Women make rock music. It seems to baffle many of the mainstream media, but Rock Women exist and thrive.
Even when their industry tries to insist they are “pop” due to the possession of ovaries. Or when journalists label the music made by Rock Women as something other than rock, even though they bestow that title onto similar music made by men.
Instead of belaboring that particular point, let’s take a look at some interesting facts about Rock Women from the past three or so decades.
Rock Women Used to Be Welcome on Mainstream Rock Radio
Mainstream Rock has been a testosterone-heavy environment for a long time. While a handful of female voices have managed to break through the boys’ club in recent years, Rock Women used to be a more regular part of the radio framework.
Mainstream Rock radio in the ’80s was very different. It was more oriented toward classic and soft rock. Alternative stations hadn’t been separated out into their own category yet. That made the Mainstream Rock charts more friendly for Rock Women. Many female solo singers and bands with female leads or co-leads were a regular feature of Mainstream Rock radio.
In the ’80s, Rock Women went to #1 on Mainstream Rock quite a bit. The list includes The Pretenders, Quarterflash, Joan Jett and the Blachkearts, Scandal, Starship, Heart, The Motels, Pat Benatar, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks the Eurythmics and, as a last gasp in early 1990, Alannah Myles. The ’80s saw significant Mainstream Rock hits for other Rock Women. Either parts of groups like Fleetwood Mac, ’Til Tuesday, Thompson Twins, Divinyls and 10,000 Maniacs. Or solo artists like Bonnie Raitt, Lita Ford, Tina Turner, Kate Bush, Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman and Melissa Etheridge.
After Myles’ “Black Velvet” went to #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart in February 1990, it would be 23 years before another female voice topped that list. Halestorm broke the spell in April 2013, when “Freak Like Me” rose to #1.
The drought for a female solo artist hitting #1 at Mainstream Rock persists and doesn’t look to end any time soon.
Rock Women Found A Receptive Home at Alternative Radio
Many of the Rock Women who scored success on the Mainstream Rock chart in the ’80s were based in the Modern Rock corner of the radio panel. Artists like Vega, Bush, Chapman and 10,000 Maniacs became core artists of the early iteration of Alternative radio.
The first #1 single on the Modern Rock chart was “Peek-a-Boo” by Siouxsie and the Banshees in September 1988. The first solo #1 for a female artist came a little more than a year later, when Bush topped the list with “Love and Anger” in December 1989.
Through the mid-90s, five other Rock Women topped the Alternative chart as solo artists (Sinead O’Connor, Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette and Tracy Bonham). After Bonham’s “Mother Mother” in June 1996, the next solo female Alternative #1 came from Lorde in August 2013, “Royals.” The gap was much shorter for the next solo female #1 on Alternative. Elle King topped the chart with “Ex’s and Oh’s” two years later.
Rock women did well with bands at Alternative radio. In addition to Siouxsie and the Banshees, other female-fronted (or co-fronted) acts with #1 Alternative singles include The B-52s, The Sundays, Concrete Blonde, The Sugarcubes, 10,000 Maniacs, Belly, The Julianna Hatfield 3, The Cranberries, Garbage, Chumbawumba, Hole, Evanescence, Grouplove and Of Monsters and Men.
The longest drought for Rock Women at #1 on Alternative was the nine-year stretch between Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life” in March 2003 and Kimbra’s appearance as Gotye’s duet partner on “Somebody That I Used to Know” in March 2012.
The ’00s weren’t a great time for women at either Mainstream Rock or Alternative radio. A few Rock Women managed to hang in and represent for the ladies. Acts like No Doubt, Evanescence, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Courtney Love, Garbage, Flyleaf, Skillet and Paramore managed to keep the fires burning. Over the past five or so years, Rock Women have made more inroads at both formats, but especially at Alternative.
Rock Women Found A Lifeboat in Adult Alternative Radio
After Rock Women of the ’80s and ’90s found their songs pushed to “oldies” Heritage and Pop formats, Adult Alternative radio provided a haven for their new music. Rock radio veterans like Sheryl Crow, Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, The Pretenders, Alanis Morissette and Tracy Chapman found new success. Adult Alternative is a much smaller format (only a fraction of the size of its elder siblings), but has proven very influential on a variety of bigger rock and pop stations.
Adult Alternative has been key to the widespread success of many Rock Women. Newer acts like Florence and the Machine, Of Monsters and Men, Adele, Ingrid Michaelson, Norah Jones, KT Tunstall, Alabama Shakes, Serena Ryder, Walk Off the Earth, Lorde, Sedona and Elle King have all parlayed #1 singles at Adult Alternative to wider success.
Alternative Used To Really Cast A Wide Net for Rock Women
In the early days of Modern Rock radio, when programming decisions tended not to be handed down from a corporate parent, the format embraced a variety of Rock Women. Folk-oriented singers like Vega, Chapman, Shawn Colvin, Indigo Girls, Edie Brickell and Michelle Shocked all got play. Some offbeat acts that listeners would have found nowhere else, like Ofra Haza, Voice of the Beehive, Mary’s Danish, Danielle Dax, Syd Straw, The Katydids, Transition Vamp and Fuzzbox, all scored Top 20 Alternative hits.
There are some Rock Women who appeared on Alternative radio early on who are truly surprising. Neneh Cherry had scored a couple of hip-hop hits at Pop and R&B radio before hitting #2 on Alternative with “Trout” in 1993. The Bangles were big pop stars in the ’80s but managed to wind down the biggest phase of their career by hitting #5 on Alternative in November 1988 with “In Your Room.” New Age chanteuse Enya scored two Alternative top tens, “Orinoco Flow” (#6, 1989) and “Caribbean Blue (#3, 1992). Punk godmother Patti Smith’s “Up There, Down There” hit #6 in 1988, while art rock pioneer Laurie Anderson took “Babydoll” to #7 in 1990. Loreena McKennitt’s world music hit “The Mummer’s Dance” found its way to #17 in 1998, while Julee Cruise’s vocal interpretation of Twin Peaks theme “Falling” landed at #11 in 1990.
Oddest of all? Swedish pop stars Ace of Base landed “The Sign” at #17 in 1993.
Rock women come in many varieties. Hopefully programmers will remember this.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on December 3, 2015.