It’s odd to think about now, but when I first saw the picture of Joan Jett on the cover of this week’s “album of the week,” I LOVE ROCK ’N ROLL, I thought she looked a bit ghoulish. But, as I would soon find out, there was nothing ghoulish about Joan Jett; just the opposite (although I’m quite sure she could still kick my ass). Joan Jett was (and still is) a hard-working, hard-rocking woman and superstar. And, in 1981, there weren’t many hard-working, hard-rocking women out there in music (maybe there still aren’t).
Pennsylvania-born Joan Jett has been labeled the Queen of Rock ’n Roll and the Godmother of Punk, and in 2015, she and her band, The Blackhearts, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All deserved.
Joan Jett was a founding member of the all-female rock band, The Runaways (their debut single, “Cherry Bomb” hit No. 1 in Japan and just missed the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in 1976). In January 1981, her album, BAD REPUTATION, was released (which was a re-issue of her self-titled 1980 debut album), but BAD REPUTATION didn’t really take off until the release of her next album in November 1981, I LOVE ROCK ’N ROLL.
Like many of Joan Jett’s albums, I LOVE ROCK ’N ROLL was a mix of cool originals and kick-ass cover songs. The title track starts off the album. As soon as I heard it on the radio, I KNEW I had to have this album. The guitars, the drums, the vocals all hit the right chords (pun intended). Joan Jett heard the original “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” back in 1976 by the band Arrows, and it resonated with her greatly, and her version sure resonated with me.
The single “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” hit No. 1 in the U.S. on March 20, 1982, and didn’t relinquish the top spot for 7 weeks. It was a worldwide hit as well, reaching No. 1 in Australia, Canada, Holland, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden and the BILLBOARD Rock chart. It also reached the Top 10 in at least 7 other countries and even reached No. 31 on the BILLBOARD Dance chart, which is impressive, considering most rock songs don’t even touch that chart.
The second single, “Crimson And Clover,” was a No. 1 hit for Tommy James and the Shondells back in 1969, and Joan & Co. took their updated rock version to No. 7 on the Hot 100 for a couple of weeks in late June 1982.
Other covers on the album include “Nag” (a 1961 hit by the Bronx doo-wop group, The Halos), “Bits And Pieces” (a No. 4 hit by The Dave Clark Five in 1964), “You’re Too Possessive” (written by Joan Jett, but originally recorded by The Runaways) and her kick-ass rockin’ version of the Christmas staple “Little Drummer Boy,” which was always a staple on my STUCK IN THE 80s holiday shows every year.
Later editions of the I LOVE ROCK ’N ROLL album would also include popular covers of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie,” popularized by The Kingsmen in 1963.
I’m actually blessed to own 2 copies of the I LOVE ROCK ’N ROLL album – the one released before Christmas 1981 with “Little Drummer Boy,” and the one released after Christmas, with the Joan Jett composition, “Oh Woe Is Me.” Other Joan Jett originals on the album include “Love Is Pain,” “Victim Of Circumstance,” “You’re Too Possessive,” and “Be Straight,” which was co-written with Greg Kihn and sounds like a cross between The Soft Boys’ “Wey Wey Hep Uh Hole” and Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy.”
The popularity of I LOVE ROCK ’N ROLL invigorated new life into Joan Jett’s previous album, BAD REPUTATION, and her brilliant cover of Gary Glitter’s 1973 hit, “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah),” which spent 3 weeks at No. 20 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in September / October 1982.
Joan Jett has released 11 more studio albums since I LOVE ROCK ’N ROLL, and hit the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 6 more times. She’s also delved into acting, including 1987’s LIGHT OF DAY film with Michael J. Fox, appeared in the 2000 Broadway production of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW as Columbia, and recently made an appearance as herself on both the new Denis Leary show, SEX&DRUGS&ROCK&ROLL, and on the new TV series, THE MUPPETS.
My dear friend, Michelle, once said to me (the year we met in 1994), “You’re original at being nostalgic.” It’s one of the best compliments I’ve even been given. I think the same could be said about Joan Jett and how she can take a cover song and make it her own, whether it’s Arrows, Tommy James, The Dave Clark Five, Sly & The Family Stone (“Everyday People”), Bruce Springsteen (“Light Of Day”), Jonathan Richman (“Roadrunner”), Missing Persons (“Destination Unknown”) or AC/DC (“Dirty Deeds”).
This year, Joan will be on tour with Heart and Cheap Trick, and I hope to be there. Her last album, UNVARNISHED, was released in 2013, and I wasn’t able to find any info on whether or not she and her band, The Blackhearts, are going into the studio anytime soon, before or after the tour, but even if she doesn’t, I have many memories of the album where she got me and 10 million others to proclaim, “I LOVE ROCK ’N ROLL!” And, whenever Joan sang those words, even though they weren’t initially her own, you believed her…