The Runaways (Cherry Red Records CDMRED 237)
Girl groups are nothing new, and this was also true back in the mid-70’s, when a gang of teenagers kicked their way through the walls of the male-dominated music industry and staked their claim to rock immortality. Managed by the notorious Kim Fowley, equal parts Svengali, hustler and guide, Cherie Currie, Lita Ford, Jackie Fox, Joan Jett and Sandy West strapped on their guitars and took the boys on at their own game. Numerous line-up changes followed in their brief career, but it’s the first US LP our friends at Cherry Red have reissued here, and it’s this CD reissue I’ll confine my comments to.
The girls hit the ground running with ‘Cherry Bomb’, a lurking, threatening rocker that refuses to take ‘no’ for an answer, turning from a slow tease in the first three verse lines, to the haggard screech of a crone in the last. Ecstatic moans punctuate the song, ending on a glorious, Sweet-style metallic echo.
The hard, aggressive blues opening to ‘You Drive Me Wild’ leads into a straight ahead rock ‘n’ roller penned by Joan Jett, full of one-on-one sexual promise, an alternating riff and spiced up with plenty of yelping vocals and more and more ecstatic moans.
The glam racket of ‘Is It Day or Night?’ is another winner, from the pen of Kim Fowley, portraying the low-life ennui in the aftermath of a night – or a lifetime – spent pursuing life’s more hazardous pleasures. With lyrics like ‘Novocaine Lips’ and some great, crashing false endings, what other decade could this song have come from?
Proving that the basic rock riff always holds good, ‘Thunder’ takes us on a classic journey through love, drawing on age-old imagery of natures’ indomitable powers, held together with an insistent bass riff and Cherie’s voice handling the melody well.
Mention 70’s sleaze and the blue mask of Lou Reed makes its spectral appearance on the studio wall. The Runaways’ fine take on Lou’s eternal ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll’ has some surprisingly funky elements thrown in for good measure, nice bass runs, cowbells and some dry-throated screams to take it far enough away from the original to make it a true cover version, and not the usual obligatory tribute.
Cherie’s voice is loaded with suggestion in ‘Lovers’, a demanding, teasing song from Jett and Fowley, with a kiss-off that demands a reply.
Lou seems to have been implanted into the band’s DNA, if ‘American Nights’ is anything to go by. A distant relative of ‘Sweet Jane’, with fuzzy guitars proving a nice touch, in a characteristic song of youthful, dangerous adventure.
The basic two-note riff and Joplin-style shriek which opens ‘Blackmail’ gets your attention without any effort. A hard and nasty fuzz guitar solo in a song as literal as it is effective, Cherie’s voice ranges from a rough growl to a hacking cough as she spells out the terrible fate her former lover will face.
The Rolling Stones’ style opening riff of ‘Secrets’ sets the scene well, a tale of deceit and double lives with a whiff of the forbidden about the relationship. The feedback lead out is subtly handled, and a first on the LP.
A great, chugging bass line and a nasty/sexy voice opens The Runaways’ ‘Dead End Justice’. Basically a 1950’s style female juvenile delinquent film script, set to high-octane 1970’s rock music, with lyrics as hard as cheap nails; it’s the perfect (getaway) vehicle. Even the imaginary film title hides in the lyrics, ’Dead End Kids In The Danger Zone’ as our teen protagonists go from teasing the boys in their skin tight jeans and provoking fights, all in one brew and pharma-fuelled night. The inevitable come-uppance lands the pair in jail, at the tender mercies of police, wardens and other prisoners. Our girls plot their escape their voices a low whisper, but… Well, I’ll let you guess the rest if you’re too mean, or too snobbish, or just too plain dull to buy the LP. It’s a magnificent way to end, full of the 70’s ambitious stage-stylings, youthful swagger and later, the desperate nostalgia for an era they were too young to remember, and the girls bring it off brilliantly for the age it was minted in.