February 25, 2021

I Love Rock and Roll and Joan Jett Too


Back in the early 1980s I heard Joan Jett’s first big song, “Bad Reputation” from the album of the same name. It was probably early 1981 because I remember having to wait for the album to come out that year. Ever since them I’ve been in love with Joan Jett’s music.

The first time I saw Joan Jett with her band The Blackhearts, was in Huntington, New York at an outdoor free concert during the summer of 1981. I loved her albums but her live show was a different experience. She exuded raw power, sexuality, and attitude unlike most other artists at the time. I felt drained at the end. In a good way of course.

I saw Jett two other times in the 1980s. Once, at Uncle Sam’s, a nightclub in Buffalo, NY, in 1982 where I got to say hello to her. She was actually sweet, given that I was a geeky college student and she was on the rise as an MTV star. Finally, I saw her during the summer of 1983 when she was the middle of a three band bill at Shea Stadium, with R.E.M. and The Police providing the bookends. This shows how far she had come is such a short period of time; She had progressed from playing free summer concerts to near headline status at an enormous stadium in just two years.

After that, Jett went through a slump. It’s not that the music was bad. She just wasn’t fitting in to the music scene at the time. Part of the punk scene initially, she was neither hardcore punk, hair band, or college alternative. Jett no longer fit in the prevalent scenes of the mid-80s. By 1988 she had made some adjustments and charted again with “I Hate Myself For Loving You” from the hard hitting, definitely hard rock album, Up Your Alley. Still, Jett’s albums never gained widespread traction after that even as she became the godmother to the Riot Grrls in the 90s.

Lately, there has been more interest in her music, including her mid-career albums. That’s good news. She still rocks hard and her videos are visually exciting. The stripped down sound of her 80s albums have given way to a decidedly harder blues rock sound that, at times, borders on heavy metal. Her last full studio album, 2015’s Unvarnished, is power pop, hard rock, blues rock, and metal all through. What can I say other than it rocks and rocks hard.

Ultimately, that’s what Joan Jett is about — rocking hard. It’s music to go with beer and whiskey, not a Cosmo. You wear leather and denim to a Joan Jett concert, even in the summer. Listen to Joan Jett when you want to party and when you’re pissed off. Her music covers lots of emotional ground.

Recommendation time: If you like Heart, or you like L7 and Bikini Kill, or are into The Regrettes (who I’ve written about before) then check out Joan Jett. I also recommend the Joan Jett documentary “Bad Reputation.” I saw it on Hulu but it’s probably available on other streaming services as well.

More than anything else, listen to Joan Jett’s music. I think it’s worth starting with her first two albums, then jumping to Up Your Alley and her two latest albums, Sinner and Unvarnished. Finally, try out her covers album Hit List, if for no other reason, to hear her rendition of AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds. Soooooo worth it.