feature

The Forty Sexiest Frontwomen in Rock History

Pin it

They do not just want to have fun. Diamonds are not their best friend. The women you're about to meet have derived their everlasting power from one place over the past fifty years: the land of rock. They were born there in a time before men. They came to us with their guitars and their pianos and their voices. These forty betties, chicks, punks, chanteuses and mad women from the hills represent the purest realization of rock and roll sexuality. Every one of them may have followed The King, but he could never match their swagger. Behold: the Forty Sexiest Frontwomen in Rock History. (Frontman fans — stay tuned.) Oh, and a couple of ground rules: one, points for longevity; and two, Madonna is trying too hard. — John Constantine

40) Allison Mosshart
 

What is it that's so sexy about a girl who might kill you in your sleep? Mosshart rocks the alluring androgyny embraced by the worlds of high fashion and punk rock alike, with a stage presence evoking a heroin-chic model fighting off Hemingway-caliber detox shakes. — Izzy Cihak


39) Beth Ditto
 

Beth Ditto is the prime dark-horse candidate on lists like this, but what's perhaps most appealing about her, oddly, is the strong sense that she hates lists like this and generally could not care less about her perceived sexiness. The openly gay, proudly overweight Ditto carries herself with an intimidating clarity that goes far beyond mere confidence. How many of us, body types and sexualities notwithstanding, would have the wherewithal to pose nude on the cover of one popular magazine, let alone two? It might be belaboring the point to say that that's what sexiness is, but hell: that's what sexiness is. — Joe Bernardi


38) Suzanne Vega
 

Sure, she's best known for the world's catchiest song about domestic violence — not exactly sexy — but watch Suzanne Vega croon "Left of Center" and you'll be swept away by her sweet voice, come-hither glances, and Molly Ringwald pixie cut. You may also feel a smidge of nostalgia, something Vega herself has little time for; she's consistently followed her muse, not fame. Beauty, brains and a bohemian fearlessness score Vega her place on this list. — Nicole Ankowski


37/36) Kate Pierson/Cindy Wilson

The B-52s always sounded like a specific sort of good time, in their thrift-store-trashy way. (Think John Waters.) And kitschy sexiness surely came naturally to a band formed in a post-Flaming-Volcano jam session. With regard to the sex appeal of the band's feminine half, Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson are hard to rank. Kate may've been the more iconic one (the red bouffant, the preference for girls, the muppet), but Cindy could pull a little-girl-lost thing that — depending on your own level of perversity — either tugged your heartstrings or your loins. Or both. — Peter Smith

35) Siouxsie Sioux

A descriptor like "the female Robert Smith" doesn't exactly inspire libidinal confidence in the average male. (Nor does "the goth Liza Minelli," now that we think of it.) But Siouxsie Sioux makes a strong case for the sexiness of gloom. Even when she's moaning about dissociative identity disorder, she makes it sound like a creepy come-on: "She tries not to shatter, kaleidoscope-style/ personality changes behind her red smile. . . " Well, maybe you need to share our affinity for freaky women, but if you do. . . (Lessee here. . . "the singing, dancing Theda Bara"?) — P.S.


34) Regina Spektor

Regina Spektor contains multitudes. Emerging first from Communist Russia and then from the same lower Manhattan underground that birthed the Moldy Peaches, Spektor saw firsthand both terrifying political oppression and cutesy affectation. While her aesthetic is undoubtedly informed more by the latter than the former, Spektor's childhood must've blessed her with both the musical virtuosity that sets her apart from her anti-folk peers and the self-aware dorkiness that is, um, the most charming thing ever. You can't help but imagine your future with her. You both have pretty good jobs and an apartment nice enough to have a spare room where she can keep her piano. There is the occasional household mishap. Maybe the cat knocks a cup of tea off the counter. — J.B.


33) Kate Jackson


Art school elitism is such a turn-on. Looking like Anna Karina as a Vice magazine scene-queen, and sounding as snotty as Suede, Kate Jackson sings songs thick with references to her superior tastes. Even in your wildest fantasies, Ms. Jackson is out of your league. — I.C.


32) Kazu Makino


The meeting of delicate, eerie poetess Kazu Makino and twin brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace (in a chic Manhattan restaurant, naturally) resulted in Blonde Redhead, maybe the most elegant band of all time. A calamatous riding accident left Makino with little hope of singing again. But she finally recovered, the band wrote "Misery is a Butterfly," and when we saw them in Brooklyn, she held us captive with her reedy voice, white cotton dress, and her mild intoxication. — Marian Lorraine


31) Chan Marshall


Once upon a time in Hollywood, we snuck backstage at MTV's Shortlist Awards in search of a quiet place to smoke. Leaning against the garden wall, alone, was a willowy brunette. She took a sparkly strand of her tank dress and tied it around our head like a bandana. She lit our cigarette and asked our name. She had a low voice and a tough-and-skittish alley kitten vibe. She smiled a lot and encouraged us to follow our dreams. We fell in love. And only found out months later it was Chan Marshall. — M.L.

30) Peaches

How one makes the career leap from schoolmarm to Moses-bearded electrodiva is beyond us, but we're not going to look a gift horse in the crotch. Ms. Merrill Nisker's nom de pêche is a gender-fucking apostle from a distant future where a man is a lady, a bro is a pro, and everyone wears sarongs. We also love her for imparting the soundest, most succinct break-up advice in pop history. Fuck the pain away indeed. — Cyriaque Lamar


29) Erika Wennerstrom

The Heartless Bastards' third album, The Mountain, must be the most aptly-named in rock history. Erika Wennerstrom's voice is a mountain, a blues-inflected cascade both world-weary and demure. It's amused, warm, and wet all at the same time. Her look is unassuming — the sandy hair and easy smile say Sarah Plain and Tall more than vixen — but when she sings barn-burners like "Into the Open" and "Brazen", Wennerstrom demands you get down on your knees. — J.C.


28) Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple McAfee Maggart's first video, for the single "Criminal", pretty much covered the entire sexual spectrum; lust, shame, pleasure, discomfort, fondness, excitement, fear, envy, awe. Name it. The song itself is heart wrenching, a dirge about lover's (or survivor's) guilt that is, nevertheless, slinky and sexy as hell. But the problem with "Criminal" is how it overshadows Apple's maturation into a far more potent woman. We turn you to "Fast as You Can" and "Window" to find the Fiona Apple who controls the dance floor with her piercing eyes and wit. — J.C.


27) Santigold

Santi White used to be known as Santogold, until a jewelry huckster/sci-fi auteur of the selfsame name threatened to sue the zebra pleather Spanx off of her. Whatever, director of "the science-fiction space-wrassling movie comedy Blood Circus" — this gold by any other name would shine just as bright. Blessed with the hooks of Ric Ocasek and the fashion acumen of a young Roxanne Shanté, Ms. White is the rock'n'roll prom queen of a John Hughes movie that exists only in the happiest corners of our heads. — C.L.


26) Patti Smith

Beat poetess and godmother of art rock, Smith was and is the hipster's alternative to feelgood '70s AOR and the disco that followed. No natural beauty, her anger and angst cathected to the libidos of a generation of intellectuals seeking social change by buying albums and reading. — Jack M.

25) Leslie Feist

Oh, the indie kids can't resist Feist's shaggy bangs, voice so smoky it could cure jerky, and the sense that — despite her cutesy-voiced hit "1234," and duets with Sesame Street inhabitants — underneath it all there's a red-hot heart full of dirty secrets from north of the border. This Canadian songstress doesn't need a plunging neckline, soprano-operatics or Britney-style theatrics to bring us to our knees: just a guitar, a mic, and the intense, joyous look she has when performing are enough to rock our world. — N.A.


24) Nina Persson

We remember all too well that day in 1998 when we saw Craig the Indie Kid walking down the street in a Cardigans t-shirt. The Cardigans? Like, "Lovefool" Cardigans? Craig the Indie Kid would never let his cred be tarnished though, and so, guided by the light of his coolness, we listened to First Band on the Moon. It was awesome. While Nina Persson's Swedish accent made the word "love" a grating annoyance, her every other breath felt like a summer breeze nibbling your ear lobe. Persson slid from playful into seductive-cool on Gran Turismo and has stayed that way ever since. "My Favourite Game" is plenty sultry, it's true, but even Craig the Indie Kid would admit Persson was never as desirable as she was in "The Great Divide". — J.C.


23) Miho Hatori

 

 

Co-founding New York's premiere gastronomy-themed Shibuya-kei rap duo is one thing, but making it look yummy is a whole 'nother enchilada. With Miho Hatori, we could have our cake and eat it too — with her sing-song insouciance and deliciously baffling lyrics, Cibo Matto wooed many a mid-'90s record-store clerk. Makes sense: the surest way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and Hatori is one of pop music's tastiest purveyors of ear candy. — C.L.

 


 

22) Ninja (The Go! Team)

Ninjas are still sexy, despite the internet's best efforts over the past decade. The Go! Team's Ninja, however, trumps the average ninja many times over. The U.K. band's trademark blend of sunny guitars, surf rhythms, and pounding beats would be the limp stuff of Old Navy commercials if not for Ninja's yell-chant marches. She has no time for your hipster disinterest. Ninja demands you give chase. Key tracks are "Huddle Formation" and "Keys to the City". — J.C.

 


 

21) Kim Gordon

Too often female rock stars get trapped in token-girl routines, relying on outfits and make-up to the point of damaging their cred. Not so Kim Gordon. If she looks good, she's probably wearing her own clothes. Ageless, androgynous and electrifying, she keeps the CBGB's ethos alive, even as the club and much of what it stood for have disappeared into the past. — M.L.

20) Tori Amos

There are three eras of Tori Amos. There's the tortured pianist/vocalist of her early albums, a rapturous voice belting out narratives as disturbing as they were dreamy. There's the methodical craftswoman of recent years. Her songs are structurally impressive but they've lost all of their delirious passion. Somewhere in between is the Tori Amos who recorded From the Choirgirl Hotel — the rock goddess, the band leader, the chanteuse drill sergeant who wailed out songs like "Raspberry Swirl" and made them sound like sweating. All three are hot, but the choirgirl was immortal. — J.C.

 


 

19) Jenny Lewis

 

 

 

Recent Jenny Lewis tracks ("The Moneymaker", "Big Guns") have played up the Lewis-as-smoky-nympho-chanteuse thing, but for our money, she was at her sexiest in her baby-faced-gamine days ("Spectacular Views"), when she didn't seem to be trying as hard. Either way, she's got the locks, she's got the gams, and God knows she's got the pipes. Of course, now that every boy in Williamsburg has a perpetual Jenny-boner, it's harder to stake a (fantasy) claim for her love. Get out of the way, Elvis Costello Glasses! You too, Vintage T-Shirt! She's ours!P.S.

 


 

18) Carrie Brownstein

Though we'd admired them for years, only on what would be their final U.S. did we manage to see Carrie Brownstein and her band, Sleater-Kinney, live. Considering they'd been together for a significant portion of their lives (and were on the verge of breaking up), S-K — and Brownstein in particular — performed with staggering energy and exuberance. Whether it was her onstage grin or simply the quality (and quantity) of her guitar solos, any bonehead in the audience could tell that Brownstein really liked being in a rock band. Which is, surprisingly, a rare and endearing quality. (As well as a sexy one.) — J.B. [ My vote's for Corin, but you win this round, Joe. — ed. ]

 


 

17) Beth Gibbons

Sultry and saturnine, this flaxen-haired Brit is living proof that blondes don't always have more fun. Whether helming Portishead's sporadic masterpieces or her own solo albums, Ms. Gibbons' siren song makes soul-crushing existential despair positively swoon-worthy. When Beth is on the mic, that monkey on your back is giving you shiatsu. — C.L.

 


 

16) Janis Joplin

She's been called the Ugly Duckling for a reason: Janis Joplin is just as likely to make a Women Who Could Lift Your VW Bus Off Your Crushed Leg list as a hottest frontwomen list. But she deserves both. With a stage presence for the ages, Joplin made it clear to her fans that the sexy needn't always be the beautiful. — J.M.

15) Annie Lennox

Annie Lennox's outer beauty stems from not what she looks like, but rather whom she looks like — a Victor Victoria take on The Thin White Duke, the peroxide ying to Grace Jones' yang, an unsneering Billy Idol with breasts. Sure, the Eurhythmics songstress' femdrogynous hotness may lend itself to comparisons, but when she opens her mouth, there's no mistaking. Where did a nice girl from Aberdeen get a set of pipes like that? — C.L.

 


 

14) Neko Case

The word country, in the context of Neko Case's sexiness, is problematic. It evokes spangled jump suits and the gaudy cowboy-hat-plus-American-Idol-hair CMT awards. The place, the physical land that word should conjure, is a different matter all together. Country should make you think of long nights on the porch, playing guitar, and listening to Neko Case's voice, the aural analogue of a literal roll in the hay. Forget her comparatively sexless work with the New Pornographers. It's the auburn-haired siren of Fox Confessor Brings the Flood and Middle Cyclone that you need to watch out for. — J.C.

 


 

13) Stevie Nicks

Once memorably described (by legendary critic Robert Christgau) as "not a diva — a transgendered arena-rock god in all his/her grand self-regard," our Stevie personifies the sexiness of the ‘70s: a little flakiness, a little blondeness, a little wine-and-quaaludes post-hippie haze. She also personifies the sexiness of the ‘80s: a little collaborating with Prince, a little allegedly getting a roadie to blow coke up her ass to protect her vocal chords, a little. . . lost our train of thought there for a minute, but bottom line, the woman is larger-than-life. Someday, kid, you could be that roadie. — P.S.

 


 

12) Karen O

How has Karen O not ended up in a John Waters movie yet? From her days as a spastic, drunken, Iggy-like screamer convulsing across the stages of punk-rock dives and showering audiences with beer, to her pop-star phase, navigating much larger stages like a ballerina bunny with all the grace of a bulldozer, Ms. O has embodied sensual schizophrenia. — I.C.

 


 

11) Björk

The mother of invention. The mother of reinvention. The fountain of blood in the shape of a girl. The funny little lady in the swan dress. The girlfriend of Cremaster. The bride of Space Ghost. The unlikeliest Wu-Tang Clan reserve member. The Republic of Iceland's unofficial ambassador. And — lest we not forget — The Sugarcubes' belle dame sans normalité. Whatever otherworldly persona Ms. Guðmundsdóttir assumes next, she's sure to melt our hearts like a spring equinox on the Scandinavian tundra. — C.L.

10) Gwen Stefani

Hush up now. Gwen Stefani's willingness to legally bind herself to Gavin Rosdale doesn't diminish the sexiness at her core. There's actually a traceable rise to her allure. During No Doubt's formative days, she literally was just a girl, interchangeable with any adorable punk chick hanging out at some Anaheim skate park. Tragic Kingdom saw her morph into a pop-rock poster girl and that kick started her ascension; watch those videos for "Don't Speak" and "Spiderwebs" and the glimmer's there. But it wasn't until lead Rock Steady single "Hey Baby" dropped in 2001 that she became a supernatural force. No Doubt's pop-to-dub transformation finally gave the honey in her voice just the right amount of bitterness. — J.C.

 


 

9) Nico

Few frontwomen were ever more steeped in chic eroticism than Nico: she was discovered as a teenager selling lingerie, she acted in Fellini films, she worked with Coco Chanel, and she was handpicked by Warhol to be one of his shiniest superstars. Though she played muse for Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop and the Rolling Stones, her collaborations with the Velvet Undergound cemented her place in history. She'd managed to kick her heroin habit just before she died in a motorcycle crash. Those baby-doll eyes and that velvet voice will always make you breathe a little heavier. — M.L.

 


 

8) Chrissie Hynde

Let's keep it simple here: nobody, in all of history, has ever made jeans look that goddamn good. Period. Do not argue with us. We know who does and does not look good in jeans and Chrissie Hynde is the reigning deity of looking good in jeans. It is convenient that she also rocks hard. Hynde's Pretenders have been less a band and more a tricked-out roadster she's used to drive across the last three decades, adjusting sexiness and musical style as the era demands. She has never slowed, never stopped. Her voice is as smokey and sweet on "Brass in Pocket" as it is in "Break Up the Concrete". — J.C.

 


 

7) P.J. Harvey

Polly Jean scares the shit out of us. Most of the time. Dry? Terrifying. Rid of Me? We're hiding under the bed. Is This Desire? Man, that album made Nick Cave uncomfortable. Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea? Well, holy shit, P.J. That record makes us just want to ask you to the dance, come home after the dance, then have breakfast at that badass bed-and-breakfast up off Route 9. Miss Harvey was at her sexiest on her most straightforward rock album, laying down lines like, "I can't believe that the axis turns on suffering, when you taste so good." — J.C.

 


 

6) Nina Hagen

German punk icon Nina Hagen probably gets the prize for "sexiest prose ever elicited from a Der Spiegel journalist," as the subject of this humdinger: "She thrusts herself into the music, aggressively, directly, furiously, roars in the most beautiful opera alto, then, through shrieks and squeals, precipitates into luminous soprano heights, she parodies, satirises, and howls on stage like a dervish." But even a verbal pileup like that can't fully capture the unhinged, genre-busting eroticism of Hagen on stage. A word of warning: she's probably incredible in bed, but we imagine all of her sexual encounters ending in post-coital decapitations, praying-mantis style. — P.S.

5) Joan Jett

The former Runaway broke big with "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," but it was her cover of the Shondells classic "Crimson and Clover" that solidified her sex appeal for boys (and girls) of the early '80s. With her porno lips, rockstar proto-mullet and runway body, when she sang: "I'm. . . not. . . such. . . a sweet. . . thing/ And. . . I'd . . . do. . . any. . . thing. . . " we all believed her. Oh, did we believe her. Her profound historical importance to women in rock belies the fact that at fifty, she's still doing her thing and looking staggeringly good to boot. J.M.

 


 

 


 

4) Liz Phair

Oh, the controversial sexiness of Liz Phair: feminist icon, or kiddie-punk sell-out? While almost everyone agrees that her first album, 1993's Exile in Guyville, was her best, have her subsequent missteps (glossy productions by Avril Lavigne songwriters, etc) damaged her claim to lasting sexiness? We say no. After all, much of Guyville's sexiness came down to the impression of unhinged capriciousness that Phair gave off throughout. Listening to it, it's hard to imagine taking a five-minute drive with Phair without her pulling over and demanding head or something. So while her later albums may not be great, they certainly don't contradict that alluring obstinance. Phair will back us up, too: as she told the Village Voice last year, "I'm a messy, crazy, do-what-I-fucking-want pain in the ass. And, like, I will be forever." Thank God for that. — P.S.

 


 

3) Kathleen Hanna

Unofficial spokesperson for riot-grrl, leader of Bikini Kill and major player in early-'90s punk activism and third-wave feminism, Kathleen Hanna was our first rock goddess. She proved that female-made rock music could have a spine and a cause. She made it cool to be brash and funny, to fuse pleasure with politics. When she talks, people listen. Hell, even Kurt Cobain wrote a little song based on graffiti she scrawled in his room one night: "Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit." And the fact that she probably could give a fuck about her sexiness does little to diminish it. — M.L.

 


 

2) Debbie Harry

 

 

 

One-time Playboy bunny and clubmate of Andy Warhol, the personification of Blondie hit her sultry (and sketchy) high note in David Cronenberg's techno-philosophical horror flick Videodrome, where she slowly puts out a cigarette on her own flesh. The above video (for a definitive cover of the Nerves' "Hangin' on the Telephone") captures her appeal: Hitchcock-blonde ice queen, with just a touch of mania. — J.M.

 


 

1) Tina Turner

Take one golden klaxon of a voice, slap on the two most ironclad gams in show biz, and what do you get? The most slamming septuagenarian in rock history. Truly the original Bionic Woman, Ms. Turner has sold two-hundred-million records and more tickets than any another solo star, all the while flipping retirement the bird. The rules of Thunderdome are simple, but the rules of being The Queen of Rock and Roll are even simpler: be the freaking best. — C.L.