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Updated by Love It Loud on Jul 03, 2013
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Most Iconic Women in Rock

JOAN JETT

Joan Larkin, or Joan Jett to her fans, was barely seventeen when she found herself on the road with the Runaways, dressing provocatively and playing punk songs to crowds of drunk and aggressive men. To their manager, Kim Fowley, they were nothing more than a gimmick, using sexy young girls playing rock ‘n’ roll as a way to make easy money, but to Jett and her bandmates they wanted to be the real thing. Inspired by the likes of Suzi Quatro, Jett wanted to be a rock star with both glamour and attitude and the group soon found themselves touring the world, but internal conflicts soon forced singer Cherie Currie to quit, forcing Jett to take over for the remaining albums. Jett launched a solo career in 1980 with her self-titled album that was released a few months later under the alternative name Bad Reputation, taking its title from one of its more memorable tracks. Joining forces with backing group the Blackhearts, Jett’s next release was I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, a cover of the 1975 Arrows track that would single-handedly launch Jett into the mainstream. Blending elements of punk, pop and ’50s rock ‘n’ roll, Jett would spend the remainder of the 1980s as one of the most popular female rock acts in the world, producing such hit singles as Crimson and Clover, Do You Wanna Touch Me and I Hate Myself for Loving You, while also venturing into acting with a co-starring role alongside Michael J. Fox in the 1987 drama Light of Day. In his positive review of the movie, noted critic Roger Ebert stated, “Joan Jett, the movie’s one certified rocker, gives the most surprisingly good performance.” Much like her former bandmate Lita Ford, Jett struggle for success during the 1990s (despite starting the decade with a popular cover of the AC/DC classic Dirty Deeds), but in recent years a new generation of rock fans have discovered her music and once again turned her into a rock icon.

STEVIE NICKS

By 1974 Fleetwood Mac looked set to self-destruct; there were legal issues with their name and another band were performing under the same moniker, their last few albums had failed to achieve the success of their earlier output and their line-up had constantly changed over the last five years. With their latest frontman, Bob Welch, having announced that he was leaving the group following the overlooked release of Heroes Are Hard to Find, the remaining members were unsure of their future. Their salvation came when drummer Mick Fleetwood discovered singer and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham in a studio and asked him to join the band; there was one catch though, his partner, Stevie Nicks, would have to join. The result would be two of the best-selling albums of the decade. Born Stephanie Nicks, she had met Buckingham while still in high school and the two had become romantically involved, while also performing together in a short-lived group called Fritz. Following their split, the two formed a duo that they christened Buckingham Nicks, and appeared together topless on the front cover of their eponymous release. It would be their only album as they were soon approached to join Fleetwood Mac. Adding a new pop sensibility, the band’s second album under the new line-up, 1977′s Rumours, would be certified multi-platinum, despite the band suffering through numerous personal issues during its recording. Following their misunderstood follow-up Tusk, Nicks launched her own solo career with 1981′s Bella Donna, boasting the hit single Edge of Seventeen (later used on the soundtrack to the comedy School of Rock). Fleetwood Mac would score yet another successful album with 1987′s Tango in the Night, but Buckingham left the band soon afterwards and Nicks instead focused on her own work, the next offering being 1989′s The Other Side of the Mirror. In recent years, Nicks has successfully balanced her solo career and work with Fleetwood Mac, the latter having issued a four-track EP earlier this year.

PATTI SMITH

For many years, CBGB was the place to be in New York City, the east coast’s answer to the Rainbow Bar and Grill or Whisky a Go Go. Despite being rundown and filthy, it was the home to some of the exciting bands of the 1970s, a venue where they could establish their sound and find their audience. The Ramones began there, as did Blondie, the Dead Boys and Television. One of the first and most famous of these graduates was Patti Smith. Born in Chicago in 1946, Smith was twenty when she took a bus to New York City to seek a new and exciting life. “I came to New York not to be an artist but an artist’s mistress,” she had once confessed to a writer, and it would be during this time that she started a relationship with a young photographer called Robert Mapplethorpe. Regarding how their time together helped to nurture her artistic side, Smith said, “I worked in a bookstore, I came to the apartment and we spent most of our time drawing, looking at books and spending all of our time together, hardly ever seeing other people. And I flourished.” Smith and Mapplethorpe first began to indulge in the local music scene by attending shows at Max’s Kansas City and soon found their way to CBGB. Smith was also developing a keen interest in singing and became involved with Blue Öyster Cult keyboardist Allen Lanier. Forming the Patti Smith Group, they enjoyed a residency at CBGB with Television, while the same year she also recorded her first album. Horses, produced by former Velvet Underground guitarist John Cale, was an instant success and received critcal acclaim. A second album, Radio Ethiopia, followed a year later, under the guidance of Aerosmith’s regular producer Jack Douglas, but its impact would prove a disappointment. Smith, however, would manage an impressive comeback in 1978 with the album Easter. Despite her popularity, Smith would remain inactive throughout most of the 1980s and would release only two albums the following decade, although her career would kick-start once again with 2000′s uneven Gung Ho.

NANCY WILSON

While her older sister, Ann, could have easily stolen the limelight as the lead singer of Heart, guitarist and co-singer Nancy Wilson has remained an integral part of the group, both musically and artistically, since their inception forty years ago. “I was nineteen and had just graduated from high school when Heart was formed,” Wilson told Billboard in 1976. “I decided to go to college even though I had a standing invitation from Ann to join the band. I decided it was best to go off on my own and try to put my mind to work.” Eventually Wilson decided to accept her sister’s offer and relocated from Seattle to Vancouver, where they soon attracted the attention of Mike Flicker of Mushroom Records, whom they signed with in 1975. From the release of their second album, Little Queen, Nancy would contribute lead vocals to occasional songs, beginning with Treat Me Well, the first released song that she had written by herself. When the band’s image and sound were reinvented in the 1980s, both sisters almost received equal billing, with Nancy Wilson singing on the hit singles These Dreams (their first number one) and Stranded. In the early 1980s Wilson met a young writer called Cameron Crowe, a former journalist for Rolling Stone who had recently adapted his own novel Fast Times at Ridgemont High into a popular screenplay. For over twenty years, Wilson would contribute music to her husband-to-be’s movies, including the hits Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky.

LITA FORD

Lita Ford was born in London and moved with her family to Los Angeles, joining high school at the second grade. Alongside Cherie Currie and Joan Jett, Ford entered the music industry while still in her teens as one-fifth of the provocative all-girl punk group the Runaways. The group was the brainchild of notorious producer Kim Fowley who had enjoyed considerable success in the 1960s; his intention was to market the group using their sex appeal and subjecting them to a gruelling schedule of non-stop touring and recording. Fowley’s ruthless management skills soon paid off when, in 1976, the band were signed to Mercury Records, despite the average age of the band being just sixteen. Their eponymous debut album was released that year and yielded their signature tune, Cherry Bomb. Remaining a regular on the Los Angeles club circuit after the band’s split in 1979, Ford met Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx at the world-famous Troubadour club during the release party for his band’s debut album Too Fast for Love and became an item yet despite the demise of her own group Ford was determined to launch her own solo career and, remaining under the guidance of Mercury, released her debut album Out for Blood in 1983. While she soon became a sex symbol among metal fans the record failed to attract much attention, but with her third effort, Lita, she became a rock star in her own right. Released through RCA and featuring writing contributions from Sixx and former Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne, the album became a hit, most notably for the pop rock single Kiss Me Deadly and the Osbourne duet Close My Eyes Forever. While Ford’s career remained low-key throughout the 1990s, over recent years she has made a significant comeback, in part due to the renewed interest in her former group but also from last year’s album Living Like a Runaway.

DEBBIE HARRY

By the time Debbie Harry formed Blondie in New York in 1974 she was almost thirty, and in those pre-rock star days she had performed backing vocals for the short-lived The Wind in the Willows, had worked as a Playboy Bunny and as a waitress in the legendary Max’s Kansas City club. After a brief tenure with early punk group the Stilettos, Harry met guitarist Chris Stein and the two formed what would become Blondie. They soon became a regular fixture of the local rock scene, particularly at the world famous CBGB, before launching into the mainstream with their first number one hit Heart of Glass, from their 1979 Platinum-selling classic Parallel Lines. Blending punk with disco, Blondie enjoyed considerable chart success over the next few years with the likes of The Tide is High, Atomic and Union City Blue but it came to an end almost overnight when the band split in 1982. By this time Harry had become a sex symbol and she soon launched an acting career with a memorable appearance in David Cronenberg’s surreal masterpiece Videodrome, which led to roles in films as diverse as Hairspray, the anthology Tales from the Darkside: The Movie and Cop Land. While her debut album KooKoo had failed to produce any major hits, Harry would finally establish herself as a solo artist following the success of the song French Kissin in 1986, a track written by Chuck Lorre, now more famous for creating the hit sitcoms Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. Blondie’s most recent album, Panic of Girls, was released in May 2011 to modest acclaim, although it failed to produce any successful singles.

ANN WILSON

Barely out of her teens, Ann Wilson was performing in Seattle as part of a group called Hocus Pocus with guitarist Roger Fisher and bassist Steve Fossen. Through Fisher’s brother Michael, the trio relocated to Vancouver and, with the addition of Wilson’s younger sister, Nancy, became Heart. “We’re going to write what we feel,” Ann Wilson told Billboard in 1976, the same year that saw the release of their debut album Dreamboat Annie. “If it sells, it sells and all right, we’re going to get gold albums and all that stuff. If we write something which is not commercial, then we’re not going to doctor it up.” Heart would go beyond gold, with their first four albums being certified platinum in the United States and the tracks Magic Man and Barracuda climbing high in the charts. But by the end of the decade Ann Wilson had begun to gain weight, something she had struggled with in high school, while changes in music tastes had resulted in poor record sales. After signing with Capitol Records the band were given an extensive makeover, paired with professional songwriters-for-hire im Vallance and Holly Knight and forced to embrace the hair metal and power ballad scene, which resulted in a spectacular comeback with a number one album and single. But with this success came a loss of creative control after four albums Heart parted ways with Capitol, with Ann and Nancy Wilson forming a side project called The Lovemongers. Three years after the release of their comeback album Jupiters Darling, Ann Wilson recorded her debut solo album, Hope & Glory, which featured reworkings of tracks from Pink Floyd, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Led Zeppelin. Heart finally enjoyed critical acclaim once again with their 2010 album Red Velvet Car, followed more recently with last year’s Fanatic.

JANIS JOPLIN

“If she weren’t so feminine, she might have become a lady wrestler,” Life noted about Janis Joplin at the height of her success, before her all-too-brief life was cut short at the hands of drugs. Janis Lyn Joplin was born in Texas in 1943 and as a child would sing and play piano, until the instrument was told by her father after her mother’s vocal chords were damaged following a thyroid operation. Having endured a strained relationship with her parents, particularly her mother, Joplin became alienated from her family. As well as developing a passion for both painting and music, Joplin also became a keen drinker when she was still a senior in high school. Moving to Austin in 1962, Joplin enrolled at the University of Texas, where she sang soprano in the local group Waller Creek Boys. But it would be in the summer of 1966, when Joplin arrived in San Francisco, that her life would change. At that time, the city had become the mecca for the hippie culture, with the neighbourhood of Haight-Ashbury being the focal point for the scene of free love, psychedelic drugs and experimental rock music. “I don’t really know what’s happening yet,” she wrote in a letter to her parents on 6 June 1966, “Supposed to rehearse w/the band this afternoon, after that I guess I’ll know whether I want to stay and do that for a while. Right now my position is ambivilant – I’m glad I came, nice to see the city, a few friends, but I’m not at all sold on the idea of becoming the poor man’s Cher.” The group in question was the Big Brother and the Holding Company, who had formed the previous year but would not gain momentum until the arrival of Joplin. She recorded two albums with the band, of which the classics Piece of My Heart would be produced, before Joplin embarked on a solo career. This would sadly be cut short, however, when twenty-seven-year-old Joplin was found dead, due to a lethal mixture of heroin and alcohol. Of her legacy her sister, Laura Joplin, wrote in her biography Love, Janis; “When janis died in 1970, we never expected her image to grow, evolve, and gel into one of the preeminent symbols of the times.”

COURTNEY LOVE

Arguably one of the most controversial female rock stars of the last few decades, Courtney Love was born Courtney Harrison in San Francisco and was introduced to the world of rock ‘n’ roll from an early age, having appeared on the back cover to the Grateful Dead’s third album Aoxomoxoa in 1969 before she had reached her fifth birthday. While still a teenager, Love formed her first group, Sugar Baby Doll, which would feature future L7 bassist Jennifer Finch, before briefly fronting Faith No More. In 1985 Love auditioned for the role of infamous rock groupie Nancy Spungen in biopic Sid and Nancy, which told of the troubled relationship between Spungen and former Sex Pistols icon Sid Vicious. Despite losing out on the role to Chloe Webb, Love appeared briefly in the movie as one of Spungen’s friends. Love formed another group, Hole, in Los Angeles in 1989 with guitarist Eric Erlandson and the following year released their first single, Retard Girl, through independent label Sympathy for the Record Industry. After releasing through debut album through Caroline, the band were signed to Geffen Records, the home of Nirvana, whose frontman, Kurt Cobain, Love would marry in 1992. Released just one week after Cobain’s suicide at the age of twenty-seven, Hole’s first album through Geffen, Live Through This, became an unexpected success and built on the promise of its predecessor. A decade after her failed attempt at launching an acting career, Love gained considerable acclaim for her role in the Hustler biopic The People vs. Larry Flynt and this in turn led to the Jim Carrey drama Man on the Moon and the ensemble movie 200 Cigarettes. In recent years, the media has focused more on her struggles with addiction and troubled relationship with her daughter than her acting or musical career.

GRACE SLICK

Born Grace Barnett Wing less than two months after the outbreak of the Second World War, Grace Slick enjoyed a brief amateur modelling career before marrying cinematographer Jerry Slick in 1961. The two formed their own group, The Great Society, but soon Grace Slick was lured away and convinced to join a new, emerging band called Jefferson Airplane. By this point they had already released an album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, but with their second effort, 1967′s Surrealistic Pillow, they were launched into the big league. Sharing vocal duties with frontman Marty Balin, Slick would compose one of the album’s most known tunes, White Rabbit, although the band would enjoy their biggest success with Somebody to Love. Three months before the release of their fifth studio album, Jefferson Airplane appeared at the legendary Woodstock festival in New York. As she later recalled in her autobiography, “Woodstock immediately conjures an image of a specific point in time where social theory became practice, where for four days and nights in the spirit of acceptance, celebration and profound ritual, wherever we were, we were all different – and we were all the same.” Jefferson Airplane split in 1972 and soon developed into a new project, Jefferson Starship, with Slick appearing on seven of their albums, although they failed to gain the same kind of acclaim as their earlier incarnation. Success came once again with Starship in the mid-1980s, with the hits We Built This City and Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now receiving regular rotation radio and MTV throughout the decade. Slick joined the reformed Jefferson Airplane in 1989 as vocalist for their eponymous album but left soon afterwards to pursue other projects.