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Top 5 Women of Rock and Roll

The iconic Joni Mitchell turned 70 this week, and in recognition of all that she has done to influence women in music for the past five decades, we’re celebrating Five of the Best Female Rockers of All-Time!

1. Janis Joplin

With one of the most recognizable voices in the industry, Janis Joplin’s bluesy style helped her to become perhaps the greatest female rocker in history before her untimely death at the age of 27.

In the mid-‘60s, Joplin began performing with a psychedelic band out of San Francisco named Big Brother & the Holding Company.  Prior to her involvement, the band was struggling, but Joplin helped land them atop the Billboard 200 with Cheap Thrills, featuring the hit single “Piece of My Heart.”

Joplin embarked on a solo career shortly after her success with Big Brother, releasing the well-received record I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! 

She battled drug addiction and alcoholism for years leading up to her final album, Pearl, which wound up being a posthumous release when Joplin succumbed to heroin overdose in 1970.  It turns out Pearl would be the most successful work of her career, with songs like “Mercedes Benz,” as well the No. 1 single and one of her most identifiable tracks, “Me and Bobby McGee.”

Janis Joplin was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.

2. Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship)                

Grace Slick was the driving force behind a few of the premier bands of the late 20th century.  She joined Jefferson Airplane as a replacement singer in 1967, and the band’s subsequent album charted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts.  Jefferson Airplane would go on to place nine albums on the charts with Slick at the helm.

Following the departure of two band members, the group disbanded in 1973, and Jefferson Starship was born.  Slick and Jefferson Starship were together for more than a decade and produced seven more charting albums. The band was shortened to simply Starship in 1984 when Paul Kantner left, releasing two more records that landed in the Billboard 200. 

Despite being a member of three successful bands over more than 20 years, Slick found time to release yet another six charting solo records.  Though her hard work throughout her career is impressive, her timeless ability to rock is what landed her in the list of top five female rockers.   

Grace Slick was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 as a member of Jefferson Airplane.

3 Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie (Fleetwood Mac)

Known as the two female anchors of Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie propelled the band to superstardom in the ‘70s. 

Christine McVie (previously Christine Perfect) had a rather successful career as a member of the UK band Chicken Shack and as a solo artist in the late ‘60s.  She met Fleetwood Mac bassist, John McVie in 1969 and joined the band a year later as a pianist and singer. John and Christine later married, and subsequently divorced.

Nicks also had a music career before joining the iconic band. She and ex-partner Lindsey Buckingham recorded an album as a duo in the early 1970s and joined Fleetwood Mac together in 1974.

With McVie and Nicks both on board, Fleetwood Mac found its greatest success.  Their self-titled debut album reached the top of the charts, while their 1977 LP Rumours sold over 17 million copies and for years was the best selling album of all time.

Nicks also went on to enjoy a successful solo career, releasing seven studio albums between 1981 and 2011, and hitting it big with her single “Edge of Seventeen.”

Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 as members of Fleetwood Mac. The group recently reunited with both women at the helm for a rare performance at London’s O2 Arena in September.

4. Joan Jett and Lita Ford (The Runaways)

Joan Jett and Lita Ford began building their legacy as members of one of the first all-female Rock and Roll bands in The Runaways

The band was formed in 1975 and consisted of all teenagers, including Jett (rhythm guitar) and Ford (guitar), along with Sandy West (drums), Micki Steele (bass) and Cherie Currie (vocals), and the band released their self-titled, debut album in 1976.  The band’s success began to fade, however, with each new album release.  The Runaways called it quits in 1979 when Joan Jett exited the band.

Jett and Ford each went on to have successful solo careers.  Ford would issue her debut LP, Out for Blood, in 1983 and over the next 30 years, she put out a total of eight albums, four of which reached the Billboard 200. She also teamed up with Ozzy Osbourne in 1988 for the hit “Close My Eyes Forever,” which appeared on her album Lita.

Jett later formed Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and has released 13 studio albums since 1980, her most recent being 2013’s Unvarnished.  Jett’s most successful album was I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, which peaked at No. 2 on the charts. 

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts were nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 and 2012 but were passed over both times. 


5. Ann and Nancy Wilson (Heart)

These two sisters have “telling it like it is” for nearly four decades as the lead singers of Heart

Heart was formed when Ann and Nancy Wilson teamed up with Mike and Roger Fisher and released their debut album, Dreamboat Annie, in 1975.  The album went platinum behind the singles “Crazy On You” and “Magic Man.” 

They released their follow-up record, Little Queen, in 1978, which sold over a million copies.  In the early ‘80s, Heart began to fade before experiencing a career-resurgence in 1985. Heart, Bad Animals and Brigade were their next three albums and they peaked at No. 1, 2 and 3 respectively.

Heart was inducted to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, the year after they released their most recent record, Fanatic


Honorable Mentions:

  • Debbie Harry (Blondie)
  • Pat Benatar
  • Patti Smith
  • Chrissie Hynde (Pretenders)
  • Linda Ronstadt (Stone Poneys)