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.