40 Years Ago: The Runaways Prove Themselves on ‘Queens of Noise’
The Runaways released their debut album in 1976, which gathered a lot of attention, the lion’s share of which had little to do with the music, but rather their age and image. At the same time, the musical landscape had begun a makeover of sorts. While the mainstream was still ruled by the likes of Eagles and Led Zeppelin, bands like the Ramones were returning rock and roll to a more brash attack. Though the Runaways never fully aligned themselves with the punk scene, they were definitely delivering a similar attitude.
Released in January 1977, Queens of Noise finds the Runaways out to prove they were not some novelty act, but a genuine rock and roll animal. The album kicks off with the title track, written by Billy Bizeau (keyboardist for the Quick, another band associated with Kim Fowley, the man "behind" the Runaways), and it blasts out like a declaration of rock and roll as sung by Joan Jett. "Take It or Leave It," written by Jett, follows and shows the ladies were more than able to hold their own against other hard rockers of the era.
"Midnight Music," co-written by singer Cherie Currie and Fowley, is power pop meets hard rock while "Born to Be Bad" finds the band getting even heavier. The song dates back to the band's earliest days and was written by drummer Sandy West and former member Micki Steele (later a member of the Bangles). Penned by guitarist Lita Ford and bassist Jackie Fox along with Fowley, "Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin" could be the girls' theme song with is classic glam swagger and ace guitar work from Lita Ford.
Producer Earle Mankey gave them a more polished, yet still fierce, sound on the album. Their signature sound was intact, but all were not happy with the new attention to detail. "This album was a lot more work than the first," recalled Cherie Currie in her autobiography, Neon Angel. "This time around we were spending days on each song, perfecting the drum sound, getting the bass lines just so, overdubbing the guitars. This may have been the way it was done professionally, but the whole process became as boring as hell."
"I Love Playin' With Fire" was written and sung by Jett, who would revisit the song on her 1983 solo release, Album, while "California Paradise" is Grade-A rock and roll. Though credited to Fowley, West and Jett, it is basically a re-write of a 1974 single, "Rebels Rule," by U.K. glamsters Iron Virgin. Elsewhere, "Heartbeat" is as touching as it is corny amid the crunching guitars.
Queens of Noise should have been the ticket to catapult the girls into big league rock and roll glory, but alas, it was the beginning of the end. Lead singer Cherie Currie left the band before their next album and within two years, the band were no more. "The atmosphere was very different," Currie said of the sessions. "Things were quickly turning sour within the group. The tensions and rivalries that we'd put aside during the first album and tour were now simmering, ready to explode."
Time has tried to correct some of the misconceptions of what the Runaways were all about, but all one needs to do is listen to those first two albums to see they were far from some manufactured product. This was a genuine rock and roll band that could kick it out with the best of 'em.
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