Joan Jett was just a teenager when she formed The Runaways. Like most pioneers, she didn’t deliberately seek to force change, she just wanted to be the lead singer in a rock band. An all-female group playing brash and raucous sounds is thankfully a familiar sight today. Without The Runaways smashing down boundaries a whole host of female groups may never have been given the room to rock.
In truth, the group didn’t quite make the big time in America, or anywhere else for that matter, but it was an apprenticeship in life as a musician for Jett. Despite their musical leanings, they initiated themselves within the punk scenes on both sides of the Atlantic, with bands such as The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Damned, and The Dead Boys’ all being groups that The Runaways would class as peers.
After releasing four albums in just two years, the band parted ways when a disagreement over the musical direction they wanted to take The Runaways split them for good. By that point, Jett was tired of playing hard rock and was excited by the burgeoning punk scene, but her bandmates thought otherwise.
The Runaways played their final show on New Year’s Eve in 1978, and Jett waved goodbye to her first chapter in rock and roll. She was now free from the shackles of being signed to a major label and decided to make the brave move to England in search of punk purity.
Producer Kenny Laguna self-financed the endeavour and hoped to sell the rights to Jett’s debut album after completing work on it. Alas, no labels were interested, and in accordance with their DIY spirit, they decided to go ahead and print it themselves rather than wait for things to happen.
This maverick move would end up being a masterstroke, and it caught the attention of Boardwalk, who made Jett re-release the eponymous record as Bad Reputation a year later. When it became time to record her first album with The Blackhearts in 1981, Jett still had an ace up her sleeve from that trip to England. One which would send her into the stratosphere.
Ever since touring the UK with The Runaways in 1976, Jett grew an obsession with The Arrows’ ‘I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll’ after hearing it on the radio. She even recruited Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones and Paul Cook to play on it with her in 1979, but for some unbeknown reason, it didn’t feature on her debut.
For her second album with Boardwalk, she recorded a new version which she elected to be both the lead single and the title track. After spending half a decade grinding at dingy bars with sticky floors, it would be ‘I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll’, which would introduce her to the masses.
It spent seven weeks at the top of the Billboard 100 and remains her only track to achieve this feat from across her career. Admittedly, Jett didn’t write the song, but she sang it with a level of authority and sincerity, the ensured her name would go down in history next to it.
Listen below to the utterly hypnotic isolated vocal version of ‘I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll’, which will leave you caught under Jett’s spell.