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The Powerhouse Women of Rock N’ Roll

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at NCSU chapter.

Rock n’ roll is such a broad genre of music; there’s metal, classic rock, punk, emo, blues, folk rock, etc. Music was deemed to be a male-dominated area until the late 60s and early 70s when women started to get more involved in the genre. When people think of rock n’ roll they typically think of Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Metallica, Guns n’ Roses, Aerosmith, Nirvana, Black Sabbath, and the list goes on and on. I love these bands and they’re all great but I want to show some appreciation for the real trailblazers of rock music: WOMEN!

The jazz era of music gave us the icons we know today as Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Melba Liston, and Mary Lou Williams. These ladies made their place in the music industry and showed that women belong in the same places as men. Jazz music, historically, is the most important genre in music because it became synonymous with women’s liberation and Black civil rights. The women of soul and jazz paved the way for women to solidify their place in rock n’ roll. 

The Ronettes, Tina Turner, and The Shirelles set the stage in the 60s for women in what was considered to be rock music at the time. In the late 60s and onto the 70s Carole King, Carly Simon, Stevie Nicks, Janis Joplin, and Joni Mitchell were the it girls and laid the foundation for many women to come after them. Not only are they legends of music but also fashion icons. They made long, flowy dresses and skirts, fur coats, bell-bottom jeans, and crop tops the hottest clothing items. The 1970s was a major decade for women; for the first time ever, more than half of women had jobs outside of the home. Women had started to feel liberated and music was one of the ways women could express themselves. When I think of this decade of music my head immediately goes to Daisy Jones & The Six. The book turned into a TV show perfectly encapsulates the essence of the late 60s and 1970s rock scene. The book/show was written based off of Fleetwood Mac and the woman who made that band what it is: Stevie Nicks. Songs like “The Chain,” “Dreams,” “Gold Dust Woman,” “Go Your Own Way,” “Silver Springs,” and more are still very popular today despite being over 40 years old. Proof that music never dies. I cannot talk about the late 70s without discussing the band Heart. “Barracuda,” “Crazy on You,” and “Magic Man” are some of the most iconic songs by Heart, led by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson. Their songs are empowering and go to show that women rock just as hard- and maybe even harder- than men.

Riley Keough in Daisy Jones and the Six
Lacey Terrell/Prime Video

The 80s: the decade of hair metal, jazzercise, synth-pop, and hairspray! 

As for the late 70s into the 80s, The Runaways were and still are considered to be a punk rock gem. The girls of The Runaways started the band at only 15 and 16 years old.

Joan Jett was the guitarist in The Runaways and eventually broke out as a solo artist in the 80s, becoming one of the most legendary women in Rock n’ Roll. Some of Jett’s most iconic hits include: “I Love Rock N’ Roll,” “Bad Reputation,” and “I Hate Myself For Loving You.” Joan Jett set the stage for many women in punk rock. Blondie, fronted by the singer Debbie Harry, is one of the most iconic bands of the 80s. With hits like “Call Me,” “One Way or Another,” and “Heart of Glass” they became a staple sound of the 80s. The Go-Go’s became the first all-female rock band to top the Billboard charts and are viewed as a punk novelty. Eurythmics, with the lead singer Annie Lennox, is one of the most well-known pop-synth groups to date with songs like “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” More pop icons of the 80s include Madonna, Donna Summer, and Whitney Houston. 

The 90s were a time of grunge with great bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Mudhoney. Alanis Morissette arrived on the scene with no time to waste. Her album, Jagged Little Pill (1995,) sold 28 million copies worldwide. Alanis was only 19 when she wrote the songs for this album and 20 when it was released. “You Oughta Know,” “Hand in My Pocket,” and “Ironic” are the top hits and my personal favorites from this album.

Hole, led by Courtney Love, was one of the most influential grunge/alternative bands at the time. Courtney Love proved that women could metal scream too. The album, Live Through This (1994,) is one of my personal favorite albums ever. The tone of the album is angry and aggressive and it perfectly encapsulates female rage.

No Doubt, lead by Gwen Stefani, was literally the origination of “I’m just a girl!” This ska band became a staple of women rocking the music scene. From singing about the tough realities of being a woman in “Just A Girl” to the heart-wrenching emotions of a break-up in “Don’t Speak,” No Doubt is undoubtedly one of the most iconic bands of the 90s. Plus their music has never died out, even 30 years later, they just headlined Coachella!

The Cranberries, Veruca Salt, Garbage, and Bikini Kill are also some honorable mentions for this list of iconic women-led bands of the 90s. They also all became legends in the grunge/punk scene. 

The early 2000s- a time of low-rise jeans, juicy couture tracksuits, emo kids, and flip phones. My personal favorite band: Paramore rose to fame in 2005 after releasing their debut album All We Know Is Falling (their most underrated album btw.)

Paramore is one of the most iconic pop punk bands to date and they still know how to put on one hell of a show almost 20 years after their debut. I saw them in concert last year at Madison Square Garden and it was amazing. Hayley Williams is one powerhouse of a vocalist and proves that on their most popular tracks like “Misery Business,” “All I Wanted,” “Still Into You,” “The Only Exception,” and “That’s What You Get.”

Speaking of iconic pop punk girlies; Avril Lavigne defined pop-punk for young women. With hits like “Complicated,” “Sk8ter Boi,” “Girlfriend,” “My Happy Ending,” and “Losing Grip” she made a name for herself in the punk scene in the 2000s and still rocks today.

In the decade of My Chemical Romance and excessive eyeliner, I can’t forget about Evanescence, New Years Day, and Flyleaf. The electric vocalist of Evanescence, Amy Lee, brought everyone to life in 2003 with their most iconic album: Fallen.

The pop-punk band New Years Day is one of the most underrated bands in my opinion. Ash Costello is a talented singer as well as a songwriter and is a goth icon. My favorite songs by New Years Day are “My Dear,” “I Was Right,” and “Angel Eyes.”

Flyleaf had a recent resurgence on TikTok with their most iconic songs “All Around Me,” and “I’m So Sick.” Their punk/emo and metal sounds mixed with Lacey Sturm’s angelic voice made them icons of the 2000s punk scene.

Straying away from emo music for a moment, I felt that it was necessary to mention the late Amy Winehouse. Amy’s voice is the most recognizable and unique voices in music. Her r&b and soulful style touched many people around the world. Her Grammy Award-winning album Back to Black is one of the best albums of the 2000s and possibly of all time. Some honorable mentions of this decade of rock music include Florence and the Machine, Halestorm, and Kelly Clarkson.

As for the 2010s onward, many of the amazingly talented women I have mentioned throughout this article are still rocking hard. Some more I’d like to include that arrived on the scene within the past 14 years are Taylor Momsen of The Pretty Reckless, Nova Twins, Maggie Lindemann, Violent Vira, and Hello Mary. Rock music is an ever-changing genre as much as it stays the same as well. The artists we know and love today wouldn’t be where they are without the women who came before them. 

Be sure to check out these amazing artists!

Alexa is a sophomore at North Carolina State and this is her first semester as a part of Her Campus. She grew up in New Jersey and often goes to New York. She loves writing and decided to join Her Campus as a way to express her interests. She loves to write about music, fashion, TV shows/movies, true crime, and pop culture. She is studying Criminology with a minor in forensic science and hopes to pursue a career in CSI. She is also a part of CHAARG; a women's workout group at NCSU. In her free time, she loves to go on runs, do pilates, read, listen to music, hang out with friends & family, play guitar, and watch TV.