Let’s Hear It For The Girls
Women In Rock
(Part 1 of 3)
Women in Rock. Be it all-girls or female-fronted bands, it doesn’t matter – we love them. They rock our worlds with their music and influence. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these ladies who have made their own way in a mostly male-dominated world.
In the 60s, you had a few “girl groups”, but these were mostly female vocalists and this article is focused on the women who were not only great singers but also instrumentalists, integral to their groups. Without female groups like The Shirelles and The Supremes blazing the way, you never would have had Heart, or The Go-Gos, or No Doubt. Not to diminish The Shirelles or Supremes contribution by any means (more on them in our Motown article in future newsletter), but for the purpose of this blog, we’re looking at the women who not only sang, but also who composed the music and lyrics, and/or rocked the stage, instruments in hand.
In the late 60s, we had Janis Joplin, who led the way for females in an industry that had previously been almost completely dominated by males. Joplin not only opened doors, but she also kicked down a few as well on her too-brief trip to the top of the success peak. Her bluesy, raspy vocals became her trademark. After a short stint as a solo artist, she joined Big Brother & The Holding Company in 1966 for several years before again trying her hand at a solo career, this time more successfully. Also known as “Pearl”, she was one of the more accomplished and widely known female rock stars of her era. She gave us hits like her cover of the Kris Kristofferson song “Me and Bobby McGee”. Other popular songs include her cover versions of “Piece of My Heart”, “Cry Baby”, “Down on Me”, “Ball and Chain”, “Summertime”, and her original song “Mercedes Benz”, her final recording. Sadly, Janis died only a few years into her rapidly ascending career, at the age of 27, and sadly becoming one of the founding members of the “27 Club.”
In the 70s, Rocker ladies began to come into their own. Girls with guitars, who played them loud and proud. Women who were not content to sit in the audience any longer, but ready to make their own kind of music.
One such band was Heart, who formed in the late 60s, playing high school gigs. by the 70s, they found success with their first album in 1975, entitled “Dreamboat Annie”, which sold over 1 million copies on the Mushroom label. But as the story goes, it wasn’t until an errant reporter suggested that the girls were lesbians after very poor promotion by Mushroom Records, that they left their initial label and wrote the break out hit “Barracuda”. A protracted court battle ensued, with Mushroom rushing to put out the then unfinished “Magazine” album.
Another album would be released a few months later by their new label, Portrait Records entitled “Little Queen”. This album contained the smash hit “Barracuda”, which became Heart’s second million-seller, and catapulted them to the top of the charts. They would follow that up with hits like “Dog & Butterfly”, “Even It Up”, “Alone”, “Never”, “These Dreams” and covers of the Beatles “I’m Down”, and Led Zeppelin’s “Rock & Roll.” While their prolonged careers have fluctuated with marriage and babies, they have made it to the pinnacle more than once. To date, Heart has released over 30 albums, still together and proving that they truly have the perseverance and staying power required to make it in the music industry.
Fleetwood Mac was founded in the 70s in London with an all-male lineup initially, however, Christine McVie’s addition in 1970 would be the beginning of the shining lineup we all know and love. The band would go on to add Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham in 1974. The addition of the two women led the band to a more pop rock sound, which would become their signature throughout the rest of the 70s and 80s. Their first album with this lineup was the self-titled “Fleetwood Mac”, which would give us “Over My Head”, “Say You Love Me”, “Landslide” and the magically enchanting “Rhiannon”. Their follow-up album “Rumours” would catapult them into the rock stratosphere, with nearly every song becoming a radio hit. Mick Fleetwood has called Rumours “the most important album we ever made”. By 1980, over 13 million copies of Rumours had been sold worldwide. The band was going through tremendous personal turmoil while recording the album, as both the romantic partnerships in the band (one being John and Christine McVie, and the other being Buckingham and Nicks) separated while continuing to make music together. Despite this, the band’s personnel remained professionally stable through three more studio albums, but by the late 1980s began to disintegrate. They would break up, and reform a couple of times, most notably in 1997 when they recorded “The Dance”, a live compilation of their work. Sadly just this year, the band terminated its relationship with Buckingham, and after some legal wrangling, the parties settled the matter privately.
The Runaways were formed in late 1975 when drummer Sandy West and guitarist Joan Jett were introduced by producer Kim Fowley. They added in bassist Micki Steele, guitarist Lita Ford, and lead singer Cherie Currie, and the band was formed. Fowley would later say, “I didn’t put the Runaways together, I had an idea, they had ideas, we all met, there was combustion and out of five different versions of that group came the five girls who were the ones that people liked.” They were signed to Mercury Records in 1976 and completed 2 albums before the rampant in-fighting began that would rapidly tear them apart, with the members then leaving the band one by one. Disagreement between band members was mostly due to musical style; Joan Jett wanted the band to take a musical change, shifting towards punk rock/glam rock while Lita Ford and Sandy West wanted to continue playing hard rock/heavy metal music. Neither would accept the other’s point of view and finally, the band played their one final concert on New Year’s Eve 1978 at the Cow Palace and officially broke up in April 1979. Joan Jett would form her own band, with her first label being Boardwalk (Neil Bogart’s label after Casablanca), before forming her own label when Bogart suddenly passed away in 1982. Lita Ford would also form her own band that still performs today.
Pat Benatar would try a somewhat lackluster solo career before forming the line-up that took her to the top. Originally, she trained as an operatic coloratura with plans to attend the Juilliard School in the late 60s, before changing her path towards rock in the early 70s. In 1971, she quit her job to pursue a singing career. For several years, she would play mostly clubs and recorded commercial jingles before she headlined NYC’s Tramps nightclub for four days in the spring of 1978. Her performance was heard by execs from several record companies, and she was signed to Chrysalis Records by co-founder Terry Ellis the following week. Her first album, “In The Heat Of The Night” would contain her first hits, “Heartbreaker” and “We Live For Love”, quickly followed by a second album “Crimes of Passion” containing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”, the controversial “Hell Is For Children”, “Treat Me Right” and a cover of the Rascals “You Better Run.” A string of hit albums would follow throughout the 80s, cementing Benatar as a rock goddess. In the 90s, Benatar would slow her pace, after marrying her lead guitarist Neil Giraldo in 1982, to raise a family. She still continues creating and releasing music, infrequently touring with her husband in acoustic performances at smaller venues.
The 60s and 70s women rocked our worlds, and this list is far from complete, but there’s more to come in the 80s and the 90s. It only gets more rock-n-roll. Stay tuned!