Women Of Rock: The Runaways

the runaways cherry bomb

I decided I’d start the week off with the band that changed what it meant to be a girl band, that gave Joan Jett her career and the band that inspired girl rock bands for years to come, The Runaways. The band started their reign when they hit the scene with this in 1976.

So quick back story. Around 1975, producer Kim Fowley (male), who had just come off of producing KISS’ Destroyer, met Joan Jett (vox and guitar) and Sandy West (drums) and the three decided that they wanted to make an all girl rock band that played rock just as hard as any male band. So they set to it, ran through a couple members til they picked up lead guitarist Lita Ford, and bassist Jackie Fox, all that was left was the singer. In comes Bowie fanatic Cherie Currie, Fowley and Joan spot her at a club one night and decide she has the look and a perfect stage name already and she has an audition. She showed up trying to audition with “Fever” and Fowley wanted something with more grit so him and Jett quickly wrote “Cherry Bomb” after her and the rest was history.

The band exploded, they toured, recorded to LPs as well as a live in Japan LP, they were huge all while they still were young enough to be in high school. But due to mounting tensions between members due to Currie’s excessive drug use, Ford’s anger at her, and Fowley’s monstrous management, Currie quit in 1977, the band put out one more less popular LP and the band dissolved making way for Joan Jett’s rise to fame. But as much as some people discounted them as a novelty act, the band could play.

So the songs. The band’s eponymous first album came with two standout songs, first being the aforementioned “Cherry Bomb.” This song showcased the band in all it’s glory, explicit lyrics, heavy guitars, great solo and amazing drums, and a chorus that was infectious, it was the band’s calling card. The story goes that apparently bassist Fox was so incompetent at the time of recording the album they had to call in Blondie bassist Nigel Harrison to play on the album. “You Drive Me Wild” proved the band wasn’t a one hit wonder, pulling together chugging verses and a lick heavy chorus with a vocal line just as infectious, the band had set themselves up as a force to be reckoned with. This song also gave us a taste of Jett’s growling voice in the “yeah yeahs.”

Queens Of Noise, was the band’s follow up, and it came out swinging. “I Love Playing With Fire” kept the band’s bad girl image up and was just as technically impressive as their earlier work. “Neon Angels On The Road To Ruin” is one of the band’s showcase songs, amazing bass work from Fox, great vocals, an amazing solo but best of all Sandy West’s most impressive drum work that still blows me away every time I hear it, and she was just 18 when she did that. Lastly “Hollywood” mixes in distortion with a great bass groove that drives the song and the band’s knack at amazing choruses to make an addictive song, all topped with more of Jett’s growly vocals.

Lastly I want to greatly recommend two great pieces on the band. The 2010 film “The Runaways” which is actually a fairly accurate representation of what happened, give or take some freedoms. It will hopefully redeem Kristen Stewart to some of you, even Jett herself couldn’t tell it wasn’t herself on some of the recordings and pictures taken for the film, she was blown away. Dakota Fanning also does an amazing Cherrie Currie. But Michael Shannon’s Kim Fowley is still the best part of the whole film and was the main reason I was confident in his ability to play Zod. Find it on Netflix, it’s amazing.

On that note there is also Currie’s autobiography, Neon Angel, about her time in the Runaways, as well as some post-band time. It is still my favourite biography I’ve ever read and is the source material for the movie but strangely more insane than the movie. There are a lot of cocaine and quaaludes in this book, like mind boggling amounts, read it, trust me.

More soon.



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