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Thursday, 5 January 2012

Record Review - A Tribute To The Runaways

Take It Or Leave It – A Tribute To The Queens of Noise: The Runaways

The tribute album is alive and well and living in …New Jersey! Like Imaginary and Cleopatra before them, Main Man has set up a cottage industry with a series of well-received tributes (Queen, Devo, Kiss, AC/DC, Cars, Alice Cooper, David Bowie, the Stones, et.al) and this is one of their best. Nearly 35 years after their debut album shocked the music world by proving that girls CAN play rock ‘n’ roll, The Runaways are still revered by a legion of loyal fans around the world. The recent biopic (based on original vocalist Cherie Currie’s autobiography) introduced their music to a whole new generation and guitarist Joan Jett and her Blackhearts were recently nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Runaways music has inspired other female artists to pick up guitars and form bands, and can be partially credited with opening doors for acts like The Donnas, The Go-Go’s, The Bangles, L7, Bikini Kill, and countless other female rock ‘n’ rollers and Riot Grrrls to get their music released. Now Main Man Records has compiled a 2-disk, 36-track tribute with contributions from some of their biggest protégés, including The Donnas, Japanese legends Shonen Knife, Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna (whose duet with Peaches on the Runaways’ traditional live finale, the theatrical ‘Dead End Justice’ features her first-ever collaboration with husband/Beastie Boy/producer Ad-Rock), England’s cuddly punkettes, Kittie (a ferociously, fire-breathing ‘Fantasies’), and rock ‘n’ roll sweetheart Bebe Buell. There’s also a generous selection of The Runaways’ newest torch-bearers from the NWOFHMPR (New Wave Of Female Heavy Metal Punk Rockers): Care Bears On Fire, The Stay At Homes, and Clinical Trials.

The Runaways’ influence also inspired such renown artists as David Johansen (reliving his NY Dolls’ days with a blistering ‘Blackmail’, featuring guitarist Earl Slick), The Dandy Warhols (a psychedelically vampyric ‘Cherry Bomb’), The Bongos’ Richard Barone (a glammy bubblegum-styled ‘Hollywood’), The Adolescents, White Flag, and Derwood Andrews (Generation X) to donate their time to joining the party. And wait til you hear the throat-shredding punk antics of former child actor Robbie Rist (Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch) on the obscure ‘Yesterday’s Kids’! Best of all, Main Man is also going to donate a portion of the proceeds to the American Institute for Cancer Research in honour of Runaways drummer Sandy West, who lost her fight with cancer five years ago.

So not only is the release benefiting a terrific cause, but it features some of the most fun you’ll have all year enjoying some fantastic rock ‘n’ roll. What often got overlooked when critics lambasted The Runaways for being nothing more than producer/manager Kim Fowley’s latest play things (they’re jailbait AND they play rock ‘n’ roll!) was that they wrote their own incredibly infectious tunes and they understood rock ‘n’ roll history, drawing their own inspiration from the likes of Gary Glitter, The Stooges, Suzi Quatro, Mott The Hoople, The Sex Pistols, and The Ramones (whose Johnny confesses to his crush on Cherie.) Another stroke of genius from compilers Lauren Varga (who once worked for Joan Jett) and label head Keith Roth (Frankenstein 3000) was their decision to track down and insert vintage radio spots, gig promos, and interviews with band members (courtesy legendary DJs Rodney Bingenheimer, Meg Griffin, Carol Miller, and, uh, yours truly) in between most of the tracks. So you get to hear firsthand how the band formed, what it was like to join the group, how tough it was to break into the male-dominated world of rock ’n’ roll, how excited (and frightened) they were to be mobbed by their Japanese fans, and how they went “gaga” meeting Robert Plant and Jimmy Page at one of their gigs (wearing Runaways T-shirts, no less!)

And what about the music? Well, it’s obvious that every artist on here WANTED to be here – this is not a collection of half-assed cover versions rattled off for a quick buck. Everyone involved, from the recognisable national acts to the in-house Main Man artists turn in loving renditions of The Runaways’ most popular songs, as well as more obscure fan favourites. All of the original albums are sampled, and there are even a few versions of some of the girls’ best cover tunes (Shonen Knife prove they’re still one of the hottest female punk bands around on The Sex Pistols’ ‘B[r]ack [R]eather’ and Earl Slick adds a snarling guitar solo to teenage female power-punk trio Care Bears On Fire’s rendition of his ‘Saturday Night Special’). Some of the many highlights include The Donnas’ ter-riff-ic, anthemic fistpumper ‘Queens of Noise’, Frankenstein 3000’s testosterone-fueled stomp through ‘California Paradise’, Blue Fox’s powerful ‘Neon Angels On The Road To Ruin’, The Easy Outs’ hard-driving ‘Is It Day Or Night’ (featuring The Grip Weeds’ Kurt Reil), and The Toilet Boys’ tearful ‘Born To Be Bad’. Runaways fans will also be pleased to know that Sandy West’s final recording (as a member of Blue Fox) is also included, as well as a guest appearance by Cherie Currie on Frankenstein 3000’s ‘American Nights.’

Punk, Glam, or good old R’n’R – The Runaways mastered it all. The variety of the music on this set is amazing considering that the girls recorded the originals (one live album/four studios) before they turned 21! As tribute albums go, this is one of the best.

Jeff Penczak

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