Joan Jett is Now on Streaming
Joan Jett is the de facto Queen of Rock & Roll, but, at the beginning, no label wanted to release her self-titled solo debut. And it was just as well. That record and how she to chose to release it — via her own Blackheart label in 1980 — would set the stage for a boundary-destroying career that has energized and inspired decades of female musicians.
And, today (September 7, 2018), Jett is primed to inspire still more musicians — female, male and non-binary — as her catalogue has finally come to streaming. Check out the playlist at the bottom of this post for some of her essential tracks.
Born Joan Marie Larkin in a suburb of Pennsylvania in 1958, the rock & roll-obsessed future legend started playing guitar at age 14, joining all-female rock band the Runaways soon after. That band — which also featured Sandy West, Jackie Fox, Lita Ford and Cherie Currie — had its share of enduring tracks, including the much-covered “Cherry Bomb.” After splitting from that crew in 1978, Jett decided to go solo, teaming up with longtime manager and friend Kenny Laguna and putting together a new band, the Blackhearts, which originally included drummer Lee Crystal and guitarist Ricky Byrd.
When labels failed to scoop up her self-titled debut, Jett and Co. formed their own outfit to release the album, which boasts the now-classic track “Bad Reputation,” plus some truly raging covers — notably the empowerment anthem, “You Don’t Own Me,” made famous by Lesley Gore. Boardwalk Records saw the light soon enough — after a stint of Laguna selling the album out of the trunk of his car at gigs — and reissued the debut in 1981 under the name Bad Reputation. Still, Blackheart Records continued to release Jett’s music, as well as releases from the likes of the Dollyrots and Girl in a Coma in later years.
After that initial 1981 release, the hits, as they say, kept coming. I Love Rock ‘N Roll dropped in 1981, featuring the Billboard Hot 100 #1 title track, as well as a stellar cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover.” Jett kept up a steady stream of releases through the ‘80s and up through recent years, with 2013’s Unvarnished, entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. She left a trail of certifiable earworms in her wake: “Do You Wanna Touch Me?”, “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” “Fake Friends” included.
Jett’s music has become part of the cultural lexicon, a rallying cry for musicians (and women in general) to stick to their proverbial guns. She has been a mentor for everyone from Kathleen Hanna to Miley Cyrus to Laura Jane Grace and, today, we celebrate a new generation’s introduction to her music by chatting with some of her long-time fans. Check out remembrances and honors from Hanna, Bratmobile, Royal Trux and more below.
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KATHLEEN HANNA OF BIKINI KILL, LE TIGRE AND THE JULIE RUIN
I thought we were going to get a way better reception than we got from the punk scene. It definitely wasn’t as generous or kind as what I would have expected — aside from Ian MacKaye, who was very generous and took us into the studio. …
[I] felt like everyone was coming after us and telling us that we weren’t the right kind of feminist… [Then we started to get] rejected in the scene because we were getting too much attention… And also there’s all these male voices telling you that you’re a fake band, you’re a novelty and you can’t sing…Your songs are stupid. To have someone like Joan Jett say, ‘You matter. You fucking matter. I’m going to champion you’ [was life-changing].
She championed so many women behind the scenes over the years, you don’t even know. At people’s worst moments, she’s there. It meant everything to me. She was totally willing to show me everything she knew about recording [when she worked with us on The Singles in 1998].
She had me go through songs and individual lines… It felt like I was in a luxury spa to be perfectly honest. As a singer, I was being taken so seriously and being given so much space and latitude to experiment. I loved it. I really loved having someone outside of me tell me what they heard and then give me notes.
I wasn’t mad about it or whatever. I was like, ‘This is the best experience of my life, because Joan Jett is teaching me essentially how to do vocals in the studio.’ No one had ever done that. That basically laid the framework for the rest of my career. Because I realized how much more I could do. I just had a lot more colors to paint with. I didn’t have to go in and sing and feel as much as possible. It’s about translating that feeling onto the vinyl.
People made a really big stink about it back then. They were like, ‘You’re not punk rock, you’re working with someone on a major label.’ I was just like, ‘Fuck you. If you get asked to go in the studio and work with Joan Jett, you’re going to say no?! It’s JOAN FUCKING JETT.’ She’s as important to my thing in my head as any punk band that I fucking care about is. It’s just ridiculous.
But it was just really incredible because…I felt like we were family immediately. And to get to work with her and go to her studio sessions and see how she recorded… She lent a lot of validation to us at a time when we felt pretty aimless.
ALLISON WOLFE OF BRATMOBILE
‘She’s the Joanest Jett around…’ [lyrics from the Bratmobile song 'Panik']
One of my few and fondest memories of middle school — that suffocating, hormonal purgatory ruled by competition and hyper insecurity — is a rare moment of female solidarity in the locker room. Picture a gaggle of preteen girls singing Joan Jett’s ‘I Love Rock ‘N Roll’ at the top of their lungs. For a moment, I forgot about being the awkward, scummy, brace-face scabies kid with a weird mom. Joan Jett exudes strength and cool on her own terms. She represented agency and power in a mainstream music world where women are all too often relegated to the role of consumer or decoration.
After being inspired early on by Joan Jett, the B52s, Bow Wow Wow, and the Go Gos, and in young adulthood by women in my hometown DIY music scene, I formed my own band Bratmobile, fanzine Girl Germs and feminist punk rock movement riot grrrl. I had the honor of meeting Joan Jett around that time, and I was floored by how equally inspired she seemed to be by us riot grrrls. Joan may have seen in us a feminist support system she wished she’d had when she started out. She was also able to embody, for us, the role model she never really had.
Getting to know her, I was struck by Joan’s honesty and intense curiosity. She’s refreshingly frank and truly cared to dig deeper into what all of us mini-feminists were up to. Joan once invited Kathleen Hanna and I up to Heart’s Bad Animals Studio in Seattle to bond and sing backup vocals on a Metal Church album she was coproducing, even though we sang charmingly off key.
She’s also irreverent and funny. I recall Joan talking about wanting to start an all-girl band called ‘Clam Jam,’ and I’ve seen her sitting on a toilet backstage with the door open, yelling for a tampon. Over the years, Joan has been expressly generous while also encouraging women to take no shit — advice that I unfortunately have not always followed.
She was right there with us in one of my lowest moments, when I was not standing up for myself and Bratmobile was falling apart on stage. Joan screamed her support from the side of the stage, and for that, I will be forever grateful to the Queen of I Love Rock ‘N Roll.
JENNIFER HERREMA OF ROYAL TRUX AND BLACK BANANAS
Joan Jett’s ‘Bad Reputation’ was a revelation. My preteen introduction to sick rock & roll guitar and foot-stomping anthems on vinyl.
I’ve always loved Joan Jett as a guitar player, singer, songwriter and individual with an incredibly strong sense for what it was that turned her on. The Runaways were cool, but Jett was cooler. So cool she was HOT! Feminine, but not a girlie girl or sexual manipulator. Her talent transcended her sex, which was unheard of at a time when sex was selling faster than gasoline. (I think it still is?)
I read somewhere that she was the one that insisted on a band when her friend/writing partner Kenny Laguna wanted to present her as a solo ‘chick’ as opposed to a shredding guitar player in a band. Thankfully, she knew what she wanted and was not deterred by the status quo, as it was that position she held in her own band that solidified her status as a true, incomparable maverick in the male-dominated genre of rock & roll.
Suzi Quatro may have been her idol, but Jett surpassed Quatro to become the first of her kind…the triple threat. She had the super skills on guitar, the talent to write her own songs, and a presence that had never been seen before within a band. She is the first of a rare kind of artist to lead and not dominate a real mixed gender rock & roll band on a global stage.
I also really love that she fired her guitar teacher for pushing folk songs on her and refusing to teach her what she wanted to learn. I cannot say with absolute certainty that all these ‘facts’ about Joan Jett are true, as Wiki, Google, and the Internet, in general, is full of bogus information, red herrings and the like, BUT I can say that what I say she is… she is (to me).
ERIN SMITH OF BRATMOBILE
As a kid growing up in the ’80s, I never saw any women on MTV or in popular music that played their own instruments… Sure, there were powerful female singers, but almost none playing guitar!! If you turned on MTV, it was guys everywhere. Then along came Joan Jett like a total BADASS… It’s hard to remember in retrospect how few role models there really were if you were girl that wanted to be in a band and actually play an instrument.
Joan Jett, to me, was the triple threat: not only a woman, not only a woman paying GUITAR, but a woman FROM MARYLAND (like I was!) playing guitar…. When I saw Joan Jett, in her I saw possibility for what I could do. There were no limits. And with a song like ‘Bad Reputation,’ she’s saying you can do whatever you want to do without caring what anyone thinks.
Joan is also far more complex than the Joan of ‘I Love Rock ‘N Roll’ that most people know her for. She produced THE GERMS, for God’s sake! That’s crazy!! She is super well-versed in glam — that really comes out in her early work.
Joan Jett was always amazingly supportive of my band Bratmobile and bands like Bikini Kill, whom she produced. She cared enough to really talk to me and make sure I was OK with how crazy the music business could get. Joan was truly supportive of underground female bands, coming to see us play in New York several times, always caring, always super supportive, always taking time out to REALLY talk to me.
When my band Bratmobile broke up on stage (!!!) in New York in 1994, Joan was standing directly behind my amp, there to support me, literally protecting me on stage, offering to take care of some people that had invaded our stage!! That was insane for me as a college student. My band may have flamed out and broken up ON STAGE, but Joan Jett was right there on stage with me, giving me a back rub as it happened!!
STEPHANIE LUKE OF THE COATHANGERS
Joan Jett is heralded by many as the mother of rock & roll, the badass, in-your-face, no apologies, talented as fuck guitarist and front woman who set a new standard (in my opinion) for female musicians — not just in the 1970s but still to this day.
Sure, we had our Patti Smith and our Debbie Harry, but Queen Mother Jett was a different breed — not just in her looks (because that’s, unfortunately, the first thought that comes to many people’s minds when comparing female musicians) — but in her overall sound, her stage presence and her powerful aura. Blasting guitar chords come at you with fervor, then this sweet yet strong and melodic voice with that undeniable rasp underlies it all. The best of salty and sweet, she exudes masculine energy combined with an intense femininity all wrapped up in leather and thick black eyeliner.
Did the term ‘jet black hair’ come from this woman? Because it should have: Jett black hair, bitches! A talented songwriter and stage woman with just the right amount of sex appeal for all, she has been a total inspiration to me from the time I discovered her music (the Runaways, then Joan Jett and the Blackhearts) to this day.
I was lucky enough to meet her for a skinny second with my bandmates at one of our shows in New York City years ago, and she was the coolest person/idol I’ve ever encountered. Any musician, not just female, should give much respect to her for inspiring most of us in one way or another — whether we knew it or not. Long Live Joan Jett!
LEAH WELLBAUM OF SLOTHRUST
After graduating college in New York, I started teaching music and always felt passionately that, as a teacher, I wanted to help women and non-binary folk learn to play electric guitar with confidence. ‘Bad Reputation’ and ‘I Love Rock ‘N Roll’ are two of my most-taught guitar songs.
I am infinitely grateful to Joan Jett for creating such commanding music that makes other people feel empowered to play. These songs possess a type of energy that cannot be explained, only felt. I’ve seen so many young people figure out how to harness their musical power through learning and listening to her badass music and making it their own. I’m sure I will be teaching her work forever.
(Photo Credit: Roger Erickson)
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