The century-long history of pop music is full of breakthrough moments for female performers. Sometimes it’s a moment in the spotlight, like the emergence of mighty voices like Aretha Franklin or Joni Mitchell. Sometimes it’s in the shadows, as in Mo Tucker drumming with the Velvet Underground or the Chantels getting it together in high school. Here’s a timeline of some of these breakthroughs, from Bessie Smith to Adele.
Their hits include "Shy Boy," "I Heard a Rumour" and the immortal "Robert De Niro's Waiting." Somehow, they manage to go through their entire career looking hot and bored at the same time.
Girl power will never be the same. The Go-Go's started out as hardcore L.A. punkers, hanging out with the Germs. But when they learn to sing, play and write songs, they discover that they are actually a great rock & roll band. Beauty and the Beat defines a new kind of California teen cool, and Gina Schock is one of the toughest drummers in rock history.
Singing "One Way or Another," she brings punk rock and Miss Piggy together and shows the mainstream clout of New Wave.
"O Superman" later becomes a freak hit, reaching Number Two in the U.K.
She loves rock & roll, and rock & roll definitely loves her back. She's worn the same black leather jacket ever since.
The classic single "Oh Bondage, Up Yours!" is a raw punk anthem featuring Styrene's scream and her high school pal Lora Logic on saxophone. Styrene is definitely a weirdo in the rock world – young, clumsy, half-Somalian, with funky clothes and a big mess of curly hair – but she sums up the eternal appeal of punk to outsiders and underdogs everywhere.
She brings her eccentric art-rock voice to songs such as "Wuthering Heights."
Fusing avant-garde poetry and garage rock, she kick-starts the punk revolution.
With Nicks singing hits including "Rhiannon" and "Landslide," the Mac become the world's most popular band.
The seventeen-minute Giorgio Moroder production puts disco – and simulated orgasms – on the map.
Dressed up as disco Martians, the three nightbirds hit Number One with the gitchy-gitchy classic "Lady Marmalade."
The album, featuring "You're No Good" and "When Will I Be Loved," perfects the L.A. mellow sound.
Reaching back to the Andrews Sisters, Bessie Smith and Sophie Tucker, she opens up rock's emotional repertoire.
King is already a veteran when she makes her first hit album, Tapestry. As one of the legendary Brill Building songwriters, she co-wrote hits such as "The Locomotion," "Up on the Roof" and "One Fine Day." But after her marriage ends, she moves out West and makes the grown-up soft-rock autobiography Tapestry. It becomes one of the Seventies' longest-running hits, eventually selling 22 million copies and spawning the hits "I Feel the Earth Move," "So Far Away" and "It's Too Late."
It's the end of an era for girl groups and the Motown empire.
Song to a Seagull introduces a new style of poetic songwriting that continues to be hugely influential on artists from Cat Power to Prince.
The London beehive diva makes her American pilgrimage for the torch-pop masterpiece Dusty in Memphis.
Janis Joplin becomes the reigning goddess of the new hippie love generation at the Monterey Pop Festival, belting the blues epic "Ball and Chain" with her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. A Texas girl relocated to San Francisco, Joplin is a nobody before she comes to Monterey, but she steals the show. In the Monterey Pop movie, you can see Mama Cass in the audience shake her head and say, " Wooow " – and that says it all.
The mysterious acoustic Southern-gothic hit holds a nation spellbound – what did they throw off that bridge, anyway?
When Aretha Franklin heads down to the Alabama studio to cut I Never Loved a Man, she truly becomes the queen of soul. After growing up on gospel, she made her first records in the early Sixties for Columbia – mostly tame lounge jazz. But producer Jerry Wexler lets Franklin cut loose with the immortal Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section, and the results earn her the name Lady Soul.
The great rock & roll love story begins.
Her backbeat in "I'm Waiting for the Man" becomes the definitive punk rhythm.
The band turns from mellow folkies into the hard-driving psychedelic rockers of "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit."
They're the first band ever named after a girl drummer – and Honey's bouffant was even bigger than her bass drum.
"Be My Baby" bombshell Ronnie Spector belts her way into history as one of the sultriest, grittiest rock singers ever. Her great collaboration with Joey Ramone, She Talks to Rainbows, comes out in 1999.
He's got Cher to kiss good night, she's got Sonny to hold her tight, and thus begins Cher's lifelong reign as America's most-beloved drama queen.
Working behind the scenes at 1619 Broadway, in New York, songwriters such as Carole King, Ellie Greenwich and Cynthia Weil bang out rock & roll classics including "Da Doo Ron Ron"and "Leader of the Pack."
Her country-fried rockabilly sound earns her fame as the "female Elvis."
They meet singing in the school choir at St. Anthony of Padua, in the Bronx, and launch the girl-group sound that still rocks us today. None of these five black Catholic schoolgirls was older than 17, but lead singer Arlene Smith had a voice that could – and still can – raise the roof. Classics such as "Maybe" (written by Smith) paved the way for immortal girl gangs like the Shangri-Las, the Crystals and the Chiffons.
Her rockabilly classics include "Mean Mean Man," "Fujiyama Mama" and "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad."
One of the most notoriously obscene early rock hits, it's a nasty answer record to Hank Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie."
A songwriter, drummer and harmonica player, this blueswoman is best known for composing "Ball and Chain," later covered by Janis Joplin, and for originating Elvis' breakthrough hit, written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
Holiday first performs the song during her stand at New York's Cafe Society club. It isn't exactly standard jazz-singer fare: Lewis Allan's ballad is about lynching in the Deep South, with "strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees." But, as Holiday tells her band-leader, "Some guy's brought me a hell of a damn song that I'm going to do." Her record company, Columbia, refuses to touch it, so she cuts it for the indie label Commodore – and winds up with a Top 20 hit. "Strange Fruit" remains one of Holiday's signature songs.
It goes on to sell a million copies and lay the foundation of country music.
Her biggest hit sells 780,000 copies in six months and puts the blues on the map.