#1 Crushes: Our Favorite '90s Rock Vixens
Photo by Autumn de Wilde
Tonight House of Blues welcomes Garbage back to Houston after a seven-year hiatus.
(Sadly, the group had to cancel this Houston date due to a health issue in Garbage man Duke Erikson's family. The date has not been rescheduled as of yet.)
The group, led by fearsome Scottish redhead Shirley Manson, has been sorely missed from the music scene. They are currently touring behind their upcoming album Not Your Kind of People, which hits stores May 14. Rocks Off's own Neph Basedow talked to Garbage's guitarist/keyboardist Steve Marker this past week about outer space, touring in Texas and recording the new album.
Manson was a part of an elite group of rocking women in the '90s who made the decade all the more interesting; as the men found their grunge sea legs, the girls upped the volume and were creating a whole different kind of noise. In an era where equality was still a hot-button issue, you could always expect groups like Sleater-Kinney and L7 to obliterate male-centered bands. I would still take Bricks Are Heavy over a lot of stuff called "tough" in the '90s.
So we created a collection of our favorite empowered, lethal ladies from the '90s who rocked with an iron fist. Plus of course a few honorable mentions at the end. We asked the Rocks Off Facebook wall for some help, and we regret to inform everyone that Scott Stapp is in fact a male, and that Nancy Wilson doesn't qualify as a '90s artist.
I can explain...
Courtney Love (Hole, Batshit Widow, Mother of the Century): Okay, you hate Courtney Love because she killed her husband, did/does/is drugs and hasn't been very conservative with her tongue. But her music has never been disappointing -- well, to me, at least -- from Hole's debut Pretty on the Inside to 2010's Nobody's Daughter. I still argue that 1998's Celebrity Skin was one of the best albums of that decade, too.
PJ Harvey (Female Tom Waits, Lipstick Vacuum, Hot Chick From Beavis & Butt-Head, Rock Goddess) No other artist, male or female, can make you feel dirty, decadent and a part of some international conspiracy like PJ Harvey can. If you need to start anywhere in her catalog, begin with 1995's To Bring You My Love. Lips for days. She very much made lasses like Alison Mosshart possible in the '00s.
Sleater-Kinney (Power-Trio, Eternally Cool, Um, Have You Heard Dig Me Out?) This trio doesn't get a ton of love when it comes to larger rock narrative of the past two decades, which is a shame, even though nearly every album they released was on most best-of lists each year. Two-thirds of the band is now in Wild Flag, and they are continuing the loud legacy.
L7 (Tampon Flingers, Femme-Punkers, The Aunts You Always Wish You Had): When the '90s rock story is told, L7 should never be left out, but sometimes they are. Band leader Donita Sparks is still a force of nature, and you should be reaching for your copy of 1992's Bricks Are Heavy in 3, 2, 1...
See Also: Babes in Toyland, The Distillers
Gwen Stefani (SoCal Queen, Cyber Debbie Harry, First Lady Of Ska-Punk, Punk-Rock Harlow): You laugh, but Gwen Stefani and No Doubt helped get more kids into ska and punk than anyone else in the '90s besides Rancid and Green Day. The boys loved her because she seemed like she would be fun to party with, and the girls felt empowered by a gal leading a band of boys. It didn't hurt that she helped set countless mall trends, either. Bindis on white girls!
See Also: Save Ferris's Monique Powell
Bikini Kill (Riot Grrls!, Menaces to Jock Society, Media Terrorists): Most any girl who picked up a guitar in the '90s -- who wasn't trying to become the next Shania Twain -- owes a debt to Bikini Kill. Hell, even dudes rep them. Rapper Fat Tony is a very vocal fan of the group. Be sure to check out The Singles, which featured help from Joan Jett on three cuts.
See Also: The Butchies, Bratmobile
Liz Phair (Mayor of Guyville, Late Bloomer): The younger set probably only knows Liz Phair as just another voice on adult-contemporary radio. But there was a time in 1993 when she was scaring male rock critics shitless with the honesty of her record Exile in Guyville, all the while helping put what so many women were feeling to music.
See Also: Suzanne Vega, Cat Power
Alanis Morissette (Voice of Her Generation from 1995-1997, Cruel Ex, Proponent of Irony): You owned Jagged Little Pill, I owned Jagged Little Pill, your mom and your little sister's gymnastics coach owned Jagged Little Pill. For a few years, the world was Alanisitized and it was great. Pill would end up yielding five radio singles, all of which you can hear at least thrice a day on classic AC radio.
See Also: Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson
D'arcy Wretzky (Nipple-Baring, Pumpkins Rumbler, Creepy Mugshot-Taker): It was hard to go to any rock concert in the '90s and not see a thousand chicks sporting the pixie-cut that the Smashing Pumpkins' Wretzky was known for most of the decade. It's hard to judge her by her bass-playing, since reportedly Billy Corgan played all of her parts and she was there to look cool and add atmosphere to the stage.
See Also: This
The Deal Sisters (Pixies, Breeders, Lovers, Fighters, Headbangers): Thanks to Kim and Kelley Deal, I had their Breeders single "Cannonball" stuck in my head for six months in 1994.
I think it hurt my grades even. It was worth not making it into a good college.
See Also: Belly
Hope Sandoval (Prom Song Queen, Secret Influencer of the Deftones, Not Related to Ringo Starr): There are few songs from the '90s that hold a timeless quality to them. Mazzy Star's "Fade into You" can soundtrack a make-out session, a breakup and a quiet drive home, all within its five-minute running time. As the decade progresses, Hope Sandoval's vocal style would become a secret influence of countless groups, even touching ambient metallers like the Deftones.
See Also: Beach House, Scarlett Johansson (I guess?)
Björk (Queen of Iceland, Probably Immortal, Fierce Mother): I wrestled with putting Little B on this list, seeing that she isn't too terribly rock, but "Army of Me" and "Human Behaviour" sealed the deal. Plus, you guys would be hella pissed if I left her off.
The case could have been made that she was too esoteric to be on a rock vixen list, but the fact that she's a fighter and she wears crazy shit onstage puts her into femme Bowie (oxymoron?) territory, so she stays here. Also, she throws nickels into ovens and makes music! Girls are still copying what she did in 1995.
See Also: Florence + The Machine, Lykke Li
Tori Amos (Avid Reader, Piano Lady, Earth Mama, Redhead): "It's like if Leonard Cohen has red hair and was a chick," said a friend of mine when I was in high school. For newbies, 1992's Little Earthquakes is your beginning point. Quite like Björk, she doesn't "rock" as much as she enchants, but on her more damning pieces, she has a punk snarl that isn't to be denied. Also, it's been too long since she has graced a Houston stage.
See Also: Fiona Apple, Amanda Palmer, Regina Spektor
Kim Gordon (Thurston No More, Noise Sister, Sonic Aged, Alpha Indie MILF) Though Sonic Youth was touring and recording in the early '80s, it wasn't until the explosion of Seattle gahhhhh that the band and Kim Gordon hit mainstream heights. The clothes, the dull, wry stare and the blond hair made her just as much a SY icon as an extended jam on "Dirty Boots."
Though she and SY leader Thurston Moore are now separated, we hope that the 58-year-old doesn't disappear from music. There has got to be a great breakup album in there somewhere, from both her and Moore.
See Also: Oh, a lot of people.
Louise Post & Nina Gordon of Veruca Salt (Neither Loose Nor Tight, Neither Black Nor White): Veruca Salt's American Thighs and Eight Arms to Hold You are two great slabs of AC/DC, Joan Jett and Runaways-inspired rock and roll, with singles like "Seether" and "Volcano Girls" both making for great FM radio crunch. What's sad is that they get lost amidst the morass of '90s one-hit wonders, like a female Local H. We swear that Buckcherry has been copying them since 1999. Veruca's swagger seems to be infectious.
See Also: The Sounds, The Donnas, The Subways
Margo Timmins, Cowboy Junkies' Ani DiFranco Johnette Napolitano, Concrete Blonde Harriet Wheeler, The Sundays' Juliana Hatfield Bilinda Butcher, My Bloody Valentine's
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.