Friday, May 21, 2010
Video Affects - Joan Jett: I Love Rock n Roll, 1982
At age eleven my music idols are still to really appear. I 'follow' the chart show Ready to Roll along with my older siblings and note the current top ten as it changes over the weeks and months. Over 1981 ex-Runaways singer Joan Jett records this, a cover of the Arrows' original from 1975 with her new band the Blackhearts. In 1982 it reaches New Zealand and it is h-u-g-e. Well, that's the way I remember it, and Wikipedia and the RIANZ website won't tell me any different. It's probably not important, because what this does signify to me is that in the short space of a year my music appreciation has shifted from casual TV chart show viewing and likely acquiescence with my siblings'/parents' tastes through to noticing the tastes of my peers and other adults of significance. My intermediate teacher Miss Watson brought along her new purchase to school and had us write a poem about her favourite track on it. Within a fortnight I had followed suit and bought my first grown-up record, Queen's Greatest Hits but to this day I still ponder the wisdom of setting such a lofty assignment to a class of eleven year olds, based around the themes and lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody (true story!)
I Love Rock n Roll is quite a different song, however. Despite it being roughly the same age as Rhapsody its impact, delivery and video (having made a similar impression on the new new MTV) mean the song will be sung in playgrounds, along with the radio, at school camp and, most crucially, at my school social that year. Which underlines my other discovery of that year, really - girls. The obstacle I have with Rock n Roll is ironic then, in that it's sung by a 'girl'. But no sort of girl I'd see at school, that Ms Jett; and I'd not use that title - the epithet 'Ms' being viewed by my parents as a little suspicious and feminist-sounding. Jett is quite the antithesis of a pop starlet in the song and the video, scowling and sneering her way through the verses, roaring the 'Yaaow!" bits that the all-male Arrows had left to their guitars. The Blackhearts' guitars, for what it's worth, are the stronger in this too - heavier at the bottom and with a great solo. It's not hard to see why the song took on a new lease of life with Jett and is largely regarded as her composition. It was revolutionary to me - the video (the version here starts with a snippet of Runaways hit Bad Reputation) was in black and white, though not originally, as seen in the first version (in colour!) and Jett's onscreen attitude is all balls - leather jacket, spiked hair, getting in the spaces and faces of the young dudes at the bar, on which she'll later dance in a very non-Coyote Ugly way. To the girls in my class this was probably enormously exciting too - a cool chick miles from the sweet and squeaky clean fare we'd had 'til then - the Tina Crosses, Nolan Sisters and Sheena Eastons. This song, its opening line a neat inversion of The Beatles' I Saw Her Standing There (the Arrows had written it intending to address The Stones' It's Only Rock and Roll) is a deliberate role reversal. In my innocence I hadn't concieved that a girl could sing, behave and look like that. But Jett did and she was inescapable, and I soon happily saw the error of my ways, singing it at the top of my still small voice with all my classmates later that year at my school social.
And nearly thirty years on it's still a great song. Jett and the Runaways are experiencing something of a revival at the moment with a forthcoming biopic in production (Jett to be played by Kristen Stewart). A couple of weeks ago she and the Blackhearts made an appearance, looking and sounding in fine form performing Bad Reputation live on Letterman.