Punk Rock's 10 Most Potent Women
Women are the resilient backbone of punk, providing creative DNA for the movement since the "zero hour," including Houston's own MyDolls and members of AK-47 and Bevatron, among others. Up 'n' comers like Vivian Pikkles keep the faith as Zipperneck and Kimonos plow through the years as well.
David Ensminger Exene Cervenka at Cactus Music
This list does not highlight the "best," but draws attention to these women both as icons and underdogs, the famous and the fervent.
Penelope Houston, The Avengers: Sure, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders chummed with the Sex Pistols in England, but the Avengers played with them on their ill-fated last concert in the ruckus of San Francisco in 1978. They never landed the big record deal, but they did land in the history books. Houston's choppy blonde mop, scissory voice, abundant socio-political tirades, and fierce intelligence place her deep in the pack. Listen to "We Are the One" and "The American In Me."
Alice Armandariz, The Bags: If you think hardcore punk was paved by bands like the Bad Brains, then switch gears for a moment and listen to the blitzkrieg of "We Will Bury You" and "Survive," with its classic finger-snappin' build-up to blast-off beats. Explosive and androgynous, Alice (Bag) defined the "terrible beauty" of punk women who struggled at home, at the workplace, in the neighborhoods, and the punk clubs. She was the voice of refusal and resistance. Undeterred even today, her blog Diary of a Bad Housewife features dozens of interviews with the women from punk's history.
Siouxsie Sioux/Susan Janet Ballion (Siouxsie and the Banshees): Anyone even slightly alternative can hum one song by this provocative outfit that never fit any essay categories. They mutated from blistering, unflinching art-punk to eerie darkwave sensibilities, then switched again and delivered dance-pop with shimmering perfection.
Her emotive voice is hard to shake off, her drummer and future husband supplied the supple percussive backbeats, and the band's guitar work, willowy and sly, lingers today even in the bombast of the Killers. Try something mid-period, like the atmospheric "Arabian Nights" or biting "Halloween."
Poly Styrene (Marianne Joan Elliott-Said), X Ray Spex: Best known for their brand of saxophone-doused punk that mixed brute musical naivety with trenchant wit and street savvy feminism. Styrene, whose voice Greil Marcus compared to a toilet disinfectant, notoriously spooked Johnny Rotten with her hallucinations; meanwhile, her tumbling, harrowing vocals on "The Day the World Turned Dayglo" and "Identity" are like university lectures on deconstruction ("My mind is like a plastic bag!"). Styrene used her voice as a weapon, fragmenting the world of supermarket pop. She truly was the "Warrior in Woolworths."