It's just a couple of new wave artists sitting around talking back in the '70s—Blondie's lead singer Debbie Harry and singer-guitarist Joan Jett, then of the Runaways. But they have something special in common: Both are among rock's 20 most groundbreaking and influential front-women. Click through for the full list.
Debbie Harry (Blondie)
When Blondie broke into the Top 10 with its 1978 album "Parallel Lines," which included the No. 1 hit "Heart of Glass," so many fans assumed that the platinum-haired singer was Blondie that the band made buttons announcing, "BLONDIE IS A GROUP." But with her cool look and what Rolling Stone called "a bombshell zombie's voice that is dreamily seductive," Harry was the new wave band's focal point, and remained so all the way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Janis Joplin (Big Brother and the Holding Company)
If she had lived past the age of 27, it's very possible that Texas powerhouse Janis Joplin would still have stolen the spotlight from any band she fronted, something she certainly did with Big Brother and the two backup bands that followed it—the Kosmic Blues Band and the Full-Tilt Boogie Band—before her death in 1970. Joplin's electric stage presence, vulnerability and devastating voice could captivate an audience like no other singer. "Janis put herself out there completely, and her voice was not only strong and soulful, it was painfully and beautifully real," said Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks. "She gave you a piece of her heart."
Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac)
From her Fleetwood Mac debut in 1975 to the group's upcoming 2018 tour, Stevie Nicks has held forth as band's most singular presence. With her distinctive voice, mystical stage persona and poetic songs, the now 70-year-old singer played a central role in making Fleetwood Mac one of the best-selling music acts of all time. Though hugely successful as a solo artist, Nicks never left the Fleetwood crew behind. "Being in a group of five really does keep your ego in place," she said. "It's not as easy to get totally conceited when you're in a band."
Tina Turner (The Ike and Tina Turner Revue)
Though Ike Turner gave himself lead billing and was, by all accounts, hell to both work and live with, he was a savvy enough band leader to recognize that the former Anna Mae Bullock of Nutbush, Tennessee, was, well, his whole damn show. Tina Turner could out-sing and out-dance all her competitors—even Mick Jagger. "You can't say she's soul, R&B, rock & roll," said Melissa Etheridge of Turner. "She's all of it! She can squeeze passion from any line."
Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane/Starship)
Singing such early Jefferson Airplane hits as "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit," Grace Slick stands tall as one of rock's first band-fronting divas. A former model, she commanded the stage with her powerful, distinctive voice and her assertive presence, opening new worlds for women in music. "She gave us permission to bring a whole new level of strength and intelligence to it," Patti Smith once said. "She created a space for other women to explore."
Linda Ronstadt (The Stone Poneys/The Eagles)
With her powerhouse voice and '70s kewpie doll looks, it was inevitable that Linda Ronstadt would find her greatest success as a soloist. Even the manager of her first group, the Stone Poneys, told the band, "Well, I can get your chick singer recorded, but I don't know about the rest of the group." Still the Poneys stuck together for three albums, though the last featured only Ronstadt on the cover. She was also instrumental in the formation of the Eagles, first bringing them together as her backing band before they mutually agreed that the group was good enough to go it alone. As was Ronstadt, who went on to become one of rock's most successful female soloists, with six Platinum albums.
Patti Smith (The Patti Smith Group)
Called "the punk poet laureate," Patti Smith began her band's debut LP, "Horses," with a scorching 5:57 reworking of Van Morrison's "Gloria." From there, the album exploded—giving us, as Smith herself put it, "three chord rock merged with the power of the word." Combining the ethos of New York's underground art world with poetry and punk rock, Smith "was this howling, mad beast," R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe said. And even though she had only one Top 20 hit—1978's "Because the Night," co-written with Bruce Springsteen—Smith is both a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and a Commander of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Diana Ross (The Supremes)
Selected for stardom from the very beginning by Motown mogul Berry Gordy, Diana Ross was always the principal focus of the Supremes, even before the girl group's records were labeled "Diana Ross & the Supremes." With a silky voice that could express both youthful verve and sweet sadness—plus her glamorous looks--Ross led The Supremes to a record-setting 12 No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, including "Baby Love," "Where Did Our Love Go," "Stop! In the Name of Love" and "You Keep Me Hangin' On." "Oh, it takes a long time to get to be a diva," Ross has said. "I mean, you gotta work at it."
Joan Jett (Joan Jett & the Blackhearts)
Joan Jett took her first guitar lesson at the age of 13, demanding that her instructor teach her how to play rock and roll. After he handed her a folk song, she quit. Always ready to rumble, Jett is a great singer and a great guitarist—one of just two women to make Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" list. Known as the Godmother of Punk and the Original Riot Grrrl," Jett—fronting the Blackhearts with a guitar draped low over the hips, a defiant attitude and leather uniform—helped redefine the role of women in rock. As she once said, "For guitar-playing girls—this is important—don't listen to what people tell you. You may run into people saying that girls don't play guitar.... But just screw all that and keep at it."
Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders)
Formed by Chrissie Hynde in 1978, the Pretenders have had more lineup changes than Spinal Tap. But the one constant has been Hynde, with her take-no-prisoners approach and her "Zen-beatnik-punk-biker-chick" style. As the Pretenders' original voice, Hynde consciously avoided formal music instruction, saying that, "distinctive voices in rock are trained through years of many things: frustration, fear, loneliness, anger, insecurity, arrogance, narcissism or just sheer perseverance—anything but a teacher."
Ann Wilson (Heart)
Ann Wilson's father used entertain his children by playing opera records, with him acting as conductor from the living room. And it must have rubbed off. Because Heart's lead singer, with a powerful, rich, dramatic soprano that can cut through the heaviest of metal, is the Maria Callas of rock. Leading the band through four decades of success and shifting lineups—with a few solo projects thrown in—Wilson continues to embrace the all-for-one group concept. As she puts it, "We're not like Alice in Chains where somebody dies and the band breaks up."
Ronnie Spector (The Ronettes)
In 1963, a fledgling girl group called the Darling Sisters auditioned for Phil Spector. When they began to sing, the legendary (and now infamous) record producer shouted, "That's It! That's the voice I've been looking for!" That voice belonged to lead singer Veronica Bennett—Spector's future wife—now known as Ronnie Spector. With a quick succession of hits, from "Be My Baby" to "Walking in the Rain," the sweet-but-tough Ronnie Spector became a defining sound of the early '60s. "I had a perfect voice," Spector once said, not bragging, just stating the plain truth. "It wasn't a black voice; it wasn't a white voice. It was just a great voice."
Gwen Stefani (No Doubt)
As co-founder and lead vocalist of No Doubt, Gwen Stefani brought a powerful voice of prodigious range to a successful mixture of ska, reggae, punk and pop. With her platinum Marilyn Monroe locks and a cool fashion sense, Stefani quickly earned the title "Princess of Pop" and, like so many front-women before her, ascended to even greater heights as a solo artist.
Beyoncé (Destiny's Child)
Formed in Houston, Texas, in 1990 as Girl's Tyme and then born again with a record contract and a new name in 1997, Destiny's Child soon had a Top 10 hit and a breakout star: Beyoncé Knowles. With her goose-bump-inducing vocal powers and electrifying dance moves, Beyoncé led the group to four hugely successful albums (five if you count 1994's "8 Days of Christmas"). But with a self-described stage persona called Sasha Fierce, Beyoncé couldn't be confined to a girl group, and her post-Destiny solo career has placed her in the pantheon of diva legends.
Courtney Love (Hole)
Courtney Love's work with Hole was often overshadowed by her personal life—a tumultuous marriage to Kurt Cobain, battles with drug and alcohol addiction. But Hole was one of the most commercially successful female-fronted bands of the 1990's, thanks to Love's gut-wrenching vocals, confrontational stage presence and powerful pop-punk songs. Though the band has retired—Hole's last album was 2010's "Nobody's Daughter"—artists such as Lana Del Ray, Avril Lavigne and Sky Ferreira have cited its front-women as an influence. Said Love: "I want every girl in the world to pick up a guitar and start screaming."
Martha Reeves (Martha and the Vandellas)
With more than a dozen hit singles—from "Heat Wave" to "Dancing in the Street"—Martha and the Vandellas had a nine-year continuous run on the charts, making them one of Motown's most successful and popular acts. A former secretary in the label's Detroit office, Martha Reeves, with her brassy and gospel-reared vocals, elevated the pre-Martha Vandellas from background singers for other Motown artists to girl group royalty. Said Reeves: "God uses singers in a mighty way, and I am grateful." And so are we.
Shirley Manson (Garbage)
Shirley Manson says she taught herself how to sing by listening to Siouxsie and the Banshees, calling them the "massive loves of my life." With the formation of Garbage in 1993, the band's Scottish lead singer got to show off her own performing chops, gaining attention with her rebellious sensibility and distinctive voice. Wrote the New York Times: "Temptress, lover, sufferer, scrapper—those have been Ms. Manson's personae since Garbage started. In other eras she might have been a top torch singer, a soul belter or a new-wave frontwoman: a Shirley Bassey, a Dusty Springfield or a Chrissie Hynde. There's a little of each of them in her voice."
Nina Persson (The Cardigans)
With a beguiling voice layered over heartsick pop songs and a fusion of hip-hop and electronica, Nina Persson fronted the Swedish band the Cardigans to international acclaim. They hit it big with 1996's "Lovefool," as Persson brought a Scandinavian cool to her vocals that made listeners swoon and her band a global success. Although she always had what it took to go it alone, Persson didn't make her solo debut until 2014's Animal Heart. "I grew up romanticizing bands," she says. "To have your own name as a logo feels very plain, like something you see on your phone bill."
Kate Pierson/Cindy Wilson (The B-52s)
The B-52s were a band of equals, its members more devoted to recording and touring together than breaking away for individual recognition through solo projects. Jointly fronted by Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson—their ebullient harmonies, bee-hive hairdos and thrift shop aesthetic making them new wave's ultimate good-time girls—the B-52s became the quintessential party group: No wedding was complete without their over-the-top renditions of "Rock Lobster" or "Love Shack." "I remember Chrissie Hynde saying our bands never quit and reunited," said Pierson. "And there should be some kind of award for that."
Dolores O'Riordan (The Cranberries)
Though the Cranberries' music was labeled everything from post-punk to indie pop to pop rock, it all sprung out of lead singer Dolores O'Riordan's firmly planted Irish roots. Strongly influenced by the traditional Celtic music she heard as a child and never losing her own Limerick accent, O'Riordan always had the voice of an old soul. Wrote one critic after O'Riordan's sudden death in January 2018, "Her voice raises your hair like the electricity of a gathering storm."
Two of the greats, just clowning around.
Unforgettable expressions that instantly make you think of a favorite TV show
20 essential songs from the cool rocking poet laureate of New Jersey
From Hollywood royalty to political radical to fitness guru, she has taken one unpredictable turn after another
Films that capture that feeling that comes over you when the leaves begin to change
25 essential songs, from Simon & Garfunkel hits to his solo classics
Classic comedy from a Not Ready for Prime Time Player