Rock’s Sexiest Women
“The brashest, ballsiest, most beautiful women to ever step up to the mike,” screamed the strap-line on an article in GQ’s October issue (the US edition) that landed on my desk last week (you can see that I have seriously high-brow reading preferences). So, naturally, I went straight to page 175 to check out the story headlined, The 25 Sexiest Women in Rock. There were few surprises. It had everyone that you could think of. From the astonishing Tina Turner, who is 70 now and yet as sexy as she was 50 years ago, to Alexis Krauss, the tattoo-sleeved fourth grade teacher-turned-lead singer of the contemporary noise pop band, Sleigh Bells. Of course, there were other great women on the list: Marianne Faithfull, whose wild bohemian lifestyle and love-life in the sixties greatly overshadowed her patchy musical career; Cher, about whom there are unbelievable stories involving plastic surgery; Joan Jett, the edgy punk rock star, whose biopic was released this year (Dakota Fanning plays her in the film, by the way); and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac and one of the reasons why I tolerated the band even after it shed its bluesy past and embraced playing-to-the-gallery pop.
Yet, the list left me disappointed. Not because I had any problems with those who were on the list. I like Liz Phair and her bold lyrics (haven’t heard her? Buy Exile in Guyville now!); I can’t get enough of Kim Gordon, whether she performs solo or with Thurston Moore as Sonic Youth; and all of the newer rockers such as the British rapper of Sri Lankan descent, M.I.A. (although her latest album is a hopeless dud), Neko Case (who is part of The New Pornographers besides having a thriving solo career) or the aforementioned Krauss (check out the experimental sound of her band, Sleigh Bells, on their debut album, Treats).
No, it wasn’t because of who was on the list but because who weren’t that I was left a bit disappointed. No Grace Slick? I mean how can you have a list of sexy women rockers without her? I still remember the first time I heard White Rabbit off Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow (1967) and the ease with which Slick’s voice and the references to quirky characters from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland steered me swiftly toward appreciating psychedelic rock. Pillow was followed by After Bathing At Baxter’s, Crown of Creation, Volunteers and a couple more Airplane albums that dominated my short but torrid affair with the band before they split and became Jefferson Starship and instantly left me cold.
Again, perplexingly, I didn’t find Janis Joplin on the GQ list. What was their definition of “sexy” again? “The brashest, ballsiest, most beautiful women to ever step up to the mike”, right? Does Janis fit the bill? You be the judge. Joplin was the other great woman in rock that had a lasting influence on me. Everyone knows about her short-lived life and her death (which, in pop-lit, is clubbed with Jimi’s and Jim’s because they all happened to die around the same time and prematurely) but can anyone show me a rocker woman who was ‘brasher’ or more ‘ballsier’ than Janis? I can’t think of any song by Joplin that I didn’t like (I can listen to her posthumously released album, Pearl?, on repeat for hours) but more than anything, I liked her spirit. There’s a DVD of a film called Festival Express, which documents a crazy tour in 1970 across Canada by a train filled with some of the biggest bands of that era (think The Grateful Dead, The Band, Buddy Guy, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Sha Na Na, The Great Speckled Bird and, of course, Janis Joplin). If you lay your hands on it, do watch it, particularly Janis jamming with her fellow passengers and getting Jerry Garcia drunk (yes that happened too!).
Who else did I miss on the list? Joni Mitchell. You can tell me that Mitchell wasn’t a rocker. That she was a folk singer and blah, blah and blah. But sample her work—she has 19 studio albums released over a nearly 40-year career and you’ll see how she’s fused rock, jazz, experimental post-rock even to make music that is more ballsy than anything else that you can find. It also helps that Mitchell has won 16 Grammys and is a huge influence on legions of women singers through the past few decades. My big Mitchell album has always been Blue (1971), one of the few records from my collection that I could play loud while still living with my parents and actually have my mother encourage me to do that.
Getting back to the GQ list, I think 25 is too short a tally for the sexiest women in rock. I can think of several more people who can easily make the grade. Perhaps I should try my hand at drawing up a list… any suggestions?