The Runaways are one of L.A.'s all-time great rock bands, and with the publication of Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways, they finally have the written history they deserve. Melding music and music history, we asked the book's author, LMU professor Evelyn McDonnell, to come up with a playlist appropriate for some of the book's chapters. Think of it as mood music.
“Yesterday’s Kids” (Chapter 6)
The Runaways launched in the fall of 1975 as an all-girl group spewing teenage ‘tude. Chapter 6 details the early permutations of the band, beginning with their debut as a power trio: muscled drummer Sandy West, ace guitarist Joan Jett, and bassist/singer Micki Steele. The chapter is named after one of the Runaways’ earliest, never officially released songs, whose lyrics—penned by tomboy poet Kari Krome—bash aging hippie rockers as “Yesterday’s Kids.”
“American Nights” (Chapter 15)
At an age when their peers were going to proms and hanging out at malls, the Runaways toured the world. They gigged hard across the States, criss-crossing the country, proving to panting audiences that yes, they really could play their instruments. “American Nights” was another generational anthem, a Springsteen-esque rocker that should have been their second single—only Mercury couldn’t see past the sexual tease of “Cherry Bomb.”
“Queens of Noise” (Chapter 18)
For their second album, the Runaways wanted to be presented as more than just fly-by-night trash rockers—to be taken seriously as a real band with formidable talents. However, ongoing internal drama literally spilled over into the mixing room, where a beer tipped into the sound board during a shoving episode, shutting down the Beach Boys’ Brothers Studio for a couple of days. As the album title said, the Runaways were queens, but of noise, not harmony.
“I Wanna Be Where the Boys Are” (Chapter 20)
In June 1977 the Runaways had their Beatlemania moment, playing before thousands of shrieking fans in gigs across Japan. Listen to the way Joan screams, “I’m the bitch with the hot guitar, I am the L.A. sonic star,” and Lita’s guitar responds on “I Wanna Be Where the Boys Are,” from the Live in Japan album. The band sounds tight and loud, like a jet(t) engine—but sadly, two members (Jackie Fox and Cherie Currie) were in the process of coming loose.
“Gotta Get Out Tonight” (Chapter 24)
The Runaways biopic implies the band died without Cherie, but in fact, as a quartet fronted by Joan, they excelled on crunch rock songs like “Gotta Get Out Tonight,” from their third studio album, Waitin’ for the Night. With no support from their record label, the Runaways did indeed have to get out on the road to prove themselves again (and earn an income). For their last North American tour, they co-headlined with the Ramones.
Evelyn McDonnell will be reading from her new book Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. at Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Boulevard, in West Hollywood. She will also be at Book Frog, 550 Deep Valley Drive, Rolling Hills Estate, on Sept. 14 at 2 p.m.