Joan Jett - Bad Reputation: Album Of The Week Club Review

Originally self-released in 1980, Joan Jett's debut album was given a major label makeover in 1981

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Joan Jett - Bad Reputation

Bad Reputation
Make Believe
You Don't Know What You've Got
You Don't Own Me
Too Bad On Your Birthday
Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)
Let Me Go
Doing Alright With the Boys
Shout
Jezebel
Don't Abuse Me
Wooly Bully

She’s been called the Godmother Of Punk, the original Riot Grrrl and the Queen Of Noise (after the second Runaways album, Queens Of Noise). 

“It’s nice that people have that sort of impression of me," says Joan Jett. "But I simplify it so much more: I say I’m just a rock’n’roller. I can’t say I was the first woman to do it. But I’d like to be remembered as one of the first women to really play hard rock’n’roll and mean it.”

Jett's self-titled solo debut was made before Jett put together The Blackhearts, and was released by the Ariola label in Europe in May 1980. No US label was interested – a whopping 23 of them passed. Undaunted, producer Kenny Laguna and Jett decided to release it on their own and formed Blackheart Records, making Jett one of the first women to own her own label. Most of their sales were from the boot of Laguna’s Cadillac after shows.

The demand for the LP grew, overwhelming Blackheart Records’ ability to keep up with the orders. In a twist of long association and kind fate, Neil Bogart, architect of Kiss’s success at Casablanca Records during the previous decade, took a chance on Jett, re-releasing her album on his newly formed Boardwalk Records label in 1981. But first he insisted she rename it Bad Reputation, after what would become Jett’s second-most famous song, thanks to a second life as the theme for the TV series Freaks And Geeks.

Background

In 1980 Joan Jett hired early benefactor Toby Mamis – co-manager of the last incarnation of The Runaways – as her de-facto manager, and the pair brought in former Sex Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones to produce and play on a demo. One of the recordings was songs was by British glam also-rans The Arrows, a B-side called I Love Rock ’N Roll that Jett had heard on British TV.

Jett returned home to finish songs for a film based on The Runaways. But when she stalled trying to come up with eight songs in six days, Mamis asked Kenny Laguna, a songwriter/producer/musician, to collaborate with her. Laguna was reluctant, but his wife, Meryl, was intrigued by Jett’s potential. Laguna signed up, and found himself promising to get Jett a record deal.

“I had no idea how hard it was to get a deal for a woman with a guitar,” Laguna recalls. “An Atlantic Records exec said: ‘Joan should stop hiding behind the guitar and get out there and rock like [Pat] Benatar.’”

But that was not on the cards. If anything, Jett subsequently made Benatar herself pause for thought: “Joan Jett made me look like Marie Osmond,” she said. “She was such a hard-ass.”

Jett relocated to Laguna’s home in Long Beach moving into the couple’s spare room. Six months later, Laguna had signed on as her manager, and moved his adjunct family to London, where Jett’s first album was recorded.

Other albums released in May 1980

  • Wheels of Steel - Saxon
  • The Golden Years EP - Motörhead
  • 21 at 33 - Elton John
  • Freedom of Choice - Devo
  • McCartney II - Paul McCartney
  • Unmasked - Kiss
  • Flesh and Blood - Roxy Music
  • Peter Gabriel Third Album - Peter Gabriel
  • Tight Shoes - Foghat
  • Ready an' Willing - Whitesnake
  • The Correct Use of Soap - Magazine
  • I Just Can't Stop It - The Beat
  • Quicksand Shoes - Streetheart
  • Songs the Lord Taught Us - The Cramps
  • Sportscar - Judy Tzuke
  • Tangram - Tangerine Dream
  • The Tale of the Tape - Billy Squier
  • What's the Word - The Fabulous Thunderbirds

What they said...

"The sound is crude and rich, with Joan Jett’s raw rhythm guitar at the center of almost every cut. At times, the marching percussion and massed backup vocals become militant and incantatory. Elsewhere, Jett sets full girl-group harmonies against jagged raunch-rock, lets go with pure Dead Boys blitz and manages a Wooly Bully whose joy outdistances its camp. Throughout, she sings these songs the way she hears them — as a fan who understands the value of rock fantasies even after she’s stopped believing they’ll actually happen." (Rolling Stone)

"Fans of Slayed?, Fanny, Rock and Roll Part Two, and Arthur Kane before he hurt his thumb should give thanks that nostalgia has finally come this far, and then check for lines around the eyes. Producers Kenny Laguna and Ritchie Cordell make the old glitter formula of readymade riffs 'n' blare sound suitable for albums, and they get plenty of help from reformed Runaway Jett, who has writing credit on four of these twelve tunes and comes on tuffer than any gurl in history." (Robert Christgau)

"Joan Jett's debut album is an infectious romp through her influences, ranging from classic '50s and '60s rock & roll through glam rock, three-chord loud'n'fast Ramones punk, and poppier new wave guitar rock. Half the songs on the album are covers, but whether it's Lesley Gore's feminist girl-group anthem "You Don't Own Me" (featuring the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones and Paul Cook) or a roaring version of Gary Glitter's "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)," Jett makes them all work." (AllMusic)

What you said...

Jacob Tannehill: Man. What a great album. Why did 23 labels pass on this? She never gave up, and on this album, along with just about everything else she did, Joan did it “her way” and wrote “bad reputation” and covered the songs she wanted to do, like “you don’t own me”, that proved she was independent and fierce. This album is the answer to the Ramones “end of the century” with its expensive for its time production by Phil Spector. Joan is was and always will be a trailblazer. I’ve always thought of her as the female Joey Ramone. Great stuff and she never did anything “half assed”.

John Davidson: You can trace a line from 60s rock'n'roll through Suzi Quatro, 70s British glam, the Ramones, and the UK "party" Punk bands and Blondie straight into Joan Jett's leather jumpsuit.

As an earlier reviewer has already suggested if she'd called herself Joan Ramone. I doubt anyone would have thought it strange.

I can't imagine there is an adult in the western world who hasn't heard Bad Reputation, but it's still a good song even if over-familiar. The rest of the album is less effective (though JJ performs the songs with plenty of guts) comprising as it does of cover versions, would-be singles and outright 'B'-sides. There isn't a standout album track and while that isn't a problem of itself it does render the record a bit one-dimensional.

Lastly, it's a pity that two of the better songs are covers of old Paul Gadd hits... simply because I can't hear them without a sense of revulsion against the convicted paedophile. 

On the other hand, without Joan Jett and a handful female rock pioneers we'd have missed out on a whole lot of fun.

Eetu Tiainen: This album is really cool. It has a lot of elements and influences from different kind of genres like blues, jazz and pop, which makes it more versatile as a whole. Still, the punk attitude is there and each track is delivered with passion. And oh my, I just love the production. 

Maybe it's because of a low budget this album sounds like it's been recorded at home in a garage, but that is exactly what gives the album the edge that I just love. Joan is one bad MF.

Michael DeChristoforo: A good song or two here and there career wise - but just same old songs in pretend punk leather. Far more image than anything else - we all passed on her back in the day.

Hugo Cortes: It's the first time I hear this record. It started really fine but I got kinda bored by the middle. I imagine I would have really liked it as a kid. Guitars are always cool but I didn't like the melody of the lyrics.

Roland Bearne: Superb. Pure kick ass punk'n'roll. You Don't Own Me is spine tingling... got some Parisian "pout" to it whilst stamping a serious foot. This woman is just awesome. A lifelong crush and genuine heroine.

Carl Black: Bad Reputation the song is a spiky, nasty piece of punk rock. Unfortunately it like a lot of classic rock bands, who have classic songs, but not classic albums. The same can be said here. The song is absolute classic and should be covered by every single punk rock band regardless whether they have a female singer or not. The album, is in large, forgetful with cover versions and unoriginal, original material. I love bad reputation the song, but not the album.

Iain Macaulay: Joan Jett is one of those characters like, Iggy Pop or Johnny Thunders, whose character, notoriety, and cult status far outweighs the consistency of their recorded output. I say that as a massive Iggy fan and loving both Thunders and Jett, but I’m a realist. For all the classic tunes, which there are many, there are also more than quite a few duds. Unfortunately, her output will always sound its best live or on a Best Of package. 

That said, there is no denying she is very good at what she does, simple, bubble gum, punky, rock and roll, that leans heavily towards the Ramones, New York dolls and... dare I say, the Glitter Band... and... Kiss! And the re-imagining of more than her fair share of covers that she gives a very distinct sound too. There’s no denying she is an icon, a pioneer and a survivor. A classic rock performer with a great unmistakable voice. 

But is this a classic album? I’m afraid not. Mainly due to a severe lack of consistency, and too many covers. That said, her song writing does improve as you progress through her back catalogue. With the lyrical themes getting darker and more social conscious especially around themes of gender and sexuality. Listen to the naked album for her cover of Androgynous and the song Fetish. Yes, This album is good time party music, but for me, I Love Rock N Roll,  Album, even, Up Your Alley with its slick eighties production and the song, I Hate Myself For Loving You (a personal favourite) come the closest to being the classics on her cannon of work, unfortunately not this album. Still, I’m looking forward to seeing the documentary.

Mike Bruce: Not a bad album, rocks along nicely. I can well imagine there's a lot of people for whom this was their "getting ready to go out" album and a fine example of that genre it is.

Mike Knoop: I like the story of how the album got made better than the album itself. Like others have said, Joan Jett is a pioneer and deserves all the accolades she gets. However, few tracks here rock as hard as the first Runaways album. The title track is a deserved classic but only two other songs, Too Bad on Your Birthday and Do You Wanna Touch Me come close to rocking. Jett is by no means the only musician who raided the 45s of the early 60s for a hit but none of the covers here are the caliber of her version of Crimson & Clover. If you want Jett covers that truly rock, seek out her versions of Roadrunner, I Wanna Be Your Dog, or Dirty Deeds.

Gary Claydon: I can only really echo what others have already said. I liked The Runaways and then I liked Joan Jett - but more for her personality, attitude & what she came to represent rather than her music. When she was on it, she was really on it but those times were too few. 

Bad Reputation (the song) is one of those times, a tasty slice of punk-pop perfection. It's head & shoulders above anything else here. I like the lo-fi production which was common in the punk/new wave period as well as early NWOBHM. It suits this kind of music and was much preferable to the over produced, overly bright recordings that characterised a lot of 80's stuff. The thing is, by 1980, this type of stuff had already been done. That in itself isn't a problem, you could say that about a lot of things but in truth, title track apart, it had been done a lot better by others. Not a bad album but certainly not a classic.

Final Score: 6.51 ⁄10 (136 votes cast, with a total score of 886)

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