“I had it made, I never strayed…
From a course that somebody else laid.”
Simplicity is sometimes the most difficult goal to attain in pure rock & roll music. The best examples of this genre are a combination of well written, catchy songs and skilled yet rebellious musicians creating art that ends up as more than just the sum of its parts. Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley pioneered this combination of attitude, rhythmic drive and chiming guitar hooks, giving birth to a tradition carried on by artists from the British Invasion to Punk and New Wave. Joan Jett has been achieving this goal and taking part in this tradition since her debut with The Runaways in 1975. Crunchy, memorable guitar riffs paired with pop choruses and a vintage rock & roll attitude, her music has retained a quality that renders her catalog essential listening for any fan of popular music.
Exploding out of the Los Angeles music scene, The Runaways were billed as one of the original all-girl rock & roll bands. They released several classic albums on Mercury Records in the late seventies, featuring Jett, lead singer Cherie Currie and future pop metal fixture Lita Ford. Under the tutelage of music business veteran Kim Fowley (“The Mayor of the Sunset Strip”), Jett honed her songwriting skills and performance style which would remain key staples during her solo career. The band was a commercial success in Japan (ala Cheap Trick and the Raspberries) but soon imploded upon returning stateside, leaving Jett to record her solo debut. Beginning a lifelong association with manager and producer Kenny Laguna, Jett released the classic album “Bad Repuation” in 1981. Later that year, she released “I Love Rock & Roll”, featuring the massive single of the same name. The song made Jett a household name, catapulting her into the top ten along with hit singles ‘Crimson and Clover’ and ‘Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)’ and classic album track ‘Love is Pain’. A role in the Paul Schrader film “Light of Day” and another top ten hit, 1988’s ‘I Hate Myself for Loving You’, kept Joan Jett in the spotlight for the remainder of the eighties.
Never an artist to yield to trends, her LP’s remained consistently rooted in traditional rock & roll. In 1991, she followed the 1990 album “The Hit List” with “Notorious”, an all original affair featuring the musical collaboration ‘Backlash’. Written and performed with Paul Westerberg, a founding member of the Replacements, the song was a perfect fit for Joan Jett’s combination of pop hooks and driving rock guitar. Jett and Westerberg penned the track with Kenny Laguna, and it remains a classic single showcasing how strong an artist Jett had become after remaining a hit maker for over a decade.
(The original 1991 video, featuring Paul Westerberg):
(The trailer for the 2010 film ‘The Runaways’, produced by Joan Jett and starring Kristen Stewart. A must see rock film!):