70’s Pick of the Week
“Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways (1977)
Long, long before the Donnas, and the so-called Riot Grrl movement of the ‘90’s came the trailblazing, unwittingly feminist band, the Runaways.
When teenagers Sandy West and Joan Jett met, they wanted to form a rock band - not a very popular idea at a very male-dominated time in rock history. The great thing about them is that they wrote, played their own instruments and performed world-wide. The problem was that their audience, also teenagers, could not get into the bars they played in. While they were a great success in Europe and especially Japan, they never really gained anything more than a cult following in North America.
The legendary, bizarre producer Kim Fowley had given drummer Sandy West, Joan Jett’s phone number and told them to get together to see if they could do anything. The group originally started as trio with Micki Steele (later of the Bangles), who toured clubs in Los Angeles. Steele eventually got fired and was replaced. Soon after, Lita Ford (lead guitar) and Jackie Fox (bass) were hired to round out the group.
Cheri Currie was recruited in a teen nightclub they were playing at. They were blown away by her. They approached her right away and she agreed to join Joan and Sandy.
In 1976 they recorded their self-titled debut album on Mercury records and toured to open for Tom Petty, Cheap Trick, and Van Halen. They had a number of sold out shows that year too. Not bad!
Not too strangely the girls all styled themselves after their rock heroes: Cherrie –David Bowie, Joan – Suzi Quatro & Keith Richards, LIta – Ritchie Blackmore & Jeff Beck, Sandy – Rodger Taylor (Queen’s drummer) & Jackie – Gene Simmons.
Their second album “Queens of Noise” was released in 1977 and they began a world tour. They were hanging out with the New York punk bands like Blondie, The Ramones and the Dead Boys, and in the U.K. with the Damned, The Sex Pistols and Generation X. They were kind of lumped into the punk scene, but I never really felt they were a punk band. They were more emulating the straight-forward rockers.
Led Zeppelin, KISS, and ABBA at the time.
Instant success is very tough on the relationships in any band, and the teenage runaways, practically literally, was no exception. There was lots of pressure to perform – TV appearances, special concerts, a live album, and the Tokyo Music Festival. Fox left the group on tour and Jett stepped up on bass for the Festival.
Cherrie was the next to leave after a scrap with Lita over some photo shoot. Egos were running unchecked. There was a fourth album, now with Vicki Blue on bass; “Watin’ For the Night”.
The band then embarked on a world tour with their friends the Ramones.
They were teenage girls fighting hard to make their mark in rock. They knew it was an uphill battle and they finally succumbed to the fight after only 4 years. They had parted ways with Mercury and Kim Fowley, claiming he had not kept his promises. To Fowley’s defence though, it would have been tough, as was part of the contract to ensure the girls were schooled properly. They were living the rock and roll life-style of excess.......and hello, they were teenage girls!
The height of the Runaways success came in 1977 in Japan where ‘Cherry Bomb” was huge. Lita Ford had some success as a solo act and released her album “Wicked Wonderland” in 2009. Of course Joan Jett went on to huge success and still tours today. I saw her about 2 years ago – she looks & sounds great! Rock on Joan!
The Runaways were not long-lived, were arguably not great musically, but they have their place in rock representing fortitude of the pioneering feminine spirit.