“I grew up in a world that told girls they couldn't play rock and roll.” – Joan Jett
And off she went, proving them wrong…
In 1977 the United Nations gave global status to International Women’s Day, so we went out and looked for an album that would properly mark the occasion. It was no easy task, as the late 70s abounded with charismatic female musicians: from the monumental Patti Smith to Blondie’s Debbie Harry, to punk icon Siouxsie Sioux – the list goes on. Something was in the air and a musical revolution was picking up the pace. But specifically, 1977? The (loud) answer is: The Runaways, and their sophomore album “Queens of Noise”.
The all-female band was already on everyone’s lips thanks to their self-titled debut album, featuring the huge hit “Cherry Bomb”. But most were guessing the band was a one-trick pony, a fad, a star destined to burn out as fast as it came in the firmament of male-dominated rock music. We chose to highlight “Queens of Noise” for a number of reasons. First of all, it shut everyone up by delivering a level of quality that not only matched but surpassed their debut. Second, it cranked up the dial in terms of energy, fighting back against the idea that pretty girls can only make pretty music. Third, it represented a pivotal moment for a band that was trying to gain autonomy from their overbearing producer and talent scout.
Emotions ran high from the start in The Runaways. A simmering conflict between Cherie Currie and Joan Jett was coming to the fore. Different members were headed in different stylistic directions: from glam, to rock, to punk, even metal. But one thing united them all – the growing dissatisfaction at being portrayed as just a “hot commodity”, more of a fantasy for the male audience than a real band with its own vision. This led to continuous fights with producer Kim Fowley, who discovered and assembled them, but did not expect them to speak their minds.
You may be left wondering how such a tumultuous environment could bring any good results. And yet, this is the album that includes peaks such as “Heart Beat” (sung by Cherie) and “I Love Playin’ With Fire” (pure Joan). If you want to have a taste of the skills (and the theatrics!), check out this live rendition of the title track – played to a jubilant crowd in Japan.
The Runaways still have a cult following, rekindled by the 2010 movie featuring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, which has won critics’ praise. And yet, back in the day they had to withstand constant criticism. Some pointed to the album production not being very polished, which simply reinforces the theory that in the label’s initial intentions the band was supposed to be a sexy gimmick rather than something serious. Others commented on the skills of the musicians – forgetting perhaps that the girls were all underage when the band was formed, and barely 18 when they got signed with the massive Mercury Records and catapulted on world tours.
However you see it, The Runaways were among the first female rock bands, staking a claim to something that was, until then, considered off-limits for women. They have inspired thousands of young girls since, telling them it’s ok to bring out raw emotions and stop playing nice. And here at Penta we think that alone is cause for celebration.