By Jeff Marcus
When rock and roll began, it was predominantly a boy’s club. It seemed that rock was taking its cue from Spanky and Alfalfa by creating its own He-Man Woman Haters Club.
While many early female performers were teen idols or pop singers, there were plenty of others who broke new ground and rocked every bit as hard as the boys. Some even graced covers of 45 RPM picture sleeves. (Now, before you get all upset that Janis Joplin isn’t included on this list, please know that she didn’t have a U.S. picture sleeve issued for her single releases.) For those women who rock, we salute you with this edition of Pictu re Sleeve Archive.
Brenda Lee became the youngest female in the history of the rock era to score a Top 10 hit.
Born Brenda Mae Tarpley on Dec. 11, 1944, Lee was the ripe old age of 15 when “Sweet Nothin’s” went to No. 4 in 1959. She was nicknamed “Little Miss Dynamite” for her vocal prowess. From 1959 to 1962, Lee placed 10 Top 10 singles on the charts. Two No. 1 — “I’m Sorry” and “I Want To Be Wanted” — were eclipsed by her holiday staple, “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” (No. 14 in 1960), which is still played every year without fail. Lee successfully segued to country music in 1971 and was honored by the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997.
It took a while for Aretha Franklin’s star to rise. But when it did, the Queen of Soul made up for lost time.
First signed to Columbia Records, Franklin’s discs did little in sales. The label really didn’t know what to do with the preacher’s daughter.
But Franklin found her groove at legendary Atlantic Records. She hit the charts running with “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” (No. 9) in 1967. She followed it up with the Otis Redding-penned “Respect,” which soared to No. 1 and became an instant classic. Twelve more Top 10 songs followed before Franklin signed with Arista, where she added three more singles to that tally. In all, Franklin amassed 29 singles in the Top 20, including her second (and, to date, last) No. 1 single, “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me” (1987), a duet with George Michael.
Franklin has won more than a dozen Grammy Awards and, in 1987, she was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Add her 1990 honor of being given the Living Legends Award to the list, and even greater success on the R&B charts, it’s no wonder that Aretha has become an American icon. Her sassy performance in the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers” is a keeper, where she belts out a great rendition of her 1968 classic, “Think.”
What began as Jefferson Airplane in 1965 San Francisco, was a far cry from the mid-’80s Starship incarnation.
With Grace Slick as its vocalist, Jefferson Airplane’s first single, the hard-rocking and psychedelic-tinged “Somebody To Love,” went to No. 5 in 1967. The song had previously been released in 1966 by Great Society, of which Slick was a member. But it made no impact when it was titled “Someone To Love.”
The trippy “White Rabbit” followed and peaked at No. 8, which was quite impressive given how complex the song was compared with the standard Top 40 fare of the day. The group mostly appealed to album buyers, however, and it never experienced another pop hit again under the Jefferson Airplane banner.
In 1978, Slick left the unit that by then was billing itself as Jefferson Starship. She returned in 1981, and due to legal reasons, the band had changed its name to Starship and enjoyed its greatest chart success with its worst material. Bland, generic pop fare like “We Built This City” (No. 1), “Sara” (No. 1), “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” (No. 1) and “It’s Not Over (’Til It’s Over)” (No. 9) were a far cry from the glory days of Jefferson Airplane, which was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, eight years after Slick left groups with airplanes and starships in their names for good in 1988.
When you talk about career longevity, you’re talking about Gladys Knight. At the ripe old age of 12, she and her brother Merland, sister Brenda and cousins Elenor and William Guest began what became Knight’s professional music career.
Her cousin, James “Pip” Woods, dubbed the group The Pips. There were, of course, changes over the years, but from 1962 on, the foursome of Gladys and cousins William, George and Edward remained unchanged. The act’s first national pop hit, “Every Beat Of My Heart” went to No. 6 in May 1961, on Vee-Jay Records.
When Gladys and The Pips became part of the Motown family in 1967, things began to pick up for the group. The No. 2 “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” released on the subsidiary label Soul, put the ensemble on the map; the song became a hit for Marvin Gaye on the Motown label, as well.
While The Pips continued to flourish on the R&B charts, the only other Top 10 pop singles the group earned for the label was “If I Was Your Woman” (No. 9) and “Neither One Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)” (No. 2). Like many of their Motown peers who broke away from the fold in the ’70s, Gladys Knight and The Pips signed with Buddah Records, where the group achieved its biggest single ever. “Midnight Train To Georgia” became the group’s most identifiable song and remained at the top spot for two weeks in 1973. Three more consecutive Top 10 singles would follow.
Although Gladys and the Pips held their own on the R&B charts, the pop audience appeal dwindled, with “Love Overboard” (No. 13) in January 1988, proving to be the group’s last pop hit. Knight was part of the star-studded, No. 1 hit single “That’s What Friends Are For” (1985), which also featured Dionne Warwick, Elton John and Stevie Wonder. In 1996, Gladys Knight and The Pips were inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
Ann and Nancy Wilson
It was for the small Mushroom Records label that Heart released its debut, “Dreamboat Annie,” in 1976. The album yielded three hits: the single of the same name, “Crazy On You” (No. 35) and “Magic Man” (No. 9).
Powered by lead singer Ann Wilson and her sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson, Heart cranked out a stack of Hot 100 hits in the 1970s: “Dog And Butterfly” (No. 34), “Heartless” (No. 24), “Straight On” (No. 15), “Barracuda” (No. 11), “Kick It Out” (No. 79) and “Little Queen.” But by 1980, the hits dried up with “Even It Up” (No. 33).
Group members changed, but Ann’s vocals and Nancy’s guitar work remained a constant for Heart. Five years later, Heart launched an epic comeback that yielded three commercially successful albums in a row that packed the Hot 100 with singles; 1985’s “Heart” offered up “If Looks Could Kill” (No. 54), “What About Love” (No. 10), “These Dreams” (No. 1) and “Never” (No. 4). The follow-up, 1987’s “Bad Animals,” yielded “Who Will You Run To” (No. 7), “There’s The Girl” (No. 12) and “Alone” (No. 1). “Brigade,” released in 1990, offered up the No. 2 smash “All I Want to Do Is Make Love To You” (among other chart entries), but it’s a lot harder for me to get excited about that song than a classic rocker like “Magic Man.”
Regardless, Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson were the first female musicians from my youth that I took notice of and thought of as legitimate rock stars.
Before her return to mainstream success as a solo artist in 1984, Tina Turner was the focus of amazing live performances with her then-husband, Ike Turner.
Ike had been a working musician since age 11, when he backed blues legend Sonny Boy Williams on piano. Ike was one of the musicians playing on what is considered to be a candidate for the first rock record, Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88” in 1951.
At 18, the former Anna Mae Bullock joined Ike Turner’s touring show as a backup vocalist. He dubbed her Tina and built an energetic stage show to showcase her blistering vocals and dynamic performances. The Ike and Tina Turner Revue began in 1960, and the onstage partnership became one offstage as well; the couple married. A highlight was the group’s cover of the Creedence Clearwater Revival hit “Proud Mary” (No. 4 in 1971).
The marriage proved tumultuous, as documented in Tina’s 1986 autobiography, “I, Tina,” and the film, “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” Ike and Tina parted ways for good in the mid-1970s.
Tina was absent from the pop charts until her phenomenal comeback with 1984’s “Private Dancer.” Although she was 46 at the time, she rocked harder than artists half her age. She placed three singles in the Top 10, including the title track (No. 7 on the Hot 100); “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” a No. 1 hit for three weeks; and “Better Be Good To Me” (No. 5), a song that Tina belted out with ferocity, as if she was singing it directly to Ike.
In 1985, she appeared in the movie “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” the third installment in the Mel Gibson franchise. Its soundtrack featured her No. 2 hit, “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” and “One of the Living” (No. 15 on the Hot 100). Turner’s 1986 album, “Break Every Rule,” yielded the No. 2 single “Typical Male.”
Tina’s signature song materialized in 1989 with “The Best” (No. 15), which was produced by Dan Hartman, formerly of the Edgar Winter Group. Tina’s sixth, and last Top 10 hit, was “I Don’t Wanna Fight” (No. 9 in 1993).
Ike and Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. Ike Turner died Dec. 12, 2007.
Although she was saddled with the title “Queen of Disco,” Donna Summer and her music embodied far more than that. Her songs, while certainly big dance pop hits, also infused rock and gospel.
Born LaDonna Gaines on Dec. 31, 1948, she grew up in Boston’s Mission Hill neighborhood. In the late 1960s, she landed a role in the German production of “Hair,” and she moved overseas. It was in Germany where she recorded the song that would launch her record career: the 16 minute, 48 second epic “Love To Love You Baby” (No. 2). Two years passed before Summer made an impact again. When “I Feel Love” reached No. 6 in 1977, her career began to ignite. Seven consecutive Top 10 singles followed, including Donna’s signature song, “Last Dance” (No. 3), “Hot Stuff” (No. 1 for three weeks) and “Bad Girls” (No. 1 for five weeks). Another song, “Heaven Knows” (No. 4), a duet with band Brooklyn Dreams, went to No. 4.
Summer became the first female artist to have four No. 1 singles within a 13-month time span, including the remake of the 1968 Richard Harris hit, “MacArthur Park,” and the Barbra Streisand duet “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough).” Incidentally, she also was the first artist to place three double albums consecutively at No. 1.
After “She Works Hard For The Money” peaked at No. 3 in 1983, Summer’s record career stalled dramatically. It took five years before she experienced another hit record, the million-selling “This Time I Know It’s For Real” (No. 7). The disc was a production of the European dance-pop team Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman, which also cranked out songs for Bananarama and Rick Astley. Donna Summer was one of the few artists to survive the disco backlash of the late ’70s — a rare feat, indeed.
Donna Summer died May 17, 2012.
Before she chose rock music and spandex, Pat Benatar was on the path to become a classical vocalist.
Benatar, born Patricia Andrzjewski on Jan. 10, 1953, in Brooklyn, was blessed with a mezzo soprano range that seemed perfectly suited for opera. Her parents were strict and only allowed Pat to attend the theatre, symphony performances and classical music concerts.
But Pat found herself hypnotized by rock and roll when she’d sneak a listen on the radio. She surprised everyone in her circle when she ditched a chance to study at the famed Juilliard School of Music to pursue a degree in health education. The story goes that Benatar left college at 19 to marry Dennis Benatar, her high school sweetheart.
The marriage didn’t last — the couple divorced in 1979, but the name stuck. An appearance at Catch A Rising Star created buzz for Pat, and the club’s owner, Rick Newman, quickly decided to manage her. She soon was signed with Chrysalis Records. Her debut album, “In The Heat Of The Night,” went platinum, as did all of her vinyl studio albums.
Benatar started 1980 with a bang, earning a Grammy for Best Female Vocal Rock Performance for “Crimes of Passion.” That same year, Benatar had her first of four Top 10 singles with “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” (No. 9), which became the singer’s signature song. She also saw chart success with “Heartbreaker” (No. 23), “We Live For Love” (No. 27) and “You Better Run” (No. 42).
More albums and Hot 100 hits followed, including “Treat Me Right” (No. 18), “Promises in The Dark” (No. 38), “Fire And Ice” (No. 17), “Shadows Of The Night” (No. 13), “We Belong” (No. 5) and “Sex As A Weapon” (No. 28). “Love Is A Battlefield” turned out to be Benatar’s best sales performer — reaching No. 5 in 1983 — but its video holds an honor of its own in viewers’ minds for showcasing some very 1980s group dance choreography.
Pat’s onstage and studio teamwork with her producer and guitarist, Neil Giraldo, blossomed into an offstage romance. The couple, who married in 1982, have two children and still are married. Giraldo has played on all of Benatar’s albums and tours.
Blondie’s roots — those of the band, not of its lead singer’s hair — were in the punk and New Wave sector. The band never forgot where it came from when it found mainstream pop success.
Early songs like “Rip Her To Shreds” and “In The Flesh” were not typical pop fare, and the band’s singles didn’t chart in their native land. They did catch on in the U.K., however. When Blondie released “Heart Of Glass” in 1979, everything changed for Debbie Harry (vocals), Chris Stein (guitar), Nigel Harrison (bass), Frank Infante (guitar), Clem Burke (drums) and Jimmy Destri (keyboards). The band was blessed with Mike Chapman, a producer with the Midas touch who helmed all of Blondie’s hits except “Call Me.” The New York group racked up four Top 10 singles, all of which went to No. 1. Blondie’s biggest hit, “Call Me” (1980), came from the soundtrack of the Richard Gere film “American Gigolo.” The song was produced by Giorgio Moroder, who worked on Donna Summer’s classic hits.
As a band, Blondie went its separate ways in late 1982 and made a well- received comeback in 1999. “Maria” was Blondie’s first new single to gain airplay in 17 years, peaking at No. 86 in the U.S. In the U.K., where Blondie always has been popular, the song went to the top spot.
Blondie was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2006. Did you know that producer Mike Chapman also helped Sweet, Suzi Quatro, The Knack, Toni Basil and Huey Lewis and The News achieve big hit singles?
Akron, Ohio, native Chrissie Hynde fronted The Pretenders — a band named after The Platters’ classic 1955 hit “The Great Pretender” — with three English musicians: guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, bassist Pete Farndon and drummer Martin Chambers. Hynde became the group’s songwriter and lead singer.
While the band has seen several lineups over the years, Hynde has remained since Day One. Chambers left the band in 1985, but returned in 1994. Sadly, two of the band’s four original members went away and never came back. Honeyman-Scott died of heart failure from cocaine use on June 16, 1982, and Farndon died of a heroin overdose on April 14, 1983.
The Pretenders’ first American hit, “Brass In Pocket (I’m Special),” peaked at No. 14 in 1980. Its first U.K. single, the Ray Davies-penned “Stop Your Sobbing,” was the band’s American follow up; it stalled at a disappointing No. 65. Other songs managed to chart on the Hot 100, including “Middle of the Road” (No. 19), “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” (No. 83), “Show Me” (No. 28) and “My Baby” (No. 64) and “I’ll Stand By You” (No. 23).
Two of The Pretenders’ songs managed to crack the Top 10: 1982’s “Back on The Chain Gang” (No. 5) and “Don’t Get Me Wrong” (which hit No. 10 in 1986 and No. 14 in 1987). Hynde also had a No. 28 hit with UB40, covering the Sonny & Cher classic, “I Got You Babe” in 1985.
Did you know that Chrissie Hynde had a daughter with Ray Davies and was married to John Kerr of Simple Minds from 1984 to 1990?
As the guitarist for The Runaways, Joan Jett was an original member of the hard-rocking, all-girl band that also featured drummer Sandy West, guitarist Lita Ford, vocalist Cherie Currie and bass player Jackie Fox. (Michael “Micki” Steele, later of Bangles fame, had an early turn as The Runaways’ vocalist and bassist.)
When The Runaways dissolved, Jett formed her own band, The Blackhearts, and scored instantly with “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll.” The single reached No. 1 and stayed there for seven weeks in 1982. The band had been rejected by numerous record companies, so the members formed their own label, Blackheart Records. Casablanca stepped up and released The Blackhearts’ initial material under the company’s Boardwalk subsidiary; MCA took over the following year.
In addition to the Top 10 cover of the Tommy James and The Shondells classic “Crimson And Clover” (No. 7), Joan Jett and the Blackhearts would reach the Top 10 once more with “I Hate Myself For Loving You” (No. 8) in 1988. Other key tracks include “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah),” “Fake Friends” and “Bad Reputation,” which was later adapted as the theme for the short-lived Judd Apatow series “Freaks And Geeks.” Jett co-starred with Michael J. Fox in the film “Light Of Day” and released the title song, written by Bruce Springsteen, featuring Joan and Fox on the sleeve. The group was billed as The Barbusters in the film.
Jett has worked with artists as varied as The Beach Boys and The Sugarhill Gang and toured with Aerosmith, The Police and Queen, to name a few. Music critic Dave Marsh hailed Jett as the female Chuck Berry.
When Lita Ford joined The Runaways at the age of 16 as lead guitarist, she had originally auditioned as the band’s bass player.
Once The Runaways gig ran its course in 1979, Lita went solo, but her career in America had a tepid response. After her third album, she hired the management firm run by Ozzy Osbourne’s wife, Sharon, to guide her career, which took her down the metal pop path.
Ford had two surprise pop hits: the No. 12 “Kiss Me Deadly” and the token power ballad (a duet with Ozzy) called “Close My Eyes Forever,” peaking at No. 8 in 1989. Ford has a die-hard fanbase that has followed her through thick and thin.