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Joan Jett: 'I Love Rock 'N Roll's Original Riot Grrrl, Then And Now

Music | March 20, 2021

CIRCA 1980: Photo of Joan Jett (Photo by Anne Fishbein/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Joan Jett's 1982 hit "I Love Rock 'N Roll" topped the pop chart in several countries, and she also had success with the singles "Crimson And Clover" and "I Hate Myself For Loving You." A former member of The Runaways, Jett became the iconic rock vixen of the '80s, known for a Ramones-inspired look consisting of black leather jacket, jeans and shaggy hair, accented by her signature white Gibson Melody Maker guitar. She has released 12 solo albums to date, and with her band The Blackhearts was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2015. Jett has been cited as an inspiration by many women who made a name for themselves in punk and hard rock genres, especially those in the Riot Grrrl movement of the '90s.

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 Rock ‘n’ roll is a man’s world? Not to Joan Jett at least. Edgy lyrics, ferocious instrumentals, and the rowdy essence of hard rock tends to make the genre stereotyped as a masculine concept. That’s where Jett stepped in and changed the game of rock ‘n’ roll for women with proof that females could rock just as hard as anyone, if not harder. Jett’s career with the chaotic girl band The Runaways and her solo work showed she was a force to be reckoned with.  

Teenage Girls Who Knew How To Rock

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Jett was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 22nd, 1958, but moved with her family to Los Angeles when she was twelve years old. Within the popping music scene of the new city, Jett was able to pursue her interest in music as she began guitar lessons with her instructor that tried to limit her to folk music. Jett knew her true destiny lay with hard rock and formed her own band with some of her gal pals when she was fifteen years old. 

They would soon be called The Runaways. The band was discovered by the controversial manager Kim Fowley who realized their potential as a rambunctious female band so he took them under his wing. Eventually the group would be made up of drummer Sandy West and Jett with Jackie Fox, Lita Ford, and Cherie Currie. Currie began as the front-woman of the band, while Jett shared some lead vocals and played rhythm guitar, and the entire band co-wrote their songs together. Initially, the band wasn’t taken seriously and seen as just teenage girls screaming about their insignificant issues. 

The Runaways’ music was intensely aggressive, especially compared to other female bands of the time, and it seemed America wasn’t quite ready for their sound or their eccentric outfits that consisted of lingerie and jumpsuits. However, Japan appreciated the heavy nature and The Runaways found their most success in that country. The Runaways released the live album Live In Japan in 1977, which became one of the most successful imports in the U.S. and U.K. history.  

Jett Goes Solo

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Although they were only together from 1975-1979, The Runaways impacted the power of women in the rock ‘n’ scene, especially hard rock and could keep up with the male bands around the world. They toured and opened up for chart-topping bands that included Van Halen, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and The Ramones, until they officially split in the spring of 1979. Jett decided to continue in the music world as a solo act, but was struggling to find a label, so with the help of producer Kenny Laguna she independently released her self-titled debut album in 1980, which was re-released as Bad Reputation in 1981. The album, which featured the same rebellious attitude as The Runaways but with a more melodic approach, was a success and reached no.51 on the charts.  

Jett’s Greatest Success Came When She Sang About Her Favorite Genre

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Joan Jett & The Blackhearts was the official name of Jett’s new band, which included guitarist Ricky Byrd, bassist Gary Ryan, and drummer Lee Crystal. The group released another album in 1981 called I Love Rock 'N Roll, which was the most successful record of Jett’s career. The album’s title track, which was actually a cover of a 1975 song by the British group The Arrows, topped the Billboard charts for seven straight weeks. The tune became a rock staple and is still a favorite for tone deaf karaoke singers to belt out at bars. Jett released Album in 1983 and Glorious Results Of A Misspent Youth in 1984, which also produced a mass of hits. She continued to exude her girl power as she toured with leading bands of the time Aerosmith, The Police, and Queen.  

Still As Rockin’ As Ever

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The next decades saw Jett continue to release powerful, gut-busting music and she hasn’t slowed down since. The singer has also taken some roles on the big screen, first appearing in the 1987 film Light Of Day with Michael J. Fox and Gena Rowlands along with some independent movies such as The Sweet Life and Boogie Boy. However, acting didn’t take her too far as music seems to still be her stronghold. Jett continues to tour with Joan Jett And The Blackhearts and the band released their last album Unvarnished in September 2013. Throughout the 2000s they also released the albums Fetish, Naked, and Sinner. Today, Jett is very involved with People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals (PETA) and has been a vegetarian for over thirty years.  

Tags: 1980s Rock History | Hard Rock | Joan Jett | Ladies | Punk Rock | Then And Now

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Emily Morenz

Author

Despite her younger age, Emily Morenz (Emo) is a serious 1960s/1970s enthusiast who is pretty much the Austin Powers of this decade. Through her all-vintage wardrobe, obsession with old time rock 'n' roll, and her mid century bedroom and 1,200+ vinyl collection you might think she just stepped out of a time machine. Emo plays the rare gems of the ‘60s and ‘70s on her radio show on OC’s 101.5 KOCI and teaches rock ‘n’ roll history on her podcast “The Rock & Roll Sweetheart.” When there's not a pandemic, she's rockin’ out with all the middle aged-men at every single classic rock concert happening around the town, and she will battle her away to front row and dance hard. Paul McCartney even once brought her up on stage to dance...while she was in a walrus costume. You also might find Emo surfing waves, skateboarding through a neighborhood, groovin' '60s gogo style, and pretending like she can play bass. And she's obsessed with peanut butter and corgis.