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Ten Great Classic Rock and Roll Women

Updated on August 19, 2017

These women changed rock and roll . . . for the better


The world of rock and roll wouldn’t be what it is without the phenomenal contributions of women. They don’t just play soft rock either; nobody plays it harder than some of the ladies on this list. Many can play the guitar as well as the guys too, bending notes like the very best of Keith Richards. But let it be said, nobody can evoke the soft and easy, till the tears fall like rain, better than the tender voice of a rock and roll woman.

This list of vintage distaff rockers is in no particular order. It’s not the author’s intent to say that any one of them is better than the others. (Hey, for some reason, that sort of thing seems more appropriate with the guys!) Also, please keep in mind that every lady on this list is at least 40 years of age, for it takes decades to create a hit song, doesn’t it?

Please enjoy the list of Ten Great Classic Rock and Roll Women:


1. Pat Benatar

Born January 10, 1953, Pat Benatar has used the tough little chick persona to good effect, though her feminine side always shines through. Benatar has produced numerous Top 40 singles, including “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” and “Love Is a Battlefield.” Arising to stardom in the 1980s, Benatar won award upon award, including four consecutive Grammy Awards for Best Female Rock Performance from 1980 to 1983. Perhaps Benatar's best album from that period is Live from Earth. Certainly her name is pretty much synonymous with rock in the 1980s. And Benatar continues to perform, often with her long-time husband, lead guitarist Neil Giraldo. In June 2010, Benatar’s autobiography, Between a Heart and a Rock Place, was published.

2. Madonna


Born August 16, 1958, Madonna may be the most multi-talented artist on this list. Madonna has acted in numerous movies, some receiving critical acclaim; she’s also a dancer, singer, songwriter and entrepreneur (among other accomplishments). According to Guinness World Records, Madonna has sold more records than any other female recording artist in history – 300 million at last count! Though Madonna may not be the best singer on this list, she’s certainly the greatest dancer. (Incidentally, she earned a dance scholarship at the University of Michigan.) Back in the day, Madonna received international acclaim with the release of Like a Virgin in 1984. Always having the cojones of a guy, if you will, Madonna seems willing to do just about anything to prove her individuality, such as rolling around on the floor in a wedding dress at the MTV Music Video Awards in 1985. Hey, Madonna rocks. Maybe she always will!

3. Sheryl Crow


Born February 11, 1962, Sheryl Crow has a slew of awards for her rock and roll career, including nine Grammy Awards. She sings, writes songs and can play numerous musical instruments – guitar, bass, keyboards, mandolin and many others. She’s also been an actress and a producer. Wow! Who does she think she is - Madonna? Sheryl can also play a variety of styles, including hip-hop, country and Cole Porter American pop. As Sheryl once said, she likes anything with a drum beat. Her career taking off in the 1990s, she performed at both the 1994 and 1999 Woodstock Festivals. Perhaps Sheryl’s greatest hit is “My Favorite Mistake,” a song about one of her love affairs gone awry. (Did it involve Eric Clapton? She won’t say.) At any rate, she calls it her favorite single. Oh, yeah, Sheryl is also an anti-war activist, opposing the invasion of Iraq. This lady is also a cancer survivor!

4. Cyndi Lauper


Born June 22, 1953, Cyndi Lauper certainly had the tools to start a singing career. Her voice hit four octaves; she had perfect pitch and a unique singing style. Lauper became a super star is 1983 with the release of her first solo album, She’s So Unusual, which spawned four top-five singles. This was the first time a female singer had achieved such a feat. Probably the greatest hit of the album is “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” the video of which won Best Female Video at the 1984 MTV Music Video Awards. In 1990, Lauper collaborated with Yoko Ono and appeared in a John Lennon tribute concert aired on the Disney Channel. Lauper continues to act, produce albums and perform. In 2009, Lauper appeared on the Celebrity Apprentice, and in May 2010 Donald Trump fired her from the show. She should be so damn good!

5. Joan Jett


Born September 22, 1958, Joan Jett has sometimes been called the Queen of Rock and Roll during her impressive career as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and actress. Developing a decidedly hard rock inflection, Jett debuted as the rhythm guitarist in the all-chick band The Runaways in 1975. Then, in 1980, Jett formed Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. The band’s second album, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll contained her iconic hit of the same name, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks in a row. By the early 1990s, people were calling Jett the Godmother of Punk and the Original Riot Grrrl. This girl has garnered her share of notable nicknames, hasn't she? In the late 1990s, Jett worked with The Gits, the band for which Mia Zapata sang the lead before her murder in 1993. The proceeds from some of this work helped nab Zapata’s killer in 2004. And, as usual, Jett continues to love rock ‘n’ and roll!


6. Stevie Nicks


Born May 26, 1948, Stevie Nicks along with Joan Jett, has been called the Queen of Rock and Roll. (Who will one day win this title once and for all?) Nicks career jumped into overdrive when she joined Fleetwood Mac in December 1974. Three years later the band produced Rumours, the tenth highest selling album of all time and perhaps the greatest soft rock compilation ever. The album features Nicks’ penned tunes such as “Landslide”, “Rhiannon” and “Dreams.” Nicks went solo in the 1980s and maybe her best singles over that period were “Stand Back” and “Nightbird.” Intermittently, she's reunited with Fleetwood Mac – that is, when she and former beau Lindsey Buckingham could keep from fighting long enough. Over the years, Nicks has battled substance abuse and weight gain, though she seems lucid and healthy these days. Nicks released the solo album In Your Dreams in 2011.

7. Melissa Etheridge


Born May 29, 1961, Melissa Etheridge is an alumnus of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, though she dropped out before graduating, choosing instead to launch her solo career. (Etheridge eventually received an Honorary Doctor of Music degree at the school in May 2006.) Etheridge played the club circuit for years, highlighting her powerful, smoky voice, before releasing her debut album, Melissa Etheridge in 1988. Commonly known as her breakthrough album, Yes I Am was produced 1993. Its hit single was “Come to My Window,” a Billboard Top Ten single and Grammy Award winner. But life has been a bumpy road for Etheridge, as in October 2004 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She also had a “coming out” in 1993. In the late 1990s, Etheridge and her partner Julie Cypher gave birth to two children, using vintage, iconic rocker David Crosby as the sperm donor. Also, Etheridge is another cancer survivor!

8. Patti Smith


Born December 30, 1946, Patti Smith emerged from the New York City punk rock scene in 1975, so now she’s known as the Godmother of Punk. (You gotta love those nicknames!) Smith’s debut album was Horses, whose lead tune was a cover of Van Morrison’s “Gloria.” But perhaps Smith’s most popular song is the very unpunk “Because the Night.” Smith also has many artistic interests: poetry, writing, painting, photography and performance art. Interestingly, she once had a fling with iconoclastic photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. An excerpt from one of her early poems reads: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.” Incidentally, Smith loves Tibet and its style of Buddhism. Yes, at least in those days, Smith was an in-your-face chick. Nowadays, Smith receives awards for her poetry, has written her autobiography, Just Kids, and also continues to record and perform.


9. Joni Mitchell


Born November 7, 1943, Joni Mitchell hit the coffeehouse and folk club circuit during the folk-rock scene of the middle 1960s. Mitchell amazed friends such as David Crosby (co-producer of her first album) by how quickly she could create a phenomenal song, and then start another one. Perhaps Mitchell's greatest tune from those early days was “Woodstock.” She has also produced numerous pop hits such as “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Help Me.” Perhaps her most memorable line from those songs was “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” In the 1970s, Mitchell fell in love with jazz, collaborating with such artists as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Pat Metheny, eventually producing the experimental album, Hejira. Always well-respected by peers and critics, Rolling Stone magazine called her “one of the greatest songwriters ever.” In 2007, Mitchell produced the album Shine.

10. Chrissie Hynde


Born September 7, 1951, Chrissie Hynde is the only continuous member of the Pretenders, a rock group the singer/songwriter/guitarist formed in the late 1970s. The Pretenders breakthrough album was Learning to Crawl, which contains the band’s most popular tune, “Middle of the Road.” In the 1980s, drug trouble and other problems plagued the band, but Hynde continued the band’s sound if nothing else, using studio musicians when necessary. Over the years, Hynde has performed with a diverse array of artists, including Frank Sinatra, Emmylou Harris, Ray Davies (with whom she had a child), Bruce Willis, Moreno Veloso, Ringo Starr, Incubus, Sheryl Crow, Cher and Eric Clapton. Though never straying far from the Pretenders, Hynde in August 2010 formed the band J.P., Chrissie and the Fairground Boys. It seems a certainty that Chrissie Hynde is the quintessential, perennial rock and roll chick.


Many lady rockers could have appeared on this list, but it had to stop somewhere. Others who certainly could have been here are Aretha Franklin, Carole King, Nancy Wilson, Annie Lennox, Janet Jackson, Carly Simon, Cher and Grace Slick.

Please leave a comment.

If you’d like to hear some of the music of Ten Great Classic Rock and Roll Women, please click on this link:

© 2011 Kelley


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      DebbySeventies 23 months ago

      I noticed several things wrong. This is a rock and roll women list right? Like the RRHOF, the lines between rock,pop,etc are blurred when they clearly shouldn't be. If you're going to include all genres, then it should be a music's greatest women list. Madonna is not a rocker,nor is Aretha Franklin. Janet Jackson is not a rocker either. You left out the true rock and roll women like Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Suzi Quatro, who is the true Queen of Rock and Roll and Lita Ford. However thank goodness you included Joan Jett but where is Janis Joplin?

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 3 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Breanne Ginsburg. We all love these classic lady rockers, don't we? Later!

    • Breanne Ginsburg profile image

      Breanne Ginsburg 3 years ago

      You mention so many great artists! I love Joan Jett, Stevie Nicks, Melissa Etheridge, and Chrissie Hynde. Maybe I'll look into the others. Thanks for the suggestions!

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 3 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Rob Lattin. Please keep in mind this is not a "best of" list. I simply wanted to mention some of the best lady rockers. Anyway, I'd forgotten about Suzy Quatro and I mentioned Grace Slick and Nancy Wilson in the afterword. Later!

    • Rob Lattin profile image

      Rob Lattin 3 years ago from Born in Chicago, now I'm in Mostly Michigan

      Good stab at this list! I would have trouble with it., so you did great. Years ago Grace Slick would have been #1 on the list. If Elvis were alive, he would have chosen Suzy Quatro, who was known for a long time as the Queen of Rock N Roll. Elvis admired her covers of his songs. Also, it might be tough but you may include the Wilson sisters from Heart. And although she was more soul than regular rock, I would say Dianna Ross was a top contender, as well as Tina Turner. Keep Rockin'!

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 5 years ago from California

      You're right - Madonna is mainly a pop star, but she certainly spewed forth a rock tune or two. Later!

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      me 5 years ago

      madonna??? madonna is everything BUT ROCK!!!!! PAT BENATAR IS THE BEST!

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 6 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, TheHeavyReview. I love all of these rock chicks. Later!

    • TheHeavyReview profile image

      TheHeavyReview 6 years ago

      Great list! I know most of these artists, but my favorites are Pat Benatar and Joan Jett.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 6 years ago from California

      There are plenty of classic rock and roll women. This list only mentions some of them. Later!

    • profile image

      stoneyy 6 years ago from USA Pacific Northwest

      Hellen Reddy torqued off a lot of people with "I Am Woman". heheeheheheh. I loved that tune.

      Pat Benatar sang Opera for seven years prior to hitting the rock circuit.

      Taylor Dayne rocks, too.

      There's also;

      Marcella Detroit of Shakespeare's Sister

      Belinda Carlyle(sp)

      Many others.

    • JeniferRW profile image

      Jen 6 years ago from Couch

      Awe yay! Thanks Kosmo! Yeah I certainly think she qualifies of course. I really do love 'Heart' to this day :) Thanks again, and thanks for the fanmail ;)

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 6 years ago from California

      Thanks very much for the comment, JeniferRW. I'd forgotten about Nancy Wilson from Heart. I guess she certainly qualifies as a classic lady rocker. In fact, I'm going to add her to the list of honorable mention at the conclusion of the hub. Later!

    • JeniferRW profile image

      Jen 6 years ago from Couch

      I loved reading this Hub! Loved your choices too :) I agree with everyone, although my favorite rockin women would have to be Heart. Nancy Wilson can really blow it up on the guitar too. Great hub! I'm so glad I found it. Voted up interesting awesome

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 6 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Kathy. Please keep in mind that you can listen to some of the music of these classic gals by clicking on the YouTube link I provided. As for Annie Lennox, I think I'll add her to that short list in the afterword. Later!

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      kathleenjusti 6 years ago

      Stevie Nicks continues to be a favorite of mine, and Carly Simon as well. Oh, and what about Annie Lenox? I enjoyed your article so much, taking me back in time that I am pulling out some old music to listen to tonight. Looking forward to your next article.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 6 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, miccimom. Please keep in mind, this isn't a "best of" list. Glad you like Pat Benatar. Doesn't everybody? Later!

    • miccimom profile image

      miccimom 6 years ago from U.S.A

      I am sooo glad you put Pat Benatar as your number one because she is my FAVORITE female rocker! I also liked the birthday listed, interesting info! I'm not sure about Madonna as #2, cuz I feel she is more pop than rock. But agree with you on the rest. I think that I would have added Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders. Great Hub! Voted Up!