I Love Rock and Roll :: Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
Joan Jett saw Arrows perform I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll on their weekly television series Arrows when she was touring England with The Runaways, in 1976. Joan had wanted to record it with The Runaways, but the other members didn’t like the song and made the mistake of passing it up. So, in 1979, Jett recorded it with Paul Cook and Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols and released it as a B-side. This first version was released on vinyl in 1979 on Vertigo records as a b-side to You Don’t Own Me and that early version was not released on CD until 1993 and the issue of the album Flashback.
In 1981, Jett re-recorded the song, this time with her band, The Blackhearts. This recording became a U.S. Billboard Hot 100 number-one single for seven weeks, effectively launching Joan’s solo career. The single was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, representing one million units sold. All versions count once toward certification. This success propelled Joan’s I Love Rock ‘n Roll album to # 2 on the Billboard 200. Joan Jett’s version was ranked # 89 in the list 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of Rolling Stone.
The song was originally recorded by a British group called The Arrows (who Joan had seen perform it) in 1975, and it was written by their lead singer Alan Merrill and guitarist Jake Hooker. Merrill explained in a interview with Songfacts how this song came about: “That was a knee-jerk response to the Rolling Stones’ ‘It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll.’ I remember watching it on Top of the Pops. I’d met Mick Jagger socially a few times, and I knew he was hanging around with Prince Rupert Lowenstein and people like that – jet setters. I almost felt like ‘It’s Only Rock and Roll’ was an apology to those jet-set princes and princesses that he was hanging around with – the aristocracy, you know. That was my interpretation as a young man: Okay, I love rock and roll. And then, where do you go with that?”
The line “Put another dime in the jukebox” was dated by the time Jett released her version, as very few jukeboxes took dimes. “Quarter” didn’t sound good in the lyrics, and as jukeboxes slowly disappeared or became computerized contraptions accepting paper currency, it didn’t matter anyway.
In an interview with Mojo magazine January 2008, Joan looked back on this song: “I think most people who love some kind of rock ‘n’ roll can relate to it. Everyone knows a song that just makes them feel amazing and want to jump up and down. I quickly realized, this song is gonna follow you, so you’re either gonna let it bother you, or you gotta make peace with it, and feel blessed that you were involved with something that touched so many people.”
The gritty, black-and-white music video (see above) received heavy play from the just-launched MTV network. In it, Joan and The Blackhearts travel to a small, dingy bar and proceed to excite the drunken crowd by performing the song and yelling out its famous chorus. A snippet of Jett’s 1981 hit Bad Reputation is featured at the beginning of the video.
The video was shot in color, but they didn’t think it looked gritty enough so it was converted to black and white to get the desired effect. The jacket Joan wears is actually red. The people in the crowd were all fans who turned up that day.
Editor’s Note: This song is middle school roller skating rink music to me, and also the soundtrack to many a sleepover that followed hours at the skate rink. It also reminds me of how much I wanted that pink jacket from the cover of the I Love Rock and Roll album!