21 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Female Rock Bands Of All Time

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

Have you ever listened to a rock band and thought, “Wow, this is a really great band, but why are there no women?” Well, you’re not alone.

While there are many famous male rockers, there are also some spectacular female rock bands that deserve some recognition. These ladies know how to shred, whether playing punk rock, hard rock, or metal.

So put on your finest headbanging wig and get ready to rock out to these 21 of the greatest and most famous female rock bands of all time.

1. The Runaways

From Los Angeles, the Runaways was one of the first all-female bands to take on the male-dominated world of rock music, forming in 1975 as the brainchild of Joan Jett and Cherie Currie.

These two women led their rebellious image and hard-edged sound into a band that quickly became popular with teenage girls looking for a way to express their frustration and rage.

The band released four studio albums in their four-year career, producing hits like “Cherry Bomb” and “Queens of Noise.”

While their top songs didn’t reach the Billboard Hot 100, “Cherry Bomb” did reach #6 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 list and is a favorite for Joan Jett’s other band Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ touring audiences.

Related: You might also like our post on the greatest female rock singers here.

2. Pussy Riot

Among the most controversial and well-known rock bands in recent years sits Pussy Riot, a Russian group whose name has become synonymous with political rebellion.

Founded in 2011, the band quickly gained notoriety for their provocative performances, with participants wearing brightly colored balaclavas and protesting against the government.

While the band became more well-known for their punk attitude, political demonstrations, and reckless reputation, their song “Panic Attack” has been nominated for the Berlin Music Video Awards.

The group has released four studio albums and continues to create and perform music while raising awareness about human rights issues in Russia. 

3. The Go-Go’s

Formed in 1978 in Los Angeles, California, the Go-Go’s rose to fame with their 1980 album Beauty and the Beat, which remains one of the best-selling debut albums of all time at over 3 million copies sold.

Their hits “We Got the Beat” and “Vacation” helped to redefine what a pop song could be, and their image as a fun-loving band with a rebellious streak inspired many young women to pick up guitars and form their own bands.

Even though the Go-Go’s are no longer active, their legacy continues to inspire new generations of musicians.

4. Kittie

In 1996, Fallon Bowman and Mercedes Lander formed a heavy metal band named Kittie in London, Ontario, Canada, all thanks to meeting in gym class.

Kittie’s music is characterized by aggressive riffing and double-bass drumming with lyrical themes of anger, loss, and betrayal.

The band has released six studio albums, one video album, and 13 singles with many lineup changes. They’ve released hit songs, including “Brackish” and “What I Always Wanted.”

Their debut album, Spit, became certified gold and sold at least 600,000 copies in the US alone. In 2022, Kittie announced a reunion concert with many of the original members.

5. L7

Another group from Los Angeles, L7 is an inspiration for many of the rock bands on this list. Formed in 1985, the band rose to prominence in the early 1990s with their signature brand of grunge rock and unapologetic stage presence.

L7 released six studio albums throughout their career and toured extensively worldwide, gaining a reputation for their outspoken advocacy for feminist and environmental causes, even adopting a gender-neutral symbol (the square) to represent their band.

In 2001, L7 took a break from performing and producing but returned in 2014 to tour. Then in 2017, they released their first new song since taking their leave, “Dispatch from Mar-a-Lago,” which was a commentary on Donald J. Trump, the US president at the time.

6. The Donnas 

Hailing from Palo Alto, California, the Donnas rose to prominence in the late 1990s with their fierce, no-holds-barred approach to rock music that was heavily inspired by bands like the Runaways.

While their songs haven’t garnered many awards, they’ve gained a cult following and been featured in hit films like The Hangover and Mean Girls.

The band is best known for their hits “New Kid in School” and “Take It Off,” which helped to define the sound of early 2000s rock music, but recently they’ve been celebrated for their feminist ideals and commitment to empowering young women.

7. Fanny

A rock band from Sacramento, Fanny was one of the first all-female rock bands in the early 1970s, thanks to Filipino-American sisters Jean and June Millington and bassist Brie Howard.

They released five albums between 1971 and 1975 and toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe, entertaining audiences with powerful guitar riffs and catchy melodies.

Despite their commercial success of two Billboard Hot 100 top 40 singles, “Charity Ball” and “Butter Boy,” Fanny broke up in 1975 due to creative differences.

Today, the band is considered a vital part of rock music history, and listeners can still hear their influence in the work of modern female rock bands. Fanny even reunited for an album called Walked the Earth in 2018.

8. Childbirth

American alternative rock band supergroup Childbirth is from Seattle, Washington, and composed of musicians from other popular bands—guitarist Julia Shapiro of Chastity Belt, bassist Bree McKenna of Tacocat, and drummer Stacy Peck of Pony Time.

Music magazines repeatedly featured the trio’s music, and their latest album, Women’s Rights, blends comedy, good beats, and feminist subtext to great effect.

Performing in maternity gowns and with catchy hooks and clever lyrics, Childbirth’s music and message are designed to get stuck in your head—in a good way.

9. 7 Year Bitch

Making the ninth spot on this list, we have 7 Year Bitch. This group picked up the microphone in 1990 when women turned to music to fight misogyny in Seattle, Washington. The band’s name is a play on the movie The Seven Year Itch.

They released their debut album, Sick ‘Em, in 1992 to some less-than-favorable criticism, but it helped to launch the band’s career, and 7 Year Bitch released three more albums and eight singles before disbanding in 1997.

Despite their short career, the band made a lasting impact on the music world with their punk rock attitude and hits like “The Scratch” and “Kiss My Ass Goodbye.” They remain an inspiration to female rockers today.

10. Dum Dum Girls

With a sound that’s a mix of ’60s girl group pop and garage rock, lead singer and guitarist Dee Dee Penny formed the Dum Dum Girls in her bedroom in Los Angeles, California, in 2008.

What began as a simple bedroom recording project spanned eight years and twelve members of different lineups.

The Dum Dum Girls have released four studio albums, the most recent, Too True, of which was released in 2014. The group has toured with famous bands such as the Black Keys and the Raveonettes.

While the band hasn’t garnered many official awards for their music, they have performed their hit song “Bedroom Eyes” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and their single “Lord Knows” received praise from the critics.

11. Babes In Toyland

Born in Minneapolis in 1987, Babes in Toyland quickly labeled themselves as unapologetic, bursting with a unique brand of raw and aggressive punk rock.

They welcomed several members into their ranks over the years; even Courtney Love was briefly a bassist in the band before she was kicked out and went on to start her own band, Hole.

From 1987 to 2020, when the band separated, Babes in Toyland released three studio albums, one live album, and five compilation albums with numerous singles and EPs, including “Bruise Violet,” which was featured as a music video feature on MTV’s Beavis and Butthead.

In addition to its musical accomplishments, Babes in Toyland is famous for its outspoken feminist lyrics and commitment to social activism. The band has been involved in several campaigns to promote gender equality and raise awareness about domestic violence.

12. Sleater-Kinney

Next, Sleater-Kinney was formed with vocalist and guitarist Corin Tucker, drummer Janet Weiss, and guitarist and vocalist Carrie Brownstein—a modern female rock band born out of the riot grrrl movement.

The band formed in the Sub Pop days in the mid-1990s, releasing albums like Dig Me Out, The Hot Rock, and The Woods, before going on a hiatus in 2006.

However, the group reformed in 2014, and despite this, Sleater-Kinney has remained an influential force in the music world to this day. In total (so far), they have released ten studio albums, earning critical acclaim for their innovative sound and fiercely feminist lyrics.

13. Bikini Kill

Having their start in Olympia, Washington, in 1991, Bikini Kill pioneered not only the riot grrrl movement but sought to create music spaces for young women by encouraging them to the front of the crowd when male-dominated crowds were the norm.

While the sound seemed simple—the members all learned to play their instruments as the band grew—Bikini Kill’s music was fiercely political. Above all else, the band quickly gained a following for their powerful performances and DIY attitude.

Though they only released three albums, Bikini Kill had a significant impact on the punk and indie rock scenes, and with tours planned for 2022 and beyond, their music continues to inspire new generations of feminists with memorable songs like “Rebel Girl.”

14. The Bangles

Our next band emerged from the Los Angeles Paisley Underground scene in the early 1980s. The Bangles was one of the few female-led bands who played their own instruments, further distinguishing themselves from the typical synth-heavy sound of the ’80s.

Their rise to stardom began with their sophomore effort, Different Light, in 1986. This album included the smash hits “Manic Monday,” written by Prince, and “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

The latter song topped the charts across the globe, including Billboard 100, Canada, and Australia. It also won the group a Best Group Performance MTV Video Music Award.

Despite their success, The Bangles faced numerous challenges along the way, and they disbanded in 1989. However, the group’s story didn’t end there. They reunited in 1999, and have since released several albums, proving their enduring appeal.

15. The Pandoras

Hailing from Los Angeles, The Pandoras was one of the leading all-female bands in the garage punk scene of the ’80s. Their music was a heady mix of garage rock, punk, and later, a more hard-rock sound.

The band was led by Paula Pierce, whose dynamic leadership and raucous rock vocals gave The Pandoras their distinctive edge. Other notable members included Kim Shattuck on vocals and guitar, Melanie Vammen on organ and harmonica, Karen Basset on bass, and Hillary Burton on drums.

Though the band was only active from 1982 to 1991, their impact on the music scene extends beyond their discography. They played a crucial role in paving the way for future all-female rock bands, demonstrating that women could not only front a band but also bring a unique and powerful sound to the rock genre.

16. Nervosa

From São Paulo, Brazil, Nervosa has been active in the music scene since they were formed in 2010. The band is recognized for its potent thrash metal sound, with lyrics often centered around societal issues, rebellion, and apocalyptic themes.

Their unique and uncompromising style has earned them recognition as a powerful force in the female heavy metal scene.

The band’s dedication and hard work have earned them a contract with Napalm Records. Their debut album, Victim of Yourself, in 2014 was particularly well-received, marking their arrival on the global stage.

They have since released three more albums and an EP. Their latest project, Jailbreak, was just dropped this year (2023) and is already making waves.

17. Mo-dettes

Formed in 1979, the Mo-dettes was a pioneering all-female post-punk band from England. The band was the brainchild of Kate Korris, who had previously lent her guitar skills to the Slits and the Raincoats.

The Mo-dettes initially made waves with their hit single “White Mice.” It was so well received they released their one and only album a year later, titled The Story So Far.

The Mo-dettes’ journey in the music industry may have been relatively short-lived — they disbanded in 1982 — but their impact was undeniable. They were trailblazers in the post-punk scene, proving that women could rock just as hard, if not harder, than their male counterparts.

18. Vixen

A name that reverberates with the pulse of classic 1980s rock is Vixen. This all-female band from Los Angeles didn’t just play the game in the male-dominated world of glam metal and hard rock — they changed it.

Formed in 1980 by guitarist Jan Kuehnemund, Vixen’s self-titled debut album, released in 1988, was a veritable tour de force. It spawned two hit singles, “Edge of a Broken Heart” and “Cryin’,” which rocketed up the Billboard charts.

Despite numerous lineup changes and hiatuses over the years, Vixen’s legacy remains intact. Though they have not released new work since 2018, they still continue to tour and inspire fans and music artists alike.

19. Tegan And Sara

Next up, we have a duo that has truly left an indelible mark on the indie pop scene. Twin sisters from Canada, Tegan and Sara have been creating mesmerizing melodies and heartfelt lyrics since the late ’90s.

One of their greatest works is the 2013 Heartthrob, which took the #2 spot on Canada’s album chart. The singles “Closer” and “I Was a Fool” became an instant hit, making waves on the radio. Lego fans might also know them as the creator of The Lego Movie‘s anthemic song, “Everything Is Awesome.”

Tegan and Sara have a diverse range of collaborations under their belt, spanning various genres and mediums. One of their most notable collab was with the DJ Tiësto, which resulted in the Platinum track “Feel It in My Bones” (2010).

20. The Ace Of Cups

Penultimate on this list is the Ace of Cups, a band that holds a significant place in rock history. Known as one of the first all-female rock bands, they emerged from the vibrant San Francisco music scene during the Summer of Love in 1967.

The group was at the epicenter of the cultural and musical revolution taking place during this time, contributing their unique sound and energy to the era’s soundtrack with songs like “Feel Good,” “The Well,” and “Circles.”

Despite their talent and pioneering spirit, the Ace of Cups did not receive the recognition they deserved during their initial run, which ended in 1972. However, over 55 years later, their story has been rediscovered and celebrated by fans and critics alike.

21. Shonen Knife

Ending this list is Shonen Knife. Hailing from Osaka, Japan, this all-female pop-punk band was formed in 1981. Their sound is a distinctive mix of styles that resulted in a Ramones-meets-Beatles, bubblegum-flavored punk-pop sound that has consistently charmed audiences worldwide.

Throughout their four-decade-long career, Shonen Knife has amassed a dedicated global fan base, with tracks like “Jump into the New World,” “Buttercup,” and “Daydream Believer” becoming fan favorites.

Despite being industry veterans, the band shows no signs of slowing down. They continue to perform and tour and impress fans around the world.

Summing Up Our List Of Famous Women Rock Bands

That’s it for our list of female rockers. These groups have made a significant impact on the music industry and continue to inspire new generations of female musicians.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed putting it together! We look forward to having to update this post soon with some of the new artists coming onto the scene.

But who have we missed off that should be on this list? Let us know, and we’ll add them in!

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Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.