Some Favorite Female Voices From the Punk/New Wave Era
There have always been female rock artists, but up until the 1970's, it was rare to see a woman really rock out, much less wail on the guitar or let loose on the drums. For every Wanda Jackson or Willie Mae Thornton, there were a hundred Elvises, and it was rare to hear a woman's point of view on love and sex expressed through rock 'n roll. Women tended to be relegated to safe and sanitized pop vocal groups (even if they were "bad girls" like The Ronettes or The Shangri-Las), lushly orchestrated ballads, or folk music.
Rock 'n roll seemed like it would be a boys' club forever but, finally, in the post-disco era of the late 1970's, women started to make some inroads. The Runaways and Suzi Quatro proved that girls could rock hard, but it was punk that really let women be themselves, freeing them from the restraints of having to look pretty and mouth words from Harlequin romance novels.
That's not to say that female punks couldn't be beautiful and sexy, but many seemed to go for the intimidating or the outrageous, both in terms of image and subject matter. The sexuality expressed by these women could be downright demanding and confrontational, but after decades of "Under My Thumb" and "Run For Your Life", and women being seen as nothing but groupies and accessories to male rock 'n rollers, this was, to use a cliche word, empowering to see and hear. These chicks looked tough, they sounded tough, and they enjoyed making you sweat.
Of course, we all know Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Siouxsie Sioux, Exene Cervenka, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, Cyndi Lauper, and Madonna, but here are just a few of the maybe "lesser-known" female punk and new wave artists of the late 1970's and early 1980's.
Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth put together Tom Tom Club, a funky, hip-hoppy band that released its first album in 1981. For a lot of white kids, this (along with Blondie's "Rapture") was our first exposure to a new musical form called rap.
Vocalist Cynthia Sley and guitarist Pat Place were integral to the hard-edged sound of The Bush Tetras. I couldn't afford to buy very many records back in 1980, but I had to have this one.
Too Many Creeps:
The Slits were a bit avante garde for my tastes, but it was such a rare thing to see girls with guitars who seemed so utterly oblivious to "the male gaze", I have to give them a nod here. (Hey, I had a hat like that when I worked at Burger King!)
Here is one of those videos that makes you go, "Oh my god, did we really look like that?" Yes, we did. And remember, "Don't be stupid, don't be limp. No girl likes to love a wimp!"
The Mo-Dettes - White Mice:
The Waitresses were legendary in the Akron/Kent punk scene by the time I got to Kent State in 1980. This seems so tame now, but at the time it was pretty daring. It was refreshing to hear a woman dish it out like this. Sadly, Patty Donahue died of cancer in 1996.
I Know What Boys Like:
I love Vanessa Briscoe's voice. Her gravel-edged vocals complement perfectly the dark, jangly sound of Pylon.
Turn Up the Volume:
Second wave ska was notable for its "two-tone" bands, fusing punk and ska, and often featuring racially integrated line-ups. Pauline Black was the lead singer of The Selecter. She was awesome.
Lene Lovich seemed like some strange, artsy German Bauhaus Sprockets chick, but she was actually from Detroit. The weirdness seemed so much more genuine back then.
Little Willie, thanks for reminding me about The Bodysnatchers, the all-female, two-tone ska band!
Do The Rocksteady:
The Cosmopolitans were more performance art than music, I think. This "song" is a parody of those magazine articles and pamphlets from the 1950s about being a good wife.
How To Keep Your Husband Happy
At a time when I was just "coming of age" myself, it was really inspiring to be able to listen to women like this. And like I said, these are just a few. Undoubtedly, you'll have your own favorites. Feel free to link me to some of them!