Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: The Runaways

Thought we’d give this one a spin before the mythology kicks in a few weeks from now: The Runaways, from 1976.  The movie of the same name is supposed to start soon, and needless to say, it’s going to paint the real story in big, bold colors.  The Runaways were an all-girl rock band that came out of L.A. around 1975, put together by veteran L.A. producer Kim Fowley, they were 16- and 17-year-olds who could really play their instruments.

Joan Jett was a guitarist and the main songwriter, guitar player Lita Ford, bassist Jackie Fox, drummer Sandy West and pretty blonde lead singer Cherie Currie.  Many people are saying THIS is the first real all-girl rock band – don’t believe it.  Check out Fanny, which broke up the same year the Runaways got together – actually Goldie and the Gingerbreads were the first all-female rock band to sign to a major label (1960s) and Fanny was the second (1970s).

Anyhow – The Runaways.  Like any red-blooded young American male of the era (OK, I was 20 years old), you weren’t cool if you didn’t own a copy of this album.  “Cherry Bomb,” the group’s only big hit, kicks off the album; like many of the other songs, it was written by Joan Jett and Kim Fowley.  Currie had a throaty, husky singing voice and her delivery gave the band’s music a bit of toughness that the overly polished musicianship didn’t really sell.  Probably she was a little extra pissed off when she cut the vocal for “Cherry Bomb” – apparently Jett/Fowley wrote the song about her.

“You Drive Me Wild” was a Jett composition about – what else? – sex.  The song rocks heartily enough, but hearing the 16-year-old Jett faking an orgasm in the background is a bit, uh, creepy.  In fact, listening to this album now makes me feel a little sleazy, like the time I had to keep an eye on my daughter and her friends in the pool for her 15th birthday party.

Ahem.  Oh, there’s “Rock and Roll,” Lou Reed’s warhorse, all done up girly rocker style.  Then there’s “American Nights,” surely conceived by Fowley as some kind of rock anthem, and the seven-minute album closer “Dead End Justice,” about girls in reform school or some nonsense.  The Runaways is great fun, and whole lot less tedious than some of the group’s followup efforts.  Dig it up today, it shouldn’t be hard – it’s a fine time capsule to a long-lost era.

Joan Jett went on to become, well, Joan Jett.  Currie tried her hand at acting (Foxes), cut a solo album then recorded for a while with her sister Marie.  She’s now a chainsaw carver.  Jackie Fox went to Harvard and became a lawyer.  Lita Ford still has a semi-successful career as a heavy metal singer, and Sandy Fox died of cancer in 2006.   When the Runaways first started, their original bass player was Micki Steele – she only spent a few months with the band but in the 1980s she re-emerged with the Bangles.

The Runaways, a new movie starring Kristen Stewart as Jett and Dakota Fanning as Currie, is getting nice buzz and will have a huge red-carpet event screening this week at SXSW in Austin.  It should be in selected cities this weekend, nationwide on April 9.

MP3: “Cherry Bomb”

MP3: “You Drive Me Wild”

MP3: “American Nights”

MP3: “Rock And Roll”

MP3: “Dead End Justice”

The Runaways official website

YouTube: Official movie trailer

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