The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High

Pathfinder

The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High

Pathfinder

The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High

Pathfinder

Women who rock

A tribute to female influence in rock music across generations
Putting+stickers+on+guitars+and+equipment+has+been+a+popular+style+in+the+rock+scene+for+decades.+For+female+guitarists+Nancy+Wilson+and+Joan+Jett%2C+decorating+their+gear+with+stickers++helped+promote+their+political+and+personal+values.
Mikalah Owens
Putting stickers on guitars and equipment has been a popular style in the rock scene for decades. For female guitarists Nancy Wilson and Joan Jett, decorating their gear with stickers helped promote their political and personal values.

For decades, women did not attempt to enter the rock scene because it was nearly impossible for their talent to be recognized. Nobody took women seriously or gave them credit, and they were often sexualized by male counterparts. It was common to perceive that women in rock were just playing dress-up; that they needed an excuse to dress rebelliously and flaunt their figure; that they were not truly passionate nor knowledgeable on the genre. But once they kicked the door open enough to squeeze through, more and more women showed that there could be successful female musicians in the alternative scene. Today, the rock scene has a healthy and inspiring mix of women who continue to shatter expectations set by values stemming from toxic masculinity.

 

’60s

 

“In Concert”

Janis Joplin

Undoubtedly, women would not have been able to break into the rock genre if Janis Joplin wasn’t the first to do so. People were drawn to Joplin because she was unapologetically herself and challenged authorities. Even before Joplin became a musician, she was always willing to push the boundaries of societal expectations. Joplin grew up in a Republican area as a proud liberal; the singer was heavily against conservative politics and was seen as a bad influence because of her contentious views. Society’s critique of Joplin’s lifestyle and politics bled into a critique of her music career and the singer was often degraded for her looks and beliefs, which took away from the singer’s talent. Despite the harsh language that was thrown at the singer, Joplin never changed herself to fit the standard image of a woman in the ‘60s. Joplin refused to sing in a “pretty voice,” which was expected of women at the time. Instead, the singer used her natural — at times, rough around the edges — gritty voice. In her vulnerable lyrics, Joplin stressed that, in society, a woman could be just as powerful as a man. Joplin’s attitude was repeated and respected by many aspiring musicians and helped her become one of the most influential voices in rock.

 

’70s

 

“Bella Donna”

Stevie Nicks

Any conversation about rock and roll is incomplete without the mention of Stevie Nicks. Most well-known for fronting the band Fleetwood Mac, Nicks made her mark in history with her whimsical voice and witchy aesthetic. Fleetwood Mac grew to be one of the most important and successful bands ever to record. The band’s album “Rumours” is vital in any music collection, even nearly 50 years after its release. Nicks also found success in her solo career and had hits like “Edge Of Seventeen” and “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” which was a duet with the late singer-songwriter and guitarist Tom Petty. Nicks’ vintage dream and bohemian-inspired silhouettes dancing to the rhythm of her own poetic lyrics helped inspire artists like Florence and The Machine and Harry Styles. Currently, Nicks can be found on tour, still as the Queen of Rock’s bewitching hour. 

Stevie Nicks

 

“Horses”

Patti Smith

The powerful voices of rock band Sonic Youth and alternative singer Alanis Morisette would not be heard today if Patti Smith wasn’t there as a leading inspiration. The singer’s eerie, yet attention-grabbing vocal register inspired many and remains today as one of the most iconic voices in rock. Smith had always been creative; she found herself painting, writing poetry, playing music and even producing her own articles on the bands that she found interesting. Neil Young and The Who are just some names that inspired Smith to be the outspoken writer and performer she is. Smith began writing poetry to help break away from social norms in the ‘70s and, similar to singer and writer Henry Rollins, Smith turned her poetry into spoken word that she later added some of her music to. Aside from having an alternative, more unsettling – but still danceable – sound to her music, Smith didn’t just play music for potential profit or the amusement of others. Smith created her art and knew the work and backbone it took to make a record success and hold everyone’s attention. Still prolific as ever, Smith has written multiple books, including the award-winning “Just Kids,” which served as an autobiography. Despite being an artist for multiple decades, Smith still continues all of her art, including photography, poetry, painting and even light touring.

 

“Parallel Lines”

Debby Harry

Her light yet angsty voice, edgy style and fearless attitude helped Debby Harry of Blondie become an iconic figure in the ‘70s punk scene. Harry’s platinum blonde hair, smokey eyeshadow and punk mantra made her an icon in self-expression. The singer cemented the band’s rebellious attitude by dressing in a feminine manner while performing as intensely as she wanted, which was a trait that had yet to be seen in female musicians. Harry wasn’t concerned with anything that was not music-related, especially when it came to her image. Harry’s captivating stage presence, combined with her striking vocals shot the band into stardom. Blondie broke through in ‘78 with their third album, “Parallel Lines.” The junior record is nothing short than perfect and its hit songs, “Heart of Glass” and “One Way or Another,” have been covered by pop star Miley Cyrus and boy band One Direction, but nothing beats Harry’s timeless vocals.

 

’80s

 

Joan Jett

Joan Jett

Rock legend Joan Jett became one of the leading ladies in rock by paving the way for female guitarists. Since the musician’s early years, Jett had always been fascinated with singer Suzi Quatro, who would later be quoted as her biggest inspiration. At age 13, Jett began guitar lessons and was forced to learn folk songs and hymns by her teacher. Embracing teenage rebellion, Jett refused to learn the slow-paced songs and insisted on learning the heavy music that had shaped her. In Jett’s more mature years, she was given the opportunity to be the rhythm guitarist in the all-female rock band The Runaways. The female-led band gained success with their song “Cherry Bomb,” but Jett left the band and formed her own band, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts. By having more creative liberty in her leading project, Jett released her cover of glam rock band The Arrows’ song “I Love Rock ‘n Roll.” The cover blows the original song out of the water and Jett completely dominates the song, rightfully making it her own. After the success of “I Love Rock ‘n Roll,” Joan Jett and The Blackhearts released “Bad Reputation” and “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” which became hits in their own right. Without Jett picking up a guitar in her early days and playing as loud as she pleased or wearing her eyeliner as dark as she wanted, there may not have been the inspiration for women to be openly involved in rock.

 

“Bébé le Strange”

Ann Wilson

Heart made history as being the first heavy metal band led by a woman, which was entirely unheard of in the ‘70s. Ann Wilson led the band for decades, refusing to let her gender define the band’s music or image. Wilson demanded the audience’s attention as she was passionate about the real art and dedication behind music; and was not interested in the objectification of more stylistically hardcore women. Aside from having an iconic aesthetic, nothing but raw talent radiates from Wilson with her signature deep, bluesy voice. Unlike ‘80s rock bands Journey, Def Leppard and Van Halen, Wilson has maintained her strong, demanding voice for 50 years and still puts on unforgettable live performances. In 2012, Wilson honored rock band Led Zeppelin at the Kennedy Center and covered “Stairway to Heaven.” Wilson’s performance has been regarded as the definitive cover of the beloved song with over 138 million streams on YouTube. Wilson’s strong vocals and passion moved Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant to tears. Wilson has been apart of many iconic songs in her lengthy career, but “Baracuda” and “Crazy on You” best showcased her powerful vocals and impact on the rock scene.

Mark Pakula

’90s

 

“Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?”

Dolores O’Riordan

Similar to Irish band U2, The Cranberries were passionate about humanitarian activism in their music, but had a very different sound than the male-led band. Dolores O’Riordan fronted The Cranberries, trademarking a traditional Irish Celtic Church-based sound — with some occasional yodeling. The Cranberries were huge in the ‘90s and capitalized off of their best-selling, heavy-hitting political song “Zombie,” which focused on the 1993 Warrington Bombings. With politics influencing their music, the band turned heartache into art and branded themselves as one of the most applauded bands of the ‘90s. Despite struggles with bipolar disorder, O’Riordan continued to write emotionally raw and barring music that still managed to touch on politics. Sadly, O’Riordan passed away in 2018 from accidental drowning after a dangerous amount of alcohol consumption. However, O’Riordan’s moving voice and lyrics have left a long-lasting legacy.

The Cranberries

 

Bikini Kill

Kathleen Hanna

Known as the person who inspired grunge band Nirvana’s hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill is responsible for coining the loud sound that roared from the Riot Girl genre. Before becoming a musician, Hanna wrote and performed spoken word that called out sexism and abuse against women. Wanting to reach a larger audience with her radical feminist views, Hanna formed Bikini Kill — an unapologetic female-led band — amidst the current male-dominated punk movement. Compared to some of the other male-led punk bands, Bikini Kill was the definition of hardcore when it came to their live shows. Despite having a harsh sound, Bikini Kill quickly became a safe place for many women as their sound advocated for combating violence towards women and sexual abuse. Hanna’s powerful words didn’t just affect female fans, her words personally turned over a new leaf for her husband Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, who was a part of the Beastie Boys, a rap group that once objectified women in their lyrics. Now, both Horovitz and Hanna continue to fight for women’s rights. 

 

2000s

 

The Distillers

Brody Dalle

When it comes to female rock singers, so many talented voices go unheard. The voice that is skipped over the most belongs to singer Brody Dalle of punk band The Distillers. With her body adorned in tattoos, dyed hair often styled in a mohawk, fearless voice and unapologetic authenticity, Dalle is the walking embodiment of everything punk. Aside from the singer’s tough image, the first thing that audiences notice is her raspy voice. Now, Dalle obviously isn’t the first female singer to have a hardcore sound, but she definitely has one of the best. Dalle’s tough, rigid voice can be compared to infamous rock legend Courtney Love; however, it is easy to tell that Love forces her rasp, whereas Dalle’s comes out naturally, adding an emotional edge to her music. Dalle’s gallant attitude helped inspire women to dip more into the hardcore scene, musically and aesthetically. Unfortunately, instead of getting attention and praise for her work on the album “Coral Fang,” the media concentrated more on Dalle’s custody battle with singer of the alternative band  Queens of The Stone Age Josh Homme. The court case forced the singer to move her attention to her kids, so Dalle stepped away from music at the time. Currently, Dalle uses her social media platform to advocate for human and animal rights. 

 

2020s

 

“Paramore”

Hayley Williams

Famed for her neon hair, vocal athleticism and pessimistic lyrics, Hayley Williams of Paramore became an iconic voice for women in rock at just the age of 19, when “Misery Business” was released in 2007. Due to the success of the single, Paramore rose to prominence as pop punk was being commercialized for mainstream audiences. Although there were other women in the alternative scene in the 2000s, the main focus was on Williams. Nobody could compare to the singer’s impressive vocal range and catchy melodies. A decade later, “Misery Business” and “Ignorance” are still perfect bitter songs and “All I Wanted” is still a heavy-hitter in the “Today has been so bad, I need to stare at my wall in silence” playlist. To avoid being a one-trick pony in the alternative scene, Paramore drifted more into a pop sound with their namesake album that had hits like “Ain’t It Fun” and “Still Into You.” Still, no matter the sound that Paramore wanted to project, Williams is seen as a leading inspiration for the new generation of pop punk as her writing and vocal structure is rooted in the DNA of today’s alternative stars — so much so that Olivia Rodrigo had to give Williams songwriting credit to her single “good 4 u” because it was too similar to “Misery Business.” Now, in their early thirties, Paramore shifted their sound to electric art rock with their 2023 album, “This Is Why.” The album was well-received and helped the band make Grammy history as the first female-led band to win the award for “Best Rock Album.”

 

View Comments (3)
Donate to Pathfinder
$190
$800
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of Parkway West High School. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Mikalah Owens, Staff Writer
Pronouns: she/her Grade: 12 Years on staff: 2 What is your favorite piece of literature? “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” by Peter Hedges. Who is your hero? That’s tough. I wanna say Henry Rollins since he’s gone through so much trauma and has overcome that and grown as a person; that’s really inspiring. Realistically, probably my Uncle. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? I don’t know… probably fries or something.
Donate to Pathfinder
$190
$800
Contributed
Our Goal

Comments (3)

Please use your own name and keep your comments respectful!
All Pathfinder Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • W

    Will GonsiorMar 14, 2024 at 11:22 am

    JANIS STEVIE DOLORES YES thank you mikalah

    Reply
  • E

    Emily EarlyMar 13, 2024 at 12:05 pm

    mikalah, this is seriously so good. thank you for writing such a beautiful piece celebrating these icons!!!

    Reply
  • L

    Lauren HolcombMar 12, 2024 at 1:07 pm

    thanks so much for this article queen I’m so tired of these cringe men out here denying how prevalent women are in the rock scene !!! all these women and this still doesn’t include icons like courtney love, susanna hoffe, the ronettes, sleater-kinney, the go-gos, etc !!!! shout out to women.

    Reply