I Love Rock and Roll: Rocking out with Joan Jett & The Blackhearts

Legacy Records - 1981

Legacy Records – 1981

Miranda Ljung-Baruth, Staff Writer

We’ve all heard the iconic title track to Joan Jett’s second solo record, I Love Rock and Roll. The memorable stomps and claps in the chorus immediately transport you to a dingy dive bar in the 80s. But I think it’s high time people recognize all of the other criminally underrated songs on the record. 

Jett started playing electric guitar after she was given one for her 13th birthday. But when she went to take lessons, her guitar instructor told her that “girls don’t play rock and roll.” Luckily for us, she didn’t listen.  She persevered and formed an all-girl rock band called The Runaways in 1975. The group sold glam, sex, and metal- debuting with the hit single Cherry Bomb. The song turned heads with risque lyrics like “I’ll give you something to live for, have you and grab you till you’re sore.” But like a cherry bomb, the band exploded and burned out quickly. The band managed to drop just two more albums before disbanding in 1979, only 4 years after their debut. 

Jett wasn’t finished with rock. Determined to make a name for herself, she formed Joan Jett and The Blackhearts. She was rejected by 23 different record labels, but her hard work paid off.  When she released her first single off of her debut album, Bad Reputation, it became a smashing success. She then went on to sell over 10 million copies of I Love Rock and Roll when it was released in 1981.

Joan Jett with Guitar. Photograph Courtesy: Magnolia Pictures

One of the main allures of I Love Rock and Roll is Jett’s husky and sweet alto voice. She has a certain deep rasp that perfectly encapsulates the rock and the roll era of the 70s and 80s. Her addictive vocals draw you in on songs like Crimson and Clover. The perfectly slow, sensual track is equal parts beautiful and suggestive. The breathy sighs that open the song set the tone for its rich guitar instrumental. Her version is a cover of the original song by Tommy James and the Shondells. Her choice not to change the female pronouns in the love song still remain iconic in the queer community. With the song originally written to be sung by a man, at the time, it was a somewhat risky choice for Jett to sing lyrics like “I don’t hardly know her, but I think I could love her.” 

In addition to Crimson and Clover, a few more songs on the album are covers, like Summertime Blues and Louie Louie. She brings an androgynous charm to these songs that their former singers didn’t. Recreating them as rock ballads, her versions evoke more emotion than the original. With stronger guitar and vocals full of menace, she takes the music, puts her signature spin on it, and owns it.

Another vital piece of the band is the abrasive and raw guitar, for which we can thank guitarist Ricky Byrd. A certain catharsis comes from blasting Byrd’s guitar solos in the songs I Love Rock and Roll and You’re Too Possessive. They blend seamlessly with Gary Ryan’s smooth and dark bass to create the angry, demanding numbers that were essential on every 80s jukebox. 

Drummer Lee Crystal definitely knows how to keep up, banging on the drums in perfect time with the rest of the band. The beat in Little Drummer Boy is nostalgic and recognizable. Crystal really shines. The drums are one of the most essential ingredients to a good rock song. Without a beat, what would we jump up and down screaming to? The album would not be the same without him. 

What the album lacks in variety it makes up for in style. Many of the songs emulate the same badass rocker vibe- with the exception of one or two slow lovers rock songs. This however doesn’t affect my view of the album.

If you’re into rock, or just looking to explore music from the 70s and 80s, run away with Joan Jett and give I Love Rock and Roll a listen.