Sunday, May 18, 2008

Joan Jett's AC/DC - A Dirty Deed Done Cool!

One of my favourite artists of the 80s was Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, which without detracting from the Blackhearts, was really a vehicle for the talents of Joan Jett.

Having received her first guitar at age 14, Jett's career had taken off initially with the 70s all-girl hard rock act The Runaways. Jett formed The Runaways in 1975, then only 15, with Sandy West and Micki Steele (later of Bangles). The lineup altered to soon include Cherie Currie and Lita Ford and Jackie Fox (who replaced Steele). Strongly influenced by the likes of Alice Cooper a self-titled debut album was released in 1976. The band was lampooned mercilessly by critics in the U.S., but they found an audience in Japan. The follow up album Queens Of Noise led into a period of much in fighting and instability. Throughout Joan Jett remained the primary creative drive in terms of song writing and style. By the end of 1978 the internal conflict took its toll and The Runaways went their separate ways. The Runaways best known song was 'Cherry Bomb'.

Joan Jett struggled initially to get a solo recording deal, in large part due to the hangover of The Runaways maligned reputation. But by 1981 the quality of her song catalogue could no longer be refuted, and following a low key debut effort, aptly titled 'Bad Reputation', Jett blasted into the rock stratosphere. With Kenny Laguna (producer of Greg Kihn Band) and Ritchie Cordell (co-writer 'Mony Mony'/'I Think We're Alone Now') on board Joan Jett released 'I Love Rock 'N' Roll' in late 1981. The album surged up the U.S. charts and early '82 saw the release of the title track (previously a B-Side for Arrows). The song reached #1 in March and held the top spot in America for seven weeks, making it the #1 selling song of 1982. It was accompanied by a cool black and white promo clip, with Jett and The Blackhearts doing their best hard rock sneer to camera. The song peaked at #1 in Australia (5 weeks) and #4 in the U.K.

Two more cover hits followed for Jett in 1982, 'Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)' (original by Gary Glitter) and 'Crimson And Clover' (original by Tommy James). Both songs made the U.S. top 20 and OZ top 20. Interestingly Joan Jett originally recorded 'I Love Rock 'N' Roll' soon after The Runaways broke up, and this version was released as a B-side to a solo Joan Jett single in Holland in 1979. The hit version would enjoy a mini-revival in 1994 through its inclusion of the 'Wayne's World 2'.
Unfortunately Jett couldn't sustain this level of commercial success through the remainder of the 80s, though 1988's album 'Up Your Alley' yielded another U.S. top 10 hit in 'I Hate Myself For Loving You'. But all the while Jett stayed true to her musical roots and her vocals remained as hard edged and gritty as ever, epitomised by her final foray into the singles charts with 'Dirty Deeds' (U.S. #36, OZ#64). The song was a 1990 cover of the AC/DC classic from 1976 'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap', and was from the album of all cover songs 'The Hit List'. How can anyone do justice to Bon Scott's original vocals backed by the furious guitar of the Young brothers, I hear you ask? Well, no-one can is my answer to that question, if that is they attempt to do an AC/DC. Joan Jett wisely didn't attempt this, and whilst being true to the song's integrity, Jett managed to emblazon her own unique signature sound to it. A win-win in my book.

Jett has continued to record and perform, releasing a greatest hits package in 1997, reunited with the Blackhearts in 1999 for the album 'Fetish', and her most recent album was 'Sinner' in 2006. Moreover she has strongly influenced the sound/style of artists such as Babes In Toyland, The Spazzy's, Lash, Veruca Salt, Hole and Juliette & The Licks. Having said that I can't help thinking Joan Jett may have borrowed a move or two from Suzi Quatro ;)

If you purchase the 1997 greatest hits package beware that it only includes original tracks from Jett's first four albums and due to label rights 'I Hate Myself For Loving You' is a rerecording version by Jett. 'The Hit List' featuring Jett's version of 'Dirty Deeds' is still available :)

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