The American teenagers who shook up the industry in the ’70s, rocked Japan and whose legacy owes a lot to the years subsequent to the demise of the band.
Starting out as a trio, consisting of Joan Jett, Sandy West and Mickie Steele the band performed around the club scene of L.A. Firstly what absolutely badass rock star names….
After losing Mickie, the band recruited three new members, Peggy Cherie and Jackie and signed to Mercury Records in 1976.
What is so amazing to me is that the group of girls were so incredibly young in what was, at the time a very male dominated, older scene.
Their story is the classic LA rock come up; young, ambitious, talented, fearless with a yearning for escape from their mundane lives. This persona mixed with a powerful, hungry force like Kim Fowley equals a huge rise to fame with a ticking cherry bomb.
The band released their first album named: The Runaways in 1976.
I always love the nerve of musicians who self-title their first album, it’s a once lifetime air of blind naiveté where you think your first body of work encapsulates all that you and needs to be represented with your name and brand.
Opening with Cherry Bomb, the girls put a firecracker up everyone’s asses, people sat up straight to listen to the churning guitar riffs, marching drums, and wild harmonized vocals layered on top of Cherrie’s call-to-attention vocals. The lyrics of the songs on this album may seem quite cheesy to a modern ear;
Don’t hold off do it, I need your lovin’
I’m getting so hot, I’m cooking like an oven
The subject matter was of the era of American classic/hard rock. The Runaways played shows with Cheap Trick, Van Halen the later after Cherie Currie left the band they began playing with Punk bands like The Ramones and Dead Boys where I believe their lyrical stance shifted.
1977 was the year The Runaways toured Japan received with wide open arms.
The second studio album: Queens of Noise came just a year later in ’77 which was more refined producing iconic songs such as; California Paradise.
The third studio album: Waiting for the Night was released later in ’77 with Joan as lead vocals after Currie had left the band. This resulted in music much more suited to Joan’s churning, heavy guitar riffs that prompted lyrical melodies that matched this. Joan exercised more of a screamed delivery to the end of the lines, where Currie’s voice was pretty strong and guttural throughout.
I personally prefer Currie’s voice to Jett’s. In general it’s an odd little album where the titular track is a ballad with this Van Halen guitar licking solo’s at the end, I enjoy it but it’s different.
I find the the guitars carry the songs rather than going toe-to-toe with the vocals. I do however believe that the lyrical content was more real to the girls at that point, as the early songs were pretty much orchestrated by Kim Fowley or at least the influence and environment he created for the girls to create in resulted in surface level lyrics.
The 2010 biographical film The Runaways stars Kristen Stewart portraying Joan Jett
Dakota Fanning as Cherrie Currie
Shannon Michael as the sleazy producer Kim Fowley.
I first came across the band through this film. After being obsessed with the Twilight franchise, I followed Kristen Stewart’s career and so of course was excited to see her play Joan Jett, who I knew of, but the band than started it all – I was unaware of.
I’ve very intrigued with the longevity of Jett in particular and that the legacy of the band has found fans in new generations. After a strong peak in success to a sharp downfall when Currie left and drug and alcohol addictions ensued, The Runaways have inspired many female musicians, including the wild child; Miley Cyrus who collaborates with Joan Jet on the song ‘Bad Karma’ on her new album; Plastic Hearts.
The band’s rise to fame was a story that would not happen so openly nowadays. Teens openly using drugs and alcohol to stay awake and make the music, all the while being encouraged by a money hungry record producer. Yet somehow the group managed to rise out of those booze-y drug-riddled blow outs for a genuine dedication to music making – on their terms.
Interesting films/docs to watch on The Runaways:
– The Runaways, 2010. Floria Sigismondi.
– Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways