The ‘70s saw a surge of groundbreaking women who challenged the traditional gender roles in rock and roll. Despite facing sexism and discrimination, these singers persevered and achieved great success, paving the way for future generations of female rockers. In this article, we will discuss some of the most iconic female rock singers of the ‘70s, who changed the game and continue to inspire artists all over the world.
The Best Female Rock Singers of the 70s (TLDR)
The top female rock singers from the 1970s are:
- Buffy Sainte-Marie
- Siouxie Sioux
- Patti Smith
- Dolly Parton
- Kate Bush
- Joni Mitchell
- Suzie Quatro
- Joan Jett & Lita Ford
- Bonnie Raitt
- Carly Simon
- Debbie Harry
- Ann Wilson
- Joan Baez
- Olivia Newton-John
- Stevie Nicks
So now, let’s dive into each singer individually to find out what made them so special throughout the decade of the 1970s.
15. Buffy Sainte-Marie
Though she was a popular artist during most of the 1960s, Buffy Sainte-Marie is one of the first names I think of when considering female singers from the ‘70s. My parents had several of her records that my sister and I used to love listening to, and I remember watching Buffy on Sesame Street when I was a kid.
Buffy is an Indigenous Canadian American of the Piapot Cree Nation and introduced elements of Cree culture on Sesame Street from 1976-1981. She sang songs and talked about her life and people with a gentle but powerful approach.
A 2018 article on Hazlitt states that Buffy’s mission on Sesame Street was to “portray her own Cree heritage, as well as the history of other Indigenous peoples of the Americas, with a representational nuance.” As a kid, I didn’t realize the significance of this, but she made a huge impact with those fearless appearances.
My favorite Buffy Sainte-Marie song: “Helpless,” from her 1971 album, She Used To Wanna Be A Ballerina. A bluesy soul track like Roberta Flack and Otis Redding.
“There is a town in North Ontario
With dream comfort memory to spare,
And in my mind, I still need a place to go,
All my changes were there.”
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14. Siouxie Sioux (Siouxie and the Banshees)
Many recognize Siouxie and the Banshees from their 1980s era. In those days they toured with the Cure and became staples of early “alternative” radio, but they came from the late ‘70s Punk scene, closely following the Sex Pistols before “punk” was even a thing. Their original drummer’s name was Simon Richie, though people knew him as Sid Vicious.
Siouxie Sioux grew as a vocalist throughout the ‘80s, after the band took a glammier road at the start of the decade, but she never lost her edge.
My Favorite Siouxie and the Banshees Song: A perfect example of that “edge” is on their version of “Helter Skelter” from the Banshee’s 1978 debut, The Scream. They make the Beatles sound like Patti Smith! “Metal Postcard” is a great track, showing their love of Roxy Music.
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13. Patti Smith
When Patti Smith arrived on the New York scene in 1975, she was compared to a diverse collection of artists. From Bob Dylan and David Bowie to the Stooges and the MC5, Patti Smith took the uncompromising DIY aesthetic of punk rock and mixed it with Beat poetry’s brutal honesty and rage.
She was cited as one of Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest artists of all time and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
My Favorite Patti Smith Song: “Gloria: In Excelsis Deo” is the perfect introduction to Patti Smith. And “Space Monkey,” from her 1978 album Easter is a favorite as well. It’s like the Doors meets the Velvet Underground.
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12. Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton is a country music legend who has released albums since 1967. She has influenced countless musicians from nearly every genre imaginable and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2022. Initially, Parton declined the award because she felt “unworthy” as a country artist.
Speaking to NPR, Parton said, “I felt like I was taking away from someone that maybe deserved it certainly more than me since I never considered myself a rock artist.” Eventually, she reversed her decision and was inducted into the Rock Hall, but not before deciding to record a superstar-studded rock album that will be released in the fall of 2023.
My Favorite Dolly Parton Song: “The Bridge,” from Dolly’s 1968 album Just Because I’m A Woman. This is a heartbreaking song told through the eyes of a young pregnant woman who has lost all hope and decides to take her own life by jumping from a bridge.
“Tonight, while standing on the bridge
My heart is beating wild
To think that you could leave me here
With our unborn child
My feet are moving slowly
Closer to the edge
Here is where it started
And here is where I’ll end it…”
11. Kate Bush
Thanks to the soundtrack for Netflix’s Stranger Things, Kate Bush has had a resurgence in popularity over the past couple of years. The song “Running Up That Hill” was featured in season four of the series.
Kate Bush’s art-rock style was a breath of fresh air in the male-dominated rock industry of the 70s. Her debut album, The Kick Inside, showcased her powerful vocals and innovative songwriting, earning critical acclaim and commercial success. With her incorporation of fantasy and storytelling, she created a world that was entirely her own, influencing many contemporary female artists.
My favorite Kate Bush song: Like David Bowie, Kate Bush’s discography is extremely diverse which can change “favorites” over time. One Bush song that has consistently tugged on my heartstrings is “This Woman’s Work” from The Sensational World album. It’s a simple piano tune with extraordinarily beautiful vocals that soar up, down, and sideways proudly showcasing Kate Bush’s unique voice and approach to vocal phrasing.
10. Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell came to prominence in folk circles throughout the 1960s, writing several hit songs before her breakthrough album, Blue, in 1971. That album is considered by many as one of the greatest albums of all time. As a result, according to AllMusic, “When the dust settles, Joni Mitchell may stand as the most important and influential female recording artist of the late 20th century”.
My favorite Joni Mitchell song(s): The entire Blue album is my favorite. Every song on that record is brilliant, particularly the title track (which was covered brilliantly by Sarah McLachlan in 1993), “All I Want,” and “River.”
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9. Suzie Quatro
In the United States, Suzi Quatro was best known for her role as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days. Outside the U.S., particularly in the U.K., Quatro was hugely popular as a groundbreaking rock and roll queen, opening doors for countless female musicians including the Runaways, Blondie, and L7.
“Maybe I was a little bit too early for America,” Quatro told Forbes Magazine. “Who knows? I went here [in the U.K,] early, had all my success, went over [to America] in ’74. They weren’t quite ready for what I was. Maybe I was a bit out of my time.”
My favorite Suzie Quatro song: “48 Crash” is a great track, opening her 1973 self-titled debut with a sound comparable to Cheap Trick and the great T. Rex. Catchy and fast-paced, “48 Crash” checks all the boxes for a rock and roll classic.
8. Joan Jett, Lita Ford (The Runaways)
Now when it comes to female rockers of the 70s, the Runaways (specifically Lita Ford and Joan Jett) are highly regarded as two of the best. The Runaways broke up before they got a chance to be taken seriously as a mainstream act.
Joan Jett kept that Punk torch lit through the 1980s, while Lita Ford embraced heavy metal toward the end of the decade. They both remained unapologetically badass, which always led fans back to the Runaways.
This was picked up on and emulated by artists in the Riot Grrrl movement of the early 1990s, in which Joan Jett played a big role, having produced Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” single.
My favorite Runaways Song(s): “You Drive Me Wild,” and “Fantasies.” Vocally these two tracks represent Cherie Currie and Joan Jett. One from each of their two first albums. Lita Ford’s guitar-playing abilities are undeniable on both, but the solo on “Fantasies” is insane!
7. Bonnie Raitt
My first experience with Bonnie Raitt was at the 1998 Lilith Fair Festival. Sinead O’Connor was performing and Bonnie came out to play a guitar solo during “Nothing Compares 2 U.” It was absolutely beautiful and, as a guitarist myself, I have found that moment endlessly inspirational.
Raitt released her first solo album on Warner Bros. Records in 1971, which launched her career as an esteemed blues singer and unique guitarist. Her deal with the major label was a result of Raitt’s opening for blues giants like Son House, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker. That’s quite an accomplishment for anyone, let alone a freckled young woman from California.
Bonnie Raitt was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.
My favorite Bonnie Raitt song: “Walking Blues,” from her self-titled debut. On this tune, originally recorded by Robert Johnson, you can hear the power and the soul in Bonnie Raitt’s voice and her guitar prowess.
6. Carly Simon
Carly Simon was a successful vocalist prior to her self-titled solo debut in 1971. That record earned her a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. Album number two (Anticipation) was released the same year and by 1973, Simon was on the road to winning a Grammy for No Secrets.
No Secrets was a breakthrough album for Carly Simon, breaking her into international markets and sparking a never-ending debate about who inspired the lyrics to “You’re So Vain.”
My favorite Carly Simon song: “You’re So Vain,” without a doubt, is one of the greatest songs of all time. Billboard and Rolling Stone both listed the track as such, and it has been covered professionally dozens of times since its release in 1972.
5. Debbie Harry (Blondie)
Blondie was a punk band until they got bit by the disco bug and combined the styles to achieve international superstardom in 1978.
Debbie Harry was the voice and the face behind Blondie’s success. Her talent and stage persona helped her sustain a successful solo career between ‘82 and ‘99 while Blondie was on hiatus. Since the turn of the century, Blondie has been going strong and touring the world with Debbie Harry as an icon of post-punk feminism.
My Favorite Blondie Song: “One Way Or Another” has always been at the top of my list. The album it’s from, Parallel Lines, doesn’t slouch on the awesome, though. “Heart of Glass,” “Fade Away And Radiate,” and “Will Anything Happen” are all stand-out tracks.
4. Ann Wilson (Heart)
There is perhaps no stronger female rock duo than Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart. Their first album, Dreamboat Annie (1975), gifted the world with the classic tracks “Magic Man,” and “Crazy On You.”
Over the course of their career, Heart released fifteen studio albums and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
My Favorite Heart Song: I really like “Straight On” from the Dog & Butterfly album (1978). The vocals are perfect, which is never a surprise with the Wilson sisters, but this track shows off their ability to be simultaneously prodigious and understated. “Crazy On You” and
“Barracuda” are both solid choices for favorite, conversely erasing “understated” almost entirely.
3. Joan Baez
Joan Baez was singing Bob Dylan songs for international audiences before the world knew who Bob Dylan was. She has released over 30 albums during her career, eleven of which were produced in the 1970s.
After her appearance at Woodstock and high-profile stance against the war in Viet Nam and support for the Civil Rights movement in America, Joan Baez used her platform to spread a message of non-violence and human rights all over the world.
She sang “We Shall Overcome” at Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, helped establish the U.S. branch of Amnesty International, opened the U.S. portion of the Live Aid concert for African famine relief, and was the first major artist to play a concert on Alcatraz Island.
My favorite Joan Baez song: Choosing one Joan Baez tune is difficult, even when sticking with her ‘70s material, but “Diamonds And Rust” is a great start. Her duet with Joni Mitchell on “Dida” is also worth pointing out. It’s just the two of them singing “di da” like angels for three and a half minutes.
2. Olivia Newton-John
Perhaps Olivia Newton-John is best known for her role in Grease, the biggest movie of 1978 and changed the course of her career. After Grease, Newton-John went from beleaguered country singer to leather-clad pop-rock sensation, and she never looked back.
She enjoyed a long career as a musical artist and well-respected actress and was a staunch advocate for breast cancer research, environmental conservation, and animal rights.
My favorite Olivia Newton-John song: Even though she released almost 100 singles as a solo artist, you can’t go wrong with “Summer Nights” from the Grease soundtrack. It’s a timeless classic that’s nearly impossible to resist singing along with.
1. Stevie Nicks
Stevie Nicks has become an iconic figure in the world of rock music. She’s known for her unique voice and songwriting abilities, which have made her a trailblazer for women in the industry. Her involvement in Fleetwood Mac helped redefine the sound of 70s rock music, and her influence can still be felt today. In addition to her musical talents, Nicks’ iconic style and stage presence have made her a symbol of female empowerment and creativity.
My favorite Stevie Nicks song(s): “Dreams,” “Gold Dust Woman,” and “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac are tough to beat and even tougher to choose between. But, arguably, the greatest Stevie Nicks song of all time is “Landslide,” from Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled 1975 album.
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This article was written by Joel and edited by Michael.