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The Runaways

Back in the pre-punk salad days of the mid-70s, the lack of all-girl “rock” groups was something of a running joke. But for FANNY (featuring sisters June and Jean Millington), The Pleasure Seekers (SUZI QUATRO’s first band) and the fictional Carrie Nations (from the 1970 satire flick, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls), there’d been zilch. Post-RUNAWAYS, female musicians just couldn’t help but form a band, whether it be punk (The SLITS), indie (The RAINCOATS) or hard-rock (GIRLSCHOOL), and so on, and so on.
Instigated in Los Angeles, California, for years stories varied on how The RUNAWAYS actually came to fruition, but basically it was down two factions, the first being kick-started by teenage lyricist/singer Kari Krome and friends/band-mates-to-be Joan Jett (on rhythm guitar) and Sandy West (on drums). A chance meeting in 1975 with impresario KIM FOWLEY (a notorious solo star-turned-record producer) at an ALICE COOPER gig, resulted in the girls rehearsing as a trio under his guidance.
As time wore on, Krome was thought unsuitable for the task in hand, and with newbie singer (later bassist) Micki Steele in tow, the girls recorded a demo (Born To Be Bad) and duly placed an ad in a music paper. With a few ad-hoc gigs under their belt, Steele was superseded by blonde bombshell lead singer Cherie Currie (about to turn 16), while the line-up was finalised, after the sacking of short-stint bassist Peggy Foster, with the addition of lead guitarist Lita Ford and bassist Jackie Fox (aka Jacqueline Fuchs). This was the 5-piece formation – Jett sharing lead vox duties – that played a rooftop session on a Los Angeles apartment block in early ‘76, an event that helped secure a deal with Mercury Records.
While their eponymous debut, THE RUNAWAYS (1976) {*8} was hitting the shops, the girls (average age 16) made their New York debut at CBGB’s that September, supporting TELEVISION and TALKING HEADS. Dragging glam-metal by the pubic hair and injecting it with punk energy, tracks such as the lusty opening `Cherry Bomb’ (penned by Jett and FOWLEY at Cherie’s audition!) and `Blackmail’, saw The RUNAWAYS lumped in with the fermenting new wave scene. Sexual and intimidating in equal measures, the riffs were rather derivative and punk primitive (examples: `You Drive Me Wild’, `Secrets’ and The VELVET UNDERGROUND’s `Rock & Roll’), but in the lands of Japan and the Far East they had their first allies.
Early in ‘77, The RUNAWAYS released their quick-fire sophomore album, QUEENS OF NOISE {*7} and, like its predecessor, it too failed to capitalize on the sexual hype, mainly adorned to the scantily-dressed Cherie. Screaming about the excesses of adolescent sex, drugs and rock and roll, `Hollywood’ was arguably the best on board, while Jett’s own `I Love Playin’ With Fire’ and the title track contribution from Billy Bizeau (of The QUICK) proved they were no bombastic bimbos.
Internal tensions were coming to a head around the time of the LIVE IN JAPAN {*5} set in autumn ‘77, and only covers of `All Right You Guys’ and Chip Taylor’s `Wild Thing’ had any sense of urgency among their set-list. At times (but not on the live set itself), Vicki Blue was standing in for the worn out Jackie Fox, and it was inevitable this was a permanent inter-change; CHERIE CURRIE too, had already split for a solo career, Jett taking total control of vocal duties thereafter.
Adopting a harder-edged approach, the re-freshened quartet released yet another album, WAITIN’ FOR THE NIGHT (1977) {*5}. Produced by FOWLEY and popular in Sweden, across in Belgium `School Days’ hit the Top 30. Gutsy hard-rock played to AC/DC or KISS rules, it mattered not to some factions of their fanbase, who’d appreciate more, the talent of individual songsmiths Jett and Ford on `Little Sister’, `Gotta Get Out Tonight’ and the title track which used lyrics from Krome.
Although Laurie McCallister was brought in as a brief replacement for Vicki, she didn’t play on a posthumous 1978-recorded part-covers set, AND NOW… THE RUNAWAYS (1979) {*5}, produced by John Alcock in FOWLEY’s absence; the band having already split. It was the last to feature LITA FORD, another Runaway to head on to a fruitful solo career; covers included SLADE’s `Mama Weer All Crazee Now’, The BEATLES’ `Eight Days A Week’, Earl Slick & Tonio K’s `Saturday Night Special’ and the SEX PISTOLS’ outtake `Black Leather’.
JOAN JETT was the third and most successful member to carve out a solo niche (with her Blackhearts); her definitive recording arriving with chart-topper `I Love Rock ’N Roll’.
KIM FOWLEY later re-incarnated The RUNAWAYS, but with no originals; Kiwi singer Gayle Welch was joined by musicians Missy Bonilla, Kathy DiAmber, Denise Pryor and Sheri Ward for the twee-metal trash of the exploitative YOUNG AND FAST (1987) {a generous *1}.
Decades on and a legend intact despite all the hullabaloo and shenanigans, in 2004 a documentary-styled film written and directed by Victory Tischler-Blue (aka Vicki Blue), was released. But right from the get-go, “Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways”, had it problems, one of them the wilful omission of JOAN JETT. Without stirring up a hornet’s nest, her objection to use her own or co-written songs in the movie stunned Vicki. However, the soundtrack CD itself suffered none of the legal wrangles, aided and supported as it was by another Runaway, lawyer Jacqueline Fuchs. So, armed with several classic RUNAWAYS numbers, three solo cuts by former lead guitarist LITA FORD, and three by the girl-band’s inspiration SUZI QUATRO, the disc finally saw the er… “light of day” – read Lights, Camera, Soundtracks for details.
Without forgetting Sandy West, who sadly died of lung cancer on October 21, 2006 (Laurie died on August 25, 2011 from complications from an asthma attack), the saga continued with the 2010 premier of a not-so controversial “bio-pic” movie, entitled The Runaways; however, the soundtrack was again made up of various artists. Based upon CHERIE CURRIE’s coming-of-age book, Neon Angel: A Memoir Of A Runaway, her part was gloriously played by Dakota Fanning, while JOAN JETT was played by Kristen Stewart.
One can’t imagine The GO-GO’S, The BANGLES, several Riot Grrrl acts or SAVAGES ever existing without “Flaming Schoolgirls” The RUNAWAYS.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS // rev-up MCS Jun2015

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