The Runaways

Born to Be Bad [Marilyn]

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This Runaways "first ever recording after five days of being a band" is actually Joan Jett, Micki Steele, and Sandy West as a power trio, produced and directed by Kim Fowley. It truly is an historical document, despite Fowley's penchant for extreme hype -- his name is splashed on the front cover, back cover, inside back cover, and inside gatefold. The gals are mentioned once on the inside back cover. Perhaps that means we can blame Fowley for the dreadful sound on these tapes -- Phil Spector he ain't, although he seems to want his name posted more than the creator of "Be My Baby." The former producer of Helen Reddy (credit the man with getting Reddy her last Top 20 hit, "You're My World," in 1977, two years after this) is in his element here, and though these tapes are not as appealing as when Dinky Dawson engineered Fowley's work with Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, he does get these young gals to give a go at Chip Taylor's "Wild Thing," as well as an almost carbon copy of Mitch Ryder's version of Lou Reed's chestnut "Rock 'n' Roll." You see, Bob Ezrin helped guitarist Steve Hunter record an amazing rearrangement of a Velvet Underground staple, so imaginative that the Runaways made it one of their showstoppers. That Top 40 soundalikes Blue Swede would eventually cop the same riff and attempt to send it up the charts is a testament to Fowley's sense of what was truly "hip." But if you want to talk about "raw," it is interesting that Mercury, the home of the New York Dolls, would find these demos so appealing as to give the Runaways the deal. Listening to them, it is easier to imagine Kim Fowley knew how to schmooze the powers that be, but that's OK, because the raw energy of a future Joan Jett, someone who would graduate to Ritchie Cordell and Kenny Laguna -- becoming their female Tommy James -- makes these classic tapes very special indeed. Jett does a credible basement version of Free's "All Right Now," and a bunch of titles like "Let's Party Tonight," "Thunder," "You Drive Me Wild," "I'm a Star," and others. It doesn't say if "I'm a Star" is the Joe South tune or not. Why credit songwriters when the room can be used to put Kim Fowley's name for a fifth time on the left-hand corner of the back cover? (Twice on the back.) The sad thing about this project is that fans don't get more information on how it all came together; the liner notes, written by Kim Fowley in 1991, just ramble. The sonic quality is horrible, your typical microphone in the room while a band makes noise routine, but it is Joan Jett, and for fans it works, it definitely works, and it's nice to know she eventually found people to work with who knew enough to put her name on the marquee instead of theirs.

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