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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Bad Reputation August 31, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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For many, perhaps particularly on this side of the Atlantic Ocean the name Joan Jett will evoke memories of that single, her signature tune ‘I love Rock’n’Roll’. A good track, perhaps a great cover, but excessive repetition smoothed away much of its appeal. Others will remember her tenure (recently revisited in film… ) as one of the Runaways in the late 1970s. But even with that it’s sometimes difficult to recall just how much a part she was of post-punk.

Consider the line-up on this, her first solo album, a roster of punk and post-punk talent, which included Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Dee Dee and Marky Ramone, Clem Burke and Frank Infante from Blondie and others.

You will find a range of reference points from 1950s pop right the way through to punk and new wave. But it is Jett’s aesthetic that comes through clearly.

Her vocals are central to this, from a throaty sneering rasp which is none-more-punk or metal to a softer more ballad oriented approach, and sometimes both in the same song, or, as in Make Believe, where in a single sentence she moves from croon to howl.

It’s still remarkably effective, in part because she controls it so perfectly – restraint where necessary, full throttle when appropriate. Add to that the riffs which underpin the songs – often primal and, particularly on the popper material, a genuine complexity of arrangements, and this is something of a classic.

Of course four decades inflicts collateral damage. Her reworkings of two Gary Glitter numbers is shadowed by subsequent events, but if ever anyone was capable of reappropriating them and reworking them so that that particular history can be detached from them as songs it is Jett. And let’s not ignore the feminist thread that runs through so much of these songs and in relation to Jett (who also founded her own music label and has become an icon of empowerment). That’s a given, lyrically and in all other ways – “A girl can do what she wants to do/And that’s what I’m gonna do” as Bad Reputation says.

It is possible to argue that the number of covers on the album are indicative of a certain laxness on the song-writing front (yet Jett wrote four out of the original twelve and her career has numerous highlights written by her), but Jett has never been shy to play covers. And that charge, perhaps, misses the point. I wonder is it that she has always perceived herself as being not just a solo musician/singer/songerwriter but more consciously part of a continuum of guitar based music. In that her approach is strangely, but perhaps appropriately, traditional, closer – though she might not see it this way – to folk music.

In any event what comes across is the sheer energy and enthusiasm Jett has. It’s in the delivery, but it’s also in the way she presents the material. This is someone who loves this music and isn’t afraid to throw a little of everything – albeit in a fairly constrained spectrum of musical territory – into the mix. And it works. Almost perfectly? Better than that.

Bad Reputation

You Don’t Own Me (cover of Lesley Gore)

Too Bad On Your Birthday

Don’t Abuse Me

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got…

Make Believe

Comments»

1. Paul Wilson - August 31, 2013

Good choice WBS, I thought she was great.

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WorldbyStorm - August 31, 2013

Thanks Paul, she’s hugely and wrongly underrated this side of the water and her roots in punk and post punk are it would seem completely forgotten. I thinks she’s brilliant.

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