Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominee--Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

     Joan Jett and the Blackhearts are nominees, and like almost all of others, can be debated on the merits of it's recorded output. What is not debatable is mentioning Jett without first talking about The Runaways.
     The Runaways were brought together with the help of Kim Fowley who managed the group and also promoted their jailbait image which unfortunately kept the group from having a real shot at long term success. The core of the the group at the beginning was drummer Sandy West, and Joan Jett (real name: Joan Larkin) and was soon joined by bassist Micki Steele who left soon after the addition of guitarist Lita Ford. Steele would make her own mark on rock later in the 80's with The Bangles. Cherie Currie (vocals) and Jackie Fox (guitar) rounded out the group.
     By the time of the release of their first album in 1976, it was obvious that Cherie Currie was considered the visual centerpiece with her lingerie endorsed bad girl looks. What propelled the band however was a combination of Lita Ford's straight ahead rock hooks, which were already well developed at the age of 17, and Joan Jett's glam influenced power chords. All of this was wrapped up with an urgency which was more than fueled by the punk movement (at least the LA version). What hurt the group overall was Fowley's almost total control over the band which, with a group of teenaged girls came across as exploitative (even in mid-70's west coast). Another problem was the content. Rock in the 70's was fueled by male dominated groups singing about sex, drugs and rock and roll. However, a hearing a group of under aged girls sing about it seemed very uncomfortable for American tastes.
     Currie lasted two albums with the band before leaving with Jett taking the lead role for two albums. However, the musical divide between Jett and Ford was becoming more obvious and with Fowley having left as well, the decision was made to break the band up in 1979. Ford had success in heavy metal during the 80's, but it was Jett who continued to develop the strong glam and punk elements started by The Runaways as she formed The Blackhearts.  (by the way...if you are wanting to see a great film about the group...don't bother with the big budget "The Runaways" (2010), but seek out "Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways" (2005) which was filmed by bassist Vicki Blue)

     Jett recorded a solo album in 1980, and was re-released as "Bad Reputation" and it was here that she began to garner critical and popular acclaim.  The album showed the blueprint for later albums, classic rock and roll with a touch of glam, along with a punk rock ascetic which comes across in attitude as much as the music itself.   The album did fairly well for a debut on the charts (#51), but it's influence on a generation of women rockers was vast. During this time she formed the Blackhearts. The group included Ricky Byrd (guitar), Gary Ryan (bass), and Lee Crystal (drums). The group's first album together, "I Love Rock-n-Roll" (1982) has become a rock classic in an era where the top 40 was dominated by new wave-ish acts. The lead single and it's follow up, a cover of Tommy James', "Crimson and Clover" reach the top 10 and not only expanded her fan base, but cause many more to re-discover her first album, and work with The Runaways.
     The next release, called, "Album" (1983) is arguably her most solid album although it's two singles didn't do as well on the charts. From a chart standpoint she continued the decade on a steady path which was highlighted with the top 10 single, "Hate Myself For Loving You" (1988). However, with each release she continued to cultivate her influence on many of the hard rock groups led by women.


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