On this day in 1960, one of the prototypical angry-girl rockers, Joan Jett, was born in
Philadelphia. From her early days with the seminal all-girl punk group the Runaways
to her later solo career, the leather-clad Jett has paved the way for female rockers
playing thrashy, no-nonsense, straight-ahead rock.
Jett moved to Southern California with her family when she was 14. A few years later,
she was playing in local bands on the L.A. club scene. Producer Kim Fowley, interested
in forming a female Ramones, brought together Jett and drummer Sandy West. They
formed the Runaways with singer Cherie Currie (who replaced future Bangle Micki --
later known as Michael -- Steele), lead guitarist Lita Ford and bassist Jackie Fox. Early
Runaways lyrics were written by Kari Krome, a young songwriter who introduced Fowley
In 1976, the Runaways signed with Mercury Records and issued their eponymous debut,
which was produced by Fowley. The record featured short, glam-rock/metal/pop songs
with a dense sound and high energy. The band immediately received a tremendous
amount of press and attracted many fans on the L.A. punk scene, but had trouble
connecting with record-buyers. Queens of Noise (1977) didn't fare much better.
Japanese rock-fans loved the Runaways, so the band toured there in 1977. Soon after,
Currie and Fox both quit and Jett became lead vocalist for Waitin' for the Night
(1977). Jett also produced the Germs' debut, G.I..
The Runaways disbanded in 1980 and Jett moved to New York to go solo. She issued
her eponymous solo debut, which was less punk, but still angry, in 1980. The album,
which was produced by her manager, Kenny Laguna, sold well, leading Boardwalk
Records to sign Jett and reissue the LP as Bad Reputation (1981). Jett then
formed the Blackhearts, who played on 1981's I Love Rock 'n' Roll. The album
took Jett to her commercial peak; it hit #2 and spawned the smash
track(RealAudio excerpt), which spent seven weeks at the top of the
Billboard Hot 100. The LP was also a hit in the U.K. and included the U.S. top-20
"Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)" and a top-10 cover of Tommy James and the
Shondells' "Crimson and Clover." Album (1983) was less successful, and sales
dropped further with her next two releases, Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth
(1984) and Good Music (1986).
In 1987, Jett had a minor hit with the Bruce Springsteen-penned "Light of Day," a tune
from the movie of the same name, in which she starred as a rock 'n' roller. Up Your
Alley (1988), a top-20 U.S. hit, brought Jett back to the Billboard top 10 with "I
Hate Myself for Loving You."
But another career slump followed, during which Jett issued an all-covers album, The
Hit List (1990). By the time Jett released 1994's Pure and Simple, a new
generation of tough female-rockers, including members of Bikini Kill, had begun singing
her praises, which increased the album's profile. In 1995, Jett recorded the live album
Evilstig ("Gits Live" backward) with the Gits, a Seattle-based punk band whose
lead singer, Mia Zapata, had been raped and murdered in 1993.
Last year, Jett released Fit to Be Tied: Great Hits by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.
Corin Tucker, singer/guitarist for punk trio Sleater-Kinney, said of Jett: "It was the way
she presented herself as being a musician, played guitar and wrote music that was
interesting to me ... She was really sexy and tough in a way that had her in control.
Beyond just her stage presence, her songs are really rock, in a classic way, and really
tough. It was nice to know that women don't always have to sing about flowers and herbs
and be really folky."
Earlier this month, Jett was in the news when she fainted at an American Civil Liberties
Union free-speech benefit dinner. "She's apparently fine [and] didn't have to go to the
hospital or anything," her spokesman, Ken Phillips, said.
Other birthdays: David Coverdale (Deep Purple, Whitesnake), 49; Debby Boone, 42;
Nick Cave, 41; and Johnette Napolitano (ex-Concrete Blonde), 41.