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Celebrating the Women of Rock’n’Roll

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“Wanted a woman, never bargained for you
Lots of people talk and few of them know
Soul of a woman was created below, yeah”

…crooned Led Zeppelin in Dazed and Confused.

Since the genesis of music writing, women have often been the writer’s muse. From comparing the one that has enchanted him to a morning dew soaked flower to labeling someone as a nightmare, writers have used their wildest imagination.

It has not always been men holding the pen or the microphone, the role reversal happened ages back. Women have been penning songs and singing them with aplomb since centuries. In the modern age they have played the role of a music executive, record producer, manager, composer and other crucial roles in the music industry.

When music sought rebellion in the form of rock, the genre was considered too macho. Rock bands were considered a male bastion. Women were expected to play a passive role by being the consumer or just helping the band on tours as a roadie.

Not all were from the same school of thought. When a few women decided to break these chauvinistic barriers, they were idolised by both sexes. Along with great music they possessed a kick ass attitude and were brave to explore the space no other women had dared before.

This Womens Day we feature some of the ‘Queens of Rock’n’Roll’

Janis Joplin

The ‘ugly duckling’ who went on to be immortalised in Rock’n’Roll history as ‘Pearl’. Janis Joplin faced the problems of an ordinary adolescent girl, she was not ‘pretty’, had acne, hair all over the place and a weight problem. But she also possessed the guts to accept herself and even made songs about it. She sang about the pain caused to her by the men in her life and ironically men in audience loved it. She gained fandom with her band Big Brother And The Holding Company. Joplin was among the first women to break into the male club and reach superstar status. Her quest for a restrictions free life made Joplin “try a little bit harder” and in the process be recognised as one of the best rock and blues singer-songwriters of all time.

Grace Slick

The poster girl for ‘Summer of Love’, Slick led a life most Rock’n’Roll fans would give an arm for. From dating Jim Morrison, to emptying bottles of booze and even drug abuse, you name it and Slick has done it. Often quoted as ‘a woman who shaved her legs but spoke like a truck driver’, she was a formidable voice in music. Slick joined Jefferson Airplane in 1966 as the replacement for the band’s original female singer, Signe Anderson. She gave the band their biggest hit ‘Somebody To Love’ and put them on the front pages. The Airplanes released five gold albums in no time. Their performance at Woodstock 69 is considered second only to Jimi Hendrick’s version of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’. A part time model/actress, Slick would dress to kill and even made the Girl Scout uniform fashionable.

Joan Jett

Singer, front woman, record label founder and producer are a few roles that Joan has played in her life time.  15 year old Joan marked her foray into the music business with an all-girl band ‘The Runaways’ and came to be known as “The Queen of Rock’n’Roll”. The band’s hard rock music was largely dismissed by fans and critics due to the rise of disco. Maybe the audience could not grasp 5 young girls singing about sex, rebelling and partying. Sticking to her guns, Joan went on to become one of the most influential women in rock. She was the founder of ‘Blackheart Records’ and turned producer with Riot Grrrl acts Bikini Kill and L7. The Hall of Famer’s attitude is reflective in her song ‘Bad Reputation’ in which she sings,

“I don’t give a damn ’bout my reputation
You’re living in the past, it’s a new generation
A girl can do what she wants to do and that’s what I’m gonna do.”

Patti Smith

The “punk poet laureate” who fused rock and poetry in her work, Patti was highly influential in the New York punk rock movement of the 70s. Along with her musical works she has also been lauded as an author. Her band The Patti Smith Group’s first album, Horses, is considered as a benchmark in punk rock. The album fused punk rock and spoken poetry and has Patti’s famous words, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.” She is the source of inspiration to many musicians like Michael Stipe of R.E.M, who claimed he started a band because of her.

Stevie Nicks

What is common between Dixie Chicks’ “Landslide”, The Corrs’ “Dreams” and Hole’s “Gold Dust Woman”? They are all covers of Stevie Nicks’ songs. Her other song, “Edge of Seventeen” was sampled on Destiny’s Child’s single “Bootylicious”. This proves Stevie’s legacy in the music world. She has been a music royalty right from her Fleetwood Mac days to her solo releases. Her album with Fleetwood Mac, ‘Rumours’ is among the top ten biggest-selling studio album of all time. Stevie’s mystical persona and on stage presence have not over shadowed her prolific skills as a singer-songwriter. She is the only woman to be inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame twice. Once as a part of Fleetwood Mac and recently as a solo artist.

Along with this ‘Power Pack of Five’, many women have made men feel uncomfortable with their musical prowess and attitude. Be it Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries with her emotive range or Garbage’s Shirley Manson with her angry lyrics and voice, women have been in the forefront of rock music across genres. Ann Wilson’s power packed vocals and edgy look with her band ‘Heart’ made them one of the most popular acts of the 70s. When grunge grew as a genre Courtney Love became its female face while Alanis Morissette gave alternate rock a fresh perspective.

Women artists are now dominating the charts, breaking records as much as their male counterparts. Though their styles and genres differ from the above greats, they are equally inspirational to the present and future generation of artists. That we still need a particular day in the year to celebrate and applaud them, should be a thing of the past.

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