Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Runaways - Queens of Noise (1977)

“Queens Of Noise” by The Runaways (1977)

Release Date: January 1977
Produced by Kim Fowley and Earle Mankey
Chart Positions: #172 (US), #28 (Sweden), #30 (Japan)
Certifications: N/A
Singles: “Queens of Noise” (UK Release), “Midnight Music” (German Release), “Heartbeat” (US & Australian Release)(#110 US), “I Love Playin’ With Fire” (Australian Release), “Neon Angels On The Road To Ruin” (Japanese Release)(#84 Japan)

Queens of Noise is the second studio album by the American rock band The Runaways. Released in January 1977 on Mercury Records, it is fundamentally a hard rock album, although it also exhibits influences from punk rock, heavy metal, and blues rock. While the album features a range of different tempos, most of it consists of the "heavy" guitar-driven tracks that have come to be seen as The Runaways' signature sound, although it also features two noticeably softer songs that have sometimes been described as early power ballads. While stylistically similar to the band's self-titled debut album The Runaways, Queens of Noise features greater emphasis on volume and musical sophistication. The album has received generally positive reviews and has remained the band's best-selling record in the United States.

Queens of Noise features a total of ten songs that are evenly split between the two sides of the original vinyl record. Nine of the ten songs were written or co-written by members of the band themselves, while the other (the title track "Queens of Noise") was written specifically for The Runaways, meaning that the album does not include any true covers. Joan Jett described herself as "really proud" of "Queens of Noise" as a whole and declared that it "is a lot more listenable" than "The Runaways," while Jackie Fox felt that it is "not a very good album" overall.

Queens of Noise
The album's titular song has a "heavy" sound and features a distinctive riff as well as a guitar solo by Ford. The only song on the album that was not written or co-written by any of The Runaways themselves, "Queens of Noise" was penned by Billy Bizeau of The Quick, the other band that Fowley managed. Jett noted that the title of the song was derived from a lyric in the song "American Nights" from the album The Runaways, while Fowley referred to it as a "great opening song and statement". According to Fox, Currie believed that the song had been written with the intention that she would sing the lead vocals, but Jett insisted on singing them and, with the support of the rest of the band, did so. However, according to Currie, she was unable to sing the lead vocals because she had an abortion shortly before the song was recorded, and by the time she had recovered and returned to the studio, Jett had already recorded the lead vocals. According to Fox, Currie was infuriated by the decision to include Jett's version on the album, although as a compromise she was allowed to sing the first verse during live performances of the song while Jett sang the second verse. Both Fox and Andy Doherty believe that this song in particular serves as a microcosm of the growing tension between Currie and Jett over the issue of lead vocals, a tension reflected by those duties being evenly split between the two on this album.

Take It or Leave It
Written singlehandedly by Jett, who also handles lead vocal duties on the song, "Take It or Leave It" challenges the title track in terms of strength and power with its "thunderous" drumming from West, who begins the song with a drum fill, and "powerful" guitar playing by both Ford and Jett. Barry Myers praised it as "possible single material" while Fowley referred to it as "pure Runaways", although Fox dismissed it as "one of my least favorite Runaways songs". Alex Henderson nonetheless deemed it a "classic" in his review for Allmusic, along with the songs "Neon Angels On the Road to Ruin" and "I Love Playin' with Fire", while Jett noted that it "always went over really well" with audiences when it was played live.

Midnight Music
In sharp contrast to the first two songs on the album, "Midnight Music" is a softer and more melodic song with Currie on lead vocals. She was quite happy with the finished version of the song, remarking that it "turned out more fantastic than I thought it would". Written by local songwriter Steven Tetsch, Fowley, and Currie together, Fox noted that the song was initially unpopular with the other four members of the band, but in 2000 remarked that upon further listening it was "actually one of the better songs on the album". The album's iTunes review echoed this praise by deeming it and "Heartbeat" power ballads that are "unacknowledged precursors to the hair metal sound that would come to dominate Los Angeles in the ‘80s". Despite this, Doherty argued that it is not representative of The Runaways' style because it "lacks their spirit and rough around the edges approach".

Born to Be Bad
Written by Fowley, West, and former bassist (and future Bangle) Michael "Micki" Steele, "Born to Be Bad" is very slow in tempo and also features "unusually mellow" lead vocals from Jett for part of the song. Fox believed that Fowley intended the lyrics to refer at least in part to the Vietnam War but Jett interpreted them as concerning homeless people living in the Manhattan neighborhood of Bowery, a claim supported by Jett's declaration that the song is "about someone who is a born loser". The song has received both highly positive and highly negative reviews. iTunes went as far as to call it the album's "real left-of-center gem" and "a twisted, intoxicated blues workout" that is driven by a Ford guitar solo that it described as an "exhibit of electricity". Myers lamented that it is "not one of the best tracks" on the album, while Fox dismissed it as "almost as embarrassing as Johnny Guitar".

Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin
Written by Ford, Fowley, and Fox, "Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin" is driven by a slow riff and a guitar solo that are both provided by Ford. Described simply as a "crunching heavy rock track" and "hard-ass rock", the song is considered by both Henderson and Doherty to be one of the best tracks on the album. Fowley described it as reminiscent of a "European approach to heavy metal", while Fox viewed it as the band's "concession to Lita's heavy metal [desires]." Currie's performance on lead vocals has been called "outstanding" and even considered her "finest performance", although Fox observed that Currie hated to sing it live night after night because she had great difficulty repeatedly hitting the highest notes in the song.

I Love Playin' with Fire
The first track on the second side of the original album, "I Love Playin' with Fire" is the second song on Queens of Noise that was written by Jett alone. It is an up-tempo song with Jett providing lead vocals that Myers describes as "divinely decadent", while it also features both a powerful riff and another guitar solo from Ford. Fowley described the lyrical content of the song as Jett's perspective on "getting ripped off and almost destroyed by superficial love". The iTunes review described the song as full of "relentless, gleeful anger", while Fox remarked that it was "always a lot of fun to play" and that she thought that Ford's solo was "one of her best". The song also features hand clapping during the third verse, which The Runaways recorded with a group of friends that included Rodney Bingenheimer, an experience that Fox remembered as an excruciatingly long process because "someone was off on every take".

I Love Playing' With Fire

California Paradise
Written by Fowley, Jett, West, and Kari Krome (Jett's friend and an important catalyst in the band's formation), "California Paradise" was the first of the Queens of Noise songs to be penned, and it was even one of the songs that Fox learned while auditioning for the band. After beginning with another opening drum fill from West, the song quickly becomes a guitar-driven "stomping rock track" with Currie on lead vocals and Jett harmonizing with her on the choruses. It is a unique track on the album because the guitar solo is split between Jett, who plays the first portion, and Ford. Fowley described it as an "answer to "California Girls" by the Beach Boys although musically it resembles a Gary Glitter record". iTunes characterized it as a "gloriously malevolent" tribute to The Runaways' home state, while Fox praised it as "probably the best song on the album".

Written by Fowley, Fox, and Jett, "Hollywood" features Jett on lead vocals for the fifth and final time on the album, while Fox provides backing vocals. According to Jett, the lyrics of the song concern "a girl wanting to become a star knowing that you can become one." Doherty described it as "one of the weaker [songs] on the album", although Myers considered it one of the four songs that made up the "consistently enjoyable" stretch between "I Love Playin' with Fire" and "Heartbeat".

Originally written by Ford and Fox, "Heartbeat" was conceived as a mock love song to Joey Ramone and was initially intended to feature Fox on lead vocals. Because Currie had already lost a significant number of lead vocals to Jett by the time it was recorded, Fowley decided to have Fox and Currie sing the lead vocals together in an effort to appease Currie, but Fox recalled that "Cherie's voice and mine didn't blend well at all" and they gave up trying to record together. Without Fox's knowledge or approval, Currie and Fowley then rewrote the lyrics to be about David Bowie and recorded the vocals without Fox. According to Currie, "[Fowley] wrote something and I rearranged it and wrote the melody". Jett described the lyrical content as the story of a frontman and a frontwoman who fall in love but "can't stay together because each one has to go their own way to help their career". Myers described it as one of the album's two "tear-jerkers", along with "Midnight Music", and praised Currie's vocals as "irresistibly moody".

Johnny Guitar
The concluding track "Johnny Guitar" was written by Fowley and Ford, and at 7:15 it is more than twice as long as all but one of the other songs on Queens of Noise. Described by Jett as a chance "for Lita to show off her lead guitar work", the "seven minute epic" has been criticized as "an unnecessary use of vinyl" and a "doom-laden attempt at a slow blues number". Fox even went so far as to declare it "without a question the single worst song the Runaways ever did". It has also garnered positive reviews, however, including Henderson's recognition of it being a "fine vehicle" for Ford's guitar playing and Moro's belief that it proved Ford "could actually play".

The Runaways (1977)


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