This list of some of alt Rock’s finest was hotly contested, grumbles can still be heard in darker corners. Luckily for With Guitars, Jamie Gambino stuck to his guns, hope you agree, with his choice.
Award winning columnist for The Times and ex music journalist Caitlin Moran writes in her book How To Be A Woman that during her time on music paper Melody Maker there was practically no females on the alternative music scene to write about. “Bollocks!” I cried and immediately thought of Grunge; Hole, L7, Babes In Toyland. And of course Brit Pop whose female fronted acts included Lush, Elastica, Sleeper & Salad. Not forgetting the hugely talented Kristin Hersh, Tanya Donelly and Deal twins Kim & Kelley.
Trying to compile a Top 10 list of females in music is virtually impossible – try it. The omissions from this list could warrant a top 30 easily (note to editor I am NOT going to do that piece of work) To make things easier I opted to stick to alternative rock this instantly removed people like Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde and recent rock chicks like Hayley from Paramore from consideration. Admittedly this is MY opinion and I fully expect a slew of comments like “How can you not include ________” (insert name of seminal rock legend) but to me that is the point. We have way too many talented female performers to whittle down to a top ten list, I just hope you agree with some of my choices. For those that think we shouldn’t define musicians by gender I agree 100% but until press coverage and the level of female fronted bands becomes equal to that of male rock bands, a reminder like this is justified
10: Shirley Manson
Bringing an icy blast of cool into the top ten is Garbage supervixen Shirley Manson. The former Angelfish singer was plucked from relative obscurity by Nevermind producer Butch Vig & cohorts to sing a few tracks on their new project. Shirley went on to co write and sing on the entire album and the rest is rock history. An instant success Garbage quickly progressed to have several hit singles including ‘Only Happy When It Rains’, ‘Stupid Girl’, I ‘Think I’m Paranoid’ and the Bond theme ‘The World Is Not Enough’. The band have released 4 huge studio albums to date including the multi Grammy nominated ‘Version 2.0’ and have released a greatest hits compilation. Garbage are currently in the studio working on a 5th album, after a lengthy hiatus that saw Ms Manson try her hand at acting in the Terminator tv series The Sarah Connor Chronicles playing an lethal killing machine.
9: Kat Bjelland
Babes On Toyland were an integral part of the early 90’s male dominated Grunge scene. Paving the way for bands like L7, Hole and later an entire music scene ‘Riot Grrl’ that spawned bands like Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear.
Lead singer/guitarist and chief songwriter of the band, Kat – all battered babydoll dresses and peroxide ringlets – looked like an angelic street urchin but had a scream that could strip paint off the walls*. After early incantations Italian Whore Nuns and Pagan Babies, Babes In Toyland had much success appearing on Lollapalooza. The band scored a big hit with the album ‘Fontanelle’, one of the most brutal, vital releases of the grunge era. Kat’s song titles include ‘Swamp Pussy’ and ‘Vomit Heart’ and her lyrics were often as blisteringly aggressive as her guitar playing. Take for example this dainty aside from ‘Handsome & Gretel’ ( a song allegedly about Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love ) “you cunt hole bitch!” Kat went on to form bands like Crunt and Katastrophe Wife after Babes In Toyland’s demise as well as inspiring a current crop of bands including Blood Red Shoes.
8: Kim Gordon
Kim Gordon is one of two rock bass players who made it onto this list. An integral part of Sonic Youth, Kim was a pioneer of female musicians in male dominated rock bands. Often sharing vocal duties with Sonic Youth frontman (and husband) Thurston Moore, on the Sonic Youth albums, her track Kool Thing is a highpoint of seminal release Goo. Kim can also add to her cool credentials; video directing – the Breeders ‘Cannonball’ – and record producing, most notably the debut Hole album Pretty On The Inside. As well as acting, in art-house director Gus Van Sant’s Last Days and running clothing company X Girl. This year Sonic Youth celebrate 30 years in the music industry and are still a hugely influential Rock band who continue to release hit albums.
7: Courtney Love
Notorious front woman of the band Hole, Rock Widow and nominated actress Courtney Love can be difficult to ignore whether you admire her or not. After early years on various music scenes playing with Faith No More and Babes In Toyland Courtney almost gave up on music to try acting, earning a small role in Sid & Nancy after impressing the director when she auditioned for the role of Nancy Spungen. Disillusioned with Hollywood Courtney formed Hole with guitarist Eric Erlandson and soon released a couple of limited singles on various labels including ‘Dick Nail’ for SubPop. Hole scored good press resulting in Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon producing their first album ‘Pretty On The Inside’. A punk hit the album’s success saw them tour the UK to critical acclaim. To date Hole have released four studio albums including Platinum selling Grunge classic ‘Live Through This’ and the recent album ‘Nobody’s Daughter’ that controversially saw Courtney recruit a new band in favour of Eric and the bands former bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur. By her own admission problems with drug use in the past have led to some lacklustre performances, and even with help from Distillers & Spinnerette frontwoman Brody Dalle the solo album ‘Americas Sweetheart’ fell somewhat short of the mark ( single release ‘Mono’ is a notable exception, even Courtney admits the record is ‘crap’ )Courtney however remains a huge influence and when she is on form produced some of the best rock records of the 90’s. ‘Violet’, ‘Beautiful Son’, ‘Teenage Whore’ and ‘Celebrity Skin’ are testament to her talent.
6: Debbie Harry
I think it’s safe to say that Blondie’s Debbie Harry would easily make every ‘females in music’ top ten list. Debbie was a defining character on the mid 70’s punk/new wave scene. A regular at CBGB’s and Studio 54 where her striking beauty led to her becoming a Warhol muse and New Wave pin up.
Blondie rose to international success with 3rd album 1978’s ‘Parallel Lines’, by this time the band had diversified their sound and a foray into disco led to the huge number one ‘Heart Of Glass’. Several other hit albums ensued until they disbanded following the illness of guitarist Chris Stein. Debbie took to releasing solo albums and appearing in films by cult directors such as John Waters ‘Hairspray’ and David Croenenberg ‘Videodrome’
Blondie reformed in 1997 and have been releasing new material and touring ever since to huge success.
5: Poly Styrene
It was a terrible loss when Punk Icon Poly Styrene died of cancer in April of this year. Poly – born Marianne Elliot-Said was inspired to form a band after seeing an early gig by the Sex Pistols. Placing an ad in the paper for ‘Young Punx who want to stick it together’ created the legendary X-Ray Spex who would buck the punk trend by having a saxophone player amongst their ranks. Poly became a striking figure on the 70’s scene wearing tin hats and day glo clothing. Their one and only studio album ‘Germ Free Adolescents’ is widely regarded as a classic of the genre and spawned anthemic single’s ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours!’ & ‘Identity’. After the band split their legacy continued to inspire bands and X Ray Spex briefly reformed for a few gigs. Poly Styrene released the solo album ‘Generation Indigo’ in March 2011.
4: Kim Deal
“Cool as Kim Deal” sang the Dandy Warhols and they weren’t the only ones of that opinion. As bassist in the Pixies Kim lends her gorgeous vocals to harmonise against the pitch perfect howl of Frank Black, bringing a warmth to the band, would the band have been offered as much money to reform without Kim is debatable. The Kim written Pixies single Gigantic remains a standout of their setlist and led to a surge of bands wanting to feature Deal on their records – Ultra Vivid Scene, This Mortal Coil, Sonic Youth. Kim meanwhile was wanting to find another outlet for her songwriting and so joined forces with Tanya Donelly to form The Breeders. After the release of the Steve Albini produced debut album ‘Pod’, Pixies split up allowing Kim to devote more time to the Breeders, recruiting her twin sister Kelley on additional guitar. Tanya left to form Belly and the new line up recorded their 2nd album ‘Last Splash’ which contained classic single ‘Cannonball’. The Breeders have released two more albums to date and have been on the line up of several All Tomorrows Parties festivals including being chosen to curate the 2009 ATP event. The Pixies continue to tour the world but have yet to record new material.
3: Patti Smith
Patti Smith; singer, songwriter, poet, writer, artists muse and punk rock legend. Thanks in part due to her 1975 debut release the iconic Horses that features one of the all time classic album cover photos. The album features a classic reworking of the Van Morrisson track Gloria, that Patti worked some of her poetry in as an intro ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine’
Smith scored her biggest hit with 3rd album Easter due to the single co written with Bruce Springsteen ‘Because The Night’ but tracks like Rock N Roll Nigger – used heavily in the film Natural Born Killers – are more typical of the Patti Smith attitude. Patti became an influence on artists such as Morrissey and collaborated with big fan Michael Stipe on the REM single E Bow The Letter.
A well respected figure, Patti was inducted into the rock n roll Hall Of Fame in 2007 and continues to work on projects. News has just been announced that she is working on a film version of her memoirs.
2: PJ Harvey
Polly Jean Harvey released debut album Dry in 1992 naming the band after herself, Follow up record the Steve Albini produced Rid Of Me was at times an aural assault that received several awards nominations and saw Polly team up with Bjork at that years Brits Ceremony for a stripped down rendition of the Stones classic Satisfaction. That creative collaboration was the first clue that Polly was prepared to change musical direction. Polly went solo after Rid Of Me working with different musicians and producers depending on the nature of the record In the past she has worked on projects with Thom Yorke, Nick Cave & John Parish. Each PJ Harvey album seems to be a reaction to the previous release and Polly alters her appearance to suit each record. Latest Mercury Music Prize Nominated record ‘Let England Shake’ fuses folk music with political views and occasional alternative moods,, while it’s predecessor ‘White Chalk’ was an album of piano ballads. As she continues to turn peoples expectations of her music on it’s head, it’s fitting that next year will be her 20th in the music industry and she is still at the top of her game.
1: Siouxsie Sioux
Former Sex Pistols hanger on Siouxsie would prove to be a talented performer herself, forming Siouxsie And The Banshees in 1976. The band would become massively influential on the UK punk scene, with debut single ‘Hong Kong Garden’ heading straight into the top ten. By the time of the ‘Kaleidoscope’ album in 1980 they were expanding their sound to include synthesizers and drum machines. The album was a huge hit and saw them embark on their first American tour. ‘JuJu’ released in 1981 would later be cited by The Smiths Johnny Marr as a big influence on his guitar playing. Around this time Siouxsie and band member Budgie became a couple and started the side project The Creatures, and featured a more avant garde sound.
As the Banshees, Siouxsie got her biggest single hit with a cover of the Beatles ‘Dear Prudence’ in 1983. The band continued to record new material until splitting in 1996 after 20 years together, uniting briefly for The Seven Year Itch tour in 2003.
Siouxsie has been cited as an influence by everyone from PJ Harvey, Shirley Manson to Jeff Buckley and Morrissey who duetted with Siouxsie on the sublime ‘Interlude’. As a band everyone from Massive Attack to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers acknowledge their cutting edge creative appeal. Releasing 11 studio albums as Siouxsie and the Banshees the band continue to have remastered compilations released due to their undying popularity.