We look at six of the trailblazers that proved women could rock just as hard, or harder than men.
While most people credit The Runaways as being the first all female rock band, there were actually several before them. One of those was a band called Wild Honey who split because they were making very little headway nor getting any respect in the male dominated rock scene. However, the band’s last gig in 1969 was watched by the secretary of music producer Richard Perry who persuaded Warner Brothers to sign them to Reprise Records. The women, their management, Perry and Reprise all felt that the band needed a new shorter name that was obviously feminine. The band changed their name to Fanny, named after the spirit of a woman they felt watched over them rather than being the slang for ass in the US or the slang for a vagina in the UK. However, Fanny played on those connotations with their marketing and combined with their talent, they built themselves a significant following in LA with their fans including David Bowie, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, The Rolling Stones, Deep Purple and others. Unfortunately that popularity didn’t carry over to reviewers who saw them as a novelty act rather than serious musicians and panned their first album in 1970. Their second album fared better and by 1975 Fanny were being taken seriously as they reached number 29 on the Billboard singles chart but by that point the band was falling apart and split up.
- First album to be written and performed entirely by women.
- Their single Young and Dumb was banned by BBC Radio.
- They were banned from playing The Royal Albert Hall for being too provocative.
When Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose at the end of 1970, music producers were desperate to fill that void. Producer Mickie Most found what he was looking for in the singer and bassist of a band called Cradle – 21 year old Suzi Quatro. Most signed Quatro but not the rest of her band, developed her into being a solo star and while she was a hit in Portugal, she flopped everywhere else. Unhappy with her wholesome nice girl image that Most had fitted her with, Quatro reverted to wearing leather and proudly displayed her attitude which was a mile wide. No longer attempting to look sweet, the somewhat androgynous looking Quatro decided to hire a leather wearing band to round out her new look. She embarked on a tour in support of Thin Lizzy and in 1973 her second single, Can the Can, went straight to number 1 in the UK, Australia and a number of European countries. Her next few singles all were chart successes in Europe but none of them were successful in the US. Even touring with Alice Cooper didn’t help her US career and while she gained a guest role in Happy Days, she still couldn’t find success in the USA. By 1975 Quatro’s meteoric rise was over and she was in decline but she continued to make a career of music and acting. Suzi Quatro still records music, her latest album was released in 2017.
- 3 singles certified Gold
- 3 UK number 1 singles
- First female bass player to become a star
- Broke the boundaries for women in music with her leather outfits and massive attitude.
No history of women in rock would be complete without The Runaways. Widely regarded as the first female rock band, The Runaways were not only successful in their own right but launched the careers of Joan Jett and Lita Ford. Jett was inspired by Suzi Quatro which proved to be somewhat ironic as The Runaways also became a hit overseas but never found a following in their home of the US. Formed in 1975, their first album The Runaways was released in 1976 and hit number 1 in Japan leading to them making numerous TV appearances there on the back of the song Cherry Bomb. Due to their excessive partying and rows over money the band split in 1979. Joan Jett was rejected by over twenty record labels so formed her own to release her music, scoring hits with her cover of I Love Rock N Roll and I Hate Myself For Loving You. Micki Steele went on to join The Bangles who had massive successes with Manic Monday, Walk Like An Egyptian and Eternal Flame. Lita Ford went full blown metal and her biggest hit was Close My Eyes Forever, a duet with Ozzy Osbourne (Lita was managed by Sharon Osbourne).
- Their success in Japan was compared to Beatlemania
- Jett became the first woman to own a record label
- The Bangles went Platinum multiple times and were one of the biggest bands of the 80’s
When Siouxsie started as a singer it wasn’t her own career she launched, but that of The Sex Pistols. Appearing with them on their infamous interview with TV host Bill Grundy in 1976, it was her flirting with Grundy that led to Steve Jones calling him a “dirty fucker”. The interview catapulted the Pistols to infamy while Siouxsie went off to concentrate on her own career with Siouxsie and the Banshees. Their first single went into the top ten and was certified Silver, as was their debut album. While they continued to rack up hits and Silver albums, Siouxsie’s unique look inspired young girls everywhere in the early days of goth music as pioneered by Bauhaus, Joy Division and Siouxsie herself. Her last release was in 2015 giving her a career of 39 years.
- Pioneer of the goth look for women
- Inadvertently made The Sex Pistols stars overnight
- 9 Silver albums, 1 Gold album and 2 Silver singles
Wendy O Williams
While The Runaways held their own in partying with the men, Wendy O Williams was raising the bar of live performances for both women and men. A former live sex performer, Wendy was the singer of punk rock band The Plasmatics and quickly became known for being more outrageous than anyone else in music. Appearing on stage in outfits that consisted of very little, or appearing topless apart from shaving cream, Williams would take a chainsaw to guitars and a sledgehammer to TVs during their shows and happily simulate sex acts – something that led to her being arrested multiple times. In 1981 she recorded a duet with Lemmy from Motorhead and in 1984 Kiss helped her become a solo artist, mainly so they could latch onto her reputation. Williams retired from music in 1990 to work with animals but ultimately killed herself in 1998 after suffering years of depression.
- Banned from playing Hammersmith Odeon after she planned to blow a car up on stage
- Grammy nominated for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 1985
- First woman to appear on the cover of Kerrang Magazine
Doro was an exception in 1982 when she co-founded Warlock – women were appearing more frequently in rock, but Doro was 100% metal. Over her 36 year career with Warlock and as a solo artist she has toured with the biggest names in rock and metal, recorded an album with Kiss and was the first woman to perform on the stage at Monsters of Rock at Castle Donnington in 1986. How exceptional was she? Well it took until 1995 for another woman to step foot on that stage so pretty exceptional. Unlike Lita Ford and her other contemporaries, Pesch kept her personal life incredibly private so she is known only for her body of work.
- First woman to play at Donnington
- First notable woman in metal
- Has headlined Wacken Open Air twice
These six truly pushed boundaries. From the 60’s where women were seen as a novelty in rock, to the seventies where women in rock were a curious oddity, to the 80’s where women had to pose in provocative outfits in order to get coverage in magazines and then the 90’s where women still were expected to be ‘sexy’ but the emphasis was finally being put on talent. Women have had a long fight to get respect in rock and there’s still a way to go but women in rock today owe a lot to the women above for paving the road for them.
Metal Report Editor.
Ex guitarist in Zenopede, ex vocals for a goth covers band that was hailed as the future of Welsh music, former DJ, promoter and nightclub director. Writer for Gear4Geeks’ Blog4Geeks and owner of Gear4Geeks ltd. First published music critique was Kerrang letter of the Week.
Definitely has never been the future, present or past of Welsh music.