The story of Are You Gonna Be My Girl, the song that gave Jet "Ferrari money"

Jet in 2006
(Image credit: Richard Ecclestone)

“When we first started playing around Melbourne, electronic dance music was massive in Australia,” says Jet frontman Nic Cester. “To try and compete with that we wrote Are You Gonna Be My Girl so we had something women could dance to. We knew that if girls came to our shows, guys would follow.” 

Growing up on a diet of AC/DC and Faces records, Cester, his brother Chris and their friend Cam Muncey had been in a band together since their early teens. Around 2002, …Girl was one of the fledgling Jet’s originals that would enable the band to leave behind the cover-versions circuit that had been their bread and butter. 

“We’d road-test our own songs alongside the covers,” says Cam. “And we noticed that people were going crazy for Are You Gonna Be My Girl. Nic hadn’t written the lyrics yet, he’d just make stuff up on the spot.” 

Soon a demo of …Girl made at the band’s rehearsal studio helped them secure a major record deal with Elektra. It was when they flew out to Hollywood to record their debut album, 2003’s eventual million-selling Get Born, though, that the definitive version of Are You Gonna Be My Girl came together. Holed up with producer Dave Sardy at Sunset Sound Recorders, Jet were thrilled to find themselves in a studio that had seen the recording of albums by The Rolling Stones, Van Halen and The Doors

“[The Stones’] Exile On Main Street was partly mixed there and they’ve got the platinum disc on the wall,” Cam says. “It doesn’t get better than that.” 

Are You Gonna Be My Girl was nailed in three takes at most. Crucially, Jet recorded it without the aid of a click track, which allowed the song to speed up a tad – and thus sound more urgent – towards the end. 

“When I was writing the song it was a lot about the way the words sounded and pushing the diction,” Nic says. “I wanted to spit out the words in that way Mick Jagger does. The vocal is quite percussive and we’ve got a bit of distortion on it like they had back in the days of Stax and Motown."

By now the definitive lyrics for the song were also taking shape. As Nic explains, one revision was especially important.

“At first it was an angry song about my unsuccessful attempts to pull women,” the singer laughs. “The original hook went: ‘You’re just like every other girl.’ But the guys in the band said: ‘Be more positive, you grumpy bastard!’” And the line that runs: ‘She’s so sweet, with her get-back stare.’ 

What was Cester driving at there? 

“It’s a warning shot from the girl, but instead of chasing you away it just draws you in like a magnet.” 

When Jet shot the promo for Are You Gonna Be My Girl it was the first video they’d ever done. The black-and-white shoot was a low-budget, if highly effective, affair – and the band were terrified. 

“I had to do heaps of drugs just to get through it,” drummer Chris Cester recalls. “If you look closely my nose is running, and I have to wipe it with my sleeve at one point. It’s gross, but I didn’t know how to handle being on camera with a hundred people staring at me pretending to play.” 

Cam Muncey recalls that the on-camera jitters were not confined to the band. The lithe model Elektra had hired to gyrate on screen was so nervous that she could barely dance. 

“The poor thing should have had some drugs,” says Nic. “At one point this sexy older woman was talking about getting her kit off instead. She didn’t. They ended making the model look really good in post-production.” 

“So far so good,” Jet might have thought. Yet initially Are You Gonna Be My Girl and the album Get Born did nothing. 

“Radio didn’t want to play us,” says Chris. “In America, which was where we were at the time, rock still seemed to be about nu-metal and the after-drip of grunge.” 

It was when Apple approached Jet’s manager about using …Girl in their 2003/2004 iPod commercials that the band’s fortunes began to change. The iPod had been launched a couple of years previously, and Jet were only the third or fourth act to have their music featured in those ubiquitous iPod ads.

“By coincidence, we’d used silhouettes in our video,” says Cam, “so every time you saw a billboard advertising iPods it looked like a big fucking advert for Jet! Our bass player Mark has quite a striking silhouette, and there was this massive billboard on Sunset Boulevard where the image looked just like him. We were like, ‘Mark! What the fuck? Did you sneak off and film something for Apple by yourself?’” 

Fast-forward a few months, and Jet were on a US tour supporting Kings Of Leon. Cam: “We’d start playing the song and people would go: ‘Wow! It’s those guys.’ The impact of the ad and that tour was immense. Suddenly we were on radar, and the record company decided to re-release the single in the UK.” 

It’s quite a turnaround that, having started out as a covers band, Jet now have artists covering their songs. Richard Cheese’s lounge version of Are You Gonna Be My Girl is a must-hear. 

And it has the Jet seal of approval: “Ah, yes… Dick Cheese,” says Nic, laughing. “We’ve actually come on stage to his version a couple of times.” 

Elsewhere, Jet’s own version of the song has featured in TV shows such as Scrubs and My Name Is Earl, and movies such as What Happens In Vegas. It’s this kind of action, not the Apple ad that has furnished Jet with some proper “Ferrari money”. 

As for the claims that the groove of Are You Gonna Be My Girl rips off Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life, Jet’s drummer Chris Cester has this to say: “To me that’s just bullshit. I always thought it was more like You Can’t Hurry Love by The Supremes or A Town Called Malice by The Jam.”

Jet will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Get Born's release with an Australian tour in September, when they'll play the album in its entirety. Tickets are on sale now.

James McNair

James McNair grew up in East Kilbride, Scotland, lived and worked in London for 30 years, and now resides in Whitley Bay, where life is less glamorous, but also cheaper and more breathable. He has written for Classic Rock, Prog, Mojo, Q, Planet Rock, The Independent, The Idler, The Times, and The Telegraph, among other outlets. His first foray into print was a review of Yum Yum Thai restaurant in Stoke Newington, and in many ways it’s been downhill ever since. His favourite Prog bands are Focus and Pavlov’s Dog and he only ever sits down to write atop a Persian rug gifted to him by a former ELP roadie.