42 Best Female Rock Songs That Prove Women Rock Just as Hard as Men

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.

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: best Joan Jett songs, iconic 80s songs.

Edge of Seventeen – Stevie Nicks

“Words from a poet and a voice from a choir.” This Stevie Nicks-penned tune 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. Can’t get enough of her sultry tones?

Related: Stevie Nicks songs, 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: best House of Gucci songs.

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: 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: 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.

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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: best self empowerment songs.

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: 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: greatest 60s songs, top psychedelic rock tracks.

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: best Christine McVie songs, 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: 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: 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: Halloween themed music.

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: 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: 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.

Recommended: best Linda Ronstadt songs.

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: songs about school playlist.

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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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 when 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: 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: 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.

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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: best Janis Joplin songs, 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.’

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About Ged Richardson

Ged Richardson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ZingInstruments.com. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, PremierGuitar, Hallmark, Wanderlust, CreativeLive, and other major publications. As an avid music fan, he spends his time researching and writing about new and old music, as well as testing and reviewing music-related products. He's played guitar in various bands, from rock to gypsy jazz. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, where he geeks out about his favorite bands.

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4 thoughts on “42 Best Female Rock Songs That Prove Women Rock Just as Hard as Men”

  1. Great, hugely varied list! But you missed the Go-Gos (Can’t Stop the World, so underrated – but maybe too pop?), Elastica, and especially Romeo Void – Never Say Never and A Girl in Trouble is a Temporary Thing were beyond cool because they were so raw and honest. Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians’s What I Am was a total anthem. Aimee Mann – Voices Carry. The Runaways just make me sad/sick now because of the Jackie Fox/Fuchs story and, given Joan Jett’s reaction even when the story came out, I have a hard time thinking of her as a great role model for girls/women anymore, though I once loved her music (one of my friends flat-out says “she’s dead to me”). Feel like Kittie should be on here, and maybe the Shaggs just for their purely weird influence on Zappa and Cobain, and the twisted way they were forced into playing though they knew little about music (listen at your own risk – but it becomes oddly hypnotic and definitely creepy.) And Rita Coolidge should get an honourable mention as the ACTUAL composer of the piano part from Layla, falsely attributed to her ex, though most of her songs were not particularly rock songs. So many more, but it’s hard to get them all and this is a fantastic list.

    • Thanks DeeDee, really appreciate your comment. Looks like we going to have to give this one a bit of a re-write then! Fancy helping out? (will be paid). If so, drop me an email (see the about us page)


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