Chrissie Hynde said, “That was the beauty of the punk thing: [Sexual] discrimination didn’t exist in that scene.” The DIY aspect of punk rock made it easier for a woman to find a place in music. Highlighted artists will include Yoko Ono, Siouxsie Sioux, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson of the B-52s, Deborah Harry, Tina Weymouth, Kim Deal and Marianne Faithful.
From Akron, Ohio, Chrissie Hynde (pictured right) worked with several bands in Ohio before moving to England. By 1978, Hynde had hooked up with a three-piece outfit called the Pretenders and in 1980, the band released a self-titled first album that redefined the role of a woman in a band, stretched the boundaries of lyrical subject matter and frankness and most importantly, rocked like the roar of a Harley gang. The Pretenders mastered the blistering tempos and brute force of punk, but Hynde’s writing took them other places, as well. Her songs possessed the melodic sheen of well-turned pop yet employed unconventional time signatures (one writer referred to her “treacherously eccentric meters”) and, at times, blunt psychosexual lyrics. As one of the first women to front a popular rock band - not only as the singer but also main songwriter and band leader - she presented a hard, unsentimental image.
Formed on an October night in 1976 following drinks at a Chinese restaurant, the B-52s played their first gig at a friend's house on Valentine's Day 1977. Naming themselves after Southern slang for exaggerated bouffant hairdos, the B-52s – Kate Pierson, Fred Schneider, Keith Strickland, Cindy Wilson and her brother, Ricky Wilson - began weekend road trips from their hometown of Athens, Georgia, to New York City for gigs at CBGB. Before long, their thrift-store aesthetic, beehive hairdos, toy instruments and genre-defying songs were the talk of the post-punk underground. The B-52s’ 1979 self-titled debut disc sold more than 500,000 copies on the strength of the singles "Rock Lobster," "Planet Claire" and "52 Girls."
Deborah Harry is the frontwoman of one of the most popular bands of the New Wave era, Blondie. Her bleached-blond hair and full, pouty lips made her look the part of a new age Marilyn Monroe with a hint of punk hauteur (which paved the way for Madonna’s more risqué approach). “Looks have been one of the most saleable things ever,” Harry said. “When I woke up to that, mine helped a lot.” During the late Seventies and early Eighties, Blondie had eight Top 40 hits, including four that went to Number One: “Heart of Glass,” “Call Me,” “The Tide Is High” and “Rapture.” No other New Wave group had that many chart-topping singles. Blondie seemed more accessible than some of their radical colleagues, since they drew upon Sixties subgenres - girl-group pop and garage rock - that had a still-familiar ring. At the same time, they spiked their songs with New Wave freshness, vibrancy and attitude.
Born in 1961 in Dayton, Ohio, bassist Kim Deal and her identical twin sister, Kelley, were introduced to music at a young age having set up a studio in their bedroom and formed a band called the Breeders. Deal moved to Boston, where she answered an ad for a bassist who was into Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul and Mary and was the only respondent, becoming the bassist for the Pixies. Deal sang lead on the song “Gigantic,” which she co-wrote, from the Pixies’ second album, Surfer Rosa. During a Pixies hiatus, Kim reformed the Breeders with Tanya Donelly from Throwing Muses and Josephine Wiggs from the Perfect Disaster. The Breeders released their critically acclaimed first album, Pod, in 1990.
Born in 1953 in Rochester, New York, bassist, songwriter and singer Kim Gordon a co-founded Sonic Youth in New York City in 1981, which became a leading proponent of “no wave” - challenging, abrasive music informed by rock, noise, jazz and modern composition. Gordon established a group called CKM and met Thurston Moore, who would join her and Lee Ranaldo to form Sonic Youth. She and Moore wed in 1984. In 1991, Gordon helped produce the album Pretty on the Inside for the group Hole. She formed the band Free Kitten in 1993 and branched out into directing in 1994 with music videos for "Divine Hammer" and "Cannonball" by the Breeders. In 1999, Gordon released a solo album, Mori and DJ Olive. Gordon is also an established visual artist and curator. "I'm an artist," said Gordon. “I don't really even consider myself a musician…. I can't escape it, although I'm not really a rock star. But I am known primarily for playing music. For years I tried to separate making music and art…. But it's just impossible, and I realized I have all this subject matter that is related to my music, and I started delving into it. I've always been interested in the relationship between performer and audience…. So I was playing off myself as a performer.”
Born in London in 1946, Marianne Faithfull began her career in 1964, recording the Rolling Stones’ ballad "As Tears Go By." The wistful song was a prescient signpost for the journey that would lead to her 1969 single "Sister Morphine," which she co-wrote with her then-partner Mick Jagger. In 1979, during a crippling bout with drug addiction, which had left her, at times, living on the streets of London at rock-bottom, Faithfull reemerged with Broken English with a fire-ravaged voice of experience and a stark, uncompromising vision of reality. In 1987, Faithfull again reinvented herself, this time as a jazz and blues singer, on Strange Weather.
Born in Chicago in 1946, Patti Smith grew up in New Jersey and fled to New York City in 1967. By 1974, she had formed the Patti Smith Group, bringing a poetic sensibility to street-level rock and roll. A devout reader of French symbolist poetry, she strove to capture its mystical spirit in a rock and roll context. She began reading her poems at New York bookstores, accompanied by rock critic and musician Lenny Kaye on electric guitar. Her first single, 1974’s “Hey Joe”/ “Piss Factory,” was the first truly independent release of rock’s new age. Smith achieved popular success on her own terms, earning one of the earliest New Wave hits with “Because the Night,” co-written with Bruce Springsteen.
Siouxsie Sioux was born Susan Ballion in London in 1957. She was a member of the “Bromley Contingent,” a group of punk fans in the London neighborhood of Bromley, which also included Sid Vicious and Billy Idol. Sioux was part of the broadcast of the infamous Sex Pistols’ appearance on British television that created a storm of publicity early in the group’s career. In 1976, Sioux gave her first public performance at the Punk Rock Festival at the 100 Club. Sioux’s band, which featured Sid Vicious on drums, was a substitute for another band that did not show up. In 1977, Siouxsie and the Banshees made their first recordings and went on tour. The band’s first single, “Hong Kong Garden,” made the Top 10 on the British charts.
Born in Coronado, California, in 1950, Tina Weymouth formed Talking Heads with fellow Rhode Island School of Design students Chris Frantz and David Byrne. They applied a minimalist approach to their songs and performances that immediately appealed to the sensibilities of the growing punk-rock scene in New York City. As their popularity grew, they added former Modern Lovers keyboardist Jerry Harrison to the lineup. Talking Heads became one of the most adventurous bands in rock history, eventually drawing from funk, minimalism and African and Brazilian music to create a new sound that was both visionary and visceral.
Born in 1933 in Tokyo, to a wealthy banking family, Yoko Ono received classical piano and vocal training as a child and aspired to be a composer, much to her banker father's chagrin. The family moved to New York when Ono was 18 and Ono dropped out of Sarah Lawrence College in 1956 to elope with her first husband and moved to Greenwich Village. By the mid-Sixties, Ono was an established figure in the underground art scene. Ono met John Lennon at an exhibit of her work at the Indica Gallery in London. They collaborated in art, music, film and the anti-war movement. Misunderstood and widely reviled at the time, Ono’s music proved to be highly influential, particularly to post-punk and New Wave bands, such as Talking Heads and the B-52s. Along with her continued work in the peace movement, Ono has gone on to become a leading dance-music artist with five consecutive Number One songs on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart.