playing pure and simple rock & roll without making an explicit
issue of her gender, Joan Jett became a figurehead for several
generations of female rockers. Jett's brand of rock & roll is
loud and stripped down, yet with overpowering hooks — a combination
of the Stones' tough, sinewy image and beat, AC/DC chords and
glam-rock hooks. As the numerous covers she has recorded show,
she adheres both to rock tradition and breaks with it — she plays
classic three-chord rock & roll, yet she also loves the trashy
elements (in particular, Gary Glitter) of it as well, and she
plays with a defiant sneer. From her first band, the Runaways,
through her hit-making days in the '80s with the Blackhearts right
until her unexpected revival in the '90s, she hasn't changed her
music, yet she's kept her quality control high, making one classic
single ("I Love Rock-n-Roll") along the way.
Jett was born in Philadelphia, PA; her family moved to Los Angeles
when she was 12 years old. By the time she was 15, she had formed
her first band and was performing around town. Kim Fowley, a Los
Angeles record producer, discovered the band at one of their gigs
and became their manager; soon, he renamed the all-female group
the Runaways and secured them a contract with Mercury Records.
The band released three albums that never had much commercial
success in America, yet were very popular in Japan; the group
were popular in both the Los Angeles hard-rock and punk scenes,
which led to Jett's production of the Germs' first record, G.I.
The Runaways group broke up in 1980 and Jett moved to New York
to begin a solo career.
Teaming up with producer/manager Kenny Laguna, Jett independently
released her self-titled debut album in 1980 in America, since
no labels were interested in signing her. The record was a more
traditional rock & roll record than the punky Runaways, yet it
retained her previous band's defiant attitude. The record sold
very well for an independent release, leading to a contract with
Boardwalk Records, who reissued the album under the title Bad
Reputation; it soon climbed to number 51 on the American charts.
Jett formed the Blackhearts between Bad Reputation and her second
album, 1981's I Love Rock-n-Roll; the group included guitarist
Ricky Byrd, bassist Gary Ryan, and drummer Lee Crystal. Released
at the end of 1981, I Love Rock & Roll became her greatest success,
sending her into the Top Ten. Originally the B-side of an Arrows
single, the title track was an enormous success, spending seven
weeks at number one in the spring of 1982. The follow-up single,
a version of Tommy James & the Shondells' "Crimson and Clover,"
went Top Ten as well; a single of Gary Glitter's "Do You Wanna
Touch Me (Oh Yeah)," taken from the Bad Reputation album reached
number 20 in the summer of 1982. Album, released in 1983, went
gold yet it had no hits that compared with either "I Love Rock
& Roll" or "Crimson and Clover."
Jett starred in Paul Schrader's 1987 film Light of Day, which
featured the Top 40 title song, yet she didn't have another Top
Ten hit until 1988, when "I Hate Myself for Loving You," taken
from the Up Your Alley album, hit number eight; the album became
her second platinum record. After the album's success, her career
had another slow period, with 1990's all-covers album The Hit
List making it to number 36 and 1991's Notorious failing to chart.
Between Notorious and 1994's Pure and Simple, a new generation
of female rockers came of age and everyone from hard alternative
rockers like L7 to the minimalist, riot grrl punk rockers like
Bikini Kill claimed Jett and the Runaways as an influence. As
a consequence, Pure and Simple received more press and positive
reviews than any of her albums since the mid-'80s. In 1995, Jett
recorded the live album Evilstig with the remaining members of
the Gits, a Seattle punk rock band whose lead singer, Mia Zapata,
was raped and murdered in 1993.
Jett reunited with the Blackhearts for the 1999 album, Fetish.
— Stephen Thomas Erlewine