Listen to this track by proto-riotgrrls The Runaways, featuring Joan Jett , Lita Ford, and Cherie Currie, all of whom would enjoy solo careers after the band folded by the end of the 1970s. It’s their low-charting single “Cherry Bomb”, which was not so low charting in Japan where, like fellow hard rockers Cheap Trick, they had an enormous audience.
The story of the Runaways is a curious tale, in that they started off as something of an exploited act, a gimmick, with the veneer of streetwise authenticity. Imagine this: teenaged girls playing ballsy rock music on their own, with songs about boozing, partying, and shagging. Who would buy that? Manager Kim Fowley thought everyone would. But, to make sure, he kept the band on a short leash, with the illusion of independent and streetwise women tempered by male marketing prowess behind the scenes. This model produced two studio albums, one live album, a number of singles, performances at CBGBs, and a following abroad.
The Runaways are soon to be the subject of a feature film starring actors Kirsten Stewart (as Joan Jett) and Dakota Fanning (as Cherie Currie), a typical tale of a band on the rise, with internal pressures eventually breaking it up. The heart of the drama of course is that the band members were teenaged girls, pursuing a path that popular culture had not yet fully understood or embraced. This is reflected perhaps in the poor sales of their records in North America, and in the fact that the influence they had can largely be understood in retrospect.
And this is the curious part of the tale. What this band eventually helped to inspire and empower was a number of other bands that came up behind them. These include the Bangles and the Go-Gos, and later the Donnas, L7, and Le Tigre among many others, who wrote their own material and played their own instruments, but otherwise did so without a male puppeteer pulling all the strings. Yet, the Runaways themselves would not see the fruits of this until Joan Jett had formed the Blackhearts, scoring an enormous 1982 hit in “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, when Lita Ford established herself as a heavy metal pin-up singer, and when Cherie Currie established herself intially as solo singer, and later as an accomplished actor.
Where the Runaways was built on the idea that women playing rock music was a novelty, they transcended that novelty by putting guitars and drumsticks into the hands of other women. By the 80s and 90s, that novelty was no longer a novelty at all. And as a result of their eventual impact on others, hard rock, metal, power pop, and punk were no longer boy’s clubs, expanding the cultural significance of the music, and making male svengalis into anachronisms.
For more information about the Runaways, check out Runaways.com