Opinion is still divided on the Runaways’ place in the musical universe. To many, they were the first all-girl (instrument-playing) rock band to matter, spiritual godmothers to the Go-Go’s and Bangles, and seminal punk rockers to boot. Others see them as nothing more than a pre-packaged peepshow whose heavy metal-cum-glitter approach was dated from the very start.
Here are the facts: LA teenagers Joan Jett (whose love of T. Rex and Suzi Quatro inspired her to learn guitar) and drummer Sandy West decided to form a band with encouragement (and eventual management) from Kim Fowley. The band that recorded The Runaways was a combination of raw garage-band playing and brassy, high-school-bad-girl sexuality typified by their unofficial anthem, “Cherry Bomb.”
By the time Queens of Noise (a decided improvement over the debut) was released, trouble was fomenting; although Cherie Currie was the “official” lead singer, Jett wound up taking the microphone on six of the ten songs. Things came to a head when, after a tour of Japan (documented on the Live in Japan album), Currie and bassist Jackie Fox quit the band. Vicki Blue was hired as a new bassist, and Jett took over the reins for good.
Except in Japan, the Runaways never made any real commercial inroads. Many saw them as inept puppets — merely another Fowley hype — and refused to take the music seriously. Waitin’ for the Night did nothing to alter that. The album came out just as modern-day punk was emerging, and Jett (if not the rest of the band) readily latched onto the scene to the extent that Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols contributed one song (“Black Leather”) to And Now…The Runaways. But West and guitarist Lita Ford wanted to go in a more heavy metal direction, and the album would prove to be their last.
Posthumous notes: Flaming Schoolgirls is a substandard odds and ends compilation of live tracks and studio outtakes, while Little Lost Girls is actually And Now…The Runaways re-released as a picture disc. The Best of the Runaways and I Love Playing with Fire are further recaps of various material. As for the band members, Joan Jett hit the jackpot as a solo artist; Lita Ford became a huge metal star under her own name; Laurie McAllister (who held down the bass spot in the band’s waning months) ended up in another all-girl Fowley project, the Orchids. Cherie tried film roles and sang solo and with her twin sister Marie.