Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"I Love Rock 'n Roll' by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (1981)

View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl.

Fun Fact:
Tommy James said he wrote Crimson and Clover about his two favorite colors.

Filed Between:
"Jesus Christ Superstar" and Billy Joel.

Key Tracks:
I Love Rock 'n Roll. Like I said about Bad to the Bone, songs get overplayed for a reason.  Let me just go ahead and throw this out there - I Love Rock 'n Roll by Joan Jett may well be the best cover song of all time.  (We would have also accepted Higher Ground by the Red Hot Chili Peppers or maybe Smooth Criminal by Alien Ant Farm.)  Crimson and Clover is another great cover.  That song gets downright sexy when a woman covers it - especially when that woman is a badass clad in leather wailing on a low-slung electric guitar.  Originals You're Too Possessive and Woe Is Me end the LP in a great way.

Obvious Filler and Swings-and-Misses:
Be Straight doesn't do ANYTHING.  Even worse, it name checks one of Jett's best songs, Bad Reputation - seemingly only to remind you of just how bad Be Straight is.  Nag and Victim of Circumstances are swings-and-misses.  They exemplify all JJ's very diverse influences mashed together in the worst possible way.

My Overall Rating of the Tracks Separately:
Above Average (2.5/4 stars)  This rating is absolutely bolstered by the key tracks.

It's always disappointing when an LP doesn't live up to the promise set by a single.  Of course, in this case, that is a virtually untenable feat.  Like I said, I Love Rock 'n Roll is on my short list for best cover song ever. The production of that track is pitch perfect with it's dual raunchy, sweat-soaked guitars and strychnine-laced vocals.  I Love Rock 'n Roll sets the bar so high that no one could hope to catch that lightning in a bottle for two whole sides.

And Jett never tries to.  By the second track, she has settled in to a slightly-heavier-than-the-Go-Go's sound.  That's a shame and it carries on through most of the LP.  It's not automatically a bad thing.  I can imagine Miley Cyrus making a hit out of either (I'm Gonna) Run Away or Love Is Pain.  (That's a compliment, by the way.)  But neither comes close to the snarl achieved on the opener.  "Safety" is the key word for too many songs by an artist who's clearly trying to be dangerous.  And the "I'm dangerous" approach careens in the opposite direction and ends up being far too heavy-handed on tracks like Nag and Be Straight.

On "I Love Rock 'n Roll," Jett always come across best when she is interpreting somebody else's song.  She sounds looser and way more comfortable (and usually way more angry) when she's not trying to justify her own tunes.  I Love Rock 'n Roll and Crimson and Clover are hands-down the best tracks on the LP and are both incredible reimaginings of the source material.  Bits and Pieces is good, but that's where it falls short - it doesn't come close to the Dave Clark Five's original version.

So, is it an album?  No.  Joan Jett knows who she WANTS to be on this effort, but she only fully commits to it in fits and spells.  I didn't realize just how off-the-rails the B-side gets until Ithe last two songs kick in and she tries to vindicate it all and pull off the world's greatest course-correct.  Those two songs are both really good and really "Joan Jett," but it's just too little too late.

Up next, Bon Scott!  It's "High Voltage" by AC/DC.

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