Full of wit, strength, candor, and wisdom, women have been heading up rock bands and churning out hard-hitting, authentic hits for decades.
From the rise of the women-empowerment rock tunes of the ’70s to the early 2000s breakup anthems, here is a wide-ranging, spirited compilation of the best female rock songs from your favorite female rockers.
Table of Contents
- I Love Rock’ n’ Roll – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
- Edge of Seventeen – Stevie Nicks
- Heart of Glass – Blondie
- Cherry Bomb – The Runaways
- Brass in Pocket – The Pretenders
- Barracuda – Heart
- Heartbreaker – Pat Benatar
- Don’t Speak – No Doubt
- White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane
- Dreams – Fleetwood Mac
- Zombie – The Cranberries
- You Oughta Know – Alanis Morissette
- Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) – Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart, and Eurythmics
- Heads Will Roll – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
- Because the Night – Patti Smith Group
- Bring Me to Life – Evanescence
- Blue Bayou – Linda Ronstadt
- Misery Business – Paramore
- It’s Not You – Halestorm
- Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper
- What’s Up – 4 Non Blondes
- Only Happy When It Rains – Garbage
- Rock Hard – Suzi Quatro
- Celebrity Skin – Hole
- Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) – Kate Bush
- Bitch – Meredith Brooks
- Criminal – Fiona Apple
- Cannonball – The Breeders
- Call Me – Blondie
- I’m the Only One – Melissa Etheridge
- Heaven Knows – The Pretty Reckless
- Fast and Frightening – L7
- Down by the Water – PJ Harvey
- Spellbound – Siouxsie and the Banshees
- I Can’t Breathe – Pussy Riot
- Walk Like an Egyptian – The Bangles
- Domination – Band-Maid
- Take It Off – The Donnas
- Mercedes Benz – Janis Joplin
- Charity Ball – Fanny
- Kiss My Ass Goodbye – 7 Year Bitch
- Bedroom Eyes – Dum Dum Girls
I Love Rock’ n’ Roll – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
This Joan Jett & The Blackhearts mega-hit was originally released by the Brit group The Arrows in 1975. When Jett heard it while on tour with her first band, The Runaways, she knew she had to record it. When her fellow bandmates didn’t like the track, she paired up with the Sex Pistols and recorded it with her new band, The Blackhearts, and made one of the greatest rock songs of all time.
Related: This is one of the iconic 80s songs we’ll never forget!
Edge of Seventeen – Stevie Nicks
“Words from a poet and a voice from a choir.” Stevie-Nicks-penned ‘Edge of Seventeen’ got its title from Tom Petty’s wife. When Nicks asked her when the two met, she thought his wife said “the edge of seventeen” due to her accent. Nicks loved the phrase and named this song about the death of her uncle and John Lennon after the inspiring conversation.
Related: Try to keep count of the best songs with numbers.
Heart of Glass – Blondie
With a bona fide disco vibe, lead singer Debbie Harry of Blondie took a chance and released ‘Heart of Glass,’ knowing it’d be a tough sell to their crowd. The days of disco had long gone, and rock music was in, but Harry wanted to try something marginal instead of trendy. ‘Heart of Glass’ became a huge hit and even sparked a convo between Beatles mates John Lennon and Ringo Starr when Lennon told the drummer to write more tunes like Harry’s hit.
Related: Listen to more of the best House of Gucci songs you’ll hear in the film.
Cherry Bomb – The Runaways
In the 1970s, rock and roll were dominated by testosterone-fueled bands. Before Joan Jett scored number-one hits with her own band, The Blackhearts, she formed the all-girl group The Runaways and proved women rock just as hard as men. Their most popular track, Cherry Bomb, tells the unapologetic story of a wild girl who is hard to handle.
Related: Check out more songs in Dazed and Confused.
Brass in Pocket – The Pretenders
Frontwoman Chrissie Hynde spent a lot of time in Europe while she developed her songwriting. One of her biggest chart-toppers, ‘Brass in Pocket,’ is full of British terminology she fell in love with during her time overseas. The song’s cheeky story follows an over-confident guy at a bar trying to impress his friends by picking up women.
Related: This song features on our list of famous 70s songs.
Barracuda – Heart
This wildly popular 1977 single release was written during a time of great turmoil for the sister duo, Heart. After a falling out with their previous record label and years dealing with the underbelly of the rock and roll music industry, Ann and Nancy Wilson wrote ‘Barracuda’ after a show one night. The song highlights the seedy part of the music industry that takes advantage of artists.
Related: Hear a cover of this song on our list of Trolls World Tour songs.
Heartbreaker – Pat Benatar
Now a staple on interactive music games like Guitar Hero, Pat Benatar’s ‘Heartbreaker’ was the hit that put her on the map. Originally written by Brits Geoff Gill and Clint Wade, Benatar re-wrote much of the lyrics because her label felt Americans wouldn’t recognize British terminology. Several of her female-empowerment singles, like ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Hit Me with Your Best Shot,’ were penned by men.
Related: Need a confidence boost? Here are the best self empowerment songs for women.
Don’t Speak – No Doubt
Frontwoman Gwen Stefani began writing ‘Don’t Speak’ as a love song to her bandmate and boyfriend, bassist Tony Kanal. However, during the recording process of Tragic Kingdom, they split up. The love song quickly turned into a heartbreak song, and Stefani turned her pain into a wildly successful single release.
Related: If you have to let go, here are some songs about leaving someone you love.
White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane
Female vocalist Gracie Slick fronted the rock band Jefferson Airplane for many years. During her time with them, they recorded her track ‘White Rabbit’ she wrote while experimenting with drugs. Slick rose to fame during the ’60s when it was newly commonplace for bands to sing openly about experimentation. In the song, the “white rabbit” represents one’s inquisitiveness towards life’s many mysteries.
Related: Take a minute to appreciate the greatest 60s songs.
Dreams – Fleetwood Mac
When Stevie Nicks played her demo recording of ‘Dreams’ for her fellow Fleetwood Mac members, they weren’t crazy about the track. She convinced them to record a basic version of it anyway. Her stubbornness worked—written during her breakup with bandmate Lindsey Buckingham, the song became the band’s only number-one hit in America.
Related: Find this tune on our list of dreaming songs.
Zombie – The Cranberries
Ireland native and The Cranberries band leader, Dolores O’Riordan, wrote their monster hit ‘Zombie’ in honor of two children killed during a bombing in England in 1993. The tragic event was carried out by the IRA and was part of a long, violent history between Ireland and the UK known as The Troubles. The Cranberries single is a protest against such acts and calls for peace.
Related: See our inspiring list of world peace songs.
You Oughta Know – Alanis Morissette
Many of Alanis Morissette’s tracks from her album Jagged Little Pill represented her as a scorned lover. And though she’s never publicly identified who broke her heart so severely, many speculated that Full House comedian Dave Coulier was the culprit behind all Morissette’s early heartbreak hits. The pair dated for about two years, beginning in 1992.
Related: Here are some more of the best songs about breaking up with someone.
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) – Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart, and Eurythmics
A bit spooky and unnerving, when Marilyn Manson covered Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams,’ he took it to a whole new eerie level. The original version, spearheaded by Lennox, takes a more paired-down approach and focuses on a driving, minimalist beat and lyrics that center around desires and the quest for satisfaction.
Heads Will Roll – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
A hardcore dance song perfect to blast during a Halloween party, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs broke into Billboard’s top 40 with ‘Heads Will Roll’ after being featured as part of a song medley on the popular 2009 show Glee.
Related: Find more spooky Halloween themed music perfect for a party.
Because the Night – Patti Smith Group
Rocker Bruce Springsteen began writing ‘Because the Night,’ but it got shelved due to a dispute with his producer. He eventually handed it over to the obscure punk-rock artist Patti Smith, and she finished writing verses, relying on her long-distance romance with a fellow musician for inspiration. The song ended up being her only hit single release.
Related: Listen to the best long distance relationship songs.
Bring Me to Life – Evanescence
After releasing their debut single ‘Bring Me to Life,’ Evanescence quickly reached international fame with the earworm. Frontwoman Amy Lee penned the popular track about the night she met her future husband. The song’s title references how she felt during their first date, realizing she had been searching for something for a long time and finally found it.
Related: Searching for someone? Here are some songs about looking for love.
Blue Bayou – Linda Ronstadt
A yearning, mournful track, ‘Blue Bayou’ was first recorded by enigmatic, genre-defying musician Roy Orbison. While he had modest success with the tune, Linda Ronstadt’s cover would become her “signature song.” Part of rock and roll royalty due to her long, successful career, hits like ‘Blue Bayou’ that made her so popular are hard for Ronstadt to listen to because of their commercial appeal.
Misery Business – Paramore
Vocalist Hayley Williams started her band, Paramore, at just 16 years old. Their early hits centered around her experiences as a high schooler. Their breakout hit ‘Misery Business’ chronicles her experiences with a typical “mean girl,” and the lyrics were taken out from a page in her diary where Williams was getting her frustrations off her chest.
Related: Hurry over to our songs about school playlist before the bell rings!
It’s Not You – Halestorm
“Your lines are whiskey and cigarettes. They’re not enough to make me forget.” A 2009 single from hard rock group Hale Storm, ‘It’s Not You’ is an in-your-face tune about the complicated nature of romantic relationships. Despite hard-hitting lyrics, the video is a fun one, featuring the roller derby team, The Jersey Girls, who are big fans of the band.
Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper
“If you’re lost, you can look, and you will find me.” This simple yet highly emotional tune was written while Cyndi Lauper was experiencing a lot of upheaval in a romantic relationship she was in at the time. The honest, raw lyrics registered with the masses, making ‘Time After Time’ a massive hit for Lauper and one of the most covered songs of all time.
Related: If you need some easy songs to sing or play, check out these songs in key of C.
What’s Up – 4 Non Blondes
“And I scream at the top of my lungs, what’s going on?” Though the song’s title ‘What’s Up’ doesn’t appear anywhere in the lyrics, listeners have had no problem remembering the 4 Non Blondes signature track. The song was written as a way to release pent-up emotions. Lyrics focus on reflection while a memorable melody fluctuates between a gentle falsetto that flows in and out of vocalist Linda Perry’s full voice.
Only Happy When It Rains – Garbage
Band members of Garbage all have a penchant for darker music themes. When they began writing ‘Only Happy When it Rains,’ they took a page out of the country music playbook and embraced depression Hank Williams-style, with a bit more grunge and rebellious attitude.
Related: If you smile at the rain, you’ll love the best songs about rainy days.
Rock Hard – Suzi Quatro
Throughout the ’70s, punk rocker Suzi Quatro churned out hits like ‘Stumblin’ In’ and ‘Rock Hard.’ Despite touring with big-time acts like Alice Cooper, the US market wasn’t quite ready for a female hard rocker in the early ’70s. It wasn’t until her appearance on the TV show Happy Days, where she played an old flame of Fonzi’s and a musician that mainstream America began to take notice.
Celebrity Skin – Hole
A number-one hit for rock band Hole in 1998, ‘Celebrity Skin’ was inspired by much of frontwoman Courtney Love’s real life. After dealing with fame for years, she decided to put all of her frustrations, heartache, and crazy experiences as an infamous celebrity (she is still often blamed for Kurt Cobain’s death) into the single she co-wrote with Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan.
Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) – Kate Bush
Musician Kate Bush was a pioneering figure in the music industry during the ’80s. Not only did she write all of her own music, but she also took on the producer role, something almost no artist, man or woman, did at the time. For ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God),’ she flips the classic tale of making a deal with the devil on its head. In 2022, the song hit the top of the charts once again when it was repeatedly featured on Netflix’s hit series, Stranger Things.
Related: Hear more popular classic songs.
Bitch – Meredith Brooks
Prominent pop writer Shelly Peiken, who’s worked with stars like Christina Aguilera, helped Meredith Brooks write ‘Bitch’ as a last-ditch effort to impress Brooks’ label. For her album Blurring the Edges, released in ’97 when Brooks was 35 years old, she provided all of the guitar work. For her hit single, she viewed using the term “bitch” in an endearing honest way as a means of making the word empowering for women.
Criminal – Fiona Apple
“I’ve been a bad, bad girl. I’ve been careless with a delicate man.” One of the ’90s most controversial hits on rotation, Fiona Apple channels a woman who’s taken advantage of a man with her track, ‘Criminal.’ Much of her writing features themes revolving around pain, regret, and depression, and for the video, she made sure to express those emotions while filming several seductive scenes.
Cannonball – The Breeders
A combination of grunge and reggae genres, musician Kim Deal recorded ‘Cannonball’ with her side project, The Breeders, while at odds with the frontman of her other band, The Pixies. The song ended up on the Hot 100 in ’93. The lyrics are mostly nonsensical, with their main purpose being to hold down support for Deal’s melody.
Call Me – Blondie
Penned for the movie American Gigolo, ‘Call Me’ by Blondie plays during a scene in which the main character is working. It reached number one in both the UK and US. The song’s raucous beat and generalized lyrics have made it a popular choice for other TV and film projects, including Mindhunter and Zoolander.
Related: You can find this song on our playlist of the best phone call songs.
I’m the Only One – Melissa Etheridge
Songwriter Melissa Etheridge released several hits that tugged at the heartstrings in the ’90s. Written about her complicated relationship with Julie Cypher, the lyrics in ‘I’m the Only One’ make a bold statement and put the protagonist’s accused lover on the spot, daring her to admit the singer is the only one who can love her properly.
Heaven Knows – The Pretty Reckless
Hard rock band Pretty Reckless, known for their epic-style tracks, scored their first number one in the states with their dark, contemplative tune ‘Heaven Knows.’ Frontwoman Taylor Momsen got her start when she was just a little girl playing Cindy Lou Who on How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Before starting her band, she continued her acting career on Gossip Girl’s popular show.
Fast and Frightening – L7
“She’s fast. She’s lean. She’s frightening.” A hardcore feminist anthem, L7 paints the picture of a fast-moving, free-wheeling girl who’s not looking to impress anyone because she already impresses herself. The rock group sporting an all-female lineup got their start in L.A. and released music and toured throughout the ’80s and ’90s.
Down by the Water – PJ Harvey
With a Brothers-Grimm-feel to the story and lyrical nods to blues legend Lead Belly, PJ Harvey’s ‘Down by the Water’ brought her to the mainstream US market after its release in the mid-’90s. Harvey stresses the song is in no way autobiographical due to its lyrical content. The song tells the story of a mother who drowns her child and then returns to summon her spirit from the water.
Related: Float over to our list of good river songs.
Spellbound – Siouxsie and the Banshees
“Following the footsteps of a rag doll dance. We are entranced.” A follow-up album to their light-hearted, sunny project Kaleidoscope, the album that features Spellbound, Juju, explores several dark themes. The album title is a nod to a form of African magic culture, and the song itself encompasses a haunting scene where magic is being used.
Related: Check out more mystical songs with magic in the lyrics.
I Can’t Breathe – Pussy Riot
Russian punk rockers Pussy Riot slowed things down for their passionate ballad ‘I Can’t Breathe.’ After hearing about protests in the US regarding civilian relationships with police, they were inspired to write the song and drew from their own experiences with the Russian prison system. They were jailed for over a year in 2012 after performing an anti-government song in a church in Moscow.
Related: Make some noise with these songs for social justice.
Walk Like an Egyptian – The Bangles
This international hit was written by Liam Sternberg while observing people trying to gain their sea legs while riding a small boat on choppy waters. When The Bangles released it, the single blew up, and the pressure was on. Though they continued to put out hits, fame was hard on the band, and in the late ’80s, at the height of The Bangles mania, they called it quits.
Related: Strut over to our walking songs list.
Domination – Band-Maid
One of the Japanese rock band’s signature songs, ‘Domination,’ inspired the album’s title it is featured on, World Domination, after group members sat down to pen a song while contemplating the effects of world power. The powerful track was the album’s debut single which premiered in 2018.
Related: Whether you’re seeking or fighting power, you’ll love our songs about power playlist.
Take It Off – The Donnas
Alternative all-female rock group The Donnas stay light-hearted while they get a little wild and crazy with ‘Take It Off.’ One of their most popular tracks, the tune finds the girls engaging in a commanding yet flirtatious manner while they flip gender roles and tell a willing male participant to get on the dance floor and shake it.
Related: This song is on our list of The Hangover movie songs.
Mercedes Benz – Janis Joplin
A lone a cappella track on Janis Joplin’s hit posthumous album Pearl, her song ‘Mercedes Benz’ features a haunting vocal performance as she sings about how material wealth is so often tied to happiness. She was first inspired to write the tune while attending a poetry reading by beat poet Michael McClure.
Related: Buckle up and enjoy more songs about cruising in a car.
Charity Ball – Fanny
One of the ’70s pioneering all-female groups, ‘Charity Ball’ appeared on rock group Fanny’s second album, Reprise, released in ’71. Their second album expanded upon their musical abilities by showcasing their multi-genre prowess. Besides typical rock and roll songs of the times, the band explored funk rhythms and acoustic ballads with Reprise.
Kiss My Ass Goodbye – 7 Year Bitch
One of the ’90s most hard-working punk rock bands, 7 Year Bitch released several albums, including ¡Viva Zapata!, in which ‘Kiss My Ass Goodbye’ appears. The straight-shooting group was part of the ’90s Riot Grrrl scene that became a movement as it gained ground. Originating in Washington state, the counter-cultural movement paired feminist philosophy with punk rock elements and stylings while rebelling against misogynistic behavior in the industry.
Bedroom Eyes – Dum Dum Girls
Known as the band’s signature song after performing it on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the Dum Dum Girls released ‘Bedroom Eyes’ in 2011. First recording together in 2008, the band’s name is a tribute to one of their favorite Scottish alt. bands, The Vaselines, and a song by Iggy Pop, ‘Dum Dum Boys.’