Punk Rock's 10 Most Potent Women

Categories: 1-2-3-4!

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David Ensminger
Exene Cervenka at Cactus Music
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.

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.

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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."

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Renee Elise
Renee Elise

I usually have issues with lists like these but this one is pretty excellent. Thanks for putting it together. You could have substituted Donita Sparks or Suzi Gardner for Sleater-Kinney, IMO. (Hell, you could have substituted Dolly Parton for Sleater-Kinney; that's how punk rock Sleater-Kinney is. Ooo, I dislike them.)Patti Smith is god, of course. She's in a category all her own.And it pains my black heart to know that Exene has been missing shows due to MS flareups. Some people simply should not grow old or sick, EVER.


Punk = attitude. Maybe they weren't in what YOU call punk bands, but no one's better than ...

Janis Joplin

Chrissie Hynde

No need for extreme mohawks, chain saws or "shock" tactics. Talent plus attitude wins.


Chuck D did backup on Sonic Youth's 'Kool Thing', not 'Goo'.


for that matter, how about joan jett?...  maybe not punk, but attitude for sure...  plus, she can ooze more sexuality from her pinky finger than that of lady gaga, britney, madonna, christina aguilera, fergie, shakira and katie perry combined... 


You're right. We fixed it. Thanks.

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