was a great acid rock combo, a perfect compliment to her voice.

3. Liz Phair: Fuck and Run
Liz Phair: Exile In Guyville (1993)
Forever legendary on the strength of her 1993 debut, Exile In Guyville, Phair took a lo-fi DIY approach to her music, largely a guy thing, and took a post-feminist naked approach to songwriting. The album was promoted as a song-by-song response to the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street (if it is, it made no sense whatsoever when I tried matching them up), but its real strength lies in the brutal lyrics, tough playing, and credibilty. She’s never really topped it, but that’s a tough chore. “Fuck and Run” is a good sample from the album, which works better as a whole. She’s always remained engaging; she also displays an intelligence and wit that is becoming.

4. Sinead O’Connor: Mandinka
Sinead O'Connor: The Lion and the Cobra (1987)
In 1987, Sinead O’Connor really was a strange, brave woman. She’s remained both at times ever since, while also careening in all directions in her personal and professional lives. For sure, she had the most distinctive voice anyone had ever heard; her keening on “Mandinka” atop an angular, Peter Gabriel-esque stripped art-rocker was a whole new avenue; her debut album The Lion and the Cobra was eye-opening in its blending of art-rock, dance-pop, proto-hip-hop, and indie rock. She had a much bigger hit with her next album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, but her debut remains her masterpiece. Her success may have directly opened avenues for the raft of Celtic women singers who got airplay in the 90’s, including the Cranberries.

5. Hole: Violet
Hole: Live Through This (1994)
Courtney Love has also careened in her personal and professional life, and has always been a controversial figure, even before Kurt Cobain died. Her talent has also been controversial, although she’s actually an excellent songwriter with a likable roar of a voice that masks a very fragile femininity in her melodies and phrasing. She also has an undeniably rock ‘n’ roll attitude, which included largely blowing off Hollywood (intentionally or otherwise) after her Oscar nomination. Live Through This remains a great album, made poignant by subsequent events. Her public reading of Cobain’s suicide note showed class too; she may have prevented some copycat suicides when she exhorted the crowd gathered in the park to chant “asshole” in an almost generational catharsis. Unfortunately, her own drug problems appear unresolved at present, although her most recent album was a good one, against all odds.

6. Jefferson Airplane: Greasy Heart
Jefferson Airplane: Crown Of Creation (1968)
Grace Slick’s achievement as a pioneering woman in rock eclipses Janis Joplin’s on many levels; she lasted longer, wrote her own material, had more hits, stayed with her band (most of the time), lived. “Greasy Heart” is one of Jefferson Airplane’s lesser remembered songs, although it did manage to chart at #98 in 1968. An early feminist anthem delivered with a seething sarcasm, it captures Slick’s best strengths as a singer and a lyricist; the band’s hardcore psychedelic backing is good support. She also wrote “White Rabbit”, the only bolero to reach the top-10. Her presence on Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” in 1986 earned her a #1 at the age of 47, a record at the time in rock/pop. Unflinchingly honest in demeanor, and once upon a time the best singer on the planet with the good looks to match, Slick remained fairly unchallenged as first lady in rock until Patti Smith showed up.

7. PJ Harvey: To Bring You My Love
PJ Harvey: To Bring You My Love (1995)
PJ Harvey was one of the more theatrical and aggressive of female singers in the alternative rock era, combining dark lyrical themes with an abrasive guitar style that set her apart from her peers and led to considerable MTV exposure in the mid-90’s. To Bring You My Love was her big mainstream breakthrough in 1995; its obsessions with death, sex, decay, and blues imagery put it in a category close to Nick Cave (with whom she worked in 1996) and Tom Waits. “To Bring You My Love” is almost like fingernails on a chalkboard in its raw vocals and guitar, which is what makes it great.

8. Madonna: Justify My Love
Madonna: justify My Love [5-inch CD single] (1990)
A rock purist could leave Madonna off this list entirely; she’s never been a rock performer, and has never achieved the depth to her material many of the other women on this list have. But ignoring the biggest selling woman in pop history would be silly, as would ignoring her very real cultural influence, her longevity, which remains extremely rare among women, and indeed her art; if she wasn’t a great singer, she was a master of media manipulation, putting her in league with the greatest pop artists, from Andy Warhol on down. “Justify My Love” was a personal favorite of mine when it came out in late 1990, an introduction to trip-hop before the genre had been invented (almost) and a song that could really set a mood if it came on at the right time with the right person.

9. The Runaways: Cherry Bomb
The Runaways: The Runaways (1976)
The Runaways weren’t the first all-female rock band of note (Fanny, from the early 70’s, gets that distinction, and obscuro fans may want to cite the Shaggs). They weren’t even a real band. A marketing gimmick hatched at a party by Los Angeles musician/producer/songwriter/impresario Kim Fowley, the Runaways were promoted as jailbait, from their name to their attire, to the ages of their members. Among the members were Joan Jett (only 15 when the band was assembled) and guitarist Lita Ford, both of whom saw subsequent solo success, particularly Jett with solo anthems like “Bad Reputation” and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”. Fowley’s “Cherry Bomb” was the band’s lone classic, a quasi-punk anthem just before punk’s dawn, and wound up being a great riot-grrrl prototype in spite of itself. One more example of art triumphing over artifice.

10. Cocteau Twins: Heaven Or Las Vegas
Cocteau Twins: Heaven or Las Vegas (1990)
Until the mid-80’s, most women in rock were essentially singer/songwriters or pop divas, and generally fell into the soft-rock/adult contemporary categories. In the indie rock era, the splintering of any notion of mainstream opened up a lot of new genres for women, including dream pop and space rock genres, which usually rely on womens’ voices for texture and tone, and also saw many of these women playing guitar or bass. The general ambience of dream pop and space rock has a tendency to render many of the women anonymous, as the production is the story rather than the personality, and some of these sounds deserve credit. Cocteau Twins, architects of dream pop when they debuted in 1984 and cornerstone of the 4AD label, built a sound based on the shimmering vocals Elizabeth Fraser. “Heaven or Las Vegas”, from 1990 and their last for 4AD, is one of their most gorgeous.

11. Tracy Chapman: Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution
Tracy Chapman: Tracy Chapman (1988)
Time has been kind to Tracy Chapman. She was a folkie singer/songwriter during the end of the Reagan era, a time when folkie singer/songwriters were generally on the outs. Her lyrics tended towards a political correctness prevailant at left-leaning universities at the time that was already in danger of becoming dogmatic. Her albums were muted, quiet affairs; she wasn’t known for having a particularly large personality. Her surprise 1996 retro-soul hit “Give Me One Reason” elevated her star considerably, and also drew attention to her earlier work, which has gained resonance over the years, making it sound somewhat better than it once did. “Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution” is a typically quiet anthem that is still useful today.

12. Velvet Underground & Nico: All Tomorrow’s Parties
The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
Nico won’t be remembered as much of a feminist legend; she was overshadowed by the men in her group, and led a fairly miserable life that ended in 1988 with her death. Still, when The Velvet Underground & Nico was recorded in 1966, neither Janis Joplin nor Grace Slick had been discovered by the world at large. Not a “rock” singer, Nico (Christa Paffgen) was a photogenic German who had begun her career as one of the earliest supermodels; her singing was in a chanteuse-meets-Gothic vein. Before joining the VU, she recorded a single with Jimmy Page and Brian Jones. After VU’s debut, she embarked on a shaky solo career that relied on the talents of her collaborators as much as her own talent and persona. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” (a Lou Reed song) is one of the VU’s greatest moments, as are her other vocal contributions.

13. Bjork: Army of Me
Bjork: Post (1995)
Those who remember the Sugarcubes’ lone quirky pop hit “Motorcrash” and some of their other quirky art-pop probably filed the Icelandic group away as “novelty” and left it at that. Little could they have predicted what a big name Bjork would become in electronica and trip-hop, as well as a very unlikely mainstream success. There’s no doubt she’s an acquired taste for many; her art-pop pretensions can be bewildering at times, and her forays into caterwauling can put her in Yoko Ono territory. But she’s also put out one of the most experimental and compelling bodies of work among women in the 90’s and 00’s. “Army of Me” was her 1995 solo breakthrough.

14. Neko Case: Set Out Running
Neko case: Furnace Room Lullaby (2000)
Virginia-born Neko Case is actually a veteran of the Northwest music scene, where she’s been busy since the early 90’s. She gained entry into the music world as a drummer in punk rock groups, and then moved to Vancouver to attend art school. When she re-emerged, she split her time between recording alternative country rock with her group the Boyfriends, and recording with Vancouver indie pop supergroup The New Pornographers. In 2004 she opened for Nick Cave. “Set Out Running” opens her 2000 album Furnace Room Lullaby, where she co-wrote all of the album’s material, most of it alt country-rock with art-school touches.

15. Joni Mitchell: Free Man In Paris
Joni Mitchell: Court and Spark (1974)
Joni Mitchell has to be on the short list of most important women artists of the entire 20th century. Writer of dozens of oft-covered songs, among them familiar titles like “Both Sides Now”, “Woodstock”, “Big Yellow Taxi”, as well as a string of excellent albums that touched on folk, pop, jazz, and country, Mitchell was one of the most consistent and reliable performers during her peak years. “Free Man In Paris” from her 1974 #1 album Court and Spark is a page from a record producer’s diary sung in first person, making it as much about Mitchell as anyone (and adding nuance to the gender noun). Her last album was Travelogue, in 2002, which Mitchell claims is her final one.

16. Blondie: Hanging on the Telephone
Blondie Parallel Lines (1978)
Blondie always had an identity problem; they were a band all along, capable of exciting playing in power-pop, disco, punk, girl group, and urban modes. However, most people only noticed Deborah Harry, the beautiful dyed-blonde sex symbol who helped pave the way for Madonna in the 80’s. Harry actually dates back as far as the 60’s as member of Wind in the Willows, a Mamas and Papas-style pop group that never hit big. With Blondie, she helped re-write the role of a frontwoman, and even more so the public persona of a rock woman; along the way she sang some great songs. “Hanging on the Telephone” is a cover of the Nerves’ non-hit.

17. Ike & Tina Turner: River Deep, Mountain High
Ike & Tina Turner: River Deep Mountain High (1966)
Possibly the greatest mainstream recording to flop, “River Deep, Mountain High” was supposed to save Phil Spector’s career as producer; its failure to hit (it reached #88 in the US) was a failure Spector never fully recovered from. More resilient was Tina Turner, who not only racked up 25 charting singles with husband Ike, she also managed another 23 on her own. With Ike in the late 1950’s through the mid 1970’s, she was known for the pair’s spectacular stage show, which made use of her intensely sexual soul voice as well as her great legs. In the 1980’s she had a major comeback with “Better Be Good To Me” which restored her as a major commercial force. “River Deep Mountain High” is a spine-tingling single, with a great Turner vocal, and great state-of-the-art wall-of-sound production.

18. Yoko Ono: Mind Train
Yoko Ono: Fly (1971)
One of the most misunderstood women in history, Yoko Ono really has talent, more on the conceptual side than the performing side, but her work as a performer deserves recognition. She was already active in avant-garde art circles in London prior to meeting John Lennon in 1966. The work she recorded with him in the late 60’s and early 70’s was almost universally decried as unlistenable. However, at her best, on Yoko Ono: Plastic Ono Band (1970) and Fly (1971), her screeches and screams over a group that included Lennon, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, and Klaus Voorman on many cuts were revelatory, foreshadowing punk and new wave (the B-52’s owe a tremendous debt), as well as electronica and dance music in the 90’s and 00’s. And say what you will about her breaking up the Beatles (she didn’t, the Beatles did), it is obvious Lennon loved her until the day he died, lost weekend and all. “Mind Train” is mesmerizing, 17-minutes of Ono alternately intoning “dub-dub-train passed through my mind” and “thought of killing that man…” over a great hard rock jam.

19. ABBA: Name Of The Game
ABBA: The Album (1978)
Okay, they probably weren’t “great” although they’re much better than usually acknowledged. Once Sweden’s biggest export, Abba’s sound was mainly the harmonies of Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad over pop-meets Eurodisco backing from paramours Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. Their existence was relatively short-lived, from 1974-1981, done in by collapsing romantic liasons within the band. Still, the enormous number of records they sold deserves respect. The epic and grandiose “Name of the Game”, preferable in its full-length album version, is a good example of the deceptive complexity of their arrangements and probably their very best hit. From the same 1978 album was the non-single “Eagle”, a breathtaking semi-electronic art-pop song.

20. Linda Ronstadt: You Can Close Your Eyes
Linda Ronstadt: Heart Like A Wheel (1974)
Linda Ronstadt is often remembered now as the matronly singer of standards and Spanish-language music, but in the 70’s she was a sex symbol, and an important figure in country-rock and pop. Her chief asset was her rich, expressive voice, one of the most stunningly gorgeous of any pop singer. She was also an important interpretor of others’ music, not only old hits but lesser-known songwriters as well. “You’re No Good”, a 1974 cover of an old 1964 soul hit by Betty Everett given rock treatment, was her biggest smash, reaching #1, but her country-rock was closer to her true idiom. Heart Like A Wheel, from 1974, was the peak of her rock years, including both the #1, and “You Can Close Your Eyes” a luscious adaptation of a James Taylor song that eclipses the original.

21. Maria McKee: If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)
Various Artists: Pulp Fiction [soundtrack] (1993)
Maria McKee came to prominence in Lone Justice, a country-rock outfit that released two albums for Geffen in the mid 80’s. While Lone Justice never quite found an audience, McKee’s remarkable multi-octave voice captured immediate attention. She works best in a country-rock idiom, although her solo career has seen her record straight pop and art-pop as well. One of the most bonechillingly lonesome and sad songs of the 1990’s was “If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)”, heard very briefly in Pulp Fiction; it didn’t appear on a McKee album at the time. Both Lone Justice albums are excellent and worth seeking out; they usually can be had cheaply.

22. 10,000 Maniacs: Like The Weather
10,000 Maniacs: In My Tribe (1987)
Along with Tracy Chapman and Suzanne Vega, Natalie Merchant was another of the generation of semi-political politically correct singer-songwriters of the late 1980’s. Merchant has had greater staying power than either, due largely to her way with a hook, and her distinctive voice that is neither pretty nor sexy, but honest and earnest. Her earnestness can sometimes be her undoing; she does get dogmatic and clumsy with lyrics. But with 10,000 Maniacs, particularly on In My Tribe, from 1987, she had a special knack for idiosyncratic little pop tunes that worked best when they weren’t political, like “Like The Weather”. More recent solo hits like “Carnival” and “Kind and Generous” are in a more adult alternative vein, but benefit from her tunefulness and general warmth.

23. The Go-Go’s: Head Over Heels
The Go-Go's: Talk Show (1985)
The Go-Go’s were the first all-woman band to become a major commercial force, paving the way for the Bangles and others in the early 1980’s. Their roots were punk, and in their early club days, they really played punk, although by the time of their 1981 debut, Beauty and The Beat, most of the rough edges had been sanded off, highlighting the infectious melodies and choruses, putting them in power-pop territory. On the road, they had a reputation as partiers; in-fighting broke them up in 1985, and Belinda Carlisle embarked on a pop-oriented solo career that fizzled after a couple of years. “Head Over Heels” is from their usually overlooked third (and final) album Talk Show, and still boasts a great lyric and chorus, and some better than not-bad playing.

24. Sleater-Kinney: You’re No Rock ‘n’ Roll Fun
Sleater-Kinney: All Hands on the Bad One (2000)
An Olympia WA based indie-rock/punk trio, Sleater-Kinney might be the best currently active female led band of all. Their music is raucous and loud in riot-grrrl tradition, and has some of the primal edges of Queercore acts like Team Dresch, whose label they recorded for in the mid 90’s. However, they also have a magic touch with big, giant, fat hooks and a real sense of humor. “You’re No Rock ‘n’ Roll Fun” is one of the great put-down anthems of all-time; not old enough to be a classic yet, but old enough to have a blog and a fanzine named after it. From All Hands On The Bad One, released in 2000; the band’s most recent album appeared in 2005 on new label Sub Pop.

25. The Pretenders: Brass In Pocket
Pretenders: Pretenders (1979)
One tough cookie with a smouldering but low-key sensuality, Chrissie Hynde led one of the greatest bands ever, the original Pretenders, who managed only two albums before two members were lost to heroin overdoses. Hynde, the survivor, has managed to keep looking forward, and has come up with an impressive roster of hits that extended into the 90’s. But her real legend lies primarily with the Pretenders’ 1979 debut, on which the other musicians were integral, a direct and resonant reinterpretation of British Invasion rock in the punk era that was neither punk nor power pop, but something wholly original.

I forgot your favorite? Nominate her here, and she’ll be considered for part II.

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  • Raven

    Not the best list, at all. And the person who I think has it owed to her to be on this list is Wendy o’ williams. She was an influence in thrash/ heavy metal history. But her name was practically wiped off the face of the earth after her suicide in the 90’s. She was the lead singer of the heavy metal band “plasmatics”. Joan Jett wouldnt even exist if it wasn’t for Wendy.

    Look her up.

  • Liam Carlson

    BB&HC and Jefferson Airplane are vastly overrated. It would be great if you’d put artists that are known for their talent like St. Vincent and Yukimi Nagano.

  • There are so many things wrong with this article, not least that it has no idea at all of what “rock” is.

  • dave

    Jesus! Ann and Nancy Wilson not even mentioned.

  • George

    I thought you were talking rock. Ever heard of Pat Benatar?

  • DylDyl

    Some of the women on this list, although brilliant in their own right, are not rock. Tracy Chapman and Sinead O’Connor are definitely among the best female musicians on the 20th Century, but this is a rock list. What about Poly Styrene? Siouxsie Sioux? Exene Cervenka? Kathleen Hanna?

  • iusvbjae

    Ann Wilson of Heart, and her sister Nancy.

  • wallace gary

    This list is awful. Patti Smith at #1. She is only known for covers and handful of songs. She is WAY overrated. How can you be that influential when no one listens to you. Yoko Ono? Hell no! Where is Stevie Nicks and Carole King? They were extremely influential and put out a lot great material. They belong at the top of the list. Oh, and lets not forgot Melissa Ethridge and Heart. Your list sucks.

  • Tony

    Why people keep insulting Rock n Roll music including Madonna in their lists??? Where are Etta James , Wanda Jackson, Laura Nyro……

  • HammerHeart

    You have to be kidding me with this list. Half the women on it haven’t been around long enough for history to make it’s decision. On top of that, there are so many important women you left out. How do you include completely inconsequential women like Yoko and leave out women like Joan Baez, Sarah McLachlan, Carol King, Indigo Girls, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin,..the list is so long I hardly know where to begin. Your head is stuck in a very narrow time-frame sir and you need to expand your scope.

  • amadcaplaugh

    Genya Ravan and Elkie Brooks

  • millie

    this is one of the most authentic and real lists that i’ve ever come across. the others only mention hole, pat benatar, amy lee, avril lavigne (WHY? she’s so NOT rock), and similar mainstream successes. and i’m SO glad to see yoko ono on the list without the usual catty attitude. she’s one of the most original women of music, and yes, she is also one of the most misunderstood women, and that sux. also, this is one of the very few times that i’ve seen the runaways on such a list. they were mentioned once in Juno, and someone made a movie about them, but that movie was SO incomplete.
    great job!

  • Davide Crimi

    You forgot Suzi Quatro

  • charles1682

    Annie Lennox should be in there.
    Exene was unique as was Wendy O. Williams.

  • Dinoelsaurio

    Where is Siouxsie Sioux?????!!!! C’mon! Elizabeth Frasier but no Siouxsie Sioux? She was a major influence on lots of people afterwards D:

  • wtf?!

    this aren’t rock singers.. well i’ll be honest i just saw some names that weren’t rock singers and by that i can say not worthy for my likes

  • Lee Aaron was a great rocker and is now using her amazing voice to sing jazz and the occasional rock show.

  • Dog Bone

    Ann Wilson of Heart?!?!? You’ve not heard her live, have you?
    Otherwise, an interesting list to talk about….

  • It’s interesting we have both done an expo-say on Janis Joplin, pretty much saying the same thing, although I added a bit about Big brother and the Holding Co, a little known fact not written down much. The members of the Band loved to get rotten drunk, and it did impede on Janis’s career as a lot of times they were to drunk to play properly or even make it on stage.. You can add this content if you like. Yours terry morris

  • Marie Revised

    I believe this more of an alternative list…right?
    Everybody is freaking out with the where is
    Heart,KD Lang,Melissa Etheridge,Stevie Nicks etc..
    I just think its funny and I am sure you regret
    making this thing in the first place!
    I typed in best female ALTERNATIVE singers..thats how I got here.
    Oh, btw You forgot Annie Lennox also. Sorry! haha
    People need to chill and look at the list, its obviously alternative!!
    Oh, You forgot Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Sorry again..
    So, Beth Gibbons (Portishead) Kim Deal (Pixies)Annie Lennox, Karen O(Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Allison Mosshart (The Kills and The Dead Weather) L7..
    Yeah, you left out some biggies…but, you did have some really
    good ones. I am going to make a list but it will be called ” MY favorite
    women of Alternative music” After seeing some of this vicious
    feedback! Poor Dude.

  • Marie

    It is refreshing to see PJ Harvey and Sinead O’Conner one
    of these list. PJ Harvey just won her 2nd Mercury Award.The only
    person in history of the award to win twice.The Mercury is a huge
    honor, they give the award for true art, genius..not record sales.
    Good call on PJ
    Having said that, you left out some important women:
    Beth Gibbons of Portishead
    Kim Deal of Pixies Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth

  • Al

    Stevie Nicks. For her brilliant songwriting and price of fleetwood Mac history

  • let’s be real

    it’s great that somebody finally remembered 1970s Queen of Rock, Linda Ronstadt, who deserves to be in the top 5.

    But honestly, no Fleetwood Mac? No Heart? No Pat Benatar? What is this, the Rolling Stone Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame?

  • eon

    So what I want to know is: Who is out there NOW who does NOT do the girly-girl or breathy-winey or vixen or I’m So Sexy act? Like Chrissy Hynde back in the day.

    There’s (??) Hale of Halestorm – but I’m not sure she counts because she sounds like she’s in an 80’s “hair band,” at least in the numbers I’ve heard.

    Who really ROCKS? I mean, c’mon: Joni Mitchell? That’s not Rock in any meaning of the word except “not jazz, hiphop or classical.” [From the article, guess I’ll have to check out Sleater-Kinney. Have not heard of them before.]

  • Medeja

    Where is Doro?

  • yeah. you forgot the genius.
    Tori Amos.

  • it’s_an_outrage

    Sorry But WHEREEE is Stevie Nicks!???…it’s an outcry that Madonna is in this rock top 25 and Nicks isn’t even mentioned. Fleetwood Mac was and still IS one of the biggest rock acts out there.

  • numboy

    why not Laura nyro, Lauryn Hill and Tori amos

  • Paulette

    My favorites are The Runaways. True rock, and well they are a rock band, a true and pure rock band that it happen to be formed by teenaged girls.

    You missed Heart, Joan Jett and Lita Ford alone had great songs in their solo careers, Vixen and Missing Person.

  • Eclectic choice. Good writing. Well done ! 🙂

  • momo

    where is linda perry and grace slick (not as jefferson airplane) and janis joplin, and heart?

  • deebee

    where the hell is tina turner? she should definitely be on this list….not because of her amazing voice (although thats a big part of it), but because of her wonderful influence on female (and male, i guess!) artists to this day. tina turner = badass!
    (as well as janis joplin…janis = kickass!)

  • Sally

    Nice list… however, you say that the Runaways weren’t a real band? I guess you have a point, it’s not like they wrote their own songs or played their own instruments or anything (that was sarcasm btw). Fowley may have tried to mold them how he wanted, but Joan and Lita and Sandy were the driving force in that band. Cherry Bomb wasn’t just Fowley’s song, Joan cowrote it. Calling the Runaways a gimmick and not a real band is pretty insulting and untrue.

  • you

    oh yeah i Forgot Joan jett,you list really does suck

  • you

    Your list sucks,no Pat Benatar?Stevie Nicks

  • scarletdoherty

    what about cat power and amy lee?
    i think they both deserve the places 🙂

  • hly

    Tori Amos should definitely be on there, as well as Heart. Regina Spektor is coming up in the world (some would say she’s already there), and should be considered.

    Also Elastica (though they’re as dated as P.J. Harvey) and Luscious Jackson were great girl rock bands in the 90’s. L7 were great, and Ani DiFranco–I agree, should be listed as well.

  • Gary B

    Where is Stevie Nicks? With all her solo stuff and her stuff with Fleetwood Mac, I would of thought she would of been at the top of the list.

    And what about Heart?

    Patty Smith? No one even listens to her. Just because she is grunge doesn’t make her make her great. Yuck!

  • ano

    Karen O ?

  • Icky

    where is wendy o’williams ?….i’d love to see her take melissa etheridge into a back alley ‘n muss her up…..

    …suzi quattro, karen carpentar, nina hagen and lulu are in need of mention

  • Where’s Amy Lee from Evanescence?

  • crush apple spit

    this aint shit without melissa etheridge in it.

  • Aaron

    I agree, Siouxsie Sioux, the face that launched the punk movement. Nina Hagen (huge in Europe for over twenty years with a cult following here). Tori Amos should definitely be on the list. However, these are just my opinions. The only REAL complaint I have is the absence of Wanda Jackson. The first true female rocker!! She even cut a couple of tracks with the Cramps!
    Way too cool!

  • Scott

    Well these are all good, but you forgot the Queen of Rock, Suzi Quatro. Suzi burst onto the UK, European, Australian and Japan charts in 1973.

    She played leather tuscedero in Happy Days in 1977/78 also.

    Check out her website http://www.suziquatro.com

  • amy ray! seriously, take a listen to her solo stuff. she can rock out.

  • Oh yeah, #76, poison candy made mention of Siouxsie Sioux. She really does deserve mention. I have seen her perform twice. Once in Seattle during ‘the day’ and once outside of town during the first Lalapalooza tour.

    Let me say this, her performances where both times mezmerizing to the point you are holding back tears from the impact of excellence of it all.

    Her recorded stuff is good, but the ability to move and control a live audience like she does has to be admired.


  • Very good list. Of course, a top 50 would still leave many greats out.

    GREASY HEART!!!!!!! GRACE SLICK/JA!!!!!!!! Oh man, you are the first person I have ever seen give notice to that song. Grace’s finest performance, I say. Her vocal power when she recites: “Greasy Hheeaarrtt, automatic man” on the final verse is rightous!

    But, Ann Wilson (Heart) + Nancy plays a very good guitar–Ricky Lee Jones (“i’m at a half way house on a one way street”)–or Patsy (the best pipes in all of music, period… Pavrotti, etc. cannot top her). Anyway, it is all subjective. Good list overall. I have no complaints.

    Anyway, high-five to you for recognizing Greasy Heart. My fave JA song. Crown of Creation a great album also.


  • germaine

    ok, a whole lot of obvious ones were left out aside, kristin hersh and throwing muses really needed to be included if there’s gonna be hat-tipping to pj harvey or liz phair, esp.

    kristin has her own distinct guitar-playing style which means if she were a guy she’d be on all those greatest player of all time lists crediting eric clapton and eddie van halen (yet again)

  • I can’t believe you forgot

    1. TORI AMOS! she is brillant, sexy, and she has a perfect voice.
    2. Johnette Neopolitano (i think thats spelled right) from Concrete Blonde. what a voice.

  • tavarez

    im surprised nobody has mentioned fiona apple and i would definetely consider hope sandoval too

  • morgan

    pat benatar? heartbreaker is one of the greatest songs from the ’80s!

  • Stephen Garbutt

    SUZI QUATRO !!!!
    She should be in the top ten !

  • The Squareman

    Yoko and Sinead – ??? WTF ????

    No Pat Benetar ?


    No Lita Ford?

    Must be a pretty young crowd !

  • poison candy

    plenty of rock chicks.

    Siouxsie Sioux
    Kim Gordon [sonic youth]
    Tairrie B [My Ruin]
    Babes In Toyland
    Jessicka [scarling/jack off jill]
    Debbie Harry [blondie]
    Christina Scabbia [Lacuna Coil]

    Yes i left out madonna and amy lee.

  • uao

    Alanis wasn’t forgotten, she made it into Part 2 of this article, at #32. (The numbers aren’t really “rankings”)

    I agree, she was one of the most important female voices in music of her generation.

  • Alanis Morissette!

    She broke for other female artist in the mid 90’s. She has gazzillion grammies. Broke records. Biggest selling debut album by a female artist. Her songs became anthems. You Oughta Know, Uninvited, Hand in my Pocket, Hands clean. Top contemporary female artist of our time.

  • uao

    Pink isn’t “rock” (I made one exception for Madonna). And to qualify as one of the greatest, you need to be around for a while; if you emerged in the 00’s, you haven’t been around long enough to prove yourself yet. (Neko Case is fairly recent, and Part II has more from her generation).

    But thanks for the thoughts reggie. I’m always interested to hear who people feel aredeserving.

  • reggie

    What about pink?!?!

  • reggie

    Madonna, Yoko, Tracy, Phair, Tina, Abba and Gloria.

    Emabarrased to say i haven’t heard much about the others..i try to listen to people from around the time i was born, the late 80s onwards.

    Where is Amy lee?
    There’s practically no-one from the 00s in your list and i’d say she is by far the most qualified.

  • uao


  • C. C. C. C. Anderson

    Too many dudes on this post, criminy! Sleater Kinney totally rocks but their new shit is all political so forget that.

  • Definitely agree that Rickie Lee Jones belongs on the list. Depending upon one’s definition of “rock”, I would add Thea Gilmore and Shawn Colvin,

  • uao

    It just dawned on me that I never did mention this, and anyone reading this in archive should know:

    This post was followed by its sequel, and many of the names suggested above were included.

    Top 50 Women In Rock, Part II: The Best of the Rest?

  • What about Sonic Youth and Kate Bush?

  • If you’re gonna go Slits, Chaz, how about upping the ante with The Gits and 7 Year Bitch?

  • What no `Slits’!!!!!!?????
    Saw them in ’78 (pre label album)
    Buy: john peel’s lp or the later reggae

    What no `the Raincoats’ (Kurt Cobain’s fave…)
    Saw them in ’79
    Buy: `Lost in the supermarket’

  • RogerMDillon

    Very good list, but here are my minor quibbles.

    I would mention Michelle Shocked with the women from the late ’80s.

    Hole would have been nothing without Kurt. She apes his vocal style and he must have helped with the lyrics. Look at the follow-ups.

    Pretenders “Brass in Pocket” almost sounds like apop song next to “Tattooed Love Boys” and “Precious”. Not many people, let alone a woman, were heard saying “Fuck off” in a song released by a major label.

    Of the ones left out, I would nominate Joan Osborne. Songs like “Spiderweb” and “Right Hand Man” rock the house.

    Bennett, I wonder why you brought up “Nothing Compares…” when it is written by Prince.

    No great shock with Ryan’s comments, showing that his musical knowledge equals his political. He only proves the axiom that a stopped clock is correct twice a day with his apprecation of Maiden. What a laugh that he actually thinks someone other than Abortion Grande is going to use the link in his comment.

  • Yeah, but their 80s and 90s songs took away any respect they had from their earlier songs.

  • Cassandra

    what about HEART
    They wrote their own music, which was true hard rock and roll
    they didn’t shy away from being sexy or beautiful because that was what they were
    They were talented musicians (until the 80’s)
    who were great at what they did.
    Barracuda, Magic Man and especially Crazy On You are some of the greatest rock songs of the seventies

  • Too bad her voice didn’t match her creativity.

  • Uao,

    I stand corrected. I have always heard that story of Yoko in the bag. I did a little checking and John did indeed meet her at John Dunbar’s gallery. She did not speak to him, but instead handed him a card that said “Breathe.” No wonder John liked her.

  • uao

    O’Connor. Me and my typing.

  • uao

    I’d also be very surprised if Sinead O’Conner doesn’t own a Yoko album or two.

  • uao

    Victor Lana (and ryan, too)–

    John did not meet Yoko tied up in a bag on a stage.

    He met her at an art gallery, where she was having a fairly prestigious (beautiful people like the Beatles came) exhibition of her own art, in 1966.

    Lennon found her exhibition, which was minimalist in a John Cage sense, intelligent and inspiring. He frequently recounted the tale in interviews.

    Musically, you have to understand what she’s doing. Which means forgetting all the hype of decades about breaking up Beatles, being unlistenable, bags, et. al.

    It’s performance art in one sense, and the albums were accompanied by films that were in the tradition of Warhol’s early 60’s films. “Fly” is a movie of a fly crawling on a naked woman’s body. (Warhol’s “Shadow Climbing The Empire State Building” was several hours of the title event)

    Musically, Ono’s voice was used as a 5th instrument, an abstract. She never tried to be a “singer” until years later.

    In this sense, she was freed from all convention that shackles all singers. It left her to explore all manner of expression. “Don’t Worry Kyoko” really is anguished, as she’s singing to her estranged daughter. “Mind Train” really is sinister and frightening. “Aos”, which features Ornette Coleman and is free-jazz in the purest sense is brilliant; Ono turns an uncharacteristically sex-kitteny vocal into a sudden, freaky nightmare, as does Coleman. “Mind Holes” is a lush, echoed, mysterious acoustic number with Eric Clapton’s strangest playing while Yoko’s voice is quite un-abrasive and gentle, yet there’s an unsettling edge to it too.

    The B52’s “Rock Lobster” is based on a Yoko Ono-like construction, and the B52’s have frequently championed her.

    Many trip-hop and electronica songs have directly sampled her or adopted elements of her vocals, a remix “Walking On Thin Ice” was a surprise #1 Dance/Club hit in 2003, over two decades after it came out.

    As a woman and a person, I’ll just say that Lennon loved her and that’s good enough for me. She’s given much to charity, she’s an interesting interview, she’s never done me any harm.

    She’s often at odds with the Beatle estates over various issues (as is Courtney Love with Nirvana), but that’s just hard-ball business. Men don’t like it when women are good at it. If it turned out that Ringo was the hard-assed negotiator of the Beatles, we’d probably never even hear of it.

    As for Breaking Up the Beatles, I say the following:

    a) they broke up (and two of them have died) get over it
    b) What about Linda? And Harrison’s wife was getting cozy with Clapton at that time. And didn’t Ringo get a divorce? Let’s just blame women for Breaking Up the Breatles. But that wouldn’t be chivilrous in a piece dedicated to women. Plus it’s wrong.
    c) The Beatles broke up the Beatles!! Lennon was the only one who didn’t walk; Ringo quietly quit for a week, Harrison walked out one stormy day, and McCartney announced it with his first solo album. The main reason was they wanted to do their own music, and didn’t much agree with each other about what that music should be.

    Her influence as a woman in rock on purely musical terms? Big.

    All her albums are very patchy, but the best stuff is good. You just have to understand it.

    But like I said in the piece, Yoko Ono is one of the most misunderstood women in history.

  • Great list but I’d agree Garbage, Sarah Mclachlan, Ani DiFranco and the Distillers
    also belong on that list.

    Five years ago I would have said Aimee Mann belongs on there but I don’t think she has evolved much since then. Same with Hole.

    I listened repeatedly to a Sinead compilation over the weekend and think she has the best voice around of all currently working female singers.

  • Oh, yeah, and Yoko Ono?

    Yoko’s vocals and music are like a cross between nails on a blackboard and a screwdriver driven into the brain.

    Remember, John met her after he saw her on stage tied up inside a sack. At least she couldn’t be heard in there.

  • Lucinda Williams

  • Jon Thompson

    My nominations are Aimee Mann, Beth Orton, and Martha Wainwright.

  • me

    Shirley Manson from Garbage!!

  • …actually where I was it was more like Enguhleeshü.

  • I’d say Ann & Nancy Wilson (Heart) have to be here as well as Stevie Nicks. We can do without Madonna for sure. She was never rock just a punk with a badge (disco as it were).

  • uao

    Sshh! godoggo! Don’t blow my cover in front of the kid!

    Nice trick with the “r” though; you know what you’re saying…


  • Bennett

    ryan, the bad taste you exibited was comment spamming. If your musical tastes, or opinions on the relative merit of a particular artist or group differ from those of uao, let’s hear ’em.

    The one line attack, and then spam, does not a blogcritic make. You can do better than that.

  • Another Engrish teacher, perchance, uao?

  • Iron Maiden contributed the dual axe attack—


    Yeah, I’m the one with horrible taste.

  • Bennett

    Yo, Ryan Clark Holiday. You post articles here on BC, yet you have the bad taste (and lack of any class or grace) to not only drop in with a stupid snyde comment, without anything to back it up, but then you SPAM the comment?!?!?!?!

    You are one piss poor example of Blogcritics, sonny boy.

  • Sister Ray

    Thank you, thank you , thank you for recognizing Nico’s vocal on “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” It is magic.

    The banana album could make a second appearance on this list, to honor Moe Tucker’s drumming on “Heroin.”

  • Sister Ray

    Thank you, thank you , thank you for recognizing Nico’s vocal on “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” It is magic.

    The banana album could make a second appearance on this list, to honor Moe Tucker’s drumming on “Heroin.”

  • uao

    18 year olds who boast of loving Tesla and call themselves a pundit on politics and life aren’t allowed to sit at the grownups table until they’ve listened to Koko Taylor in a Far East countryside dive when there’s nobody left but the bargirl, you, and a bottle of Jim Beam, and not an English speaking soul for miles.

    And then writes about it.

    You know who’s horrible? Tesla. Iron Maiden is for adolescent dupes, too.

    Gotta live life before you can be a pundit, kid. But I admire your moxy.


  • Every single band/musician listed in your article IS HORRIBLE. HORRIBLE.


  • Fantastic piece, uao.

    Equally fantastic is that everyone brings a different take to this. I happen to love female-fronted power pop groups.

    For example:

    * Fastbacks – one of the great pop groups of ever that still fly under the radar. A so-so track from them is usually a power pop gem by any standard
    * L7 – Straight-ahead kick ass rock ‘n roll
    * Veruca Salt
    * Dance Hall Crashers
    * Distillers – They reach peaks that Hole can only dream of

    That said, I’m glad you included Courtney Love, and very interesting take on the reading of the suicide note!

  • Sorry, Reggie, I for one am not with you. I liked Macy’s first few singles, but not only did the full album fall short of her potential, she’s proceeded to rewrite diminishing versions of that album for the remainder of her career…not to mention become a mumbling, perma-stoned award show parody of herself. Even her voice has kind of outlived its charm, in my opinion.

  • reggie

    Oh yeah, Macy Gray needs to be there.
    She deserves to be at least in the top 15.
    who’s with me? (else)

  • uao

    Fine suggestions from all concerned.

    I will post a part II this weekend, which will draw from the names suggested above as well as some surprises of my own.

    Thanks for helping out; there’s a lot of worthy names to mull over…

  • OK, two more then I’m done, but justifications first: to wit, seeing as how you broke your “rock only” rule pretty much before the code was even dry, I don’t see why you shouldn’t include a couple of brilliant jazz composers with both rock connections and mammaries.

    Carla Bley and Annette Peacock

  • gotta second gonzo here on Not A Pretty Girl.

    it was the first Ani record i bought (beause i heard “Coming Up” on the radio and thougtht…”whoa…what the hell is that?!!”…. powerful and somehow pretty at the same time.

  • gonzo marx

    Ani DiFranco – “Not a Pretty Girl”

    if you don’t know it..for shame..buy it, love it..as Important as Dylan, and a better guitar player

    no Heart?…not my fave…but INfluential for sure..

    Tori Amos…Kate Bush….no?

    just some Thoughts…but definately, listen to yer gonzo..get yerself some Ani DiFranco

    nuff said?


  • SINEAD!!!!

    No Macy Gray?!? “Gimme All Your Lovin’ or I Will Kill You” Think she won’t?

    Also, the lack of Rickie Lee Jones may earn you time in a re-education camp. “Last Chance Texaco” would be a likely choice.

    With Joni Mitchell, there are of course lots of good choices, but let’s get a plug in for the most excellent and underappreciated “The Jungle Line.”

  • I love Sinead with all my heart! Neko Case, too.

    But I agree with those who think Stevie Nicks should have been included.

  • Wanda really did rock harder than most of the guys at the time. Let’s Have a Party is white hot rock and roll that only the killer could have approached.

    She opened for Elvis in the mid fifities and by all accounts more than held her own. She still performs, though she does mostly country standards these days.

  • Wanda Jackson, absolutely. Just primal stuff. She rocked harder than most of the men at the time.

  • Great stuff uao. I have to thank you for having Sinead O’Connor on this list. Although not on the album you note, Nothing Compares 2 U is one of the finest songs ever written.

    Tracy Chapman could only be less than a diva in this crazy frantic world, as her writing and singing is so reflective of our culture. Her performance on Austin City Limits a while back was jaw dropping.

    Great stuff, again.

  • Luke

    The vocalist from nightwish, and the vocalist from arch enemy

  • Also just ’cause I like her voice, Marianne Faithful; even though I like her best singing something like Surabaya Johnny, she certainly qualifies as a rocker.

    And also I read on SWINGINCHICKS.COM that some folks apparently blame/credit Pamela Morrison for the Lizard King’s ultimate career move, which I should think would qualify her as influential.

  • Baronius

    Tina Weymouth
    both Mamas (of The Mamas and The Papas)

  • Sandy Denny, just ’cause I like her voice.

  • My nominees are:

    1. Wanda Jackson – described by Nick Tosches as the greatest mensturating rock and roll singer ever.

    2. The Slits – both Joe Strummer and Chrissie Hynde said they were the best punk band they’d ever heard.

    3. X – for the reasons others have set forth.

    4. Lydia Lunch – the queen of the NY underground until

    5. Kim Gordon – came along and took the crown.

    6. Esther Phillips – bad ass southern soul singer. Would have, and probably did, kick otis’ ass.

    7. Dusty Springfield – my loins still stir when I hear Son of a Preacher Man

  • uao

    Vern Halen: That’s a really interesting take on the premise; it’d be interesting to try something like that.

    Exene is another who came thisclose to being included.

  • Exene.

    I think that, on a good day, her lyrics (and I think I’ve got her contributions pretty well sorted out from Johns, which aren’t quite as good) are as good as any in rock’n’roll, certainly better than anybody’s on your list. And her, ahem, vocals, can be very powerful, again on a good day.

    Fave 3 lyrics, in order, from best to least best.

    1) The Once Over Twice
    2) Because I Do
    3) We’re Desperate

    Odd how many women I admire achieved fame in part because they were somebody’s girlfriend, though.

  • Some other considerations:

    Angela Bowie
    Bianca Jagger
    Myra Lewis
    Priscilla Presley
    Peggy Sue (Buddy Holly’s lost love)
    Patti Harrison
    Linda McCartney
    Sharon Osbourne (current queen of rock ‘n’roll)
    Elyssa (sp?) Perry
    Maggie May

  • I shall tack it onto my list, EZ… I didn’t even know there was something new!

  • Rob

    Glad to see I’m not the only Edie Brickell fan out there. How about adding Sarah McLaughlin to the list? Great voice, musician, songwriter and created the Lilith Fair, which was no small feat.

  • Well, I got no complaints about who is and isn’t on this list, uao. I thought it was a GREAT list. (And the better for not having Melissa Etheridge on it.)

  • EZ

    Monkey, go buy Volcano, Edie Brickell. Ten years between this and the Picture Perfect Morning and she’s still got her groove with smart lyrics to boot. I saw her live last year and she didn’t let me down.

  • Oooh, seconded on Edie Brickell. I loved her, once upon a time, and when I catch a song here or there, I still have to stop and listen.

  • EZ

    I agree twenty times over on Bjork’s presence, Let’s add Garbage (the first two albums) and Edie Brickell for sure. Heart ruined their Barracuda days with wussy What About Love? 80s songs…

  • Nice to see Yoko on the list without the usual snarky bullshit…actually one of the better “top whatever” lists I’ve read in quite a while. Nice work. Good choice for Tina Turner, too!

  • I am just SO happy to see Neko Case here. She was the first person I thought of after I read the first few picks… her name just drifted into my head… and there she was! And PJ Harvey as well! Oh, this whole piece just makes me happy down to my toes.

  • Guppusmaximus

    Ohh..How could I forget??

    Patsy Cline…Pure Brilliance

  • Guppusmaximus

    That’s an interesting list… There aren’t too many female artists that I like but I think this woman should’ve made it:

    Karen Carpenter (<-Not rock,you say?? She played drums and sang on all of The Carpenter's music)

  • Since my favorite is right at the top I can’t complain. 🙂

  • steve

    where in the flying hell is Heart?!?!? C’ommon…Barracuda??!?!!?

  • uao

    Some names mentioned above almost made this list, among them Ethridge, Morissette, Rickie Lee Jones, Stevie Nicks, KD Lang.

    I didn’t think of Cat Power, but that’s a good pick.

    This was actually going to be a top-20, but I felt bad about leaving so many off, so I extended it to 25.

    At some point soon, I’ll compile 26-50. Still taking names.

  • Rob

    – Ani Defranco should be on this list. She created her own underground movement and is still going strong and independant to this day.
    -I have to agree, K.D. Lang should be on the list or get an honourable mention.
    -Edie Brickell, mainly because I had such a big crush on her. She does have a great voice though.
    -Alanis, for the same reason as Edie, and for Jagged Little Pill. That album feels so real and honest to me. Just great.
    – Rickie Lee Jones, maybe?

  • the funny thing about this is that i remember reading an article about Chrissie Hynde where she said something to the effect of “what is ‘alternative’, an alternative to music?”

    not a fan, apparently.

    p.s. i do love Maria McKee. i’m a little surprised you didn’t pick “Ways To Be Wicked”.

  • TerriOC

    What, no Melissa Etheridge??!! That voice, those lyrics – a true inspiration.

  • wavesofeuphoria

    Where is Stevie Nicks? k.d. lang?

  • Where’s Cat Power? I would think that Joni’s “Blue” album would be on here.