The Runaways were an American all-girl rock band that recorded and performed in the second half of the 1970s. The band released four studio albums and one live set during its run. Their best known songs are “Cherry Bomb“, “Queens of Noise“, “Neon Angels On the Road to Ruin”, “California Paradise” and “Dead End Justice“. The Runaways, though never a major success in the United States, became a sensation in 1977 in Japan thanks to the hit single “Cherry Bomb.”
The Runaways were formed in late 1975 by drummer Sandy West and rhythm guitarist Joan Jett after they had both introduced themselves to producer Kim Fowley, who gave Jett’s phone number to West. The two met on their own at West’s home and later called Fowley to let him hear the outcome. Fowley then helped the girls find other members. Two decades later he said, “I didn’t put The Runaways together, I had an idea, they had ideas, we all met, there was combustion and out of five different versions of that group came the five girls who were the ones that people liked.”
Starting as a power trio with singer/bassist Micki Steele, The Runaways began the party and club circuit around Los Angeles. They soon added lead guitarist Lita Ford who had originally auditioned for the bass spot. Steele got fired from the group, later resurfacing in The Bangles. Local bassist Peggy Foster took over on bass but left after a month. Lead singer Cherie Currie was found and recruited in a local teen nightclub called the Sugar Shack, followed by Jackie Fox (who had originally auditioned for the lead guitar spot) on bass.
The Runaways were signed to Mercury Records in 1976 and their debut album, The Runaways, was released shortly after. The band toured the U.S. and played numerous sold out shows. They headlined shows with opening acts such as Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Van Halen. Their second album, Queens of Noise was released in 1977 and the band began a world tour. The Runaways quickly became lumped in with the growing punk rock movement.
In the summer of 1977 the group arrived in Japan for a string of sold out shows. The Runaways were the number four imported music act in Japan at the time, behind only ABBA, Kiss and Led Zeppelin in terms of album sales and popularity. The girls were unprepared for the onslaught of fans that greeted them at the airport. The mass hysteria was later described by guitarist Jett as being “like Beatlemania“. While in Japan, The Runaways had their own TV special, did numerous television appearances and released the live album Live in Japan that went gold. Also in Japan, Fox left the band shortly before the group was scheduled to appear at the 1977 Tokyo Music Festival.
It was reported in 1977 that they were thrown out of a photo session by Disneyland because “one of the girls threatened one of our people with a homosexual act”, cited a rep. “They were fondling one another or something.” He also went on to say that “they were doing weird things with french fries“. However it seems while he didn’t have a problem with the girls hugging, it was more “the gestures they were making… with their middle fingers”… Lita Ford hit back saying that Cherie wasn’t hugging her, “she had her arms around my neck like she was strangling…” She also said they didn’t have any french fries.
Currie then left the group after this blow-up with Ford in the fall of 1977. Jett, who had previously shared vocals with Currie, took over lead vocals full-time. The band released their fourth album, Waitin’ For The Night and started a world tour with their friends, The Ramones. Currie released a solo LP, Beauty’s Only Skin Deep, produced by Kim Fowley, and began a separate U.S. tour, which included her identical twin sister Marie. Mercury Records chose not to release Currie’s album Stateside, although it was available as a pricey import via France. In 1980, billed as Cherie and Marie Currie, the sisters released a poorly-received pop-rock album for Capitol, Messin’ With The Boys, produced by Steve Lukather, who was engaged to and later married Marie Currie.
Due to disagreements over money and the management of the band, The Runaways and Kim Fowley parted ways in 1977. The group quickly hired new management, Toby Mamis, who also worked for Blondie and Suzi Quatro. When the group split with Fowley, they also parted with their record label Mercury/Polygram, to which their deal was tied. In the Edgeplay documentary, members of the group (especially Fox and Currie) as well as the parents of Currie and West, have accused Fowley, and others assigned to look after the band, of broken promises as to schooling and other care, using divide and conquer tactics to keep control of the band, along with the verbal taunting of band members. The band reportedly spent much time enjoying the excesses of the rock n’ roll lifestyle during this time. They partnered with Thin Lizzy producer John Alcock, after Jett’s future partner Kenny Laguna turned down the job, to record their last album And Now… The Runaways.
Vicki Blue left the group due to medical problems and was briefly replaced by Laurie McAllister in November 1978. Laurie McAllister was referred to the band by her neighbor, Duane Hitchings, who played keyboards on And Now… The Runaways. Before joining The Runaways, Laurie played with Baby Roulette and the Rave Ons, who had one song released on a Kim Fowley compilation LP called Vampires From Outer Space. Laurie appeared onstage with The Runaways at their final shows in California during the last weeks of December 1978 and McAllister quit soon after in January 1979.
Disagreement between band members included the musical style; Joan Jett wanted the band to take a musical change, shifting towards punk rock/glam rock while Lita Ford, backed by drummer Sandy West, wanted to continue playing hard rock/heavy metal music. Neither would accept the other’s point of view. Finally, the band played their last concert on New Year’s Eve 1978 at the Cow Palace near San Francisco and officially broke up in April 1979.
There is much sadness that there will never be another album released, or any music videos made by The Runaways, but at least I am able to bring you into the past with some live performance videos. I hope you enjoy them, thank you for tuning in, and I will see all of you next week.
The Queens of Noise: