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Women Who Rock: Greatest Breakthrough Moments

The achievements that changed everything, from Bessie Smith to Adele

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.

By Rob Sheffield

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Janis Joplin

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1967 Janis Joplin takes a piece of our heart

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.

Bobbie Gentry

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1967: Bobbie Gentry Writes and Sings ‘Ode to Billie Joe’

The mysterious acoustic Southern-gothic hit holds a nation spellbound – what did they throw off that bridge, anyway?

Aretha Franklin

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1966 Aretha goes to Muscle Shoals

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.

Velvet Underground

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1966: Maureen Tucker Joins Velvet Underground as the Drummer

Her backbeat in "I'm Waiting for the Man" becomes the definitive punk rhythm.

Grace Slick

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1966 Grace Slick joins Jefferson Airplane

The band turns from mellow folkies into the hard-driving psychedelic rockers of "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit."