How The Runaways Changed The Lives Of 13 Women Rockers
On the anniversary of the band’s formation
Few bands are remembered both for their music and how they changed the course of history, but The Runaways (members through the years included Sandy West, Joan Jett, Micki Steele, Cherie Currie, Lita Ford, Peggy Foster, Victory Tischler-Blue, Laurie McAllister, Michael Steele, and Jackie Fox) have both squarely under their studded belts. Formed on August 5, 1975, this group of teenage women initially kicked in the teeth of the rock world with "Cherry Bomb," and thrived in the legendary '70s glam scene of Los Angeles.
At the time, though pop music had a history of female-driven groups and all-women rock groups like Fanny had laid groundwork earlier in the decade, there was nothing quite like The Runaways. Not only did they break commercially in a way other all-women rock bands hadn't been able to, but also they were cut from a different cloth. With their no-nonsense attitude, lyrics that were at once brash and normative-challenging ("I wanna be where the boys are/ I wanna fight how the boys fight/ I wanna love how the boys love/ I wanna be where the boys are"), and gripping performances that flaunted the mastery of their craft and instruments (something woefully rare at the time), they weren't just a band, they were a spit in the face of what was expected of women in music.
Being a trailblazer often means being the brunt of abuse, and as snarling, leather-clad vanguards in an industry not only dominated by men on stage but behind the scenes as well, The Runaways suffered plenty of it. Their very existence exposed how differently women were (and arguably still are) treated differently in music, and how as artists, women's sexuality is judged, scrutinized, and used as a weapon against them. In one famous story, on a houseboat on the Thames, Sid Vicious (of the Sex Pistols) insisted on pawing Jett, who was in no mood for advances. Despite being told to quit, Vicious kept harassing Jett, so Sandy West picked up the gangly punk rocker and dropped him overboard into the river.
Despite what they had to weather, their persistence and legacy inspired generations of women to not only feel they had a place within rock and punk but taught them that, as artists, they could own both their talent and sexuality without being objectified mouthpieces. Every risk they took made the tangled path a little clearer for everyone else to follow in their steps; they created a space where one could live and perform boldly without apology. Today, on the anniversary of the band's founding, we talk with women musicians on how The Runaways changed their lives. To Joan, Sandy, Micki, Cherie, Joan, Lita, Peggy, Victory, Laurie, Michael, and Jackie, thank you.
Lizzy Hale (Halestorm)
"The Runaways carved a path, demolishing the white picket fence stereotype of how ladies were supposed to act. I've had the privilege of being influenced by these ladies and touring with the lovely Lita Ford. She and I had similar views when starting our bands, we even began gigging at the same tender age of 13. We both had supportive parents who saw the fire in our eyes and bravely decided, despite the dangers of rock 'n' roll, not to snuff out that fire.
But the difference between me and Lita is that I had a door already opened for me. I had a beacon of hope because The Runaways came before me. Those girls, only a generation before, had to kick that door down and crawl over it.
What would've happened if when things got tough for Joan, Lita, Cherie, Sandy, and Jackie, they decided to give up and just conform to what society wanted little girls to be? Would I have the career I have now? Would radio stations have played my songs? Would I have had the courage to bring it and prove myself night after night on stage? I don't know for sure—I'd like to believe I would. But they certainly left a breadcrumb trail for me to follow when I felt lost.
Let's not forget that this is not a matter of gender, it's a matter of talent, and this is also a ripple effect. I'm in a position to pass the torch after 19 years of being on the road with my own band. That torch that was passed to me by those ladies. Now, I have a responsibility to look into the eyes of this generation’s little girls, and tell them that they can be whatever they want to in life. Joan, Lita, Cherie, Sandy, Jackie, and I are living proof of that! Don't conform, don't give up, do what you love and follow your gut. Five young girls on August 5, 1975, did just that and introduced the world to the power of women in rock 'n' roll. Thank you and happy anniversary to The Runaways! We couldn't have done it without you."
Georgia Nott (Broods)
"My love of The Runaways was really ignited by the 2010 film about them. In all honesty, I didn’t know a whole lot about them before that, apart from being familiar with Joan Jett’s post-Runaways career.
To me what was so impressive about The Runaways was their amazingly infectious and rebellious energy on stage. Watching their performances, they are so aggressively feminine and strong—not coy and meek—but confronting and intimidating. I can only imagine that girls who were lucky enough to see them perform live the late '70s would have found their stage show so inspiring and empowering.
I think it’s so important for bands like The Runaways to be appreciated and recognized. There is still a huge lack of all-female bands to this day so it’s vital that we keep paying tribute these insanely talented women."
Frankie Clarke (Frankie + The Studs)
"I’ve been a fan of Joan Jett and The Runaways since my dad (Gilby Clarke of Guns N' Roses) first introduced me to them when I was 10 years old. I had started an all-girl rock band, and my dad insisted I listen to The Runaways before I continue doing anything else. I was mesmerized! Girls who could play rock 'n' roll, and looked tough as hell in their metallic leather jumpsuits and sky-high platform boots… Since then, Joan Jett has become my ultimate role model. Beyond inspiring my jet-black mullet, and affinity for leather jumpsuits and low-slung guitars, I’ve implemented a lot of Joan Jett’s ideologies into everything I do in my musical career.
Today, I’m no longer in an all-girl band, but now I’m the only girl in a rock band called Frankie + The Studs. I’ve always thought of myself as equal to the guys. Women can rock just as hard as boys can, and Joan is living proof of that."
"I’ve loved Joan Jett and loved the Runaways since I was a young girl. I always appreciated girl rock bands and there was something rebellious and sexy about them. The raw audacity of teenage angst was glorious. They played just as badass as they looked and Joan's writing and melodies just shined. The leather jumpsuits and platforms were the signature everyone wanted to mimic. Joan knew how to make men wish they were as cool as their show was. And I love that still about her."
Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson (MUNA)
Josette: "I grew up listening to Joan Jett—I wanted to be her when I was a kid. I thought it was so badass for a girl to play the guitar, sing and just be so cool. When I first was realizing that I might like girls, I was really into her cover of 'Crimson & Clover.' This girl that I had a huge crush on was texting me on Valentine's Day saying that no one had made her feel special. I replied by recording a video of me singing that song, sending it to her saying 'I hope this makes you feel special.' Being able to be comfortable being queer was a difficult process. I look back on that song—and Joan Jett—positively because it helped me feel comfortable and be brave enough to express myself."
Naomi: "The Runaways paved the way for every girl band, including us. They also paved the way as icons in rock music that were also queer, sexually free, tough, and all around badass. They went through a lot so that we don't have to put up with the same bullshit that they had to back then... they went through so, so much abuse at the hands of the industry. Though the journey was long, Joan Jett and The Runaways set the terms of their own sexual empowerment and commodification. The story of The Runaways isn't a picture perfect feminist story, and it doesn't need to be in order for us to find lasting meaning from it. The world is a better place because of them, and we thank them for paving the way. Girls shred."
Julia Kugel (The Coathangers)
"The Runaways were my first introduction to an all-female rock 'n' roll group. They were so badass! Sneering and still sexy but with an ownership of themselves. They didn't look like they were acting. They seemed authentic. Even the way they played was rough and awesome! We got to meet Joan Jett one night in New York. I still have her business card. She had a business card! She doesn't need one. So cool."
Betsy Wright (Ex Hex)
"I'm so inspired by the fearlessness of both Joan Jett and Lita Ford. Joan Jett's first solo album after leaving The Runaways was rejected by over 20 major labels! She released it herself and formed her own record label. The record ended up having huge hits on it like 'Bad Reputation' and 'I love Rock 'n' Roll'—two of my favorite songs of all time.
Lita Ford was a badass metal guitarist already at 16 years old. She continued to forge ahead through the '80s making hits and shredding like a boss in the middle of a completely male-dominated scene. She still tours constantly and looks like she's having fun doing it.
Even though The Runaways were completely dominated by [manager] Kim Fowley, they did record some timeless hits. Also, I love their Live in Japan album because you can hear what great musicians (especially Joan and Lita) are at such a young age. The crowd goes nuts and it's a lot of fun!"
"Joan Jett made a name for herself in a 'man's' world. From The Runaways to her solo career, she continually pushed the envelope of what was expected of a female artist.
She was one of the first in the industry to prove, as a female, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. All you need is that inner fire to push you through, and a zero-fucks-given attitude. She rocked just as hard (or harder) than the boys. She’s an inspiration to me, especially to my live performances. 'A.C.D.C.' is the first song that comes up in my iTunes, so every time I connect my iPhone to a car, it's on blast."
Monika Walker (The New Tarot)
"For me, Joan Jett will forever be the ultimate archetype of She-Ra rock goddess women power! Her purrs and growls have inspired many vocal moments in our music. She's the female patron saint of ass-kicking leather and punchy vocals, and her very name is synonymous with the best and the baddest parts of the double X-chromosome."
Izzy Almeida (Hunters)
"The first time I saw The Runaways was a really old video of them playing a live show in Japan. I remember thinking they were so cool. I mean, at the time I was just an awkward teenager and they seemed totally different than anyone I knew. It was inspiring because these girls were out there touring and performing with such confidence on stage. Cherie had such an enigmatic stage presence… Actually, they all did, and I had the biggest crush on Joan Jett. Looking back I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for them to be so young and out on the road alone."
Haley Shea (Sløtface)
"Some of my clearest musical memories are of singing along to 'I Love Rock 'n' Roll' and 'Bad Reputation' with my mother around the house and in the car. I remember being struck by how tough, strong, and in charge Joan Jett sounded and was completely in awe of her. I wanted to sound as cool as her, have her kind of attitude, her style. The kind of commanding presence she has in all of her work is an incredible inspiration."
Izzy B Phillips (Black Honey)
"I remember when I first heard 'Cherry Bomb.' It was so punk and so unapologetic. I thought I had discovered a kind of musical missing link. Joan Jett's songwriting blows my mind."
"The Runaways and Joan Jett's music were a big part of my childhood. I remember hearing 'Bad Reputation' while watching Freaks and Geeks and thinking, 'that is what I can get down with.' She was such an underdog, which is part of what is so inspiring. When I moved to New York I felt kind of lost creatively, so I went out and bought a cheap electric guitar, and ended up recording a bunch of rock songs. Listening to her music had a huge impact on that record. It's what helped me navigate through my first year trying to survive in this city. The raw energy she brings really drives me to get better at what I do."