The riot grrrl scene was all about bands fronted by girls and women. Sleater-Kinney, founded in Olympia, Washington in 1994, by Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, was the strongest of the lot. The two women, who both played guitar, were romantically involved when they started the band. They went through several drummers before settling on Janet Weiss. Brownstein’s more delicate voice complemented Tucker’s passionate howl. Their lyrics railed against society’s gender expectations, consumerism and just about everything. Despite being anti-consumer, they achieved commercial and critical success and inspired many youths of the ‘90s, especially young riot grrrls.
4 Babes in Toyland
The all-female trio Babes in Toyland sprang from the late ‘80s Minneapolis music scene. Leader Kat Bjelland grew up in Oregon and was once bandmates with Courtney Love. The two had a very public rivalry about who owned the kinderwhore look they both shared, which featured short velvet dresses, tights, long blonde hair and little girl barrettes. They also competed to express a uniquely female rage, perfected on Babes in Toyland’s relentless, tight and pounding 1992 release, “Fontanelle.” Girls who wanted to get in touch with their inner anger would be frothing at the mouth before the album was halfway through.
Another not-entirely-punky product of the punk scene, X epitomized Southern California in the early 1980s. Poet/singer Exene Cervenka was the sound of angst, despair or rage, depending on the song. She dressed like a bag lady and sang about the problems of the world in a kind of dissonant howl. While girls may have wanted to be Deborah Harry, many of them felt just like Exene. The band blended punk, rockabilly and country to sound like nobody else. They’ve gotten together for quite a few reunion tours and still command a large following, though they never had the kind of commercial success of Blondie or Heart.
Blondie rose out of the late 1970s New York punk scene. Deborah Harry, the gorgeous blonde lead singer and co-writer of the band’s songs, was known for her angelic vocals and detached delivery. She was just so cool. While always extremely sexy, she didn’t seem to be trying, or to give a rat’s ass whether or not you were impressed. What girl didn’t want to be like that? The band was always more pop-focused than punk, and dabbled in such styles as 1960s pop, reggae and rap at a time when such blonde rappers were very rare. “Parallel Lines,” Blondie’s most accessible Top 10 album, came out in 1977.
Still a mainstay on classic rock stations, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson wrote, performed and played instruments, as well as singing. They launched a string of hits in the ‘70s, including “Magic Man,” “Straight On” and that most memorable fish song, “Barracuda.” In a male-dominated rock era, these young women played just as hard and sang their guts out. Nearly 35 years into their careers, the sisters were back in the Top 10 with their 2010 album, “Red Velvet Car.”