“The Runaways”, 1976
It was a pretty far out concept, a band of teenage girls screaming about sex and drugs through raucous garage rock and punk numbers.
Guitarist Joan Jett and drummer Sandy West began jamming in late 1975 after colourful producer Kim Fowley introduced them. After recruiting lead guitarist Lita Ford and bassist Jackie Fox, they found lead singer Cherie Currie in a local club, the Sugar Shack.
By mid 1976 they were signed to Mercury Records and their debut record, The Runaways was released on June 1, to a pretty unprepared audience. The rampant sexuality and chaos that was unleashed blew apart a rock music industry that was, at the time, totally male dominated.
Opening single “Cherry Bomb” sees Cherie Currie unleashing her deep growl, urging girls to ‘get down ladies you’ve got nothing to lose!’ over blasts of distorted guitar and thundering drums. Turning to the men in the audience, Currie taunts ‘I’ll give you something to live for/ Have you and grab you until your sore!’.
Tracks like “You Drive Me Wild” and “Is it Day Or Night?” are angry poems of rebellion and sex, with Jett and Currie moaning over sharp splutters of Ford’s guitar work. Influences are spread all over, from the Lep Zeppelin core of drums and bass, the Suzi Quatro sentiment of Jett and Currie, to the Hendrix tones laid on Ford’s guitar on “Rock And Roll”.
Rage and lust are slathered on every song, and on tracks such as “Lovers” they find an explosive partnership, Currie drawling ‘make me scream/ What’s your name?‘. Currie’s vocals are rich and mature, never betraying her young age (she was 16 when the album was recorded). Her age also didn’t prevent her from becoming the sex symbol of the group.
Last track on the record, “Dead End Justice” explores this, ‘I’m sweet 16 and a rebel queen/ And I look really hot in my tight blue jeans’ Currie sings over a rumbling backing. Chorus lyrics are oddly prophetic: ‘Dead end kids in the danger zone/ All of you are drunk and stoned’.
It was the first time that young women got a note in edgeways in the brutal male world of rock, and The Runaways certainly made it count.