Meet Fanny, the First Female Rock Band to Top the Charts: “They Were Just Colossal and Wonderful, and Nobody’s Ever Mentioned Them”

When the Bea­t­les upend­ed pop­u­lar music, thou­sands of wannabe beat groups were born all over the world, and many of them–for the first time ever, really–were all-female groups. This Amoe­ba Records arti­cle has a fair­ly exhaus­tive list of these girl bands, with names like The Daugh­ters of Eve, The Freudi­an Slips, The Mop­pets, The Bomb­shells, and The What Four. Very few got past a few sin­gles.

Instead, it would take until the 1970s for an all-female rock band to crack the charts. And no, it wasn’t the Run­aways.

Formed in Sacra­men­to by two Fil­ip­ina sis­ters, Jean and June Milling­ton, the group known as Fan­ny would be the first all-female band to release an album on a major label (their self-titled debut, on Reprise, 1970) and land four sin­gles in the Bill­board Hot 100–the title track from their 1971 album Char­i­ty Balla cov­er of Mar­vin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Pecu­liar” (as seen above), “I’ve Had It,” and final­ly “But­ter Boy,” their high­est chart suc­cess, at #29 in 1975. That last track was Jean Millington’s song about David Bowie, with whom she’d had a brief fling while tour­ing the UK.

Born to a Fil­ip­ina moth­er and a white Amer­i­can ser­vice­man father, the two sis­ters found refuge in music when life at their Sacra­men­to mid­dle school was intim­i­dat­ing and racist. Rock music, how­ev­er, was a way to make friends and find a sup­port sys­tem. In their teens, they start­ed a band called The Svelts, and watched as var­i­ous oth­er band mem­bers came and went due to mar­riage, or boyfriends who insist­ed they stop mak­ing music. The Milling­tons didn’t stop, and hav­ing gained reli­able band mem­bers in Addie Lee on gui­tar and Brie Brandt on drums, they fol­lowed their rhythm sec­tion to Los Ange­les, changed the band name to Wild Hon­ey, and wound up get­ting signed to Reprise after chang­ing the name one more time to Fan­ny.

Though the man who signed them, Mo Ostin, con­sid­ered them a nov­el­ty act, they were soon sent out on tour to open for groups like The Kinks and Hum­ble Pie. They also backed Bar­bra Streisand on her Barbra Joan Streisand album, when the singer want­ed a rock­i­er sound.

In a 1999 Rolling Stone inter­view, David Bowie still sang their prais­es: “They were one of the finest fuck­ing rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extra­or­di­nary: they wrote every­thing, they played like moth­er­fuck­ers, they were just colos­sal and won­der­ful, and nobody’s ever men­tioned them. They’re as impor­tant as any­body else who’s ever been, ever; it just was­n’t their time.”

After five albums and some per­son­nel changes (includ­ing bring­ing in Pat­ti Qua­tro, Suzi Quatro’s sis­ter), the band called it quits. Jean would go on to mar­ry Bowie’s gui­tarist Earl Slick; June came out as gay and lat­er estab­lished the Insti­tute for Musi­cal Arts, which sup­port­ed the women’s music move­ment.

Fan­ny dropped from rock con­scious­ness, more or less, and are rarely brought up when pio­neer­ing women in rock are men­tioned. June Milling­ton still bris­tles about it, telling the Guardian“All these women carved out their careers and I nev­er once heard them men­tion Fanny…I looked. I wait­ed. I read inter­views. And I nev­er saw it.”

They reunit­ed in 2018 for an album, Fan­ny Walked the Earthbring­ing back June, Jean, and Brie for a batch of polit­i­cal­ly charged songs and celebri­ty appear­ances by Run­aways singer Cherie Cur­rie, Kathy Valen­tine of the Go-Go’s and Susan­na Hoffs and Vic­ki Peter­son of the Ban­gles.

Rhi­no Records also rere­leased their first four albums in a box set in 2002for those who would like to inves­ti­gate fur­ther.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New Web Project Immor­tal­izes the Over­looked Women Who Helped Cre­ate Rock and Roll in the 1950s

Four Female Punk Bands That Changed Women’s Role in Rock

How Joan Jett Start­ed the Run­aways at 15 and Faced Down Every Bar­ri­er for Women in Rock and Roll
Chrissie Hynde’s 10 Pieces of Advice for “Chick Rock­ers” (1994)

Chrissie Hynde’s 10 Pieces of Advice for “Chick Rock­ers” (1994)

33 Songs That Doc­u­ment the His­to­ry of Fem­i­nist Punk (1975–2015): A Playlist Curat­ed by Pitch­fork

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmillsread his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.


Leave a Comment