Review: The Runaways – Japanese Singles Collection

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CD. Cherry Red

I first discovered The Runaways in my mid-teens, somehow managing to pick up a copy of seminal bootleg album Live at the Starwood before stumbling upon any of their studio albums or even knowing anything about them. At the same time, Joan Jett and Lita Ford were beginning to carve out their solo careers – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll had already been a hit single – and the band rapidly became a favourite of mine, their proto punk garage sound and bad girl attitude a welcome diversion from most of what was about at the time.

All these years on, I still adore the band. They are the perfect combination of punk, metal and bubblegum pop, rebellious and an important inspiration to armies of female rockers who followed in their footsteps. Yet critics still often fail to take them seriously, a combination of sexism, snobbery and suspicion of Kim Fowley’s motives in putting together a group of teenage girls in mid-Seventies LA – a suspicion that, if Vicki Blue’s horror stories are true, are well founded. But let’s leave aside the gimmick, Cherie Currie’s corsets and the manufactured nature of the band for now, and concentrate on what really matters – the music. And I maintain that the music is brilliant. Badly produced, yeah – which ironically only makes it better – but full-on, no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll that is reminiscent of both the LA post-glam / punk scene that they emerged from and early Kiss (which was also badly produced, gloriously dumbass rock).

For reasons unknown, The Runaways became huge in Japan – it happens. They recorded their official live album in the country, and this compilation explicitly references that fan base in the title. It’s as valid a way to compile a ‘best of’ album as any, I guess, choosing the fourteen tracks – A and B sides – that were released as seven inches in Japan.

The+Runaways+Cherry+Bomb+426777If you have any Runaways albums, then most of these will already be familiar to you. In fact, even if you don’t know the band, you are probably familiar with opener Cherry Bomb, an iconic Seventies rock classic – and rightfully so, as it is without question one of the great punk anthems of all time, and here – as on the band’s debut album – it sets out the Runaways stall immediately. These are not your wholesome pop stars, but rather (as one of the later songs included here is titled) Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin. The music oozes with the vibe of Sunset Strip and seedy nightclubs.

Also here from the debut album are Secrets, Rock and Roll (a cover of the Lou Reed song) and Blackmail – which also crops up in a superior live version later. The title track of the second album, Queens of Noise, is also a statement of intent and a great glam rock anthem, and from Waitin’ for the Night comes the brilliantly sleazy Little Sister and the rebellious School Days. The production has improved on these latter tracks, and the music is heavier, hinting at what might have been if the band hadn’t broken up.

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From the live album we also get All Right You Guys, a track not on the studio LPs, and from the final, post-break up album And Now… The Runaways and subsequent compilation / unreleased track albums come covers of Slade’s Mama Weer All Crazee Now and the Beatles’ Eight Days a Week, both of which are fun, crudely recorded and performed numbers. The album finishes with a pair of bonus tracks – Right Now, a gloriously poppy and sloppy number written by drummer Sandy West, and the Sex Pistols track Black Leather, later covered by Guns ‘n’ Roses – who you suspect had heard this version first.

There is probably little here to excite the long time Runaways fan – you’ll probably have all this already. But for anyone curious about the band, this is a great sampler, complete with booklet notes, lyrics and reproductions of rare Japanese single sleeves.

DAVID FLINT

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