I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll Original
1982’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” consists of three chords, a clapping beat and a simple guitar lick. The classic rock song, performed by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016. But an English-American band called the Arrows released the unknown original version back in 1975.
The Arrows Defend Loving Rock ‘n’ Roll
The unknown original version of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” was written by the Arrows’ lead singer Alan Merrill and guitarist Jake Hooker. Mickie Most produced the song on his RAK record label.
Merrill said he wrote the song as a reaction to the Rolling Stones’ “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)”.
That was a knee-jerk response to the Rolling Stones’ “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll”. I remember watching it on Top of the Pops. I’d met Mick Jagger socially a few times, and I knew he was hanging around with Prince Rupert Lowenstein and people like that – jet setters. I almost felt like “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” was an apology to those jet-set princes and princesses that he was hanging around with – the aristocracy, you know. That was my interpretation as a young man: Okay, I love rock and roll. And then, where do you go with that?”Alan Merrill
From a Potential Hit to Obscurity
Merrill knew he had a hit on his hands. Unfortunately, his version of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” didn’t catch on. A couple of factors stood in the way of the song’s success.
- It was first released as a B-side to “Broken Down Heart”. A re-release with the sides flipped came out soon after. However, Merrill was dismayed at the original decision to release “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” on the B-side.
- It was released during a newspaper strike in England, which meant that new songs weren’t getting their usual exposure.
- The Arrows were feuding with their record label, RAK. Also, the song didn’t suit producer Most’s taste. He preferred ballads and blues to rock.
The Arrows went on to have their own weekly television series, Arrows. While Jett was touring with the Runaways in England in 1976, she turned on the television and saw the band performing “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”.
The Arrows’ version is a corker. It’s the same kick-arse arrangement as Jett’s later version. The tempo is deliberate and the chorus is iconic. Hear it and you won’t be able to resist nodding along with the beat. A great song, but then there’s Jett’s version…
Joan Jett and Female Empowerment
The Arrows were happy for Jett to record a cover of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, but the other members of the Runaways didn’t want to. Jett had to wait until 1979 before she could record the song (with Steve Jones and Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols). And then in 1981, she re-recorded the song with her latest band the Blackhearts. It was released in January 1982 and was Jett’s second album and her first single on a major label, Boardwalk.
The Arrows sang about a guy picking up a young girl and taking her home. This was a common trope in the world of rock. But in Jett’s version, it’s a girl who spots a young guy next to the jukebox and takes him home. Her “masculine” performance is full of swaggering bravado. The image of a girl aggressively pursuing a guy was a role reversal. It lead women to view “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” as a female empowerment anthem.
This recording of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” became a US Billboard Hot 100 number-one single for seven weeks. It was the number-three song for all of 1982. It went platinum and is possibly one of the most successful covers in rock history. The song was Jett’s highest-charting hit.
More important is the legacy of Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”. It paved the way for female rock musicians. The song proved female musicians had an important place, and a large audience, in the world of hard rock. Female musicians, particularly the riot grrrl punk movement, found inspiration in Jett’s image as a tough, confident rock star.
If you’re interested in the whole unknown original by a male, famous cover by a female dynamic, check out these other posts.