ALBUM (1976)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am

The Runaways
The Runaways

Before bad-ass Joan Jett strapped on a leather jumpsuit and strutted around a bar insisting she loved rock'n'roll (put another dime in the jukebox, baby), she was in a band that helped blaze the trail for women in music. She was, however, just a fresh-faced teen.

Jett helped form the Runaways - a five-member all-teen girl rock band - when roguish producer Kim Fowley introduced her to drummer Sandy West. Singer and bassist Micki Steele soon joined the girls, but her stint with the band would be short-lived. Lead guitarist Lita Ford was thrown into the mix, along with bassist Jackie Fox. The crucial final piece in the puzzle, however, was blond bombshell Cherie Currie, who Jett and Fowley met in a teen nightclub called the Sugar Shack.

The group's 1976 eponymous debut was far from a runaway success in the US - it reached only No 194 on the pop charts - but it was enough to see them headline shows around the country, at times boasting support from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Cheap Trick, and Van Halen, among others.

More importantly, the album was huge in Japan, ensuring the ground-breaking punk-leaning group commercial success. Only Abba, Kiss, and Led Zeppelin were more popular in the land of the rising sun.

The single Cherry Bomb was especially big. A famous music video of the Runaways performing the song live in Japan has Currie clad in a revealing corset and underwear, while her vixen-ish long-haired cohorts strut and thrust around the stage, shouting back-up vocals for the chorus: 'Che che che cherry bomb!' The song was apparently made up on the go during Currie's audition for the band. The refrain refers to the singer's first name.

The album also featured a cover of the Velvet Underground's Rock & Roll, but most of the tracks were written by the girls or their producer-cum-manager, Fowley. The songs You Drive Me Wild and Is It Day or Night, like Cherry Bomb, also showed the girls as confident sexual aggressors - still a radical idea for the 1970s - and confirmed their hardcore appeal.

Naturally, they would soon be hanging out with the bad boys of punk and rock, most notably Blondie, the Ramones, and the Sex Pistols. These alliances probably helped Jett, Currie and company on the path towards rock'n'roll excess, which they dabbled in liberally despite their tender years.

The band continued, with a rotating cast, and would go on to produce four more albums, the biggest-selling of which was 1977's Live in Japan, before ultimately succumbing to creative differences and, in 1979, breaking up. Their legacy is significant: they are the ancestors of the tough-girl rock image and have influenced, among others, Courtney Love, The Donnas and The Go-Go's.

The Runaways are also the subject of a recent Hollywood movie starring Dakota Fanning as Currie and Kirsten Stewart as Jett, which received warm notice on its release last year. The film, called The Runaways, is based on Currie's recently released memoir about her time in the band, Neon Angel. Jett served as an executive producer on the film. Of course, you can find the soundtrack on sale now.