When it comes to 80s female rock singers, a handful of women naturally come to mind. Artists such as Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, and Stevie Nicks had huge hits in the ’80s. What made these women stand out from the rest? Was it their music, style, or avant-garde ideas? Perhaps it’s a blend of each.
Our List of Trendsetting 80s Female Rock Singers
Here are a handful of female rock singers that ruled the 80s music scene. We heard them on the radio, watched them on MTV and bought their records and tapes.
A sample of Joan Jett’s 80’s hits include Bad Reputation (1981), her covers of Crimson and Clover (1983), and Do You Wanna Touch Me (1984), I Hate Myself for Loving You, and Little Liar (1988).
Joan Jett rose to popularity in the punk and rock scenes of Los Angeles and Japan. Her first band, The Runaways, formed in 1975 and was just a stepping stone in her rise to stardom. The Runaways did have some hits, including Cherry Bomb from their self-titled album in 1976. However, the band disbanded by April 1979.
Trying to find a record deal following the breakup of the Runaways proved to be more difficult than expected. Jett refused to give up, even after 23 rejections for a distribution deal. It’s a testament to Joan Jett’s perseverance. She decided to launch her own record label called Blackheart Records and independently release her own music. This act made Joan Jett the first female to own and control an independent record company.
By 1981, Joan Jett became a household name. The release of her album I Love Rock and Roll and hit song of the same name made her a fixture in rock and roll music history.
In 1973, Chrissie Hynde felt inspired by a new, emerging movement called punk and headed to London, England. By 1978, Chrissie Hynde formed the band The Pretenders. As the main songwriter, lead vocalist, and guitarist of the band, she is responsible for a large part of the band’s distinct sound. Over the years, she’s been the only member who consistently remained in the band. VH1 considers their first album one of the greatest of all time.
The Pretenders’ debut album of the same name (1979) included the hit Brass in My Pocket. The album was on the Top 10 Billboard 200 and went platinum by 1982.
The Pretenders 1984 album Learning to Crawl had a string of hit songs including My City Was Gone, Middle of the Road, and Show Me.
The fourth album, Get Close (1986) included My Baby and Don’t Get Me Wrong which also went number 1 on the rock charts.
Ann and Nancy Wilson are arguably the most famous sisters in rock and roll. Ann is the lead singer and songwriting for the band Heart. Helped by her sister Nancy on guitar in the songwriting, they gained huge success in the 70s and 80s.
Originally formed in Vancouver, B.C, Canada in 1973, Heart wrote a string of now-classic hits by the end of the 70s. These instantly recognizable songs include Magic Man, Crazy On You and Barracuda.
Heart started the 80s with the hit song Even it Up from the Bébé le Strange album, but sales soon dropped. However, Ann Wilson and the rest of Heart hit commercial gold with 1985s self-titled quintuple platinum album and the 1987 triple platinum followup Bad Animals. These 80s staples include What About Love, These Dreams, Nothing at All, and Alone.
As of 2020, Heart sold over 35 million albums worldwide.
Tina Turner is no doubt one of the greatest 80s female rock singers of all time. She’s received a Grammy nomination for the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. Turner has performed alongside mega acts like The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Chuck Berry, and many others.
Tina Turner was one of the first African American musicians to acquire airtime on the newly available MTV channel. Her contribution to film soundtracks landed her a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Those contributions include the songs One of the Living and We Don’t Need Another Hero. Turner is a record-holding musician with four of her eight Grammy awards earned for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.
After famously departing from her marriage, Olivia Newton-John’s invited Tina Turner onto her 1979 ABC TV special “Hollywood Nights”. Her TV time led to a meeting with Newton-John’s manager Roger Davies who then began managing Turner and assisted with her debut album, Private Dancer. By 1984, Tina Turner was at the pinnacle of her success.
Turner was a style icon of the ’80s. She flaunted her full-bodied wild hairstyles and signature dresses that accentuated her every move. Her music still resonates today. In fact, by 2020, Tina Turner’s Private Dancer sold over 20 million copies worldwide.
Born on 10 January 1953, Pat Benatar started the decade on a strong note with the 1980 album Crimes of Passion which ultimately sold 4 million copies worldwide. Some of her hits include Heartbreaker (1979), We Belong, Hit Me With Your Best Shot (1981), Shadows of the Night (1982), and Love is a Battlefield (1983). Pat Benatar’s style and lyrics resonate well with her fans as they exemplify strong-will and independence. She helped establish a hard-edged, yet feminine portrayal during the 1980s.
She was nominated for a Grammy nine out of ten times for Best Female Rock Performance in the 80s, Three of her albums went gold, five went platinum, and two went multi-platinum. In fact, she has sold over 30,000,000 albums as of 2020.
In 2002, Benatar made a cameo appearance on FOX’s That 80’s Show. The most recent album is Go, released in 2003. Since then, Benatar released just a couple of songs, but still tours regularly.
One of the best selling acts of all time, Stevie Nicks had already made a name for herself in the 1970s with Fleetwood Mac. She was born in Phoenix, AZ on 26 May 1948 and joined Fleetwood Mac in January of 1975. Fleetwood Mac’s critically acclaimed album Rumours is one best selling albums of all time. As of 2020, Rumours has sold over 40 million copies worldwide.
Nicks went solo in 1981 with her album Bella Donna. The album went #1 on the Billboard charts and generated a number of recognizable hits such as Edge of Seventeen and Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, a duet with Tom Petty.
Her 1982 followup The Wild Heart produced three singles and eventually became certified double platinum. That same year Fleetwood Mac released Mirage where Nick’s song Gypsy became a huge hit.
1985’s Rock a Little produced another three singles including Stand Back and I Can’t Wait.
Fleetwood Mac released Tango in the Night in 1987. It proved to be the band’s second best selling album behind Rumours. The album produced six singles and sold over 15 million copies worldwide.
Her style could be described as Bohemian, folksy, and the epitome of the 80s. Between her solo work and Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks was nominated for a Grammy Award 17 times and won two. She has sold an astonished 140 million records worldwide.
Siouxsie Sioux became an inspiration in the world of 80s goth culture. In fact, she was affectionately referred to as the Godmother of Goth. She made a name for herself as the singer of Siouxsie and The Banshees which formed in London in 1976. AllMusic stated she is “One of the most influential British females of the rock era.”
She, along with Banshees drummer Budgie formed the group, The Creatures, in 1981. The Creatures allowed the duo to create more experimental music apart from the Banshees. They enjoyed some success, releasing an EP and two records before the end of the decade.
Siouxsie Sioux is the definition of classic British punk. This is surprising considering very few female punk artists enjoyed commercial success. Mega groups such as U2 and The Cure cite Siouxsie and The Banshees as an influence on their music.
Her fan-favorite songs include Happy House (1980), Dear Prudence (1984), and Cities in Dust (1985), to name a few.
Born on 30 May 1958, Marie Fredriksson was the lead singer of the pop-rock duo Roxette. The band, which included Per Gessle, formed in 1986. They scored a Top 10 hit in Sweden with their song Neverending Love. This success led to a full album record deal which resulted in Pearls of Passion. By 1987, Roxette played for more than 100,000 fans in outdoor festivals across Sweden.
Roxette’s 1988 release of Look Sharp! launched the band into international stardom. The album produced two instant hits “Dressed for Success” and “The Look“. A third hit, Listen to Your Heart, and 1987’s single It Must’ve Been Love are iconic ballads that define the 80s. Fredriksson stayed busy as an independent artist releasing solo albums in 1984, 1986, and 1987.
As popular as Roxette was in the 1980s, their biggest commercial success occurred with the album Joyride in 1992.
In total, Roxette sold over 60 million albums and rank second to ABBA as the best selling act in Sweden.
Unfortunately, Marie Fredriksson passed away on 9 December 2019 after a long battle with cancer.
Love her or hate her, Cher obtained success in music, television, and the film industry. America first heard of Cher in 1965. Under the management of her future husband Sonny Bono, she had a hit with a cover of Bob Dylan’s All I Want to Do. The song reached #15 on the Billboard Charts.
As the relationship between Cher and Sonny turned intimate, they became known collectively as Sonny and Cher. They enjoyed a number of hits including I Got You. At one point, they had five songs in the Billboard Top 50 – a feat only accomplished by The Beatles and Elvis Presley. Sonny and Cher would sell over 40 million albums by 1967.
During the mid-80s, Cher achieved success in the acting world. She starred in the films Mask (1985), The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and Moonstruck, which she won an Oscar in 1988.
Her self-titled platinum album Cher (1987) spawned two big hits I Found Someone and We All Sleep Alone.
Cher’s 1989 quadruple-platinum album Heart of Stone features the hits If I Could Turn Back Time, Just Like Jesse James and Heart of Stone.
Cher has sold over 100 million records. She is also the only artist to have a #1 single for six consecutive decades. Even in the 1990s, Cher broke new boundaries. Her 1998 song Believe is the first song to use Auto-Tune for vocals.
Not everybody is going to be happy with this list. There were many notable female rock singers that came into consideration, but the ones listed above edged them out. However, honorable mentions should be given to these great female rockers:
- Lita Ford
- Debbie Harry
- Grace Slick
- Susanna Hoffs
- Bonnie Raitt
Who did we miss? Let us know who and why in the comments below.