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Women in Rock!
By Jim Cherry -
Rock 'n Roll is always regarded as a male dominated music from the guitar gods to
Starting with Elvis, which is the start of Rock 'n Roll as the mass cultural phenomena it has become. Elvis covered “Hound Dog” that had been a hit for Big Mama Thornton in 1952 (although the song was written by Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber). Presley liked the song so much that he made it the closing number of his act.
The 60’s -
The next big iteration of women in rock also became an iconic figure of rock and the 60’s, Janis Joplin. Joplin was more of a blues singer than rock, having predecessors such as Billie Holiday (Joplin also emulated some of Holiday’s tendencies towards drugs) but with electric backing, and the era, Joplin and rock music embraced each other. In contemporary music Adele would seem to be picking up Joplin’s artistic legacy. Grace Slick was the other leading female singer of the 60’s era but she doesn’t seem to get the same attention that Joplin does, possibly because she blended in so well with Jefferson Airplane while Joplin stood out from her male bands. But with songs like “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” they quickly became standards of Classic Rock. Heart, became a break through rock act in the 70’s that had a guitar hero feel that until then (and now) predominates male bands.
Patti Smith -
The late 70’s ushered in punk-
Madonna was a return of the feminine into music and imagery, although this feminine ideal was clearly using her abilities and was in control. Fusing sex and religion Madonna caused controversy that drew attention to her and her music, mixing it with elaborate live dance and stage shows that clearly latter day singers such as Britney Spears, Christine Aquilera and Lady Gaga have modeled their shows after. Lennox, embraced the androgyny of rock stars early on with such hits as “Sweet Dreams” and relied on a more synthesized sound that was also used by bands such as The Thompson Twins, and even all male bands such as Duran, Duran.
Yoko Ono -
Ono is most often associated with the 60’s and John Lennon, but she was recording her own experimental songs before she met Lennon and her influence found mainstream recognition in the B52’s and her experimental recordings continue to be recognized, acknowledged and gain serious consideration on their own artistic merits apart from her relationship with Lennon. Hole, fronted by Courtney Love and the band also included female members but took inspiration (and detractors say direct steals) from her husband, Kurt Cobain’s band, Nirvana that meshed punk rock with classic rock that constituted the grunge rock sound. Love was also very conscious of her image and presenting herself much the same as the male guitar hero iconography, Love seemed a contemporary equivalent to Jim Morrison.
Britney Spears -
The new century has brought a new breed of female singer, in Britney Spears, and Christina Aquilera (and numerous other knock offs) that are created by male recording industry executives and producers that more feed male fantasies than offer true expressions of a female experience in the new century. Spears and Aquilera have a price for fame and celebrity they’ve let themselves become corporate products personified. Amy Winehouse is the antithesis of Spears and Aquilera. Like Spears and Aquilera, Winehouse’s music and band focuses on her but Winehouse always had a voice in the writing of her music and the composition of her CD’s.
Jim Cherry -
I know I missed a lot of women in rock, its only a quick survey, and this is an article that could just be a list of people and still make its point, any other listing seems shallow and inadequate. But if this article whets your appetite or reminds you of songs and artists you haven’t thought of in a while it’s a good way to honor the women who have rocked us.