Song: "Bad Reputation"
Album: Joan Jett/Bad Reputation
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Without question, one of the riskiest things a musician can do is when they leave a successful band and attempt a solo career. In an overwhelming majority of cases, the only success they find in this solo career is when they rework songs from their previous bands. This is usually due to the fact that the music they explore as a solo artist is rather different in nature than the sound they made with their band, and the fanbase is simply "not into it." However, in cases like Dave Grohl, George Harrison, and Dr. Dre, the vision that the musicians explored was so fascinating, so original, that it was impossible for the general public to ignore them, and once in awhile, the solo work actually eclipses the music of their previous band. While there was not really a drastic musical shift, one cannot deny that, while her time with The Runaways remains some of the most influential music in history, the music she created as a solo artist is what the world will remember from the Queen of attitude driven hard rock, Joan Jett. With her instantly recognizable voice and talent for writing brilliant rock anthems, it is little surprise that she is clearly the most successful of all of her old bandmates. Only a few months after the "official" breakup of The Runaways, Jett released her first solo record, and on it was one of the most fierce, yet truly perfect songs ever recorded, "Bad Reputation."
Truth be told, the song was actually released twice, as Jett released a self titled record on her own in 1980. After the record found small success, Boardwalk Records signed Jett and the songs were re-released in January of 1981 as Bad Reputation. Having the song "Bad Reputation" as the first track sets a perfect tone for the album, showing that Jett is picking up right where she left off with The Runaways, and there are few songs that are so wonderfully defiant, and yet musically complete at the same time. This record also represents the earliest version of Jett's longtime backing band, The Blackhearts, and in many ways, they never sounded better or more true to their sound as they do on "Bad Reputation." The song tightly holds Jett's punk rock roots, and yet it also gives a peek into the anthemic, pop-driven lyrics which would catapult Jett to international fame a few years later. The dual guitars blaze across the track, keeping to an extremely simply pattern, and yet it is this aspect of the song that immediately ignites the album, and one of the key reasons why it remains such an iconic song. With the drums following a Ramones-esque rhythm, "Bad Reputation" is unquestionably one of the first punk-style songs that rruly crossed over into the mainstream. The music never relents, and it is an all-out musical assault form start to finish, and "Bad Reputation" sets the stage for the formula which Jett would follow for the rest of her solo career.
While the music on "Bad Reputation" is what still gets crowds going, there is little question that the true power behind the song comes from the vocals and lyrics from Joan Jett herself. Having taken over lead vocal duties in the final days of The Runaways, Jett seems perfectly comfortable here, and her voice remains one of the most iconic of her generation. Perfectly walking the line between singing and screaming, there is always a fantastic sense of urgency in her voice, and it is one of the reasons her singing is so instantly recognizable. Lyrically, "Bad Reputation" remains one of the finest autobiographical songs in history, and one can easily make the case that, at some point in life, everyone has felt the feelings embodied within the song. The opening verse of, "I don't give a damn 'bout my reputation, you're living in the past it's a new generation...a girl can do what she wants to do and that's what I'm gonna do..." stands as a shout against society on many levels, and it is one of the reasons that countless individuals and organizations have taken the song to be their own over the decades. In many ways taking the "women can rock" torch from Patti Smith, few musicians of either gender have so bluntly and brilliantly personified this feeling, and the song can also be taken as a rallying cry for an entire generation of young people, rebelling against their elders. Regardless of the meaning which one reads into the song, the fact of the matter is, "Bad Reputation" continues to ignite and inspire people across all boundaries nearly three decades after it was released.
Though they are often not given as much credit for their influence, one canny deny the massive impact that the females of the early hard rock and punk scene had on the generations that followed. Truth be told, nearly any band that has a powerful female involved owes a great deal of their success to the efforts of Joan Jett, and in many ways, "Bad Reputation" served as the song that made it "ok" for other women to pursue their dreams within these genres. Yet the true "magic" behind "Bad Reputation" lies in the fact that, while it can most easily be read as a pro-women song, it can also be interpreted on many other levels, making it one of the most universal rallying cries in history. The attitude and power that Jett brings to every aspect of the song is far beyond that of any of her peers, and her unforgiving vocal approach was certainly nothing short of unsettling at the time. Taking her days in The Runaways and injecting far more attitude into the style, all of Joan Jett's solo debut is worth exploring, as it clearly sets the stage for the string of hits that would follow in later years. Though some of these songs would become far more famous, one can make the case that she never again found a better combination of attitude and musical power as she brought on the lead track of her first solo record, the unmistakable and absolutely electrifying, "Bad Reputation."