Arguably the most influential female singer-songwriter of modern times, Joni Mitchell has paved the way for countless artists across numerous shades of rock and folk. Artists as diverse as Katy Perry, Mikael Åkerfeldt, Taylor Swift and Marillion have cited her as an influence, and her compelling, confessional style puts her easily in line with the Cohens and Dylans of rock.
A ‘60s icon inspired by the early blues women – having emerged from a middle-class family in Texas – Janis Joplin was a force of nature with a searingly raw, gut-wrenching voice and a life cut tragically short by drugs. Few have since sung with as much furious intent as she did, all of which came from a painfully ‘real’ place.
The most unfairly derided woman in music since Yoko Ono, Love’s high-profile relationship with grunge superstar Kurt Cobain – and the following ghoulish obsession with the part she did or didn’t play in his death – has since overshadowed her contribution to rock music. But her candid, vulnerable songwriting granted a role model to awkward, misfit young women as they struggled to navigate an overwhelmingly male world.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Before the likes of Chuck Berry were claiming rock’n’roll as their territory, it was women like guitarist/singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe who drew the template for the whole damn thing in the first place. Her blend of gospel passion and bluesy foot-stomping rhythm (in a career that peaked in the 1930s and 40s) laid the foundations for Berry, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis… Y’know, like, everyone widely dubbed ‘pioneers of rock’n’roll.’
With an other-worldly voice and a healthy arsenal of ideas, Polly Jean Harvey deals in highly original avant-rock that’s twisted and evolved since she began turning heads in the 90s. Her more recent albums have been less guitar-heavy, but she’s still one of the most interesting artists in rock today.
A literal force of nature as much as a genuine force for good, Halestorm singer and guitarist Lzzy Hale is a role model for young women, a vocal advocate for mental health, and a writer of inclusive, crowd-delighting anthems. With a god-given voice and an unquestionable commitment to her craft, she's able to make Halestorm's songs great while her contributions to other people's songs make them greater. Very much the archetypal modern rock star, she's not a bad live performer, either.
Formerly the lead vocalist for Warlock, Doro Pesch has been redefining what it means to be a woman in heavy metal for the past 30 years. With 12 studio albums under her belt, Doro has never compromised her art or integrity, always standing with one fist firmly in the air and another punching gender-boundaries in the face.
A superstar in the 1980s, Pat Benatar applied a tough, streetwise veneer to what were ostensibly pop songs and turned them into arena-rocking classics. Benatar’s Crimes Of Passion lay the groundwork for countless women to blur the lines between rock and pop, and altered the way we perceived music while doing so.
Wanna know what a phenomenal singer Grace Slick was? Seek out the isolated vocal from Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit on YouTube. It’s staggering: a haunted, goosebump-inducing masterclass in restraint, crescendo and release. Slick wasn’t just the face of the Summer Of Love, she was The Voice.
One of the most exciting bands in the UK right now are the death metal powerhouse Venom Prison. Fronted by Larissa Stupar, they defy genre stereotypes with songs about force-feeding rapists their own genitals, and absolutely crush live. Born in the European hardcore scene, Larissa is as real as it gets, and genuinely terrifying onstage.