Without the Runaways, many of these bands might never have existed. So now that “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart has been tapped to play Joan Jett in a Runaways biopic, it’s worth asking: Just who were the Runaways?
The first successful all-girl rock band (there were plenty of Motown-like girl groups in the 1960s and bands with female singers like Jefferson Airplane, but none who were all female and who rocked) formed when the five original members were still teenagers in 1975.
Though often pegged as a creation of Svengali Kim Fowley — who insisted that the band have a perv-magnet jailbait image and who initially took credit for putting them together and creating their sound — the group came together on its own in late 1975 with a lineup that included guitarist Jett, late drummer Sandy West, singer Cherie Currie, bassist Micki Steele and guitarist Lita Ford. With their combination of leather-and-lace outfits and a sound that mixed loud, fast, proto-punk riffs with dollops of Aerosmith-like metal and a sneery attitude, the group was mostly written off during its time as a publicity gimmick by the loathsome manager/promoter Fowley.
But the emergence of Jett as one of rock’s great frontwomen (not to mention Ford’s once-solid career as a lite-metal singer), as well as the enduring popularity of the band’s classic 1976 debut single, “Cherry Bomb,” created a template for female rockers of every stripe to strap on guitars, step up to the microphone and wail.
At a time when many female acts were crooning folk ballads, the teenage Runaways’ unabashedly raunchy songs about sex, drinking and hanging out with the wrong type of dude (“You Drive Me Wild,” “Is It Day or Night,” “Thunder”) didn’t sit well with middle America but clearly made an impression on several later generations of singers.
Though the group fell apart within a few years thanks to a combination of poor sales, Fowley’s overbearing meddling, musical disagreements and internal squabbling (the group ended as a Jett-fronted quartet in 1979), its pioneering spirit and us-against-the-world story is ripe for a big-screen biopic — especially one helmed and written by lauded video director Floria Sigismondi, who has worked on clips for everyone from Marilyn Manson to Christina Aguilera, Sheryl Crow, Fiona Apple and the White Stripes.