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5 Most Influential Women In Rock

Dana Beaton


It’s probably taken me about six months to assemble the music collection I now own and it’s been one heck of a journey. From the raw-ness of Janis Joplin to the energy of Blondie; there are so few female musicians, but so much power that women have brought to rock music over the years. More Than The Music has been very supportive of female musicians and it’s time to see the development over the years…

Joan Jett is without a doubt one of the greatest influences in rock music. As a fearless, young and controversial musician, Joan Jett was incredibly successful in the 70s with all-teenage-girl band, The Runaways, formed in Los Angeles and consisting of full-time members Lita Ford, Cherie Currie and Sandy West. In a male-dominated rock music scene, this was something new and not easy to do. However, the band recieved a great response from Europe and Japan, before splitting after a four year run.

Joan is now best known for her work as Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, bringing us something even more powerful and well, ultimately just extremely cool. Some of her biggest hits include BadReputation” (which has been featured in a number of television shows and films), “I Love Rock NRoll” (although this was a covered and updated version of the original song by The Arrows), “DoYou Wanna Touch Me” (original by Gary Glitter), “Crimson and Clover” (Tommy James) and “I Hate Myself For Loving You”.

Joan Jett also produced many bands throughout her career under the label BlackheartRecords, such as The Vacancies and The Eyeliners. As well as being involved in the music scene, she has also had various roles in film and theatre, her own radio show and most recently been a producer in the movie, The Runaways (2010), starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, which focuses on the relationship between Joan and Cherie.

As far as her influence on others goes, Joan Jett was considered to be a huge inspiration for the Riot Grrrl movement in the ’90s, its pioneer being Bikini Kill, a band whose single, “NewRadio/Rebel Girl” was produced by Jett. It’s obvious that she has had a huge impact on many girl rockers out there, showing the world that a girl can indeed make it in a male-dominated music scene.

Patti Smith the unconventional and ambitious “Godmother of Punk”, is an American singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist. After seven years of working solo in New York, falling in love, busking and dealing with poverty, she formed The Patti Smith Group in 1974 alongside guitarist Lenny Kaye who has been a permanent member to the present day. Their full band consisted of the two, along with Ivan Kral, Richard Sohl and Jay Dee Daugherty. Their first album, challenged the New York music scene by combining both punk rock music with poetry and spoken word. Patti Smith has written songs from simple, three-chord rock to free-form experimentalism and her creativity shows she can truly be classified as a musical artist. Her most widely-successful song is “Because The Night”, written collaboratively with Bruce Springsteen.

Patti Smith is also a huge idol for women as she has never relied on sex appeal for her success, actually having quite a plain and even androgynous look. She dressed simply like any male rock musician, not feeling that any alternative occurred to her. And why should it? She referred to herself as an artist, not a woman, and this no doubt eradicated any expectations for female performers; she showed people there was no limit when it came to expressing yourself.

Smith has inspired a number of modern musicians, such as Michael Stipe of R.E.M., Garbage and Sonic Youth. KT Tunstall supposedly dedicated her song, “Suddenly I See” to Patti Smith and if the lyrics “Suddenly I see, This is what I wanna be” aren’t obvious enough to point out Smith’s influence, I don’t know what is.

Dressed from head to toe in a leather playsuit and wearing one of the heaviest bass guitar models is a common look for Suzi Quatro, one of the greatest glam-rock, bubblegum pop artists out there. Bubblegum pop may sound a little unfamiliar, but typically refers to a music genre which ran between 1967 and 1972, and was thought to have influenced punk music. Quatro has been playing music since she was fifteen years old, playing bass guitar for the all-female garage band, Pleasure Seekers, which she formed with her sisters, Patti, Arlene and Nancy.

In 1971, Suzi Quatro had been discovered by British record producer, Mickie Most, and had moved to the UK where she began her solo career. Although she had not been particularly successful in her native United States, Quatro received huge recognition for her early singles, “Can the Can”, “48 Crash” and “Devil Gate Drive” throughout Europe and in Australia. The release of “If You Can’t Give Me Love” made her popular in the United Kingdom in 1978 and the following “Stumblin’ In” finally reached the US charts. By the time she was thirty years old, Suzi Quatro had released her Greatest Hits album and had become a huge influence for female artists, specifically Joan Jett and The Runaways, as well as inspiring the Riot Grrrl scene of the 90s.

Janis Joplin, the woman with the big voice and the big smile. The singer-songwriter originally hailed from Texas where she was supposedly an outcast, belonging to a group of other artistic people when she was a teenager. It wasn’t until hearing blues albums by Leadbelly and Bessie Smith that she’d realised what she wanted to do with her life. The artist’s interest in singing began at high school and carried on to performing in coffee houses located within Texas, before expanding her horizons to California and New York.

Despite attempting to get a college education, Joplin became heavily involved with drugs and alcohol. At this point in 1966, her friend Chet Helms had asked her to sing for a psychedelic rock band – which he managed in San Francisco – called Big Brother And The Holding Company. Luckily for Janis this meant huge success for herself and her single “Piece of My Heart”, which sold millions of copies. Janis Joplin had left Big Brother And The Holding Company at the end of 1968 and formed a new band – The Kozmic Blues Band – the following year. Unfortunately her addiction to heroin and alcohol meant that she was not performing particularly well and the audience watched her with concern when she was on stage. It was not until 1970 when she toured with The Full Tilt Boogie Band that she seemed to be coping and enjoying herself. Joplin was hugely inspirational in the male-dominated rock era of the ’60s, influencing future musicians such as Stevie Nicks. She has also received a number of songs dedicated to her; for instance, “Chelsea Hotel #2” by Leonard Cohen and “Birdsong” by Jerry Garcia.

Her last album, Pearl, received an outstanding response, featuring her top single “Me and Bobby McGee” – a cover of the original by Kris Kristofferson who she was dating at the time.  Unfortunately the album was not released until after her tragic drug-related death, but she will never be forgotten. Janis will always have a piece of our heart.

Debbie Harry is mostly known for her role as lead singer in punk-rock band, Blondie. Her stage persona of street style and bleach-blonde hair meant that many people referred to her as Blondie, not realising she is in fact part of a group. She states that the inspiration behind naming the band was from passing truck drivers who would shout, “Hey Blondie!” to her. Blondie was a pioneer of the new wave genre in the ’70s and the band experimented with different styles from reggae to pop; each album developed into something more adventurous than the last.

The band was formed with Chris Stein in 1974, whom she has formed a musical and personal relationship with. Similarly to other rock artists in this period, they were not very popular in their native United States, but extremely successful in the UK and in Australia. However, they did receive recognition in the States after the release of the album Parallel Linesin 1978 and won a Canadian Juno Award for Best Selling International Single in 1980 with “Heart Of Glass”. Blondie continued to have a number of hits including “Dreaming”, “Atomic”, “The Tide Is High” and “Rapture”.

Debbie Harry has also released five critically acclaimed solo albums from 1981 onwards, as well as appearing on Broadway and in many feature films. The band had split in 1982, only to get back together in 1997; their latest album Panic of Girls is due to be released between the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011. Their commitment to music shows a lifestyle, rather than a career. A few bumps in the road never brought them down for long. Blondie is said to have influenced many female-fronted bands such as No Doubt, Garbage, The Cardigans, but has also had an impact on male musicians such as Smashing Pumpkins, Blur and Gun Club. Madonna has stated that she’s been influenced by Debbie Harry’s career. To this very day, she continues to be a punk icon and inspiration for lots of new wave and alternative groups.

There are probably – no, wait, there definitely are many more inspiring female musicians in the world. But Joan Jett, Patti Smith, Suzi Quatro, Janis Joplin and Debbie Harry are the five that I believe changed history and have influenced a number of modern-day artists.