It’s time for a jam session with seven of the greatest women in classic rock. No screen time, just ear time.
We scrolled through our playlists to find some very satisfying sounds.
Get your headphones out and scroll on!
The Greatest Women of Classic Rock
Who are the most remarkable women of classic rock? What defines them? Was it an unforgettable voice with rich tones and a steady vibrato? Did they tell the best story? So many have influenced the genre since its early emergence in the late 1940s.
Today, we’re honoring a mere seven of the greatest women of classic rock (in alphabetical order.)
#1 Aretha Franklin
About the Artist: On March 25, 1942, Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and later grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Her roots in music began with her family, touring in her father’s revival show.
Ms. Franklin released 38 studio albums and six live albums throughout her career. Her powerful range crossed R&B, soul, dance, and electronic. People around the world mourned her loss in 2018.
Greatest Hits: Who hasn’t belted out R E S P E C T? Aretha’s original version came out in 1967, commanding attention with concise and confident vocals.
We can’t stop with just one from Aretha Franklin. Another fan favorite road trip song is the iconic “Freeway of Love.” Sit back in your imaginary pink Cadillac and drive to Aretha’s playful beat.
Greatest Influence: Aretha Franklin is easily known as the “Queen of Soul” and placed ninth in Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”. As a woman of color, she championed civil rights. With her masterful vocals and strong presence, she sets a high bar that influences generations.
#2 Carole King
About the Artist: Carole King, an excellent songwriter, started in 1958 on staff at the famous Brill Building. Not only can she write, but she has her lyrical style. Combining this with fierce keyboard skills (since the age of four), Ms. King is the whole package for great women in classic rock.
Greatest Hits: The soothing, easy listening “You’ve Got A Friend” from Carole King’s Tapestry album is one of her best-known songs. The album still holds the record for most consecutive weeks at number one by a female solo artist. She delivers a rolling syncopated rhythm in “I Feel the Earth Move (under my feet).”
Greatest Influence: Carole heavily influenced much of the 1960s and 1970s rock eras. She’s one of the most successful female songwriters, pinning “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” made famous by, ahem, Aretha Franklin.
The Beatles, James Taylor, The Monkees, and The Drifters are among the many artists who hit the top ten music charts with Carole’s songs. At 80 years old, Carole still entertains today.
#3 Janis Joplin
About the Artist: When considering women of classic rock, Janis Joplin’s powerful mezzo-soprano vocals filled arenas. Janis lived a tumultuous life of drugs, alcohol, and music until her untimely death at age 27. Her music, like her life, was psychedelic.
Greatest Hits: That gravely, three-octave range voice will have even the worst singer belting out, “Piece of My Heart.” Janis didn’t originally sing it, but her wild emotional rendition in 1968 still gets airplay today.
Not a Joplin original, the posthumously released “Me and Bobby McGee” topped the singles charts in 1971. Janis delivered the lyrical story in a husky, attention-grabbing way only she could.
Greatest Influence: Many have called Janis Joplin the first queen of rock “n” roll. She laid the foundation for women of classic rock with her edgy, electric stage presence. Over the years, she’s received numerous song tributes from artists such as Leonard Cohen, Jerry Garcia, and Joan Baez.
#4 Joni Mitchell
About the Artist: Originally from Canada, the folksy Joni Mitchell describes herself as introspective with an analytical approach to life. It plays well through the imagery and emotion she imparts in her songs. She recorded her first album in 1968 and has covered folk, rock, jazz, and pop.
Greatest Hits: Just Joni and her guitar bring her sweet soprano notes to the irony of her lyrics in “Big Yellow Taxi,” her 1970 hit. If there is any Joni Mitchell song everyone knows, it’s this one.
“Both Sides, Now” is so groovy and heartfelt, and it shows the deeper side of Joni’s range. A live New York City 2000 recording with an orchestral accompaniment is empowering.
Greatest Influence: As a unique storyteller, Joni Mitchell used her voice and song to deliver political messages. The classic line, “Paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” is still a hallmark warning today for environmentalists.
#5 Nancy Wilson
About the Artist: Nancy Wilson, along with her sister, Ann Wilson, made Heart the first woman-fronted rock and roll band. Nancy began playing music as a teenager in Bellevue, Washington. She has an imposing range of rhythm guitar styles. While her sister Ann tended toward the lead vocals, Nancy also belts out an impressive range.
Greatest Hits: Nancy Wilson’s alto voice in “These Dreams” took Heart to its first #1 on the Billboard’s Hot 100. This soft yet powerful melody establishes Nancy as a strong vocalist in her own right.
The guitar riff in “Crazy on You” is a must-listen. Wilson delivers acoustic magic that rises in pace and complexity, setting you up for an excellent rock ride.
Greatest Influence: Nancy Wilson established herself as a strong guitarist blending flamenco and classical styles into hard rock. A songwriter, producer, and composer, she still plays and performs today.
#6 Tina Turner
About the Artist: Tina Turner was born in 1939 and arrived on the music scene when she joined Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm. As their popularity increased, she was the lead singer of Ike & Tina Turner Revue. The group disbanded, and ultimately the couple divorced. Tina’s solo career soared in the 1980s, and today she’s recognized as an international rock and roll icon.
Greatest Hits: When you hear the slow-rolling introduction of “Proud Mary,” you’ll want to dance. By the time the sprint paced ending arrives, you’ll be exhausted and fully respect Tina’s energy and athleticism on stage.
Another brilliant Turner top ten is “The Best.” Sultry dynamic, and it makes her bigger than her 5’4” frame.
Greatest Influence: Her legs! Tina put together movement and sound, delivering unforgettable performances. But seriously, the gracious singer proved to be a shrewd businesswoman taking advantage of technological innovation in her shows while navigating international stardom. One of the top women in classic rock, oh yes.
#7 Wanda Jackson
About the Artist: Wanda Jackson’s style spans rockabilly, rock and roll, country, and gospel as a woman of classic rock. Jackson toured with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly. In the 1970s, Jackson and her husband became born-again Christians. She would influence the Christian music tradition for the next decade before returning to rockabilly popularity in Europe.
Greatest Hits: First recorded by Elvis Presley, Wanda made “Let’s Have a Party” a rockabilly banger. The driving swing pace combined with Jackson’s signature “growl” is unforgettable. Wanda delivers a scratchy lament in “Mean Mean Man” through her country twang with a fast tempo and piano riffs.
Greatest Influence: Before she transitioned to gospel, Wanda Jackson delivered hot-tempered sexuality that continues today in modern rockabilly. She’s affectionately the “First Lady of Rockabilly,” combining traditional country with rock and roll.
What does it take to be a woman of classic rock? Each of these women brought something different. Musicians, writers, storytellers, and unique vocals were part of the mix. Interestingly, faith influenced a few of our seven greatest women of classic rock. They commanded their place in music and sang their passions.
We barely touched on the many women who’ve contributed to the genre. Who are some of your favorites?