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The Runaways were an all-girl 1970s hard rock/proto-punk band which launched the careers of Joan Jett and Lita Ford. Although the band was largely dismissed at the time as a novelty act by US audiences, they gained a large following in Europe and especially Japan, and have since been credited as being important pathbreakers in allowing women into hard rock as legitimate songwriters and musicians, and have also been viewed as a seminal influence on the then-emerging genre of punk rock. Their best known song is the rebellious teen anthem "Cherry Bomb," which Jett wrote for lead singer Cherie Currie as a pun on her first name.
The Runaways were originally founded as a collaboration between guitarist Jett, drummer Sandy West, and teenage songwriter Kari Krome in 1975, under the guidance of infamous producer Kim Fowley. Originally the group played LA clubs as a power trio of Jett, West, and bassist Micki Steele, who would later gain fame as a member of The Bangles, before finally settling on a lineup of Jett, West, lead singer Currie, lead guitarist Lita Ford, and bassist Jackie Fox in 1976.
The Runaways were initially viewed, especially in the US, as a Spice Girls-like gimmick, manufactured and controlled by Fowley, in which attractive young women were assembled into a "band" in order to sell records and concert tickets. It did not help that Fowley had a long history of ghostwriting songs for famous acts, and that he heavily pushed the band's image as "jailbait on the run."
Indeed the band first drew attention for their scandalous outfits and sexually suggestive antics on stage despite the fact that most of them were only 15 or 16 years old (and as young as 14). Indeed, in the early years, lead singer Cherie Currie often appeared on stage wearing little more than a corset, stockings, and garter belt. However, in truth, despite their youth the band members were accomplished musicians, and actually wrote almost all of their songs themselves.
First signed by Mercury Records in 1976, the Runaways released their self titled debut album and toured the US for a year, opening for such bands as Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, the Ramones, and Van Halen. It was on this tour that the girls each developed a distinctive "look" that they would maintain throughout the band's run. It is said that Jett modeled herself after Keith Richards and Suzi Quatro, Currie took her cues from David Bowie, West patterned herself after Queen drummer Roger Taylor, Ford was a cross between Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and Jeff Beck, and that Fox imitated Kiss frontman Gene Simmons.
In 1977 the band cut their second album, Queens of Noise, and embarked on a tumultuous tour of the UK, where they dove into the emerging British punk scene and no less than three members of the band got arrested. They then traveled to Japan, where their arrival created a huge sensation Jett would later compare to Beatlemania. At the time of their arrival, the Runaways were the 4th best selling foreign musical act in Japan, after only Led Zeppelin, ABBA, and Kiss. In Japan the girls did an extended run of concerts, appeared on numerous TV specials, and released a live album, Live in Japan.
The pressures of a rock n' roll lifestyle proved too much for the ambitious and studious Fox, however, and she left the band shortly before the end of the Japan tour, replaced on bass first by Jett, and then later by new member Vicki Blue. Currie left the band as well shortly thereafter, and was not replaced, her vocal duties being assumed by Jett as the band's regular lineup went from five members to four.
The band pressed on cutting their third studio album, Waiting For The Night, at the end of 1977, and embarking on another World Tour with The Ramones.
But by mid-1978, the band was beginning to fall apart, due to conflicts over money and creative control with their manager Fowley. Bassist Vicki Blue left the group (replaced by Laurie McAllister), and finally the band broke with Fowley, cutting a final studio album, And Now...The Runaways, under new producer John Alcock before disbanding for good in 1979. It was later revealed in the 2004 film Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways, that repeated sexual and verbal abuse of the band members by Fowley and co-manager Scott Anderson played a major roll in the departure of Fox, Currie, and later Blue and in the eventual breakup of the band.
All members of the band landed on their feet. Jett in particular went on to become a huge star and rock goddess as the frontwoman for her own band "Joan Jett and the Blackhearts," thanks to her 1982 megahit "I Love Rock N' Roll," which is included on almost every list of the top 100 rock songs of all time. Lita Ford also had a notable career as a heavy metal queen in the 1980s, successfully combining power chords and wearing almost nothing on stage to sell several albums platinum, although her music and legacy have not aged nearly as well as Jett's. Fox went to UCLA and Harvard Law, Currie had a moderately notable acting career, Blue became a successful television producer, and West continued to tour with her own group, the Sandy West Band, throughout the 80s and 90s.
Although the Runaways were together for only a few short years, recognition of their legacy has been lasting and has only grown with time, and numerous female rock acts continue to cite the Runaways and their music as a profound influence. Jett obviously went on to become a huge icon, and later was the first woman to found a record label, but Sandy West is also considered a major pathbreaker in drumming circles as the first real female rock drummer.
Meteors are not needed less than mountains.