Well, here we are again, forced to dredge up the past and pay homage to the “best female singers of the 60s & 70s,” or so they’re commonly referred to. Undoubtedly, these figures are pivotal, mostly due to a lack of better competition, but nonetheless managed to shape the soundscape of those decades.
I will grit my teeth and delve into this list of 18, each with their unique blend of what some of you might call ‘talent’. But as we journey together, do remember – just because these singers managed to infiltrate the music scene during their time, it doesn’t mean their music wasn’t as dull as dishwater or as exciting as watching paint dry. Let’s proceed then, shall we?
Ah, the bel canto of the 60s and 70s music scene, Aretha Franklin, the unparalleled queen of soul who, despite her early roots in gospel music, as is rather typical of these “iconic female singers”, somehow managed to straddle multiple genres, from gospel to R&B, blues music to rock n roll. She was indeed the ‘female singer’ (an unnecessary gendered prefix, in my opinion) who really started singing gospel music at an absurdly young age, with a voice as rich and bountiful as a centuries-old oak. The young Aretha, with her rich contralto voice, began her music career singing in a church choir, guided by her preacher father – as many ‘female artists’ are so wont to do.
As her music career matured, she embarked on a rather successful solo career, something quite unheard of in those days, especially for female singers. With her debut album, ‘Aretha’, and subsequent hit songs, Franklin became a dominant figure in the music industry. Being the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall, Franklin’s contribution to the music history is unparalleled. It’s not surprising then that she won a mind-numbing number of Grammy Awards and was later bestowed the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. If that’s not enough to elevate her to the status of ‘best female singers’, I suppose nothing will.
Her most famous songs – not that I imagine you’d need me to point them out – include “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” “Natural Woman,” and “Think”. These songs are said to reflect the civil rights movement of the 60s and 70s, though I would caution against attributing too much socio-political importance to a mere musical genre.
Aretha Franklin: “Respect” is Franklin’s signature song and a fitting anthem for the civil rights movement. The song, with Franklin’s powerful voice, became a symbol of resilience and empowerment. Watch the performance:
Another ‘female singer of the 60s and 70s’, Janis Joplin, was the embodiment of the blues music and rock music scene of that time. Joplin started her musical journey with an acoustic guitar accompaniment, which is quite banal if you ask me, before she was discovered by Big Brother and the Holding Company, a rock band that let her serve as the lead singer.
It’s not a big surprise that Joplin found her way into the Rock and Roll Hall as well, it seems to be a rather common occurrence for female singers who played their own songs. The music industry just adores its self-taught musical talents, doesn’t it? She’s also remembered for her solo career, particularly her final album, “Pearl,” which soared to the top of the charts after her untimely death. Among her released songs, “Me and Bobby McGee” is deemed her most famous song.
Considered by many as one of the best female singers of her time, Joplin had a voice that could cut through the din of the then burgeoning punk rock scene. Her performances, most notable among them her performance at the Woodstock festival, are remembered for their raw emotional intensity, a trait common amongst blues singers, I suppose.
Her powerful voice and unabashedly emotional performances earned her a reputation as a trailblazer among female musicians of the time, contributing significantly to the feminization of rock music. How praiseworthy indeed! The fact that she could sing in a way that drew attention to the inequality faced by women in the music scene, while still maintaining her place in a male-dominated industry, is considered her legacy. A legacy that is, perhaps, exaggeratedly celebrated in modern music.
Janis Joplin: “Me and Bobby McGee” is arguably Joplin’s most famous song, showcasing her gritty, explosive vocal style. Her raw emotion is palpable. Experience it here:
Ah, the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll”, so they say, Tina Turner, another in a long list of ‘female singers of the 60s and 70s’. A story that’s as trite as they come, Turner began singing at a young age in a church choir – a fact her fans seem to find endlessly endearing. She was discovered, predictably, by Ike Turner, which led to a rather volatile musical collaboration.
Her music career, both with Ike and as a solo artist, straddled rock n roll, R&B, and pop music. The general public seemed quite taken by her powerful voice and energetic performances, which is charming in its own pedestrian way, I suppose. Turner’s most famous songs, “Proud Mary” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, were commercially successful, landing her multiple Grammy Awards.
One mustn’t forget her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall, a seemingly mandatory rite of passage for any ‘best female singers’ of the era. All in all, Turner’s contributions to the rock music scene are commendable, albeit rather mainstream.
Tina Turner: “Proud Mary” is Turner’s rendition of the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic. It shows off her unrivaled energy and vocal prowess. See for yourself :
Next, we have Diana Ross, another clichéd example of a ‘female singer’ of the 60s and 70s. As the lead singer of the Supremes, she was the epitome of the girl group phenomenon that swept the music industry. With memorable songs such as “Baby Love” and “Stop! In the Name of Love”, Ross and the Supremes held the music scene of the 60s in their thrall.
As is so often the case with these ‘iconic female singers’, Ross left the comfort of her singing group to launch a solo career, quite successfully, I might add. Her solo hits, like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I’m Coming Out”, are etched into the annals of pop music, contributing to her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall.
Ross is also known for her foray into film, particularly her role as Billie Holiday in “Lady Sings the Blues”, which netted her an Academy Award nomination. How versatile indeed!
Diana Ross: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” a major hit for Ross, solidified her place in the music industry as a solo artist. Listen to her iconic performancehere:
Lastly, we come to Petula Clark, yet another ‘female singer of the 60s and 70s’ who cut her teeth in the music industry. Clark’s rise to fame can be attributed to her popular songs “Downtown” and “I Know a Place”, which were quite the rage in the 60s.
Clark, who began singing in a rather quaint fashion with an acoustic guitar accompaniment, had a knack for producing hit songs. She became the first white female singer from the UK to have a single top the US charts. However, one must wonder if this is really a testament to her talent or simply the result of clever marketing.
Despite her earlier music leaning towards folk music, she achieved fame as a pop singer. It is quite interesting, if not a tad predictable, how these female singers alter their musical genre to suit the tastes of the time.
Petula Clark: “Downtown” is an anthem of optimism, perfectly delivered by Clark’s warm voice. Enjoy the cheerful vibe here:
Ah, Nina Simone, one of the ‘best female singers of the 60s and 70s’ in the conventional sense. She began singing, quite predictably, at a young age in a church choir, exhibiting a sense of musical talent that is celebrated more for its novelty than its quality.
Simone, in her rather long music career, dabbled in various musical genres, including jazz, blues, and R&B, among others. But her earlier music revolved around gospel music, as she was influenced by her religious upbringing. If anything, Simone could be commended for her versatility, having also explored pop music, folk music, and civil rights anthems.
Her hit songs “I Put a Spell on You” and “Feeling Good” are undoubtedly her most famous songs. The songs are generally praised for their unique blend of musical genres, a fact I find mildly interesting at best. Simone’s contribution to the music industry is recognized by her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall, a somewhat pedestrian honor given to ‘iconic female singers’.
She’s also celebrated for her role in the civil rights movement. Her songs became anthems for the movement, though one might question the appropriateness of reducing a serious socio-political movement to a series of catchy tunes.
Nina Simone: “Feeling Good” is a powerful jazz number that showcases Simone’s rich, contralto voice. Listen to her enchanting rendition here:
Now onto Syd Barrett, who, while not a ‘female singer of the 60s and 70s’, I assume you want to hear about for some unfathomable reason. Barrett, the lead singer and original frontman of Pink Floyd, was, I must admit, an intriguing figure in the rock music scene.
His music career was characterized by an avant-garde musical style that was seen as groundbreaking in its time. Barrett’s songs such as “See Emily Play” and “Arnold Layne” are considered landmarks in the psychedelic rock genre. His solo career, which followed his departure from Pink Floyd, was a descent into more eccentric and unpredictable music.
Barrett was known for his peculiar behavior and was considered an enigmatic figure in the music industry. His sudden departure from Pink Floyd and subsequent reclusiveness have only added to his legend. However, one might argue that this eccentricity has been romanticized, overshadowing his actual musical talent.
Syd Barrett: “Octopus,” is a standout track from Barrett’s solo career. This eccentric composition showcases his unique approach to songwriting. Dive in here:
Well, it seems we’ve come upon the topic of Cass Elliot, one of the ‘best female singers of the 60s and 70s’ in the conventional sense. An absolute stalwart of the folk pop group, The Mamas & the Papas, a singing group that somehow managed to worm their way into the hearts of the masses with their simplistic melodies and a decidedly cheerful demeanor. A formulaic musical talent, if I dare say so myself.
Her contribution to the music industry was characterized by songs with little variance in tonality and complexity. Yet, she still managed to secure a successful solo career, presumably with the same magical combination of the mundane and the melodious.
If there’s one song that symbolizes her music career, it’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” Her most famous song, if you could call it famous, as it achieved a degree of popularity in an era when music listenership was more about quantity than quality.
Yet for some unfathomable reason, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall, a celebration of musical mediocrity disguised as a temple of artistry. One has to question the metrics used to determine such honors.
Cass Elliot: “Make Your Own Kind of Music” beautifully showcases Elliot’s vibrant voice. It has since become a symbol of individuality and self-expression. Check it out:
Now, onto Etta James, one of the ‘iconic female singers’ of the rock n roll era, who is more deserving of the title in comparison to some of her contemporaries. James started singing gospel music at a young age, a cliched backstory for many a ‘successful’ solo artist.
Her music career was largely rooted in blues music, a genre that was no doubt revolutionary in its time, but that James managed to reduce to a series of predictable chord progressions and lyrical cliches. Her most famous song, “At Last”, is a notable example of this.
James received a number of Grammy Awards, another dishearteningly flawed measure of musical talent. To add insult to injury, she was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall, cementing her place in music history, much like a mediocre painting is immortalized in a museum simply because it was painted by a known artist.
Etta James: “At Last” is an ultimate classic, brilliantly showcasing James’s soulful, resonant voice. Listen to this timeless masterpiece:
Ah, Melanie. If we were discussing how to put one to sleep with folk music, I couldn’t think of a more relevant subject. The female singer of the 60s and 70s, as she is often touted, is undoubtedly a monument of the music industry, an icon of the female singers of the era.
Melanie, unlike some singers of the 60s, started her music career solo. It’s almost as if she knew no group would willingly align with her remarkably uninspiring acoustic guitar accompaniment. Apparently, her beginnings as a solo artist gave her the unearned confidence to write her own songs, a venture that only deepened her musical mediocrity.
“Brand New Key” is often hailed as her most famous song. It’s baffling, isn’t it? How a song with such anodyne lyrics and a melody as riveting as a church sermon can achieve such popularity? But then again, we’re talking about a period when the music scene had a rather liberal definition of what constituted a ‘hit song.’
One cannot possibly discuss Melanie without mentioning her performance at Woodstock. This, in essence, was her catapult to fame, a sudden push into the limelight that one can only assume was due to a lack of other entertainers willing to brave the rain and mud. The iconic event in music history somehow bolstered her reputation as one of the ‘best female singers’ of her time.
The music industry was kind enough to give her a Grammy nomination, although I presume it was more out of obligation than genuine admiration. Still, she never managed to secure a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall. Maybe there’s hope for that institution yet.
Melanie, much like her folk-pop genre, represents a time in the music industry when listeners were content with monotony masquerading as musical genius. We can only hope that future generations will know better. But then again, who am I to judge the taste of the masses? After all, I’m just a musical expert in a world that’s seemingly content with mediocrity.
Melanie: “Brand New Key” is a quirky, whimsical number that became a massive hit for Melanie. It captures her unique, playful style perfectly. Give it a spin here:
Moving on to Jefferson Airplane, one of those bands that inexplicably captures the hearts of the ‘rock n roll’ crowd. Their lead singer, Grace Slick, is considered one of the ‘female singers of the 60s and 70s’ who significantly impacted the music scene. Quite frankly, I find this rather amusing. But, let’s carry on.
Slick, with her distinctive powerful voice, contributed to Jefferson Airplane’s most famous songs “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”. Ah, “White Rabbit”, a song that equates an adventure in a children’s storybook with a psychedelic experience. How delightfully pedestrian!
Slick and her band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall, a hall of fame that seems to have a rather low bar. Jefferson Airplane is considered one of the pioneers of psychedelic rock music, which is like being the best at making mud pies.
Jefferson Airplane: “White Rabbit” is a signature psychedelic rock anthem, showing off the powerful, soaring vocals of lead singer Grace Slick. Experience the trip here:
12.The Mamas & the Papas
Now we come to The Mamas & the Papas, another folk-pop group from the same era. This group is notable for the harmonious blend of male and female singers, with the latter category including Cass Elliot and Michelle Phillips.
The Mamas & the Papas produced numerous hit songs, with “California Dreamin'” and “Monday, Monday” being their most famous songs. These hits make you long for the warmth of California, a sentiment I can understand if you’re trapped in the dreary landscape of their discography.
Their music career saw them making significant contributions to the folk-pop genre, contributions that are, in my esteemed opinion, quite overrated. Cass Elliot, after her stint with the group, launched a solo career that was deemed ‘successful’ by the same people who thought The Mamas & the Papas were groundbreaking.
The Mamas & the Papas: “California Dreamin'” perfectly encapsulates the harmonic blend of voices that was The Mamas & The Papas. Listen to this timeless classic here:
Ah, Joni Mitchell, one of the supposed ‘best female singers of the 60s and 70s’. Lauded for her lyrical prowess and her acoustic guitar accompaniment, she is seen as a shining beacon in the music industry. To me, however, her music is as exciting as watching paint dry.
Her most famous song “Both Sides, Now”, a melodramatic rumination on life and love, has been praised for its lyrical depth. I can see why some might be taken in by the melancholy of it all, but it’s really nothing more than trite sentimentality dressed up in pretty words.
The folk music and pop music scene have a great deal to thank Mitchell for, apparently. Her exploration of various musical genres and her intricate guitar playing have been considered groundbreaking. But isn’t all music just an exploration of sounds? Why such fuss over one particular explorer?
Joni Mitchell: “Big Yellow Taxi” is a catchy yet thought-provoking number by Mitchell. It showcases her knack for compelling storytelling. Check it out here:
Moving on to Stevie Nicks, the lead singer of Fleetwood Mac and a solo artist, both roles in which she has been dubbed iconic. I must say, her status as one of the ‘most iconic female singers’ of her time is as baffling to me as the popularity of reality TV.
Nicks’ most famous songs like “Rhiannon” and “Landslide” are admittedly catchy. However, is a catchy tune enough to establish one as an icon in the music history? If that’s the case, perhaps we should start giving awards to jingle writers.
Her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall is, in my humble opinion, yet another testament to the Rock and Roll Hall’s fondness for mediocrity.
Stevie Nicks: “Edge of Seventeen” is a quintessential Nicks track, showcasing her distinct vocal style and captivating lyrics. Get lost in its magic here:
Last but certainly not least, Patti Smith, the so-called “godmother of punk”. Smith’s music career, both as a solo performer and with her band, is highly praised for her raw, poetic lyrics set to punk rock music. To me, it’s all just a bunch of noise.
Her debut album “Horses” is seen as a landmark album in the rock music scene, and her hit songs “Because the Night” and “Gloria” are loved by many. Loved by many, and understood by few, I might add.
Smith, like Nicks, is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall. I do hope they have comfortable chairs there, what with all the sitting and listening to average music they must do.
Patti Smith: “Because the Night,” co-written with Bruce Springsteen, is a powerful rock ballad that highlights Smith’s unique style. Experience it here:
Bonnie Raitt, one of the ‘best female singers of the 60s and 70s’, supposedly. Known for her blues music and a few memorable songs that somehow caught the public’s attention, her presence in the music industry is as bewildering to me as quantum physics.
Raitt’s debut album was a predictable collection of blues songs with a side of country music, and yes, she did play her own songs. Bravo, Bonnie, for doing what any musician worth their salt should be able to do.
Her ‘most famous song’, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, is a dreary, drawn-out ballad that has made many a person weep, I’m told. Quite why it holds such appeal for the teary-eyed masses is beyond my comprehension.
Bonnie Raitt: “I Can’t Make You Love Me” is a beautiful, heartbreaking song, delivered with Raitt’s emotive and raw vocal style. Listen to this poignant track here:
On to Joan Baez, a name synonymous with the folk music scene and, more bizarrely, the civil rights movement. Now there’s a combination. I always believed protest was about action, not about strumming an acoustic guitar and warbling about peace and love.
She began singing at a young age, as most ‘female singers’ do, and her first album was a mediocre collection of folk songs. “Diamonds and Rust”, her most famous song, is known for its sentimental lyrics and soft melody. Not exactly the stuff of legends, is it?
Baez was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall, presumably because the folk-pop genre didn’t have a hall of their own.
Joan Baez: “Diamonds and Rust” is a classic folk-pop song. Baez’s clear, expressive voice carries the emotional weight of the lyrics. Check it out here:
And now, to the puzzling phenomenon that is Fleetwood Mac, a band that somehow managed to gain fame and fortune despite constantly changing their line-up like a game of musical chairs.
The lead singer, Stevie Nicks, is often hailed as one of the ‘most iconic female singers’ of the 60s and 70s. If warbling about witches and crystal visions qualifies one as iconic, then I suppose she’s earned her title.
Their most famous song, “Go Your Own Way”, is a decent enough tune, if you’re partial to bitter break-up anthems that are about as subtle as a sledgehammer.
Fleetwood Mac: “Go Your Own Way” is a classic Fleetwood Mac song showcasing the unique blend of voices and musical talent within the band. Experience it here:
Who were the female singer songwriters in the 70s?
Ah, the 70s. A time when everything was apparently better: the air, the colors, and, according to certain pretentious people, even the music. But let’s indulge this romantic notion of the 70s being the golden age of music for a moment, shall we? As you may know, the 70s was an era that witnessed an influx of remarkable female singer-songwriters who left a significant mark on the music industry.
Joan Baez, a name so familiar it might be your mother’s, was not just a notable activist for civil rights and peace but also a significant contributor to the folk music scene. She was the queen of contemporary folk music, known for her socially conscious lyrics and, I have to admit, an impressive vocal range. However, chances are you only recognize her as Bob Dylan’s ex-girlfriend.
The 70s also gifted us with the folk pop genre, thanks to the incomparable Joni Mitchell. Mitchell’s remarkable exploration of personal themes, alongside the significant use of acoustic guitar accompaniment, struck a chord with the masses. Her album “Blue” in 1971 was critically acclaimed, but you probably know her only for “Big Yellow Taxi.”
Carole King, on the other hand, was a singer-songwriter who managed to pen numerous hit songs for other artists before stepping into the limelight herself. With her debut album, “Tapestry,” she proved that she didn’t just have the knack to create popular songs but to perform them as well.
Dolly Parton, a name that even the most clueless of individuals should recognize, started her music career in the country music scene. However, with her successful solo career, she made it clear that she was more than just a pretty face with a larger than life persona. Her songwriting, which spanned from classic country ballads to pop music hits, showcased her versatility.
Stevie Nicks, ah, now there’s a name. She was the lead singer for the rock band Fleetwood Mac before her successful solo career. With her unique vocal style and mystical stage presence, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, not once but twice, but you probably just know her as that lady with the shawls.
Patti Smith, the “Godmother of Punk,” infused rock music with a poetic intensity that was hard to ignore. Her debut album “Horses” was a critical success, blending rock and roll and punk rock seamlessly, but I wouldn’t expect you to know that, as it’s not exactly mainstream.
It wouldn’t be fair to talk about the 70s without mentioning Carly Simon. Her catchy pop music, combined with introspective lyrics, produced some memorable songs such as “You’re So Vain.” But then again, you’d probably have to have been there to really appreciate it.
Linda Ronstadt was another successful singer-songwriter from the 70s, recognized for her powerful voice and diverse song choices. However, to the younger generation, she’s probably just that lady who sang that one song you heard in a movie once.
So there you have it, a primer on the female singer-songwriters of the 70s. Of course, this is barely scratching the surface of the depth and breadth of female talent during that time. But then again, can you truly appreciate the genius of the past while constantly being distracted by the clamor of modern music? Well, one can hope.
In conclusion, it’s almost embarrassing how little you knew before this enlightening dissection of the best female singers of the 60s and 70s. These extraordinary women defined a musical era, shattering glass ceilings and producing iconic songs that continue to be referenced today.
They boldly ventured into varied musical genres – rock n roll, folk music, gospel music, blues, country, punk rock, and pop – each leaving their unique imprint. Some began singing in a church choir, others in a folk pop group, while some broke out as a solo artist right from the onset.
Whether it was a debut album that rocked the music industry or a successful solo career that left them indelibly etched in music history, these artists personified talent and tenacity.
They’re more than just entries in the rock and roll hall or the country music hall. They are the ones who shaped the music scene, often voicing the spirit of a generation, whether through civil rights movement anthems or punk rock rebellion.
They’re the women who picked up an acoustic guitar, wrote their own songs, and sang them with voices ranging from powerful, rich contralto to sweetly melodic. And yet, they were more than their voices – they were the soul of an era.
Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Petula Clark, Nina Simone, Cass Elliot, Etta James, Melanie, Jefferson Airplane, The Mamas & the Papas, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, Fleetwood Mac – each one, an icon.
I realize it’s hard for you to fathom the lasting legacy they’ve left on modern music, considering your likely inclination towards whatever passes for music these days. But I hope that this list, in some small way, has enlightened you about the ‘real’ music from the past. After all, it’s important to understand where we’ve come from to appreciate where we are today. Not that I expect you to fully comprehend that, of course.