Women Who Rock: Joan Jett

With this being my birthday week, I decided to be a little selfish and make this week’s post about my all-time favorite woman who rocks, my idol since I was in the 5th grade, the one and only Joan Jett. Apologies in advance for the excessive displays of fangirl behavior but this one is HUGE for me.

So picture this. It’s 1982. You’re at that age where you’re exploring your own preferences and your mom is finally letting you have more say-so when it comes to your hairstyle and your clothes. And thanks to this new cable channel called MTV that plays nothing but music videos, you’re developing your own tastes in music which, up until now, has consisted of whatever is on the radio or in your parents’ record collection. (Remember those speakers that were like 3 feet tall and flashed different colors along with the beat? We had those. I hear they’re making a comeback.)

Then you see this video.

Holy sh”¦ what the”¦ who IS this lady? OMG she’s so cool! She looks like Leather Tuscadero! Black hair, black eyeliner, black leather. (Side note: her outfit was actually red leather but she didn’t like how it looked so they made the video black and white.) And she’s playing guitar! And she’s singing about this guy and about how she wants him. And they’ve got the coolest names”¦ Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. This is all just blowing your 10-year-old mind!

Yeah, I was hooked. I’m pretty sure I begged my mom to buy me the I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll album. I definitely remember begging my teacher to let us play music during one of our school parties and bringing that album to school with me and feeling like I was the Coolest Girl Ever for owning it. That album changed my life.

Black and white photo of Joan Jett singing with arms upraised
Photo via JoanJett.com

Joan Jett was only 23 when I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll was released. But even at such a young age, she’d already experienced music success as a founding member of the teen girl group The Runaways. Joan played rhythm guitar, shared lead vocals, and wrote or co-wrote most of The Runaways’ songs. If you saw the movie a couple of years ago, you know they were hugely popular in Japan but we won’t talk about the movie because I’m still not sure how I feel about Kristen Stewart playing Joan. And, of course, there’s the anthem of teen-girl rebellion, “Cherry Bomb.” (I was doing booking and promotions for local bands at one point and I even named that project after this song.)

After the breakup of The Runaways, Joan struggled to launch a solo career, recording a few songs with a couple of members of the Sex Pistols. One of those songs was a cover of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” which was originally written and performed by a British pop group, Arrows. Joan Jett’s self-titled debut album was rejected by over 20 labels so she and a friend, songwriter Kenny Laguna, formed Blackheart Records and released the record themselves. From there, Joan formed The Blackhearts and they were signed to Boardwalk Records which re-released Joan’s self-titled album under the name Bad Reputation in early 1981.

But it was I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, released later that same year, that put Joan Jett & the Blackhearts on the charts. The title track spent seven weeks at the top of the Billboard chart and the album went platinum. Rolling Stone gave it the 89th spot in their list of 100 Greatest Guitar Songs. (Personally, I think it should have been ranked higher but whatever. I’m also not happy about Joan Jett being passed over for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame again this year. Booooo!)

In the years following their hit album, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts went on to release Album in 1983 and and then Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth in 1984. Joan also began her acting career, starring in Light of Day with Michael J. Fox which you can apparently watch on YouTube. On the soundtrack of that movie was a song, also titled “Light of Day,” written by Bruce Springsteen and performed by Joan and Michael and their fictitious band, The Barbusters.

Okay, it hurts me to gloss over the next decade or so of Joan’s recording career with the Blackhearts but this is getting to be really long. So how about I just give you a list of their albums and move on to what she’s been doing lately. Cool? Cool.

[fancy_list style=”star_list” variation=”black”]

  • Good Music
  • Up Your Alley
  • The Hit List
  • Notorious
  • Flashback
  • Pure and Simple
  • Evil Stig
  • 1979
  • Naked
  • Sinner

[/fancy_list]

So in addition to being a kickass rock star and the original “riot grrl,” Joan has also been recording songs with other famous artists and opened on several tours over the past decade or two. She’s worked with people like Bikini Kill, Alice Cooper, The Gits, Peaches, Motorhead, Aerosmith, Def Leppard, Green Day”¦ should I stop now? Is this too much gushing? She’s also been producing tracks and albums for several other bands through her Blackheart Records label, signing and producing albums for bands like The Eyeliners, The Vacancies, and Girl in a Coma.

There’s so much more I could say about my idol. She’s a feminist, an animal rights activist, and her response to speculation that she’s gay has basically been, “My sex life is nobody else’s business.” Nailed it.

One last fangirl moment and I’m done. Right now, there’s a traveling version of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “Women Who Rock” exhibition and I’ve been to see it twice. (I’ll probably go at least once more before it’s gone.) I am not kidding you when I say that I got all teary-eyed when I got to the display that features Joan’s outfit from the I Love Rock & Roll album cover and the leather jacket she wore in the video. It was such an amazing experience and it immediately took me back to that time when my lifelong obsession with music first began. And then to turn the corner and see a display featuring Taylor Swift and realize that my daughter, who is a huge Taylor Swift fan, is the same age now as I was when I discovered Joan was just so touching. I even risked getting kicked out of the museum by taking this photo but I just had to have some sort of proof that I was mere inches away from these items that represent part of my own personal history.

Joan Jett display in 'Women Who Rock' exhibit
The buttons on the leather jacket? All related to women’s rights. I LOVE this woman.

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April

If I had a dollar for every time I got distracted, I wish I had some ice cream.

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