The History of Women in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Part 1- The 1970s

The History of Women in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Part 1- The 1970s

It's no secret that the genres of Rock and Heavy Metal have been male dominated, it's been that way since the foundations for both genres were laid back in the post-war boom era of the 1950s, but lately, the boys club has been shaken up, women are making their prescence known in the rock world...and not as "eye candy" or muses either. They've come to rock too.


Up until the 1980s, there were few female artists in rock music, involved in creating only a handful of memorable albums. These early rock queens, however, were treated as commodities and as exceptions to the unwritten "Boys Only" rule.


Yet, even THOSE exceptions had exceptions.

Enter two of the Flower Power era's biggest darlings- Janis Joplin and Grace Slick. Both front women in mostly male bands and both were famous for their brash outspokenness and personal excesses that rivaled the guys, but the similarities end there.

Janis' band, Big Brother and The Holding Company, were a diehard blues outfit from Texas whose musical style was beholden to the Mississippi Delta and the likes of Freddie King, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, whereas the band Grace was in, Jefferson Airplane, hailed from San Francisco and served as one of the paragons of the psychedelic movement and preferred more experimental pastures.


....But this is METAL were talking about and the history that women have had and are still making within the genre.


Fast forward to the mid-1970s and a pair of new bands emerge, Heart and The Runaways.


Heart was formed in Seattle, Washington in 1973 by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson and relocated to Vancouver, Canada the following year where they worked on their now legendary debut album "Dreamboat Annie", initially released independantly in Canada only, the album quickly caught on with FM stations all across North America and yielded the band it's first major hits "Crazy on You" and "Magic Man". Dreamboat Annie sold 1 million copies, making the Wilson sisters bonafide stars.


However, not all press was good.

In 1977, their label, Mushroom Records, ran a full-page ad in Rolling Stone magazine showing the sisters bare-shoulder to bare-shoulder (as on the Dreamboat Annie cover) with a caption reading "It was only our first time!". Backstage after a show one evening, around the time of the ad's release, a reporter suggested that the two sisters were sex partners, this infuriated Ann so much that she wrote a song that evening in her motel room that addressed the exploitation and her feelings as a result, that song would become Heart's biggest hit- "Barracuda".

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oClEGOZLUqQ

Things unfortunately began to sour in 1978 when the band's guitarist and collaborator with the Wilsons, Roger Fisher, was ousted from the band after some unneeded drama began to surface as a result of he and Nancy Wilson's breakup. Nancy and new guitarist Howard Leese filled the Lead Guitar void and childhood friend Sue Ennis helped with song collaborations. The groups mainstream fortunes began to turn south as their subsequent albums faltered in the charts.


At the same time frame as Heart's success, another group began to emerge. They were called The Runaways.


The band was formed by drummer Sandy West and rhythm guitarist/co-vocalist Joan Jett after they were introduced by eccentric, and in some circles reviled, music producer and manager Kim Fowley. The pair met on their own volition at West's house for jam session and immediately bonded over their mutual love of music. Later that evening they called Fowley to let him know of the outcome. The manager brought in 3 more band members- bassist Micki Steele, guitarist Lita Ford and singer Cherie Currie. The Runaways became a thing.


It wasn't long until Micki left and new bassist Jackie Fox was brought into the fold.

In 1976, The Runaways signed with Mercury Records and released their self-titled album. Which yielded "Cherry Bomb", arguably their best known song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YI1zFQF-T8

The band never had much success stateside, but gained exposure by touring with major groups like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Cheap Trick.

In 1977 they released their 2nd album "Queens of Noise" and embarked on their first world tour. By then, the band formed alliances with punk acts such as The Ramones, The Dead Boys, Generation X, The Damned and, of course, The Sex Pistols. This resulted in them being lumped into the Punk Rock category.

In the summer of 1977, they went on tour in Japan where they played a string of sold out shows. They were the #4 imported music act in Japan at the time, right behind ABBA, Kiss and Led Zeppelin in terms of album sales and popularity. The band was unprepared for the onslaught of fans that greeted them at the airport. In later interview, Jett likened their treatment in Japan to "Beatlemania". However, during this tour the band began to fall apart. Bassist Jackie Fox quit the band prior to their headlining slot at the Tokyo Music Festival.

In the fall of 1977, singer Cherie Currie left the band after a blowup with guitarist Lita Ford, and the remaining Runaways parted ways with their manager, Kim Fowley, over unpaid royalties and management issues.

In 1979, the embattled group dissolved over creative differences as Jett, now the defacto leader of the group, wanted to take The Runaway's sound in a more commercial direction whereas co-founding drummer Sandy West and guitarist Lita Ford wanted to go in a more Hard Rock/Heavy Metal direction.

....and that wraps it up for part 1, stay tuned for more.


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What Girls Said 2

  • This is a very great and informative myTake!
    Came here for Joan Jett and I wasn't disappointed

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  • Awesome MyTake. I hope you continue the series.

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What Guys Said 4

  • Runaways were straight up punk, which was a scene far more friendly to women than hard rock and especially metal. Lita went on to do glam... I mean, people call it "metal," but glam is like the black sheep of the hard rock and heavy metal family.

    And Heart? I mean, I like Heart just fine, but Heart is more than Ann and Nancy. The band was 2 girls and 3 to 4 guys, about the same makeup as Fleetwood Mac, which is not considered a girl band. It's just that the Wilson sisters were the only two members that got any publicity. Anything remotely approaching hard rock (they were never metal) was a result of Roger Fisher, the man behind the riffs on Barracuda and Crazy On You. You listen to Heart after he left, they're a soft rock band.

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  • Great read! Keep it up!!

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  • Really interesting - I look forward to reading the rest of the series

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  • you did a very good job at this cannt wait until part 2

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