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Album Histories Monthly: Joan Jett – ‘I Love Rock ‘n Roll’

Welcome back to our new series on Flypaper, Album Histories Monthly, which brings you the story of a single album each month, in the month that it was originally released. Last month, we covered the Replacements’ 1984 goofball-punk classic, Let It Be. This month: 

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – I Love Rock ‘n Roll

Release Date: November 18, 1981

“Looking for three good men.” – Jett’s classified ad looking for Blackhearts band members. 

Joan Jett has become synonymous with feminism in rock music because she refused to be just a female musician who coasted on tokenism. She was a woman, and her sexuality played a big part in the development and transmission of her image, but she was taken seriously on the same level as the other male guitar-playing lead singers of the day as well. She was dominant, confident, and an all-around bad ass.

Her musical career started in 1975 when she founded the Runaways with Lita Ford. She was only 17 years old, but her raw power and talent can be heard on those Runaways albums. Listening to Cherry Bomb today, it feels like a timeless anthem that could have been written by Bikini Kill or Pussy Riot.

The Runaways, despite their popularity, had a very contentious relationship with their audience throughout their career. Most of the pushback came from men. Jett was once hit in the head with a bottle, and she had to just get back up and keep playing her guitar. In response to events like this, Jett had this to say in a recent interview with The Irish Times:

“When guys thought it was just a phase, they’d belittle us, but when they realized we were serious, they got nasty. It’s difficult to get across to people what it’s like to be spat at. They expected us to run offstage crying, but we didn’t, we just stood there.

“After the gig, I would be dripping in spit and just put my head in my hands and cry out of sheer frustration. I just didn’t get what the problem was, but I just can’t back down — unless I’m physically knocked out and have to be carried off the stage. And being carried off was the only way you’d get me off the stage, not by scaring me off it.”

And it wasn’t just men. Women also had issues with the Runaways’ image. Feminists would accuse them of “being too sexual, of using [their] image to titillate, but we were teenage girls who thought about going out, hooking up, and doing all of those things teenage girls do. It was real, and I think that was even scarier to people.”

The Runaways could be seen as a musical baptism for Jett. It left a huge impact on her and she found it almost sacrilegious to join another girl group, so she decided to hire “three good men” for her new band, the Blackhearts.

She continued to work with her manager and producer from the Runaways, Kenny Laguna. Together they wrote many of the songs for Joan Jett’s upcoming debut solo album, I Love Rock ‘n Roll.

“I wanted ‘I Love Rock ‘n Roll’ to sound real, I wanted it to sound live.” – Glen Kolotkin (producer)

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts recorded their first album at Kingdom Sound on Long Island. They were paired quickly with producer Glen Kolotkin who had worked with artists like the Ramones and Santana. Jett and Kolotkin both agreed that the album needed a live sound to it. Rather than overproduce it, they wanted to capture the live energy of the band.

Joan Jett performs at the Commodore Ballroom in 1981. Photo by Bev Davies.

The recorded all together in one room with lots of bleed carrying over between the microphones. Looking through the window from the studio into the live room, one could see Lee Crystal’s drums were located in the far-left corner of the live area, next to Gary Ryan on bass. Ricky Byrd and Joan Jett faced the control room so she could communicate with Kolotkin.

The recording session was a relatively quick one as the band was well-rehearsed and the songs were straight-forward for the most part. While Kolotkin thought they were making a strong and competent album, he didn’t hear a hit and was concerned about the success of the album. Jett then mentioned a B-side released by the Arrows in 1975 called “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

The production and management team all agreed that this song had potential, and they went to work recording it.

“I love rock ‘n’ roll, put another dime in the jukebox baby.” – Joan Jett (singer, guitarist)

The song, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll,” was recorded very quickly, it only took the band about half a day to do it. Kolotkin and Jett, however, wanted to go back and add some overdubs and other effects to give it more of that unique power that only Jett can bring to a song. They recorded lots of vocal overdubs to the chorus to give it a live feel. When the chorus kicks in, it feels as if there’s a whole bar full of people singing along — part of the reason this song feels so anthemic. They recorded many layers of claps for the same effect.

Kolotkin was a perfectionist and mixed the song several times. He says this about the process:

“I wanted I Love Rock ‘n Roll to sound real, I wanted it to sound live, and when I played it to Ritchie and Kenny they did say they liked it. However, they also said they liked the other mixes we’d done during the past few hours, so then Kenny came up with the idea of putting the new mix in the middle of them, playing all of them for the band and letting them pick which one they wanted to use. I thought, ‘That’s fair enough,’ and so I spliced the new mix into the middle of the others and as soon as the band members heard it they said, ‘That’s the one, that’s the one!’ And that was the one.”

Jett also rewrote the lyrics.

The original song chronicles a guy picking up a young girl and taking her home, which is boring to say the least. Jett flips the gender roles and sings about a girl picking up a guy to have sex. The gender flip makes the song more interesting and serves to seduce its audience. Jett owns her leather-clad sexuality in a way that intimidates and excites her audience.

“I think most people who love some kind of rock ‘n’ roll can relate to it,” she remarked in a January 2008 Mojo magazine interview. “Everyone knows a song that just makes them feel amazing and want to jump up and down. I quickly realized this song is gonna follow you, so you’re either gonna let it bother you or you gotta make peace with it and feel blessed that you were involved with something that touched so many people.”

Thirty-six years on and this song is still following most of us around.

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Bibliography

“6 Music News, Joan Jett Talks to Elizabeth Alker.” BBC Radio 6 Music, BBC. Web.

“I LOVE ROCK AND ROLL by JOAN JETT.” Song Facts. Web.

Buskin, Richard. “Joan Jett ‘I Love Rock & Roll’ | Classic Tracks.” Joan Jett I Love Rock & Roll Classic Tracks, Sound on Sound. 1 Feb, 2010. Web.

Gleeson, Sinéad. “Year of the Jett.” The Irish Times, The Irish Times. 20 Feb. 2013. Web.

Perry, Andrew. “Welcome BACK! Joan Jett.” MOJO Magazine. January 2008, Issue 170, pg. 32-33. Print.

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Evan Zwisler
Evan Zwisler

Evan Zwisler is a NYC-based musician who is most notably known for his work with The Values as a songwriter and guitarist. He is an active member of the Brooklyn music scene, throwing fundraisers and organizing compilations for Planned Parenthood and the Anti-Violence Project. He started playing music in the underground punk scene of Shanghai with various local bands when he was in high school before going to California for college and finally moving to New York in 2012.