(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)
The pages of history textbooks are filled will legions of folks who shaped the world, but – academia being what it is – many important people receive cursory mentions or none at all. Like Joan Jett.
Don’t get me wrong – there were important women rockers before her, and any music fan worth his or her salt should be able to list them – and she shared space in the record racks and ink in the rock magazines with a number of equally important contemporaries, albeit ones who were blazing trails in different genres. But few, male or female, rocked as consistently hard and steady as Joan Jett during the ’80s. Beginning with the I Love Rock ’n Roll album, which was released on November 18th, 1981, she taught a generation of gals and guys that either gender could make like Chuck Berry.
It was a long time coming, of course. She first dented the door to the men’s room that was rock ’n’ roll in the mid-1970s with the Runaways, though – success in Japan aside – they never transcended to popular acclaim. Her first solo album in 1980, originally a self-titled release before being rechristened Bad Reputation in January 1981, did achieve greatness – but few heard it. She finally kicked down the door in early 1982 with help from MTV, and the video for the chart-topping title track to her second LP. (Rock radio, at least in my neck of the woods, ignored her until then.)
The song, as the album as a whole, mixes elements of new wave, punk, glam rock and old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll into a delectable whole. It’s hot, heavy, loud and gritty or, as my mother-in-law might say, “it’s rough, it’s tough, and it’s got the stuff.”
The cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson & Clover,” which peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard charts, is equally audacious.
It’s also the album’s slowest song.
What makes an album great – and essential – isn’t any one song, of course, though some may be better than others. It’s the album in total. And in the case of I Love Rock n’ Roll, that means the other eight tracks on the LP – and they’re as solid as the two singles. What teenager (or adult, for that matter) couldn’t identify with “Victim of Circumstance”?
And who hasn’t known a “Nag”?
Like the title track, “Crimson & Clover” and several others on the LP, it’s a cover song, in this case one by a doo-wop group called the Haloes, who had a No. 25 hit with it in 1961. One of the other covers is one of Joan’s own, the Runaways’ “You’re Too Possessive” (from that band’s overlooked 1977 Waitin’ for the Night album):
There’s also the original “(I’m Gonna) Run Away”…
…and “Love Is Pain”:
On the original release, which I had on cassette, there was this Christmas treat –
After the holidays, Boardwalk replaced it with Joan’s own “Oh Woe Is Me,” which had been the b-side to “Crimson & Clover.”
The success of the album, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard charts, led to a resurgence of interest for Bad Reputation, and paved the way for her strong third and fourth albums, Album (1983) and Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth (1984). True, they followed a similar pattern – a mix of killer new songs and choice covers – but it’s a pattern that didn’t grow old then, and doesn’t sound old now when or if you listen to them.
- I Love Rock ’n Roll
- (I’m Gonna) Run Away
- Love Is Pain
- Crimson & Clover
- Victim of Circumstance
- Bits and Pieces
- Be Straight
- You’re Too Possessive
- Little Drummer Boy