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Joan Jett's five greatest guitar riffs

On hearing of Joan Jett’s inclusion in Rolling Stones’ list of the ‘100 Greatest Guitarists’, Ted Nugent’s mind started to melt. The news hit him so hard, in fact, that he made a point of going on a pretty extensive rant about the subject during his YouTube Livestream in which he began by praising the likes of Angus Young, Eddie Van Halen, Billy Gibbons, Neal Schoon, Joe Bonamassa, Tommy Shaw, Rickey Medlocke, and Derek St. Holmes.

“I just mentioned some killer, monster guitar players, huh?” Nugent continued. “Some of the best that ever lived. But when you see the Rolling Stone magazine list of greatest guitar players, they list Joan Jett but not Tommy Shaw,” he added.

It would appear that, for Nugent, the very idea that a woman such as Jett should be revered on the same level as rock ‘n’ roll’s pantheon of patriarch’s is entirely unpalatable. “How do you list the top 100 guitar players and not list Derek St. Holmes?” he added. “How do you do that? You do that by lying. The same way you get Grandmaster Flash in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You do that by lying. You have to be a liar. You have to have shit for brains and you have to be a soulless, soulless prick to put Joan Jett… [I] love Joan. Some of my greatest memories include lesbians. I love the lesbians; it’s a cocktail of wonderment,” he added, bizarrely.

Well, in an attempt to fight back against the oppressive rock ‘n’ roll orthodoxy that Nugent seems so keen to uphold, we thought we’d list five of Joan Jett’s best guitar riffs. While it cannot be said that Joan Jett has ever been outright ignored, she has certainly been underplayed and undervalued by music writers and fans, who at some point decided that the world of guitar music should be a land inhabited only by highly virtuosic, greying men, with bloated stomachs and even more bloated egos.

Joan Jett’s five greatest guitar riffs:

‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’

While this track was originally recorded by the British group The Arrows in 1975, it failed to capture the hearts and minds of rock fans at the time. However, in the hands of Joan Jett and The Blackhearts – who imbued the central riff with an anthemic thrust – it became one of the biggest hits of the year, earning Jett worldwide fame pretty much overnight.

In 2008, Jett opened up about the track’s enduring appeal: “I think most people who love some kind of rock ‘n’ roll can relate to it. Everyone knows a song that just makes them feel amazing and want to jump up and down,” she said. I quickly realised this song is gonna follow you, so you’re either gonna let it bother you, or you gotta make peace with it, and feel blessed that you were involved with something that touched so many people”.

‘Bad Reputation’

Following her departure from The Runaways, Jett wrote this number, one of the greatest rock-punk hybrids of all time. ‘Bad Reputation’ is not only one of the most defiant and accessible songs of its ilk, but it also acted as an affront to the male-dominated music business.

According to co-writer, Kenny Laguna, the track was nothing less than a war-cry: “‘I don’t give a damn about my reputation, it’s a new generation,'” he quoted, “That was the whole thing, a girl could do what she wants to do. When she was singing those lyrics, it was radical because there were no girls doing anything other than what they were supposed to do, they were all supposed to be like the girl groups. They were supposed to be dainty, wear dresses. They weren’t supposed to play instruments. The song was definitely autobiographical”.

‘Activity Grrrl’

Joan Jett is often described as the Godmother of Punk, but ‘Activity Grrrl’ is even more ahead of its time, foreshadowing the arrival of no-wave and grunge groups like Sonic Youth and Nirvana.

Opening with simmering string bends, the track quickly explodes into a swirl of fuzz-laden guitars, churning bass, and diaphragm-shaking drums, evoking everybody from T. Rex and Van Halen to Swervedriver, and Rage Against The Machine in one fell swoop.

‘Cherry Bomb’

Released in 1976, this track saw Joan Jett pull out her gold Les Paul and deliver one of the most intoxicatingly understated riffs in The Runaways’ catalogue.

Simple, explosive, and exhilarating, the main riff to ‘Cherry Bomb’ helped Jett and her fellow Runaways establish a template that would be followed by countless all-girl punk bands throughout the 1970s. Forming the central pivot, around which all the other members revolve, Jett’s glitter-sludge guitar work perfectly captures the seedy escapism that The Runaways embodied.

‘I Hate Myself For Loving You’

With a riff that makes Aerosmith sound like Earl Scruggs, ‘I Hate Myself for Loving You’ is surely one of Joan Jett’s most gut-punching offerings from her time with The Blackhearts.

In fact, speaking of Aerosmith, it’s rumoured that this song’s title was inspired by Steve Tyler, who turned up naked at Joan Jett’s hotel room door in the hope of being invited in. When Jett found Tyler standing in the corridor, he said: “I hate myself for loving you,” before being sent back to his room with his head in his hands.