Ever noticed how many successful male rock-singers sound a lot like chicks?
Robert Plant. Freddie Mercury. Rod Stewart. The Eagles’ Timothy B. Schmidt. Chris Robinson of Black Crowes fame. The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins. Steven Tyler. Axl Rose. Even Jack White at times.
Just to name a few.
Maybe all rockers would be better off finding female singers to front their groups, because it’s sure worked out roses for plenty of bands already.
Not the least of which is Alabama Shakes. It’s difficult to imagine the Athens indie combo enjoying the same steep upward career trajectory without their magnetic singer, Brittany Howard. She’s blessed with rare raw vocal ability. And you can’t teach feel like that either.
Howard’s performances during the Shakes’ recent performance on “Saturday Night Live” and “Late Show with David Letterman” have been particularly awe-inducing. She’s singing like she has to, not because she wants to or because “it’s her job.”
They’re the kind of performances that make you think we’re watching Howard ascend into one of the best front women ever, in real time.
So l decided to make a list of the top front women of all-time. But no solo artists. Otherwise, powerhouse singers and performers like Tina Turner, Pat Benatar, Dusty Springfield, Beyonce, Grace Potter and Lady Gaga would be in the conversation. For the purposes of this list, any singer whose name is placed in front of her band’s is also considered a solo act, a la Florence + The Machine. (To use a male example, no one really considers Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers to be a band … with the possible exception of a couple dudes in The Heartbreakers.) Duos don’t count either, which excludes Delaney and Bonnie’s Bonnie Bramlett, The Carpenters’ Karen Carpenter and so on. Nor do groups comprised of only vocalists – apologies to the stars of Destiny’s Child and The Supremes.
Some of the factors considered for this top front women list include: vocal talent, onstage charisma and (sorry cult bands, history proves the cream rises) commercial success.
Without further delay, here are 10 of the baddest women to ever hold a microphone in their hand and put a band on their back.
Scroll down for a Spotify playlist featuring essential performances from each singer.
10. Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard
On this list because of: Southern-fried soul power and, just in her mid-20s, her upside is off-the-charts.
Essential performance: “Hold On,” 2012.
9. No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani
Known for: A slinky Southern California vibe, abs of steel and being the main reason No Doubt sold almost as many CDs as Best Buy.
Essential performance: “Don’t Speak,” 1995.
8. Hole’s Courtney Love
On this list because of: Cig-smoking, drug-doing, celeb-feuding, bad-girl bravado – and “Live Through This” is one of the most enduring records of the ’90s, regardless of gender.
Essential performance: “Doll Parts,” 1994.
7. Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick
On this list because of: Trippy yet cerebral wailing on psychedelic-pop classics that will be used in TV and film until the end of Western Civilization whenever directors want to evoke the Summer of Love.
Essential performance: “White Rabbit,” 1967.
6. Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde
On this list because of: Proving sultry and street-smart weren’t mutually exclusive when it comes to female singers.
Essential performance: “Back on the Chain Gang,” 1982.
5. Heart’s Ann Wilson
On this list because of: Led Zeppelin-worthy, hard-rock pipes.
Essential performance: “Barracuda,” 1977.
4. The Runaways’ Joan Jett
On this list because of: Before she was a solo star, she was the toughest, cutest, Marc Bolan-channeling female guitarist ever.
Essential performance: “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” 1978. [Note: this is meant to be a selection from Jett’s Runaways period, so that’s why “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” or “Bad Reputation” or any other excellent Jett solo hit wasn’t chosen. And as awesome as original Runways front woman Cherie Currie was, Jett casts an infinitely longer shadow on rock history.]
3. Blondie’s Debbie Harry
On this list because of: New York sass, disco-punk melodic sensibility and post-modern sex appeal.
Essential performance: “Heart of Glass,” 1978.
2. Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks
On this list because of: Those witchy vocals, those shawls, those twirls.
Essential performance: “Gold Dust Woman,” 1977.
1. Big Brother & The Holding Company’s Janis Joplin
On this list because: She sang blues-rock as good as or better than any guy before or since – and could out drink them all, too.
Essential performance: “Piece of My Heart,” 1968.
Honorable mention: Exene Cervenka (X); Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles); Bjork (The Sugarcubes); Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs); Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth); Belinda Carlisle (Go-Go’s); Alison Mosshart (Dead Weather); Lzzy Hale (Halestorm); Hayley Williams (Paramore); Shirley Manson (Garbage); Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs); Kim Deal (The Breeders).
Check out essential performances from each artist and read the original article here:
The top 10 front women of all-time: From Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard to Janis Joplin | AL.com.