The Runaways redefined music with their all girl punk rock band. A sound full of guitar solos, slamming bass, rebellious drumming, and raw lyrical powerhouses Cherie Currie and Joan Jett. The girls were fifteen and sixteen years old. Young, full of hope, and new to the music scene. Kim Fowley (music producer/ manager) met Sandy West (drummer) and Joan Jett (guitarist/ singer) who ultimately got together to form what would become The Runaways in 1975. Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, Sandy West, Lita Ford, Jackie Fox, and Vicki Blue broke the status quo of male dominated rockers and led the path for other female artists to push boundaries in the industry.
Recently, I watched “Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways.” The film had interviews with the girls in the band, family members, and Kim Fowley who was the band’s producer and manager 1975-1978. The Runways signed to Mercury Records in 1976. They released four albums. The band was not popular in the state during the time of their release in 1976, which I feel is due to the fact that they were a female rock group (society loves change). They were heckled by male fans who called them sluts and rejected by a male dominated music industry who believed they were going to be a flash in the pan because they didn’t have that “hot girl” look. Fowley was constantly using the lead singer Cherie Currie to push the “hot girl image.” In the beginning, even though they weren’t big in America, overseas they were huge, especially in Japan; “Cherry Bomb” launched them into fan frenzy overseas and brought on new success. Soon the girls were headlining sold out shows with opening acts like Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as well as played a three month tour with The Ramones. Bands that are permanently in the history books of music.
The Runaways had a sad story. They were brought together by the love of music, but they fell apart because of people in the industry who took advantage of them and didn’t protect them. When I was 15/ 16 years old I spent my free time in dance classes at the studio, played with my brothers, spent time with family, and were around adults who looked out for my best interest, but these girls wanted to write history; they left home and Fowley promised them the moon and stars. Instead, they were exposed to the lifestyle of drugs, alcohol, sex, emotional and verbal abuse, hole in the wall motels, and inappropriate men who had a tight grip on their careers. The girls were encouraged to be jealous and competitive with each other. There was separation in the band among the girls. Joan Jett seemed to be the peacemaker in the band, trying to keep everyone together; to be focused on the music. The official statement was that the girls ultimately disbanded in 1979 over musical differences, but I think it was more than that. It was four years of turmoil, anger, verbal abuse, multiple changes of band members, and music industry execs exploiting these young kids.
Without The Runaways we may not have had Sleater-Kinney, The Bangles, The Raincoats or The Donnas. All girl rock groups that have taken that punk rock sound and continue to push the boundaries of music today. In the music industry their are millions of dollars being tossed around which can change people. People can become greedy and take advantage of others for their own benefit. Maybe The Runaways were destined to fall apart. You can’t really be a runaway once you are an adult. The rebellious nature has to grow out of you at some point. Without the disbanding of The Runaways, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts would have never been formed, Blackheart Records may not exist, society would have lost out on songs like “Bad Reputation” and “I Love Rock n’ Roll,” and the better bond and forgiveness that has formed among the girls may have never happened. The Runaways changed history. I hope one day they are inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame because they deserve to be there for not only being the first all-girl rock band, but because their music created a revolution that any girl can pick up a guitar and be a rockstar.
Click here for some of my favorite music by The Runaways. Below are some great interviews with Joan Jett and Cherie Currier.