Category Archives: Joan Jett

Today’s Top 5: January 31, 1977 (via Circus)

IMG_1159In the Philadelphia region, like elsewhere in the northeastern U.S., the winter of 1976-77 was cold. How cold? According to Jon Nese and Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz, from December 1976 through February 1977, we experienced 54 days when temperatures dipped beneath 20 degrees; and, on 35 of them, temperatures never inched above the freezing mark. In fact, that January was the coldest month, ever, for the Delaware Valley.

For a kid a mere two years removed from a hot desert climate, it felt like a frigid hell. About the only saving grace: the lack of snow. We narrowly escaped the Blizzard of ’77, which slammed New England and, for the winter as a whole, amassed less than eight inches.

There were less pluses when it came to the economy. It wasn’t as awful as, say, 1974, but it wasn’t good. Unemployment was 7.8 percent and inflation was 5.2 percent. Yet, despite those stats and weather, optimism lingered in the air for a variety of reasons, including one of the greatest feel-good movies of all time, Rocky, which was released the month before; and Jimmy Carter, who was sworn into office as America’s 39th president on January 20th. It was a new day—and, ever so briefly, a new politics: at the start of his inaugural address, Carter thanked Gerald Ford, his predecessor, for all he had done to heal a land torn asunder by Watergate. The two shook hands.

Not that the speech lent itself to greatness; if anything, its prosaic language foreshadowed what would become a prosaic presidency.

IMG_1160In any event: Circus. It’s not a music magazine I read with regularity and, at this stage of my life, I wasn’t reading any, period. I was 11 /12, attending a public middle school (6th & 7th grades; there was a second middle school for 8th & 9th) that banned denim jeans, and was gung-ho for pro ‘rassling. On TV, in addition to the WWWF on weekends and Sunday football, I watched The Six Million Dollar Man, The Captain & Tennille, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, The Bionic Woman, Welcome Back, Kotter and Donny & Marie. I watched tons of reruns, too, including The Brady Bunch, The Monkees and The Partridge Family. (The addition of the second addiction/obsession, i.e. music, came later that year.)

Anyway, my main memory of Circus, which is from a few years later, is that it was (basically) a heavy-metal monthly, minus the cool art and stories that accented the real Heavy Metal magazine. So I was taken aback, last weekend, to discover this issue, dated January 31st, in a rather cool ephemera store about a 30-minute ride away from my home.

IMG_1161The tag beneath the title, as seen in the first picture, calls it “the leading rock & roll biweekly.” According to Wikipedia, “[i]n the late 1970s, the magazine started focusing on pop culture as a weekly in the vein of People Magazine, which caused a drop in sales.” This issue doesn’t read like People to me, but it does have several non-music articles – one on Raid to Entebbe, an NBC-TV movie starring Charles Bronson; another on Roots; and a profile of actress-writer Mary Kay Place, who was hot thanks to Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and her first (and only) album. There’s also a quick-hit section called Front Pages that features reports on David Soul, 40-band CB radio, NASA and TV odds-and-ends; and the quick-hit Back Pages, which focuses on music. This issue, that means mentions of Paul McCartney & Wings, Queen, Boston, the Runaways, Alice Cooper and Bob Seger.

Here’s today’s Top 5: January 31st, 1977 (via Circus):

IMG_11621) Jackson Browne – “The Pretender.” Kit Rachlis reviews begins the review of Jackson’s fourth album with an excellent paragraph: “Three people haunt almost every word and note of Jackson Browne’s The Pretender: his wife, Phyllis, who committed suicide last spring; his three-year-old son, Ethan; and his father Clyde, who left his family when Browne was a child. In one sense, The Pretender can be seen as Browne’s attempt to come to terms with his own family—a family shattered by death and separation, renewed by the birth of his son. ‘Daddy’s Tune’ and ‘The Only Child’ are for his father and son. ‘Here Comes Those Tears Again,’ written with his mother-in-law, and ‘Linda Paloma’ are clearly intended for Phyllis. But it would be a mistake to view the album as functioning solely as autobiography. That assumption can only lead to the worst kind of psychological speculation. (Is ‘Your Bright Baby Blues,’ most of which was written five years ago, about Phyllis?) Moreover, such perspective limits the album’s scope and undercuts its accomplishment. Instead of being about Phyllis and Ethan, The Pretender is about death and birth, about understanding the past and claiming the future—mostly, it’s about redefining romanticism in the face of disillusionment and tragedy.”

As a whole, the review is a thoughtful rave that calls The Pretender “Browne’s best album.” (He’s wrong there, of course; that honor goes to Late for the Sky.) Rachlis also says that it’s “not the culmination, but an extension of Browne’s previous work. Almost every song has a counterpart in the earlier albums. The title cut, the most important and ambitious song on the LP, belongs in the line of ‘Rock Me on the Water,’ ‘For Everyman,’ and ‘After the Deluge,’ all of which stake out Browne’s position in relation to society. Each declares his defiance of categorization and grand schemes. Rather, his is a search for solace within himself or with those around him—whether in ‘the kindness of my baby’s eye’ or ‘the light in your lover’s eyes.’ Perhaps for Browne, the search itself provides its own solace.”

2) Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.” John Swenson writes that Night Moves “is already one of my favorite albums of the year, and I haven’t even been listening to it for more than a week. This comes as a big surprise to me because I’ve always taken Seger for granted. Certainly it’s been easy to say I’ve liked him, but it’s always been that casual kind of approval usually accorded to marginal figures who please without impressing.”

IMG_1163Swenson explains: “Not that Night Moves hits me with the emotional impact of The Who Sell Out or Beggar’s Banquet or Gasoline Alley—my reaction to those records was definitely a function of how I saw myself at the time, and very little can match their impact these days. Night Moves doesn’t affect me like that—it’s too derivative (but not in the sense that it shows its influences, because all great rock & roll has been influenced by something). This LP is emotionally derivative, which leads me to suspect that someone who didn’t grow up listening to The Who Sell Out, Beggar’s Banquet, or Gasoline Alley would find it as much of a revelation now as I found those records then.”

He then compares Seger to Rod Stewart (a bit of a stretch, I think), and says “[y]ou could bring Stewart in to sing ‘Rock and Roll Never Forgets,’ and it would be a perfect Faces classic, with all the unpretentious abandon that characterized that band’s best performances.”

(There’s also an excellent article about Seger in the Up Starts section; click on the above pic to read it.)

IMG_11653) The Bee Gees – “You Should Be Dancing.” Saturday Night Fever was 11 months away and, yet, the Brothers Gibb were already on a roll. According to writer Stephen Demorest, “After half a decade in the phantom zone of worn-out pop groups, the Bee Gees have rebounded mightily in the last two years with a stunning string of five hit singles and two platinum albums strong on disco flavoring. And now 1977 promises to be the hottest year in their entire 20 year career.”

On their agenda: the soundtrack to the Sgt. Pepper’s film; and their followup to Children of the World (which would be bastardized for Saturday Night Fever). This song, which features on that soundtrack, hails from Children; and was a No. 1 hit in September 1976. One piece of trivia related to it: Stephen Stills (yes, that Stephen Stills) plays percussion on it.

This video is from Soul Train, where the song was used for a line dance…

IMG_11714) Lou Reed – “I Believe in Love.” In an “as heard by Scott Cohen” article titled “Pitter Patter: Lou Reed’s Rock and Roll Heart…,” Lou says “[b]eing sentimental is my weakness. I’ve got a drawer full of old love letters to prove it.” He also says, “I believe in good times, good-time music, good-night kisses, crosses, fresh starts and most of all—like I say in ‘I Believe in Love’—I believe in love.” And, of the song itself, he talks about how “[t]he words…came to me while singing in the shower. I wanted to say ‘I’m on the outside looking in/on the inside of you looking out/at me’ but couldn’t work it in.”

And, of his past, he explains that “[b]efore the Velvet Underground, I had a band in England called the Beachnuts and sang ‘Sally Can’t Surf.’ Before that I sang with Garland Jeffreys at Syracuse University.”

IMG_11675) The Runaways – “Queens of Noise.” The Runaways promote their second album, Queens of Noise, in the Back Pages section. “It’s a weird kinda song,” Joan Jett says of the title song of the Runaways’ second album. “It’s heavy, but it could be a Top 20 hit; it’s got a happy-type melody.”

The un-bylined article also details the band’s shift to an improved recording technique. “It’s certain that the ‘noise’ won’t be refined out, however. ‘It has to have that raw edge,’ said Jett, ‘but sound better. I liked The Runaways for what it was. If we’d come out sounding like a Queen production, it wouldn’t have let us go anyplace.’ Refusing to disparage their debut album, she added, ‘Even though a lot of critics said it wasn’t produced well, we’ve gotten a lot of fan mail saying it’s the best album they’ve ever heard. And as long as the people buying albums like it, I think we did it right.”

Today’s Top 5: September 1983 (via Musician)

IMG_1063September 1983: I was 18, attended Penn State’s Ogontz campus, lived at home and worked part-time as an usher at the Hatboro Theatre, a single-screen movie (not-quite) palace that was torn down the following year to make room for a Wendy’s.

At the start of the month, the Eurythmics ruled the charts with “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”; and Billy Joel held the top spot with “Tell Her About It” by its end. Popular films included Mr. Mom, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Risky Business, Cujo and Easy Money.

My purchases for the month: Kate Bush’s The Dreaming and her self-titled mini-LP (kind of a mini-sampler); Michael Jackson’s Thriller; Joan Jett’s Album; Patti Smith’s Easter; Linda Ronstadt’s What’s New; Heart’s Passionworks; Led Zeppelin’s Coda; the Beatles’ Revolver; Bad Company’s Desolation Angel; Pat Benatar’s Live From Earth; and Harry Chapin’s Heads & Tales. I also picked up five singles: Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Breathless,” Janis Joplin’s “Down on Me,” the Zombies’ “Time of the Season,” Don McLean’s “American Pie” and Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.”

I also bought this issue of Musician. Prince is on the cover, and there’s an in-depth interview with him inside, but I bought it because of the name below his: Joan Jett.

IMG_1064Anyway, at that point, Prince was still riding high on the success of 1999, which had been released the previous October, but the Q&A (by Barbara Graustark) is about much more than that double-LP set. It delves into his early years, rocky relationship with his dad and entry into music, as well as the esoteric subjects of the songs themselves.

“I think I change constantly, because I can hear the music changing,” he says. “The other day I put my first three albums on and listened to the difference. And I know why I don’t sound like that anymore. Because things that made sense to me and things that I liked then I don’t like anymore. The way I played music, just the way I was in love a lot back then when I used to make those records. And love meant more to me then—but now I realize that people don’t always tell you the truth, you know? I was really gullible back then. I believed in everybody around me. I believed in Owen [Husney, his first manager], I believed in Warner Bros., I believed in everybody. If someone said something good to me, I believed it.”

Anyway, onward to today’s Top 5:

IMG_10661) Prince – “Controversy.” In addition to the Graustark piece, there’s a short Q&A with rock critic Robert Hilburn.

Musician: I liked your first two albums, but it seemed to me that the third record, Dirty Mind, was really a growth.

Prince: Yes, the second record (For You) was pretty contrived. After the first record, I put myself in a hole, because I’d spent a lot of money to make it. With the second record, I wanted to remedy all that, so I just made it a “hit” album. I usually write hits for other people, and those are the songs I throw away and don’t really care for. Dirty Mind started off as demo tapes; they were just like songs inside that I wanted to hear. So I took it to my manager and he said “This is the best stuff I’ve heard in a long time. This should be your album.” The drag is that I don’t know how I could make another album like that. I usually change directions with each record, which is a problem in some respects, but rewarding and fulfilling for me. I have mixed emotions.

Musician: The fourth album, Controversy, sounds more new wave. 

Prince: It depends a lot on what instrument I write on. When I write on guitar, I come up with songs like “When You Are Mine” and “Ronnie Talks to Russia.” When I start with drums, I get “Controversy.” Controversy is a little erratic. I’m really proud of this new album (1999).

IMG_10672) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “Fake Friends.” Charles Young has an excellent profile of former Runaway Joan Jett that, among other things, delves into her gum-chewing prowess: “‘I like to make a lot of noise and blow bubbles,’ chews Joan, now twenty-three and still fully cognizant cool. ‘It’s a good way to clear out sleeping space on airplanes.'” Of her old band, she says: “We were just a good band that wanted to have a good time onstage. What were all those other groups singing about? They didn’t have to answer those naive questions: ‘Oh my God, this is your career? What are you going to do if you find the right boyfriend? Will you dump your career?’ Well, not me. When I listen to our old records or read old articles, I still don’t understand what got people so uptight. They were afraid we’d rob their houses or kill someone.”

Of this song she says, “I think ‘Fake Friends’ is not so much about anger as a show of disgust. It’s not a big deal to lose fake friends, people who just tell you what you want to hear. You don’t have to be in rock ’n’ roll to understand that.”

IMG_10693) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “The French Song.” In addition to the Young piece, there’s a review of Jett’s third album, simply titled Album, by one R.J. Smith, who summarizes it as “better than Wayne Newton, gravel in a Maytag, and is frequently the equal of Jett’s two earlier records.. It shows her uneasily accommodating to her arena-sized success. But if the record’s an on-again, off-again rumbler, it frequently bangs about with the glory of a buffalo padding down Park Avenue.” Later, he observes that “[t]he production terraces the sound on Album in surprising ways. On ‘The French Song,’ for instance, half the chorus soothes like a Stevie Nicks velvet glove, just before the rest of it interrupts with a punch.”

He concludes with: “‘I am what I am,’ Jett growls in ‘The French Song,’ like Popeye immediately after a green fix. And what she is comes into focus on Album: not the dedicated fan of I Love Rock ’N Roll, but a professional who knows it’s too late to turn back now. For the first time, it’s her original material and not the covers that carries the day. She has to think harder about what to do next, in the wake of her chart-topping success. Album isn’t a full answer. Still, it provides more than enough reasons for waiting around until she tries again.”

IMG_10704) Kate Bush – “Sat Into Your Lap.” In June 1983, EMI release a five-song EP to help introduce Kate to us Americans. It featured two tracks from The Dreaming, including this one.  J.D. Considine first raves about the cleaner sound for the tracks lifted from The Dreaming. It “makes it easier to absorb the layers of detail Bush packed into “Sat Into Your Lap” and “Suspended in Gaffa.” The rippling rhythms of “Sat” are far more effective when you can hear them all, and the nuances of Bush’s vocals stand out impressively. But at the same time, the sonic clarity also shows up just how much of Bush’s handiwork is gimmickry and how little is magic.” He also equates “Babooska” with an “elementary school Christmas pageant,” and concludes with “[a]fter The Dreaming suggested that Kate Bush was both daring and different, this record seems to show that she’s really pretty much the same as any other over-ambitious chanteuse.”

IMG_10725) The Plimsouls – “A Million Miles Away.” J.D. Considine is much nicer to the Plimsouls, one of the great lost L.A. bands of the ‘80s (and featured to great effect in the classic Valley Girl film): “Now here’s a garage band that has come to terms with its time. Even though producer Jeff Eyrich has slicked up the Plimsouls, tightening the arrangements and turning ‘A Million Miles Away’ into mainstream hit material, he’s left the band’s drive and bite intact. So not only are the Plimsouls able to make the most of their smarts, as on Peter Case’s ‘Shaky City,” they also enjoy the luxury of sounding dumb, as on the grimy ‘Lie, Beg, Borrow and Steal.'”

Today’s Top 5: December 1982 (circa Record Magazine)

IMG_0896By December 1982, when this issue arrived in my mailbox, America was suffering the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate, which had been inching upwards since before Ronald Reagan took office in January 1981, accelerated that fall, and clocked in at an astounding 10.8 percent for the month. As this Bureau of Labor Statistics report documents. “the sharpest job cutbacks took place in the goods-producing sector“ and “every major manufacturing industry registered some decrease.”

Times were tough, in other words, and getting tougher.

But you wouldn’t have known it by me. I was 17, a high-school senior and, this month, spending money like there was no tomorrow. First, though: for Christmas, I received – among other things – a Sanyo Mini AM/FM Stereo Radio Cassette Recorder (aka, a mini boombox) and the new Bob Seger album, The Distance.

The only problem: I had few cassettes. Thus, I dipped into my birthday and Christmas cash and, between Christmas and New Year’s, picked up the tapes for Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps, Zuma, Tonight’s the Night, After the Gold Rush and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere; Pete Townshend’s Empty Glass; and Lou Reed’s Rock ’n’ Roll Animal and Berlin. I also joined the RCA Music Club and ordered Glenn Frey’s No Fun Aloud, The Eagles’ Live, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna, Pete Townshend’s All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes and Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti on cassette. Two other albums that I bought, on vinyl, early in the month: the Velvet Underground and Nico and the VU Once Upon a Time two-LP collection.

The spending didn’t stop there, either. I took in a few movies, too: 48 Hours, An Officer and a Gentleman, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Ciao! Manhattan.

48 Hours, which I saw at the now-defunct Eric Theater at the Village Mall in Horsham, was simply bizarre. The projectionist must’ve left the booth, as the theater snapped into darkness after the first reel for a good 20 minutes. We, a sparse afternoon audience, just sat there, eyes on the white screen, waiting…and waiting…and chomping popcorn. When the movie finally did kick in again, it was the third reel – so I never knew what transpired in the film’s second 20 minutes for the longest time.

Ciao! Manhattan, of course, is a somewhat arty film, which meant I took the train into Philly and walked from Reading Terminal to South Street, where it was playing at the TLA. The late Edie Sedgwick, who starred in it, had fascinated me since I’d read Jean Stein’s Edie: An American Biography earlier in the year. (The New York Times’ review of that book is here.) This may blow some people’s minds, but it was my fascination with Edie that led me to check out the Velvet Underground and, shortly thereafter, Lou Reed, as they were all part of Warhol’s Factory scene during the mid-‘60s.

Anyway, to the matter at hand: the Who grace the cover of this particular issue; they’d released It’s Hard in September and were in the midst of what they said was their final tour. Also mentioned on the cover: Jefferson Starship, Men at Work, Miami Steve, Jimmy Page, the Pretenders, ABC, Joan Jett and the Blasters.

Of all those names, the one that most excited me was Joan Jett…but there was no Joan Jett article inside! Oh, Dave Marsh, in his “American Grandstand” column, lambasted Jett consigliere Kenny Laguna for his role in the Bow Wow Wow “Louie Louie” ripoff “Louis Quatorze” – but that was it. No other mention.

Today’s Top 5:

IMG_09021) The Who – “Eminence Front.” Pete Townshend, says writer Jonathan Gross, “looks kind of ‘slip kid,’ thanks to a new, tousled, boyish coif and a lean year off booze and drugs. Rehabilitation has soothed his complexion and brought out the blue in his sad hound-dog eyes.” Townshend comes off somewhat obtuse: “What we’re doing is…what we’re saying…what we must do…keep everything that we’ve done and everything we represent and everything we stand for alone and solid so that it will remain a solid traditional pillar in rock which will always be a barometer.”

IMG_0898He’s more his sharp-edged self in a letter to the editor, chiding Dave Marsh for taking the Who to task for their sponsorship deal with Schlitz Beer in his October “American Grandstand” column: “To end his crass little ‘expose’ with an inference that the Who are now motivated only be greed indicates that this ace rock parasite, now working on a book about the Who, is taking leave of his senses.” Later, after reminding all of the weight the Who name carries, he notes that “Marsh is writing a book about us and not about the equally worthy Keith Jarrett or Tom Waits, Schlitz is using our concert tour as a way of keeping their name before the public. In a sense, they have been just as good to us in their patronage as Marsh has been in the past. They gave me this typewriter by the way; it has a memory erase section. Maybe Marsh should get one. If I was forced to choose between the two levels of exploitation—Marsh or Schlitz—I would think twice about having my life dredged over again by a critic and take the beer. Or at least the price of the beer.”

All that said – It’s Hard isn’t the first album any Who fan is going to reach for – it would likely be one of the last. Though Townshend, as evidenced by his Chinese Eyes set, was still capable of delivering the goods on his own, post-Moon he missed the mark when writing for the band. Perhaps that’s why “Eminence Front” was the set’s best song…he’s up front.

IMG_09052) The Pretenders – “My City Was Gone.” There’s a brief article by Suzanne Whatley on Chrissie Hynde and Martin Chambers, who were seeking permanent replacements for the late James Honeyman-Scott, who o.d.ed, and Pete Farndon, who – according to the article – split from the band after Honeyman-Scott’s death in June 1982. (He o.d.ed himself in April 1983.) The article states that “Hynde and Chambers cut a single, ‘Back on the Chain Gang,’ which has been released in England on the Real label. Accompanying the two Pretenders in the studio were guitarist Billy Bremner, late of Rockpile, and bassist Tony Butler, who played on Pete Townshend’s Chinese Eyes LP.”

Whitley adds that “[t]he B-side of ‘Chain Gang’  proves to be one of Hynde’s more interesting compositions. Titled ‘My City Was Gone,’ the autobiographical account of the singer’s return to her native Ohio finds Hynde surveying the overbuilt and now-unfamiliar terrain while weighing her memories with quiet, revealing despair.”

IMG_09033) Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul – “Men Without Women.” Wayne King reviews longtime Springsteen sideman Steven Van Zandt’s debut LP, of which this is the title tune. Van Zandt’s vocal, he says, “evokes the nasal pitch of Keith Richards”; and the album, at a whole, “is a profound, deeply-felt statement of belief in the transcendent capacity of rock ’n’ roll; its joyful noise should inspire those who listen as greatly as it does those who create.”

IMG_09044) R.E.M. – “Gardening at Night.” Nick Burton tackles the debut EP of this new band from Athens, Ga.: “If you can imagine a cross between the Strawberry Alarm Clock and the Jam, you’ll have a good idea of R.E.M.’s strange but effective hybrid approach. Chronic Town, a five-track EP, was produced on a garage band budget, and the resulting trashy sound makes for a striking aural backdrop.”

Burton wraps things up with: “It would be nice to add that R.E.M.’s lyrics match their musical sparkle, but Michael Stipe’s vocals are pushed so far back in the mix that it’s difficult to understand exactly what he’s singing about. I’ve listened to this record countless times, and I still don’t know if the songs deal with moody introspection or disco roller skating. But Chronic Town is worth checking out, if only for the music. Unlike so many EPs, this one’s consistently fascinating.”

IMG_09075) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah).” Hey, no mention beyond the cover isn’t going to stop me from featuring the former Runaway when given the chance. Who else could I go with? Jefferson Starship, who by this point had devolved into an ordinary arena-rock band? Why bother? So, here’s Joan from October 1983 performing a Gary Glitter song that she recorded for her pre-I Love Rock ’n’ Roll album, Bad Reputation, which was given a big push after the success of her sophomore effort.