She stands against a backdrop of deep blue, accentuating the darkness of mascara and bangs that drop down to her shoulders. She looks pensive, dressed in a pale-azure neckscarf and blinding pink blazer. She’s Joan Jett and, little does she know, this picture is about to mark the peak of her musical career, leading to 10 million album sales and a bad reputation as rock’s greatest woman.
I Love Rock ‘n Roll is Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ magnum opus. And also, their debut. Well, sort of. Released in 1981, a whole year after Jett’s actual debut (Bad Reputation), it’s the first record to feature her iconic backing band, the suitably-named ‘Blackhearts’.
Made famous from the album’s biggest single (and opener) of the same name, ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’, is an album that cemented the band as rock staples. They had the look, they had the name, they had the sound. They even had the songs, despite the fact many of their greatest hits (including, sadly, the title track) were, in fact, covers.
But Jett’s version of ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ is musical dynamite. Crashing into you with the guitars up high, it’s a testament to teenagehood and the need to just rock. Telling the story of a gal who spots a like-minded guy in a jukebox joint and gets to know him better, it’s so easy to jam to. The chorus is more infectious than a pandemic, shattering into your soul and making you clap along or be left out.
Joan Jett’s record is, perhaps, one of the best rock n’ roll albums on heartbreak and growing up. A surprising amount of Jett’s covers and original work take on heartache here, of needing to get out of doomed relationships or away from toxic lovers. ‘(I’m Gonna) Run Away’ is nothing different. Sounding like it belongs being blared out of a car speaker down a long, winding road, it just rocks. Though, sadly, it’s one of the more ‘album tracks’ of the record.
‘Love Is Pain’ has beautiful roars from Jett at the beginning. ‘Hey! You will obey!’ lets you know that this is rock’s biggest frontwoman of the time, and you better not mess with her. Following on from the previous track’s theme, it’s about how you’re not stupid to know that, well, love can screw you up. ‘Nag’ sees another cover. This time, from the 1960’s doo wop group, The Halos. ‘Nag’ is a catchy, light-hearted rocker in Jett’s eyes, easy to sing along to, but nothing serious. It’s filler. But it’s fun filler, and that’s what matters.
‘Crimson and Clover’ is a beautiful track, with chugging guitar that just rocks. Ebbing and flowing between slow and too fast, the anthem is simply prophetic. Recorded originally in 1968 by Tommy James and the Shondells, ‘Crimson and Clover’ sounds perfect for Jett & The Blackhearts. It’s a brilliant closer to side one and shows that the band are more than just a bunch of fast riffs with punk attitude. They really can sing and make a song their own.
Side two opens with the teenage anthem, ‘Victim of Circumstance’. Here, Jett is just that, apparently, when police threaten to cause a scene after rocking out too much. ‘I’m just a victim of a bad reputation, I got no chance to shake it!’ no doubt resonates in the mind of a million young adults. Jett really goes for it here and lets us know that, whether right or wrong, she can damn well do as she pleases.
‘Bits And Pieces’ is one of the catchiest tracks of the album, a cover of The Dave Clark Five’s classic. As with many of the songs here, it’s a little short, but that almost works in its favour. It’s short, it’s simple, it’s sweet. And the vocals on it are phenomenal.
The next two of the second side, ‘Be Straight’ and ‘You’re Too Possessive’, are more of Jett’s original work. Solidifying the theme of toxic lovers, they tell the tales of needing a partner to be honest, and to just… lay off. And after all, with the dark-eyed frontwoman sounding like she does, why wouldn’t you? They’re, sadly, some of those less memorable songs on the album. But they still sound good.
Finally, closing the record is ‘Oh Woe Is Me’. Another self-written piece, it’s everything you want in a rock closer. ‘Hey!’s galore, amped-up guitar and superb vocals from Joan Jett herself. To its detriment, it’s not the most memorable closer, but it still sounds brilliant. It’s non-stop raucous rock ‘n roll. And after it’s done, you’ll want to listen to the record all over again.
Sometimes, it’s refreshing to see an album with a tried-and-tested formula. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ I Love Rock ‘n Roll has no slow tracks. It boasts no ballads, no complex suites, or any songs over four minutes long. It’s over in just half an hour. But it rocks, it roars. It’s just perfect.