Eyeliner and Attitude: A tribute to the bad-ass ladies of the 80s

Sep 24, 2014 | 10:21 AM

My friend, Merton (pronounced Mare-tah(n) — with a silent “n” because it’s French), called me in near hysterics last night. “You forgot to post Joan Jett’s birthday Monday on your Facebook Page!” he shrieked. “And you also didn’t mention Toni Basil. What’s wrong with you? Those girls are goddesses.”

Toni Basil

Belated Happy Birthday!!!



joan jett

Belated Happy Birthday!!!


Ashamed, I explained that it was also Ray Charles’ birthday on Monday, and he himself had told me not to post more than once a day, and twice only in case of an emergency.


“Ray Charles is dead,” Merton said. “Joan Jett and Toni Basil are alive and well, and you learned all about wearing eye liner from them so you should have recognized them.”


It’s true-ish. I certainly learned a lot about eye liner from them. But I was also a little bit scared of Joan Jett and Toni Basil. I was a little bit afraid of all those bad-ass ladies of the 80s.


Who wouldn’t feel intimidated by all this fierceness?!


At least Toni Basil was a little bit approachable:  She had those perky pigtails and was a cheerleader.


Much as I loved Joan Jett, her hair frightened me. I didn’t understand it. I was also afraid of Tina Turner’s hair.

Tina Turner 1


And Annie Lenox‘s hair.


Annie Lenox

“Sweet Dreams,” Hot Hair!


And Grace Jones’ hair.


Grace Jones


I didn’t understand anyone who purposely made themselves what I considered “ugly.”


Of course, as an adult, I realize my definitions of pretty and ugly were based exclusively on Disney’s imagery, but back then that’s what I thought, and I’m admitting it here because … we’re all friends, right?


Lying on my bedroom floor as a young girl, I studied the album covers of all those iconic rockers and wondered about their mothers. Did Debbie Harry’s mother feel sad that her daughter never smiled?




I liked Pat Benatar so much I covered “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” on my album Swingin’ from the Hip (which you can listen to here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klmA_RiSIJI ) – but why was she so angry? Were these women allergic to smiling, or did they just have bad teeth?


Life’s too short to hold a grudge, Pat!


Even Madonna, whom I worshipped (and still do!), made her gorgeous hair all ratty. I didn’t get it!




And why did Cyndi Lauper shave half her head and not the other? Was this essential for girls to do if they wanted to have fun? If I didn’t do it, was I missing out, I wondered?



Asymmetrical Cyndi!


Though I loved the music of the angry girls with eyeliner and attitude, I related more to Chaka Kahn, Irene Cara, Whitney Houston, and Gloria Estefan:  girls who smiled and didn’t frighten me. How I loved those girl from the B52s! They looked like they were having a blast!



Aren’t those B52 gals adorable?



Whitney just wants to dance with somebody!


And Sade— wasn’t she elegant?


Smooth operating Sade!




Happy Chaka!!!


I liked the Go Go’s, rocking the face masks. They wanted to look pretty and they had the beat!




Who has the bad-ass beat? These ladies!


But who didn’t imitate Madonna? Or Cyndi? Or Janet? I had rubber bracelets. I wore shoulder pads. (My friend Tabitha proofread this post and told me not to admit that).


I think what can be learned from all these ladies of the ’80s is that fierceness comes in all shapes and sizes! Even tough-looking Madonna, Joan, Cyndi, Pat, and Annie had a soft, vulnerable side.



soft (ish) Madonna


And I didn’t understand that their toughness was a direct response to all the years women were told to look soft and vulnerable. Those ’80s bad asses were revolutionaries!!!


Here’s to all of them: the fierce girls and the pretty ones, the edgy ones, and the soft ones. I salute them all, and for god’s sake, if I forget someones birthday just write to me on Facebook at Isabel Rose Music and let me know!





6 thoughts on “Eyeliner and Attitude: A tribute to the bad-ass ladies of the 80s”

  1. ray fogliano     Reply

    Most of these ladies I have followed since the 70s. Here are a few sixties songstesses I love. Nina Simone, Joan Baez , Roberta Flacke , Mama Cass , Aretha Franklin , Laura Nero, and I could name several more. I adore Billy Holiday and Janis. Just me.

  2. Bruce Thomas     Reply

    An impressive list. Here are a few more:
    Lita Ford (another Runaway, there were more than Joan Jett)
    Heather Locklear
    (Julie) Tawny Kitaen (rolling all over the hood of Whiesnake’s car plus Bachelor Party)

    • Isabel Rose     Reply

      Very funny about the hairspray, and I think TRUE!!!

      • Bruce Thomas     Reply

        I suspect large portions of NY/NJ and LA had ozone holes and other atmospheric calamities due to large quantities of hair spray. Those were the days (and I actually had hair!)

  3. Bruce Thomas     Reply

    Oh and the hair was due to the on-going aqua net battle between the fairer sex and their 80s hair band (or wannabe) boyfriends!

  4. Laura LaFleur     Reply

    How about Ann & Nancy Wilson from Heart. Those ladies make rock n’ roll history & paved the way for many female rockers of the future. They’re still going strong today

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