Then and Now: Two Generations of Female Rock Icons

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Stevie Nicks, Chrissie Hynde and Taylor Momsen all front, or have fronted, popular rock bands. All have unique taste in fashion. All are, of course, female lead singers. And all play gigs this weekend in Houston –Nicks and Hynde's Pretenders Saturday at Toyota Center; Momsen's band The Pretty Reckless headlines House of Blues Sunday.

The similarities pretty much end there.

That said, today’s new wave of female lead singers certainly draws comparisons to the past. In fact, Momsen and her fellow front women can each be tied to a particular female rocker from years past. Momsen and Nicks may not be one another’s past/present doppelgangers, but each of them lines up nicely with a musician from another era.

Deschanel has cited Springfield as a musical influence, and even covered Springfield’s “Stay Awhile.” The track was part of a 2014 covers album from She & Him, Deschanel’s pop-folk pairing with M. Ward. Some have written off Deschanel as some sort of faux-manic pixie dream girl, or even an actress parlaying her television and film fame into a musical career. These people are incorrect. Rather, Deschanel possesses a lovely, soulful voice, one that certainly draws parallels to the late Springfield. Now, if we can only get Deschanel to cover “Son of a Preacher Man.”

Look, no one comes close to the outspoken, brash, overall badass that is Chrissie Hynde — lead singer of the Pretenders, who are opening for Nicks on Saturday night. But Lady Gaga sure is trying. Since bursting onto the scene around the turn of the decade, Gaga hasn't just become a multiplatinum superstar; she's become a borderline cultural phenomenon. She, like Hynde, is a vocal type who encourages folks to be who they are, judgmental types be damned. And now that Gaga has picked up a guitar in expanding her sound, the parallels are uncanny.

Haim is a group of twentysomething California sisters who released a gold record, Days are Gone, in 2013, then kinda faded away (though a new album is rumored). Nicks is a sixtysomething musical legend – who also calls California home – who has sold millions upon millions of records, including one of the best-selling albums of all time (Rumours). Turns out, in this case, the legend is just as big a fan of the young upstarts as the young upstarts are of her. When Nicks was offered the opportunity to sit down with a young band and talk music for a 2014 piece in The New York Times in 2014, she chose HAIM. The ladies even paired up for a cover of “Rhiannon.” HAIM, like Fleetwood Mac, is known as more of a pop-rock act on record, but is also a band whose live show is far more lively and up-tempo than one might expect.

Howard is the lead singer for Alabama Shakes, one of the best young mainstream bands going today, one that also boasts one of the liveliest concert experiences you’ll find (they played Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion last month). Like the iconic Turner, Alabama Shakes are soulful as all get-out, and like Turner, Howard’s voice is rivaled by very few of her contemporaries. A Brittany Howard-Tina Turner collaboration needs to happen yesterday.

No, Momsen – by all accounts a pleasant person – isn’t the hot mess that is Courtney Love. The two do share many similarities, however. For starters, both front raw rock outfits that call back to punk and grunge icons of yesteryear. Both maintain a gritty stage presence that only adds to their edge. Both are legit badasses. And both are also talented actresses. Momsen blew up on hit TV show Gossip Girl, while Love – a criminally underrated actress when her head is right – deserved an Academy Award for her work in 1996’s The People vs. Larry Flynt.

Not so much for their respective sounds, as no one is going to confuse Cher's and Stefani’s music. Rather, both Stefani and Cher earn points for leaving a mega-successful outfit, venturing out on their own and experiencing just as much, if not more, success as a solo act. Stefani has sold more than five million records since going solo in 2004 (No Doubt did record an album as well during that span, in 2012). Cher, meanwhile, has sold millions upon millions of records since Sonny & Cher ceased to be in the 1970s. Plus, both Stefani and Cher altered their sound in going solo. Stefani ditched No Doubt’s ska roots in taking on a more pop/hip-hop/dance persona; Cher opted for a more pop/dance sound, when compared to Sonny & Cher’s stoned-hippie-folk sound.

That Hayley Williams hasn’t already covered Blondie’s “Call Me” is a musical crime. Williams, like Harry, possesses a haunting voice, but one that doesn’t lack for range. Both were/are fashion icons in their own way, and even their bands have experienced similar trajectories. While Blondie rode the new wave momentum to four consecutive platinum records in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Paramore rode the pop-punk momentum to three consecutive platinum records in the late 2000s and earlier this decade. We’ll find out if they can equal Blondie soon; Paramore is currently writing/recording a new record.

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