There I was, perusing the latest issue of a popular music magazine while standing in the check-out lane down at the local A&P. It was then when I caught my first-ever glimpse of a new teenage all-girl rock combo. A hopelessly frustrated 13-year-old, my interest was piqued instantly. Hey, Mom. We’re outta Clearasil.
Most boys my age would zero in on Cherie Currie, the band’s blonde bombshell, corset-clad lead singer. Others would gravitate toward the golden guitar goddess, Lita Ford (and her airbrushed micro hot pants). Following an initial fascination with the band’s fetching bassist, Jackie Fox, I soon became even more fixated on the dark-haired, mysterious rhythm guitarist — 17-year-old, Joan Jett. Oh, yeah. I could TOTALLY get her!
It truly was a magical season for rock music — one of the last. Frampton came alive and KISS destroyed the charts, while Aerosmith sparkled like five diamonds and Zeppelin continued to make their presence known — all during the sizzlin’ (pre-Internet) summer of ’76.
Oozing a measure of cock-rock swagger equal to the current releases by many of their male contemporaries at the time, the self-titled debut LP from The Runaways dropped via Mercury Records 45 years ago this week (June 1, 1976). Raw and real, the record sounded sweaty and sexy, down and dirty. And it spoke directly to the band’s teen-targeted (primarily male) followers. I’m sweet sixteen, a rebel queen. And I look real hot in my tight blue jeans. In fact, the ten-track collection was perceived as so abrasive, no amount of lube could slide cuts into (very many) radio playlists — AM or FM. As a result of radio resistance and press intolerance, The Runaways barely grazed the lower rung of the U.S. Billboard Top 200. However, the band would be embraced more warmly overseas — particularly in Japan, where they were worshiped quickly as bona fide rock stars.
But, peel back the myths, ignore the innuendo and sop up the pools of piss, perfume and PBR, and at the core, the Runaways merely was an authentic, hard-working rock band — with an assload of solid songs. And their debut record, The Runaways, was a glorious lo-fi assault.
Now considered a classic, “Cherry Bomb” crashed through the gate with the intensity of a piston-popping ’75 Camaro. Get down ladies, you’ve got nothin’ to lose! A true blue torch-burner, the Jett-penned “You Drive Me Wild” fired its seductive riff squarely at the nether regions of legions of unsuspecting teenage boys. BULLSEYE! Written by the record’s producer — the band’s notoriously dodgy manager, Kim Fowley, “Is It Day or Night?” was another riff-driven doozie — one that was nailed to the floor by the rock-ribbed drum work of Sandy West. Also fueled by West, the meaner and grittier remake of the kinder and gentler 1970 Velvet Underground staple, “Rock and Roll,” remains one of the record’s tallest standouts.
Of the other hot & heavy moments, “Lovers” was a bouncy rocker that revealed a rather adult narrative to the band’s PG-13 audience. All night long I’m chasing fast. Make me scream, make it fast. Packing a powerful hook and popping with appealing piano, “American Nights” found Currie hot as a pistol. This one coulda, shoulda, woulda been a hit — had it only been produced by Mike Chapman. A vivid tale of a scorned ex, seeking revenge, “Blackmail” earned Jett a purple heart for her fearless vocal performance and Ford for her arena-caliber guitar work. Unfortunately, after “hitting like a dude” for much of the previous 27 minutes, the record’s cred is compromised by the awkward ten-minute closer, “Dead End Justice.” A musical injustice, it only further exacerbated the band’s “jailbait” stigma.
Music historians have been generally more thoughtful to the Runaways than the journalist snobs who trashed them during that bygone “gonzo” era. Today, the band actually is recognized (rightfully) as an iconic, trailblazing force. Both Jett and Ford went on to enjoy wildly successful solo careers, while Currie established herself as an actress, as well as a solo artist. Told from the personal perspectives of Jett and Currie, the Hollywood-glossed version of their saga, The Runaways, hit theaters in 2010. However, it can be argued that the more investigative 2004 documentary, Edgeplay told a far more compelling and (likely) accurate tale — despite Jett’s MIA status.
Their story was brief — just four years from start to finish. A teenage dream turned into a tragic nightmare, the Runaways became prey for predatory creepers, and fell victim to misguided handlers, a short-sighted music press and good old-fashioned fast-living — sex, drugs and rock & roll, indeed. Yet, more than four decades later, their legend (and music) lives on.
The Runaways Track Listing:
1. Cherry Bomb (2:18)
2. You Drive Me Wild (3:22)
3. Is It Day or Night? (2:45)
4. Thunder (2:31)
5. Rock and Roll (3:17)
1. Lovers (2:09)
2. American Nights (3:15)
3. Blackmail (2:41)
4. Secrets (2:43)
5. Dead End Justice (7:01)
Run Time: 34:02
Release Date: June 1, 1976
Record Label: Mercury