There are many female musicians, but few genuine female rockers. Joan Jett bucked this trend and pursued straight-ahead rock and roll at a time when it was more fashionable for women to pursue gentler sounds like soft rock and disco.
In the process, she recorded several major hits and became an icon to future femme-rockers like L-7 and Bikini Kill. For many, Joan Jett will always be the original “grrl-rocker”.
Born Joan Larkin in 1960 in Philadelphia, Jett got her start at the tender age of 15 as the guitarist for the seminal female rock group The Runaways.
This quartet, which also included a young Lita Ford in its line-up, recorded the classic Cherry Bomb, among others. Jett played with the group until they disbanded in 1980.
She then moved to New York where she recorded her first solo album, Bad Reputation, with the help of Paul Cook and Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols and released it independently after she was rejected by 23 labels.
It was a solid slab of punkish hard-rockers like the title track (where you can hear her explode with fury every time she yells “I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation!”) and Joan’s cover of the Gary Glitter classic Do You Wanna Touch Me?, the latter becoming an early MTV favourite.
The next year, Jett formed a backing group called The Blackhearts and landed a record contract.
She hit big in 1982 with I Love Rock and Roll, a snarling hard-rock update of an obscure glam rock song by UK group Arrows which became an instant rock anthem and stayed at the #1 spot on the charts for seven weeks.
She also became a pin-up attraction in teen magazines and her love of black leather clothing influenced both male and female rockers.
In 1983, Joan Jett released Album and had back-to-back Top-40 hits with the self-penned Fake Friends and a cover of Sly Stone‘s Everyday People.
She later collaborated with The Beach Boys, who lent their airy harmonies to Good Music in 1986.
The next year, she made her acting debut in Light Of Day (1987), a serious drama in which she played sister and rock bandmate to Michael J. Fox.
Jett also performed the film’s theme song, which was written by none other than Bruce Springsteen.
Joan Jett stormed the US Top-10 in 1988 with I Hate Myself For Loving You, a stomping shout-along rocker from the Up Your Alley album.
By the ’90s, Joan Jett had become a cult idol to a group of young, all-female rockers known as the “grrl-rock” movement.
She performed with L-7, recorded a live album with Seattle femme-punkers The Gits, and collaborated with Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill on songs for her next album.
The result was Pure and Simple, Jett’s most critically-praised album in years. Most recently, Joan Jett reunited with The Blackhearts for Fetish.
30+ years after beginning her solo career, Joan Jett rocks on.