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The Runaways: Queens Of Noise Album Of The Week Club review

At loggerheads with their manager, The Runaways installed themselves in the Beach Boys' studio and pumped up the volume for album number two, Queens of Noise

The Runaways: Queens Of Noise
(Image: © Mercury)
The Runaways: Queens Of Noise

The Runaways: Queens Of Noise

(Image credit: Mercury)

Queens of Noise
Take It Or Leave It
Midnight Music
Born To Be Bad
Neon Angels On The Road To Ruin
I Love Playin' With Fire
California Paradise
Hollywood
Heartbeat
Johnny Guitar

Capturing a band at the peak of their powers while teetering on the brink of collapse, Queens of Noise is a heady mix of glam, punk and hard rock and perhaps stands as The Runaways’ defining statement. 

An increasingly fraught relationship between the band and manager/producer Fowley saw Beach Boys producer Earle Mankey installed behind the board at Brothers Studio in Santa Monica, California (set up by the Beach Boys in 1974 and the home of such albums as Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue and its unreleased follow-up Bambu, Elton John's Caribou, and the smash hit No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) by Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand.

The result? Mankey brought sonic muscle, Lita Ford brought metal chops and Joan Jett and Cherie Currie’s power struggle did the rest. 

As Jett secured the prized lead vocal on the titanic title track and combined Alice Cooper drama with Shangri-La’s sass on glorious set-piece Born To Be Bad, Currie countered with proto-hair ballads Midnight Music and Heartbeat. Who won? We all did.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in January 1977 

  • Flight Log - Jefferson Airplane
  • Hard Again - Muddy Waters
  • Leave Home - Ramones
  • Low - David Bowie
  • Playing the Fool - Gentle Giant
  • Festival - Santana
  • Forever for Now - April Wine
  • Fountains of Light - Starcastle
  • Live: You Get What You Play For - REO Speedwagon
  • Animals - Pink Floyd
  • Novella - Renaissance
  • Sammy Hagar - Sammy Hagar

What they said...

"Queens Of Noise picks it up from where the debut ended plus it's better produced. After the first hit, the album can be divided in three different parts: the balladry, the mad rockers and the disappointing effort to play the blues. The new influence is the moody, yet not extraordinary at all balladry, a taste of LA 80s glam rock to come. (Sputnik Music)

"Joan Jett and Cherie Currie articulated the thoughts and feelings of the "bad girls" Kiss and countless others were describing, and they didn't hesitate to say that yes, women fantasised about sex. Johnny Guitar is a fine vehicle for guitarist/singer Lita Ford, who had solid chops before she was old enough to vote." (AllMusic)

"I'll tell you what kind of street rock and roll these bimbos make – when the title cut came on I thought I was hearing Evita twice in a row. Only I couldn't figure out why the singer wasn't in tune." (Robert Christgau)

What you said...

Michael Kay: The continuing adventures of five teenage Frankensteins as they push back against their vile creator; stomp all over hard rock, soft rock, and punk rock; all while trying to meet the cutest boys. While not the sharp punch to the face of the previous year's debut, Queens of Noise generally avoids sophomore slump and pushes ever so slightly towards more commercial territory.

But first, our heroines almost stumble right out of the gate as Joan Jett bleats out the chorus of the title track. Fortunately, the band's added musical muscle combined with sweeteners like handclaps and glam harmonies come to the rescue. 

Jett does better on the rest of the rockers where she handles lead vocals, mainly because she sounds pissed off which fits her sneering and searing vocals on Take It Or Leave It, I Love Playin' with Fire, and Hollywood. And just when you think she's going to totally humiliate herself with a ballad on Born To Be Bad, it turns out to be an epic piss-take instead.

On the other five tracks, the indomitable Cherie Currie sings lead, and I do mean sings. She is stunning on the two rockers Neon Angels On The Road to Ruin and California Paradise, but equally stunning on the two ballads (something new for the Runaways), Heartbeat and Midnight Music.

Speaking of Midnight Music, is it just me, or does it start like a slower version of Fleetwood Mac's Sara - which came out two years later?

As a whole, the band is much stronger but I would single out Lita Ford for the "Most Improved" award, with generally outstanding riffs and solos. In fact, it's ironic that the only real dud is her showcase, Johnny Guitar. But I guess it also just proves she could be as long-winded and noodly as the guitar heroes she admired.

Finally, a plea for a little sympathy for the Runaways. It's easy to write them off as a gimmick or novelty act and it's hard to separate the band from their loathsome manager Kim Fowley. For all his faults, and they were utterly abominable, Fowley had an ear for a hook and a knack for promotion.

But what sometimes gets lost is that these were five teenage girls playing rock'n'roll at a time when their peers were being offered up semi-literally as virgin sacrifices to whatever male rock band was rolling through LA that week. They were cranking out songs that wouldn't be out of place on a prime Aerosmith or Kiss album - two bands that were arguably losing the plot by 1977. And while the Runaways may not have sold out Madison Square Garden, they had the street cred to fit in at the legendary CBGB's.

The Runaways didn't want to perform for stars backstage, they wanted to perform as stars on stage. God bless them for every little girl (and boy) they inspired to play drums or pick up a guitar.

Marco LG: Major disclaimer: I have a soft spot for The Runaways, and the solo careers of Lita Ford and Joan Jett. My opinion of this album is filtered through the eyes of a fan and the hindsight of time. Having said that, I think we can agree some of the songs on this album have stood the test of time rather well, especially in the context of hard and heavy music.

The story of how the band was put together and all the unpleasant aftermath of abuse and exploitation provides plenty of material to speculate on what could have been, both about the careers of each member and The Runaways as a band. But setting aside all the morbid details, just listening to Queens Of Noise one can get a glimpse of the immense potential of this band. The most representative track in this respect is in my opinion Neon Angels On The Road to Ruin, a song where the voice of Cherie Currie best complements the hard rocking tempo and the splendid guitar work.

Throughout the first two albums these teenage girls proved to have the skills and drive to make it in the music business, but most importantly they created lasting music which at its best deserves the same artistic dignity as many contemporary (male) acts. All the best bands throughout the ages have been a lot more than just the sum of their parts, and The Runaways were no different. It is a crying shame the tensions within the band were not only allowed but encouraged to spiral out of control.

In conclusion: Queens Of Noise is a rather inconsistent album, which nevertheless contains a few real classic tracks. For this reason I will score it 7 out of 10.

John Edgar: OK, I can see a lot of trash talk is probably headed for this pick, but let's put things in perspective. The 70s. California. An insane band manager and five teenage girls with a modicum of experience and a will to rock. The first album was definitely a novelty of it's time, but we all know it had its moments. 

Here, on Queens Of Noise we have a more cohesive unit. They have endured actual touring and they're more proficient in their playing. I've always enjoyed this album, and a little research revealed that this was their best selling effort. After all these years, most of my rock friends still give me a hard time about liking these girls.

Bill Griffin: I gave it a shot and Midnight Music almost had me but Currie's vocals ended that then Born To Be Bad made me stop listening altogether. Musically, I guess it's listenable but that isn't nearly enough to overcome the terrible vocals.

John Davidson: Other than the single Cherry Bomb I don’t think I had ever really heard The Runaways – I certainly hadn’t previously sat down and listened to an album from start to finish.

As group of musicians they sound pretty good and Lita Ford in particular delivers some very good guitar solos. Where the album is largely let down is in the vocals. Joan Jett in particular sounds painfully young and her attempts at pop punk sneering come across as teenage whinging rather than anything remotely dangerous. But given they were teenagers when they made this record that shouldn’t be surprising.

I can’t help but think that if they’d had the chance to develop a bit more as a gigging club band before they were pushed into the limelight, they might have had a more lasting career as a band. The difference between them and Def Leppard (for example) is another couple of years of grind before they hit the big time. 

Maybe with a Mutt Lange in the production seat rather than (by all accounts) an exploitative creep like Kim Fowley they might have made it, though Ford and Jett went on to have modestly successful solo careers.

As for this album, I’m sad to say that it sounded worse with each listen to be honest. The music is generally alright and is at its best in the places where Ford (lead guitar), West (drums) and Fox (bass) get to play some rock, but Joan Jett’s vocal performance is too thin and reedy for my taste on most tracks.

The two better tracks on side one are Midnight Music – where Cherie Currie delivers the best vocal performance of the album and Neon Angels, which sounds like early Judas Priest crossed with Suzi Quatro.

Side two is generally stronger with I Like To Play With Fire and Hollywood providing Jett with simple pop rockers that don’t strain her limited vocals and allow for some nice harmonies with Currie.

Currie gets another shot at lead vocal on Heartbeat – which has decent verses but a daft chorus though it does benefit from some good guitar work.

These are largely journeyman songs from young but talented musicians but with ego rather than ability determining who sang what this is not a lost classic for me. Too much too young perhaps. 6/10.

John Davidson (the other one): Only one listen in, but much better than I remembered. Very decent guitars, but underwhelming vocals from Jett. Currie (to my ears) is by far the better singer and is criminally underused . A triumph of ego over execution I fear.

Plamen Agov: To be honest, I know who is Lita Ford and I know couple of her solo songs including the duet with Ozzy. I've also listened hundreds of times Joan Jett's top hit I Love Rock 'N' Roll" but it was not before 2010 when I learnt that these two together were part of an all-female band called The Runaways. So, this week is my introduction to the music of this group.

Now, while starting with the first three songs of the album I'm thinking that the tunes are not so tempting. Anyway, reaching Born To Be Bad, things got a bit better and I find Neon Angels and I Love Playin' With Fire to be really good rock songs.

Alas, the next two tracks are also not so memorable but the finish with Heartbeat and Johnny Guitar rocketed the album rating from 5-6 to 7-8.

As a whole, I don't like the punkish touch in the melodies.

Iain Macaulay: It’s been a long time since I last heard this album. And one of the main things that strikes me now, in the context of this page, is that I’m not sure it can be viewed objectively, or seriously, by anyone that doesn’t know about, or is interested in, either the history of the band or the history of the female side of the rock industry at that time. Which is a shame. Because it is not a bad album. Flawed, but not bad.

Yes, it starts off quite cheesy, but it does improve as you go through it and there are some very heavy riffs that dispel the bubblegum pop punk aesthetic the band are known for and edge them more towards the serious glam sleaze bands of the time. The skills of the individual members are also not in question, especially for them being so young. Which makes you wonder a lot of, ‘what if’, questions. Many of them regarding Kim Fowley.

It is the production that ultimately lets the record down. Kim Fowley again. It can’t be denied that it is a bit ropey, and that some of the song arrangements are a bit ... simple. But so were those elements on the first couple of albums by Kiss, and they don’t get anywhere near the amount of flack the Runaways get.

At the time, the people behind the band were only interested in selling the sex angle and making a quick buck. So why would they want to inject money into a project that could have had longevity and some serious class to it. Which, now knowing the legacy of Ford and Jett, could have been the result if only a bit more care and attention had been lavished on it. A good bit of money may have been made for them if they had done, and a bigger reputation, both of which they never attained in the US. Even the Pistols worked hard to get their material sounding good, and it still stands up.

Maybe this is not a classic album, okay, it’s not a classic album, neither were they a classic band, but they are a major cult listen and they play a massive part in the history of rock music that can’t be dismissed. Particularly in allowing girls to realise they could get involved in rock music and play it on their own terms, and that is not a bad thing. Joan Jett was also my first crush as a young kid, but that’s another story!

Gary Claydon: I can't quite remember what it was that drew the 16 years-old me to The Runaways. I suspect, though, that I must have had a burgeoning interest in sleeve design, because I do seem to remember spending longer than usual looking at their album covers. Yep, it was definitely the sleeve design.

Anyway, I've always liked The Runaways. Partly because I always thought they were an influence on Girlschool, who I've also always really liked. Mainly though it was just the straight ahead, punk edged rock that I enjoyed. They were fun and, yes, as un-PC as it is to say such things these days, they were very easy on the eye to a teenaged guy.

Queens Of Noise moves more into hard rock territory than the debut and as such it showcases the six-string talents of Lita Ford, which is fine by me as she acquits herself extremely well (apart from Johnny Guitar, which is poor). Joan Jett is also more to the fore, her and Ford clearly beginning to emerge as the major personalities (egos?).

Neon Angels On The Road To Ruin is my pick of this bunch (I prefer Cherie Currie on vocals) with honourable mentions to Take It Or Leave It, California Paradise and I Love Playing With Fire. I don't care much for the ballads.

All-in-all a nice solid set. Now if you'll excuse me, I really do need to brush up on my sleeve design studies.

Brian Carr: Any time I read the words “punk” or “garage” in a music description, I cringe. I instantly picture more noise than melody, which set my expectations low for an album entitled Queens Of Noise. So I was pleasantly surprised to find I didn’t hate The Runaways’ sophomore release. 

Sure, it has its flaws - primarily horrible production and Joan Jett’s limited vocal abilities. But the latter only really irritated me on the terrible Born To Be Bad. Competent production might have led me to love Queens Of Noise, especially considering the quality guitar playing from Lita Ford throughout. But I suppose low budget was a major part of the plan.

Final Score: 6.37⁄10 (79 votes cast, with a total score of 504)

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