“I Love Rock ‘n Roll.” But she loves rock ‘n roll. She lives it, breathes it, exudes it. In September it was announced that Joan Jett and the Blackhearts received an overdue nomination to be inducted into The Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. However, not enough votes were garnered for induction with the class of 2012.
Best known for the massive hit version of “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” and sporting eyeliner, Jett has toured and recorded steadily throughout her 35-plus year career in the music industry, making her a role model to a legion of women rockers. She also is one of the first female artists to start her own record label.
Jett was one of the original members of The Runaways, a teenage female rock band formed in 1975 that went on to open for The Ramones, Rush, Van Halen and Cheap Trick. The Runaways will be remembered for capturing rebellious, adolescent notions on songs like “Cherry Bomb,” “Queens of Noise” and “Dead End Justice.”
The influence stemming from Jett and her bandmates is immeasurable, being cited by multiple groups as an inspiration. Just listen to the music by the likes of L7, Hunter Valentine and Girl in a Coma as well as the whole riot-grrrl movement.
As seen in the Canadian independent film Secondary High, Jett is a role model to queers, outsiders and those who just don’t fit in. The short-lived cult-favorite TV program Freaks and Geeks uses her classic “Bad Reputation” as its theme song.
The story of The Runaways is depicted in the 2010 film of the same name starring Kristen Stewart as Jett and Dakota Fanning as lead singer Cherie Currie.
The stunning 2004 documentary Edgeplay: A Film about The Runaways lends more truth to the band than the Hollywood motion picture. Here, Currie reveals, “Joan and I were about as close as you can get, I think. Of course back in the ’70s, there was this whole thing with bisexuality… I had a couple of fun times with Joan. With [drummer] Sandy [West], too…”
Jett’s label, Blackheart Records, holds the rights to the catalog of The Runaways. Not only did Jett not contribute her side of the story to the piece, but only live versions of the covers “Wild Thing” and “Rock ‘n Roll” by The Runaways are used in the documentary. Most of the music in the piece is performed by the band’s lead guitarist, Lita Ford.
The Runaways would receive the ultimate homage with Take It or Leave It: A Tribute to the Queens of Noise. This double-disc set features the likes of The Donnas, Schonen Knife, The Dandy Warhols and David Johansen remaking the pioneering band’s material.
Few realize the weight that Jett carried with The Runaways. She is credited solely for penning some of the band’s material, including “You Drive Me Wild,” “I Love Playin’ with Fire,” “Gotta Get out Tonight” and “C’mon.” Once two members leave the band, Jett would assume the newly departed’s duties. She played bass at Tokyo Music Festival after Jackie Fox’s resignation and handled all lead vocals once Currie quit in 1977.
After the demise of The Runaways, Jett tried pitching her solo album and was rejected by 23 record labels. This is humorously recounted in the music video to “Bad Reputation.” Jett’s second solo bow would feature her signature anthem “I Love Rock ‘n Roll,” which went on to sell more than 10 million copies and is recognized as the 27th-biggest selling single by Billboard.
In November, Jett joined Foo Fighters on stage at Madison Square Garden to play “Bad Reputation.” Per Melinda Newman’s blog on The Beat Goes On, frontman Dave Grohl refers to Jett as “the baddest motherfucker I know” and dubs the New York concert as “the greatest fucking night of the tour.” The magic is re-created with an encore performance on The David Letterman Show.
There is a connection between Jett and Grohl’s group, now that guitarist Pat Smear recently rejoined Foo Fighters. Jett produced the sole album, (GI), by Smear’s former band The Germs in the late ’70s.
Jett has the accolades of being the first band to perform live on MTV alongside the Blackhearts and The Uptown Horns on New Year’s Eve 1984. My first time seeing her live was at The House of Blues in Chicago. Throughout her set, members in the audience would throw lingerie and women’s underwear at her.
As heard on her 1990 outing of covers, The Hit List, Jett has a knack at redoing songs, especially those made famous by men. On her 1981 hit remake of Tommy James and The Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover,” she bravely did not change the lyrics. Here, she confesses, “I don’t hardly know her, but I think I could love her.” Similarly for 2006’s album Sinner, she remade The Sweet’s “A.C.D.C.,” where she sings of her bisexual girlfriend, “She’s got some other fella as well as me.”
Her covers favor the rock era of her formative years, such as Chuck Berry’s “Tulane” and The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” In the movie The Runaways, there is a scene at Rodney’s Bingenheimer’s English Disco in Hollywood, where Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)” and David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” are played in the background. Both numbers have been remade by Jett.
On her latest album, 2006’s Sinner, Jett questions the political climate of the time on “Riddle.” She supports those who do not fit the norm on “Androgynous.”
While the guitar chords and catchy hooks remain throughout Jett’s catalog, her image has changed over time. Her trademark look is a dark top, black bob and thick black eyeliner, which she would base on her role model Suzi Quatro. In the videos to “Love Hurts” and “Backlash,” she softens her make-up. Later she would sport a fantastic bleached blonde crew cut and then shave her head completely.
Jett was born Joan Larkin outside Philadelphia in 1958, the same year as Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson.
Many believe that Jett and The Blackhearts had guaranteed induction into The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame with the class of 2012. Let’s celebrate the act’s works and the overdue recognition. Hopefully, next year will see another nomination.