I have said lists are good starting points to jump off from when looking to explore new genres or artists. “The Best Surf Bands Of All Time” for example will give you; Dick Dale, The Surfaris, The Beach Boys, The Ventures (not a surf band but whatever- they are still great)… And you are off and running and can look deeper as you go.
But lists are best taken in multiples. Take 9-10 lists of best albums of the 1990s and you get a good sense of what the general consensus was for good albums of the 1990s. It gives you an average on what has been deemed to be the best of the best by society overall. And the more lists the better the averages. The Beatles top numerous band and album lists so it’s a pretty safe bet they are a decent act you should check out and have in your collection as a fan of music.
However single lists while fun are often VERY problematic. Rolling Stone lists anyone? The problem comes when a single list is slapped together without REALLY defining the criteria for who makes the cut. And it gets worse when they don’t even follow their own standards laid out in their own article. *Waves at Rolling Stone again.*
I find specifically with female centered lists this is really problematic because they need their own lists to get more than 1-2 token rankings. This is and continues to be a huge problem. On most lists of most genres women are not really prominent (i.e. hip-hop/rap & rock and their various sub-genres) period. I’m looking at you Rolling Stone list of greatest guitarists with no Sharon Isbin on it. But really ANY non-female centric music list will have a paltry female showing. And all of this doesn’t take into account personal and passionate gripes readers have with lists.
And I have some SERIOUS and passionate gripes with Loudwires’, “Top 50 Hard Rock + Metal Frontwomen of All Time”. You can read their full monstrosity here.
It is a list from 2016 that I came across doing research for other writings and well, I got annoyed and sidetracked because I was annoyed and here we are.
Three things right up front:
1. Punk is not hard rock or Metal. It is punk. And do we even need to address why folk is not hard rock or metal… also in the title it says “frontwomen”. And that term to me means front of a band (i.e. Blondie, Paramore etc.) not “solo acts” like Pat Benatar or Lita Ford. Yet hear we are.
2. To get 50 women on the list they had to stretch definitions and reach, sometimes REALLY far, which says a lot about the lack of depth in research and also the pandering to the masses most lists often do. Ironically, I find the masses by in large care very little about lists. It is us music nerds that get twisted or excited about them. Also, it says a lot about how few women are working in certain sub-genres when you have to grab from other genres to fill out a think piece.
3. It is just a fact that females by in large are not as prominent as males in hard rock and heavy metal for a variety of reasons too lengthy to lip-service here so it is possible that one might not be able to come up with 50 women for this list sticking to the genres listed in the article title.
Now, to get to MY gripes with this list we will jump straight to the top 10 because the top 10 is what people argue about the most and this top ten has LOTS of issues for me.
10. Lizzy Hale (Halestorm)
9. Grace Slcik (Jefferson Airplane)
8. Amy Lee (Evanescence)
7. Lita Ford
6. Patti Smith
5. Ann Wilson (Heart)
4. Joan Jett
3. Debbie Harry
2. Stevie Nicks
1. Janis Joplin
Right off the bat I give Grace and Janis a pass being on this list because they trail blazed hardcore and were some of the first widely visible women showing people that females could definitely rock out like Robert Plant and Roger Daltrey. Also I’m just going to roll with the fact many choices were not “frontwomen” because that seems like a silly qualification that would exclude some important people in Hard Rock/Metal. However, I will not roll with the fact they do not consider Nancy Wilson a frontwoman.
Before Janis and Grace no mainstream females had full on rocked it out in the 60s. Yes, Wanda Jackson and few others did the rock ‘n’ roll thing before them… and really with the way this top ten is Wanda Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe should be on here (to say nothing of Linda Ronstadt in the 70s). But #2 & 3 are the most glaring offenders. Icons though Debbie and Stevie are, in what world are they hard rock or heavy metal. One could kinda sorta argue the early Blondie records had a hard edge to them but that’s a damn stretch. They are punk. And if we’re going to include punk then The Slits had a larger impact than even Blondie initially and certainly greater impact than Gwen Stefani who made the top 20 and whose track record of albums leans way more pop that anything rock.
As to Stevie… Bonnie Raitt rocked harder more often than Stevie ever did. Listen to the song “Gnawin’ On It” for some proof!
The most hard rock thing Stevie ever recorded was maybe her song, “Seventeen” or her duet with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and that ain’t even hard rock. Within Fleetwood Mac I MIGHT let, “The Chain” slip in here.
Doro, “The Queen of Metal” made the top 20 but really if we stick to genre labels she should be at LEAST top 5. Speaking of metal queens noticeably absent from the ENTIRE list was Lee Aaron “Canada’s Metal Queen” but sure they will put Courtney Love on here. And fair enough, maybe at this point much of grunge should be considered “hard rock”. It is certainly classic rock.
Fun Fact: Any time Courtney Love or Hole show up on a list it is NEVER- NOT ONCE without the author mentioning Nirvana or Kurt Cobain. Loudwire gave a shout out to both!
“Loathe her or loathe her even more, Courtney Love is arguably the most recognized female rocker of the past quarter century – beginning with her marriage to Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain.”
Excuse me, Loudwire, hi… So, Courtney Love was in L.A. making music way before she ever met Kurt. So her beginning was not ,“her marriage to Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain”. Thank you.
Pat Benatar made the top 20, thankfully, though I and everyone else outside of Loudwire would consider her a solo artist. OK. Fine with Neil she’s a duo, I guess that fits the criteria. Pat Benatar’s albums started hard rock and she did mostly that for her whole career. So I would have placed her top 10 as well. Those first two records and her early influence as a female face in a male dominated game should not be understated. “Heartbreaker”, “Treat Me Right”, “You Better Run”, “Promises In The Dark” but even later songs like, “All Fired Up” and “Invincible” kick hard rockin’ ass. Certainly, MUCH harder than any Fleetwood Mac or Stevie Nicks song.
For overall impact, yes, Nicks, Harry and others would beat her out and if we go that route then the list HAS TO INCLUDE Linda Ronstadt, period. But this ain’t overall… this is hard rock/metal, which laughably finds, Chrissie Hynde at #11! “Middle Of The Road”, was the closest Pretenders ever came to Van Halen. And by that token The Go-Go’s should’ve made the list based on songs like “Skidmarks On My Heart” and “Lust For Love”. Or hell Melissa Etheridge did more hard rock leaning material her whole career than Pretenders did.
The Runaways (also absent from the entire list) should definitely be top 10 for influence, one of the first female acts on the scene, and the fact it launched the careers of Ford and Jett. And personally I prefer Lita Ford because she relied a lot less on cover songs. Still, having recently spent some time with Lita Ford lyrics… Oi! There is some cliched song-writing going in some of those songs. But more importantly I say Joan Jett rocks hard but isn’t hard rock she is really much more like The Rolling Stones or The Who just plain ol’ rock ‘n’ roll. But those lines do get fuzzy.
Other close but no cigars for the top 10 were Nina Hagen, Siouxsie Sioux, and Exene Cervanka of X. Again, to fill it out they had reach outside the genres this list supposedly represents. And now one can understand why some people (especially young people) are so confused about genre labels these days. They read this list and think oh I LOVE Siouxsie Sioux, I didn’t know she was metal! I guess I DO like metal music.
Evanescence and Halestrom are likely so highly placed to pander to the younger demographics who don’t know their hard rock history/metal history and to anger the old people. Fine. But what I need to know is did they change the game? What is their lasting impact on the future of these genres?
And personally I think to make top 10 you have to have been in the game at least 30 years either making music or as a part of music history to be considered greatest of all time. And I LOVE Halestrom. But they need more skins on the wall before I can say they changed the game as opposed to just playing the game others laid down to get into my top 10.
Sadly, the top 10 easily could’ve been done right by sticking to the genres in the article title. And these genre issues bring us back to my #2 point above depth of research. ANY, and I mean ANY minimal research should’ve shown the greatest hard rcokin’ woman in all of music history is Suzi Quatro! And unlike Janis she is actually hard rock (as opposed to blues) and one of the first women to sling a hard rock guitar (and bass). Suzi’s output starting in the very early 70s kicks a lot of fucking tail. She was bigger in Europe than her home country for reasons I still can’t figure out but she played bass and guitar and stomped loud and hard and wrote songs in what was largely a boys club filled with the likes of; T. Rex, Sweet, Alice Cooper, and Queen. And she gave no shits either.
She was basically the leather clad older sister to Joan, Lita, Debbie and host of other 70s/80s female rock and punk women. I will champion her till my last breath as one the greatest rockers that ever lived. And greatest female rocker ever. And the fact she isn’t in the top 10 gets a big, WTF? from me.
And just wait- when they do a bio-pic about her suddenly all these same trades that ignored her will be doing new articles and lists and putting her in the top 10 or praising her to the rafters.
Still not having her in the top is not the worst offense. Even more insulting to my women in music loving heart is she is not on the list at all. And for me, that makes this list utterly 100% moot. You can argue placement all day and night but leaving Suzi off this list is either deliberate or sheer stupidity. The people at Loudwire are living in some alternate dimension if Suzi Quatro ain’t one of the “Top 50 Hard Rock + Metal Frontwomen of All Time”. The most minimal research by the author or the editor should’ve turned up her name.
So I present to you my revised top ten. There really should be no surprises here. In my top 10 popularity is of course taken into account but also actual musicianship, output, impact, staying power, overall legacy and yes, being first or one of the first on the scene to lay it out. I will admit I almost switched out Grace Slick for L7 because Grace Slick only really had two songs people remember that would be considered hard rock. And L7 has been one of the few all female rock bands going before and since the 1990s. Plus, Grace Slick would later join other bands that were not hard rock at all. Jefferson Starship was AOR light rock and Starship was straight up pop IMO. BUT- she was one of the first women on the modern rock scene that other women/girls could see first hand and that is important.
Thanks for the ass-kicking, door-busting, ball-breaking, and hell-raising ladies. Somebody had to do it first and I’m glad it was you.