Joan Jett has always been a force of nature. With her first group, The Runaways, she bought an icy charm to the girl group format, helping the punk band to upset notions of propriety and expand the role of women in the music business. As a performer in her own right, she became one of the most revered female musicians in America, going on to record hits like ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and founding her own label, Blackheart records, which produced riot grrrl groups like Bikini Kill and L7.
While her performance style with The Runaways was a lot more pared-back than her lingerie-clad bandmate Cherie Currie, Jett never shied away from bringing a certain theatricality to her songs and stagecraft. The exuberance of tracks like ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ highlights the influence of glam stars like Marc Bolan and, of course, the great David Bowie
When asked to list her top ten favourite albums, Jett was quick to name T. Rex’s 1971 album Electric Warrior. Filled with churning, anthemic riffs, it served as the blueprint for an entire generation of heavy rockers and hair metallers in the early ’80s. But for Jett, there is one album that makes all others look insignificant in comparison: David Bowie’s 1970 LP Diamond Dogs.
Of the Ken Scott-produced album, Jett said: “Theatrical rock and roll, head and shoulders above the rest. Bowie is always stretching the boundaries.” She’s not wrong. One of Bowie’s greatest talents was his ability to transform rock music into an immersive experience where imagination was given free rein. The theatricality Jett so fell in love with was a direct result of one of Bowie’s earliest passions: musical theatre.
We take it for granted that Bowie arrived fully formed, but his elaborate shows wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t first explored other avenues outside working as a performing solo musician. As he noted in 2004: “When I was around 17-18, what I wanted to do more than anything was write something for Broadway – I wanted to write a musical,” he began. “I had no idea how you did it or how musicals were constructed, but the idea of writing something that was rock-based for Broadway really intrigued me I thought that would b a wonderful thing to do.”
You can feel that original passion pulsing through albums like Diamond Dogs, the promotional tour for which saw Bowie utilise a stunning array of props, costumes, and lighting effects. Check out his rendition of ‘Candidate’ live at the Universal Amphitheatre below.