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10 Women Who Made Rock History

They helped define the genre

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For as long as there has been what we now know as classic rock, women have played a big part in its development and success. As early as the late '60s, artists like Grace Slick and Janis Joplin were fronting A-list bands, and shortly thereafter the genre began to see its first all-female bands, such as The Runaways, and Fanny.

Throughout the '70s and early '80s more and more women became bona fide rock stars, paving the way for more female artists to rise to the top in the rock genre.

Some were a major influence on artists of their generation and the next, some were a major influence on the success of the bands with which they worked. And all excelled at creating and performing rock music, as songwriters, instrumentalists and singers.

This is our list (in alphabetical rather than any sort of "rank" order) of women in rock whose influence is still being felt today.

Pat Benatar

Pat Benatar
Pat Benatar DVD cover image courtesy Rhino / WEA

One of the first women associated with hard rock, Pat Benatar's rise from bank teller to arena rock star was meteoric. Success began with her first album, In the Heat of the Night in 1979. Her second album, Crimes of Passion put her in an ideal position to become one of the first and most frequently played artists on MTV when it launched in 1981. First album: In the Heat of the Night (1979)

Styles: rock, hard rock

Specialty: singer-songwriter

Best known song: "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

Discography: 12 studio albums, two live albums, one EP

Other pursuits: author

Watch Pat Benatar perform "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

Read about the top Pat Benatar songs of the '80s

Chrissie Hynde

Chrissie Hynde
Chrissie Hynde photo by Hulton Archive / Getty Images

After spending much of the '70s trying unsuccessfully to form or permanently join a band, Chrissie Hynde finally got her demo tape to a record label owner whose backing enabled her to put together the The Pretenders. On the strength their self-titled debut album in 1979, the band rode rock's new wave movement through the '80s, succeeding in spite of internal conflict and numerous personnel changes.

First album: Pretenders (1979)

Styles: alt rock, new wave, punk

Specialty: singer-songwriter, guitarist

Best known song: "Back on the Chain Gang"

Discography: (Pretenders) nine studio albums, two live albums, one EP

Distinction: Has been a member of Pretenders since its formation in 1978

Other pursuits: animal rights activist, restaurateur

Watch The Pretenders in a live performance of "Back on the Chain Gang"

Read about the Top 10 Pretenders songs of the '80s

Joan Jett

Joan Jett
Joan Jett photo by Archive Photos / Getty Images

After success in the mid '70s with one of the first all-female rock bands, The Runaways, Joan Jett went on to even greater success with her own band, The Blackhearts. Their first album, I Love Rock 'n' Roll in 1981 became an immediate hit. In addition to her talent as a vocalist, Jett has distinguished herself as a guitarist, songwriter and producer.

First album: Joan Jett (1980)

Styles: hard rock, punk

Specialty: singer-songwriter, guitarist

Best known song: "I Love Rock 'n' Roll"

Discography: (including solo, The Runaways, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts) 16 studio albums, one live album

Other pursuits: actress, producer, radio host

Watch Joan Jett and The Blackhearts in a live performance of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll"

Read a review of Joan Jett and The Blackhearts album Sinner

Read about the Top Joan Jett songs of the '80s

Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin photo by David Fenton / Getty Images
Janis Joplin was one of the first female artists to break the "girl singer" mold that existed in folk and pop music in the mid '60s. Her fusion of rock and blues influenced both male and female artists. Her breakthrough came after performing with Big Brother and The Holding Company at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. She performed at Woodstock in 1969. She was approaching the height of her success in 1970 when she died of a drug/alcohol overdose.

First album: Big Brother and the Holding Company (1967)

Styles: psychedelic, hard rock, blues

Specialty: singer-songwriter

Best known song: "Piece Of My Heart"

Discography: (including Big Brother and the Holding Company, Kozmic Blues Band, Full Tilt Boogie Band) four studio albums, two live albums

Artists influenced: Stevie Nicks, Nancy Wilson and Ann Wilson (Heart), Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett

Watch Janis Joplin in a live performance of "Piece of My Heart"

Janis Joplin discography

Read a review of Big Brother and The Holding Company Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968

Stevie Nicks

Fleetwood Mac
Fleetwood Mac photo by Neal Preston, courtesy Warner Brothers Records

Stevie Nicks established herself as a major vocal and songwriting talent with Fleetwood Mac, who she joined in 1975. While still a member of the band, she also launched a solo career in 1981. Artists in various genres have cited Nicks as a major influence on their music.

First album: Fleetwood Mac (1975)

Styles: rock, blues rock, soft rock

Specialty: singer-songwriter, keyboardist

Best known song: "Dreams"

Discography: (including solo, Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham Nicks) 16 studio albums, three live albums

Artists influenced: Sheryl Crow, Courtney Love, Taylor Swift, Dixie Chicks, Michelle Branch, Mary J. Blige, Kelly Clarkson, Tori Amos

Watch Fleetwood Mac in a live performance of "Dreams"

Read a review of Stevie Nicks' In Your Dreams

Read about the top Stevie Nicks solo songs of the '80s

See the Fleetwood Mac photo gallery

Read about the Top 10 Fleetwood Mac songs

Suzi Quatro

Suzi Quatro in concert in London 1978
Suzi Quatro photo by Denis O'Regan / Getty Images

Suzi Quatro was the first female bass guitarist to become a major rocker. Her sister, Patti Quatro had blazed the trail as a member of Fanny, one of the first all-female rock bands to sign with a major label. A long list of artists cite Suzi as a major influence on their work, including two who are also on this list: Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde. She got her first big break in the UK in 1971 when she came to the attention of producer Mickie Most, who had also nurtured artists like The Animals, Jeff Beck Group, Donovan and Herman's Hermits. She started getting attention her native America when she had a recurring role on the TV series, Happy Days, and released "Stumblin' In" -- a duet with British vocalist Chris Norman in 1978.

First album: Suzy Quatro (1973)

Styles: rock, hard rock, garage rock

Specialty: singer, songwriter, bassist

Best known songs: "Can the Can" / "48 Crash" / "Devil Gate Drive" / "Stumblin' In"

Discography: 16 studio albums, one live albums

Artists influenced: Joan Jett, The Runaways, Chrissie Hynde, Tina Weymouth

Other pursuits: actress, record producer, radio host

Watch Suzi Quatro perform "48 Crash"

Grace Slick

Grace Slick
Grace Slick photo © Henry Diltz, courtesy Rhino Entertainment

Grace Slick's sometimes haunting voice and "let it all hang out" lifestyle (she once removed her blouse on stage and performed topless because of the hot weather) made her a perfect fit for psychedelic rock pioneers Jefferson Airplane (and its successors, Jefferson Starship and Starship.) As a songwriter, Slick was responsible for two of the band's best known songs, "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love." She retired from the music business in 1989 and began painting and drawing professionally.

First album: Surrealistic Pillow (1967)

Styles: psychedelic, hard rock, blues rock

Specialty: singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist

Best known song: "Somebody To Love" / "White Rabbit" /

Discography: (including solo, Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, Starship, The Great Society and with Paul Kantner) 27 studio albums

Artists influenced: Patti Smith, Stevie Nicks

Other pursuits: artist, former model

Watch Jefferson Airplane's performance of "White Rabbit" at Woodstock

Patti Smith

Patti Smith
Patti Smith photo by Gabe Palacio / Getty Images

She has been nicknamed "Godmother of Punk" but the artists Patti Smith has influenced run the gamut from U2 to Shirley Manson. Her classic debut album, Horses (1975) has found a place on "greatest albums" lists of magazines like Rolling Stone, Time, and NME. In addition to performing, she is also a prolific author and social activist.

First album: Horses (1975)

Styles: punk, art rock

Specialty: singer-songwriter

Best known song: "Because The Night" (co-written with Bruce Springsteen)

Discography: 12 studio albums, three live albums, two EPs, one spoken word album

Artists influenced: U2, Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), Shirley Manson (Garbage), Sonic Youth, The Smiths

Other pursuits: author, poet, social activist

Watch Patti Smith perform "Because the Night"

Read a review of Patti Smith's debut album, Horses

Nancy Wilson, Ann Wilson

Ann and Nancy Wilson
Ann & Nancy Wilson photo by Fotos International / Getty Images

When Heart came along in 1973, it soon became clear that two attractive women (sisters, no less) fronting a rock band was way more than just a young man's fantasy. After their debut album, Dreamboat Annie in 1975, Ann and, with Heart, Nancy Wilson have had Top 10 albums in every decade since.

First album: Dreamboat Annie (1976)

Styles: folk rock, hard rock, progressive rock

Specialty: Ann - lead singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, Nancy - guitarist, songwriter

Discography: (including two solo albums - one each by Ann and Nancy) 14 studio albums, five live albums

Best known songs: "Magic Man" / "Crazy On You" / "Barracuda"

Endurance: In every decade since the '70s Heart have had albums in the Top 10

Watch Heart perform "Magic Man"

Read a review of the Heart career retrospective box set, Strange Euphoria

Read a review of the Ann and Nancy Wilson autobiography, Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock & Roll

Read about the top Heart songs of the '80s

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