Longevity in rock & roll is a fickle thing. Millions of people can turn their backs on you in a heartbeat if you don't give 'em what they want or live up to their expectations. Joan Jett is perhaps more popular today than she was when I Love Rock & Roll was atop the Billboard charts after every label on the planet had passed on her except Neil Bogart's Boardwalk Records.

While trends have come and gone, Jett has rarely devaited fromthe formulat that put her on top and, today, at the age of 58, she stands as a shining example of what can be accomplished through sheer dedication and force of will.

In honor of her birthday today, we've compiled a mini-playlist of our five favorite Joan Jett & The Blackhearts tunes in no particular order!



"Flashback" with Paul Westerberg

This gem from our favorite Jett album (Notorious) teams Jett with Paul Westerberg. On paper, the bad-ass quotient of this duo is off the charts, but with Westerberg, things were pretty hit or miss during that period. Thankfully, the tune is a no-holds-barred barrel house rocker that melds Westerberg's ramshackle swagger to Jett's steamroller chug and creates a toe-tapping Frankenstein that shoulda been a hit.



"Crimson And Clover"

Has Joan ever thought about just doing Tommy James songs? Every time she does, she winds up topping James at his own game. Her take on Crimson And Clover, for example, ranks as one of her best vocal performances ever.



"I Hate Myself For Loving You"

The year was 1988. Joan's career had been left for dead by MCA Records' inability to promote any other rock act besides Tom Petty, and her first album under a new deal with CBS (Good Music) had failed to even hit the Top 100.

Jett knew she had only one more chance to get things back on track and with the first single from her new album Up Your Alley, Jett announced quite equivocally that she was ready to kick ass and take names.

Regardless of whether this is her biggest hit or not, it's a rock solid chunk of ear candy that never gets old, even after it was mangled into that dreadful NBC Sunday Night Football theme song.



"Wait For Me"

Joan covers The Runaways. But is it covering a song if you wrote it? Regardless, the tune gets a slick overhaul for her Notorious album. Unfortunately, it didn't see proper release as a single and remains one of the best kept secrets of her lengthy Blackhearts career.



"Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)"

Love the song, adore the video and, hey, how often do you get to see Joan Jett in a bikini?
Missing since 1985, if found, please contact local authorities.
5. a-ha - Hunting High And Low

It may not be cool to name-check a-Ha on the list of the best enw wave albums ever made, but to deny the greatness of Hunting High And Low as an album is to do yourself and the band a disservice. This writer would go so far as to say that the album, and band, would have been better off never writing "Take On Me" because all it did (besides make them superstars, of course) was stunt their forward progress in the States. Sure, "The Sun Always Hines On TV" was a hit, but only because it is such an undeniable tour de force in its own right.



It's not because they didn't continue to make great music, but that they never wrote another "Take On Me", which is just fine by most of us who were never that into the song anyway. I mean, sure, it's catchy and the video was groundbreaking at the time, and singer Morten Harket hits a note that even Mariah Carey in her prime couldn't reach, but, let's face it, it's as supericial as Baltimora's "Monkey Boy" or the Europeans "Animal Song".


4. Pet Shop Boys - Please

If any album on this list could be re-issued under the title "Greatest Hits" and not a single person would complain, it would be this album. Side One (for those of us who grew up with the album and/or cassette) is chock full of songs you already know by heart whether you have owned a PSB album in your life or not: West End Girls, Opportunities, Love Comes Quickly, Suburbia, and Two Divided By Zero.



The album not only made international pop stars out of singer Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe, it put producer Stephen Hague on the map after years of "shoulda been hits" as a member of Jules Shear's Polar Bears and knob twiddler on albums by Gleaming Spires and Slow Children. He produced OMD's Crush the year before, too, but that album got unjustly panned at the time of its release. Please, on the other hand, led Hague's recording schedule to become booked solid for the next decade and beyond.


3. Depeche Mode - Some Great Reward

There may be some tempted to suggest that Speak And Spell belongs on this list more than Some Great Reward and don't think it didn't cross this writer's mind. After all, that was the lone album the band recorded while Vince Clark was a member of the band and does feature "Just Can't Get Enough". Thankfully, one listen to SGR and logic suddenly prevailed.



See, Clarke leaving DM after Speak And Spell had the same impact on the remaining band members as Ian Curtis's death had upon the surviving members of Joy Division. Finding their own way after losing the creative heart and soul of the band took a few albums and Some Great reward is the sound of every individual member of the band coming into their own. Most importantly, Martin Gore's songwriting comes to truly transcend the synth-pop/new wave tag and can now stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone and Dave Gahan's vocals are now as much an expressive instrument as Gore's keyboards.

2. Tears For Fears - Songs From The Big Chair

For those of us already in bands at the time of its release, Songs From The Big Chair changed everything. I vividly remember sitting in the control room as our producer showed us this great new piece of equipment called a CD player, which he demonstrated the sonic capabilities of by playing this album. Unlike the soppy warmth of a good slab of vinyl, the CD gave a clinical clarity to every bell and whistle flying past our ears. The band's use of traditional instrumentation combined with the latest in digital gadgetry gave this album a space-age sheen, yet the songs themselves are as solid and clever as anything found on a late period Beatles album.



The next thing I know, we're programming Linn Drums and synthesizers instead of adding layers of guitars like we'd been doing just days before. Much like Nirvana's Nevermind had changed the landscape in the early '90s, Songs From The Big Chair did the much same thing in 1985.

Unlike most other albums recorded during that period, SFTBC holds up amazingly well. This can best be attributed to great songs, great songs, and great songs: Shout, Mother's Talk, Everybody Wants To Rule The World, Head Over Heels, I Believe...


1. Human League - Dare

For better and worse, Dare will always be known as "the album with 'Don't You Want Me" on it" and, let's face it, there are worse things in the world than being pigeonholed by one great song, but the success of that song succeeded in blocking out the sun to such a large extent that a truly genius, conceptually brilliant album got largely ignored.



Those who think ABC was being innovative when Martin Fry recruited two non-musicians to give ABC a new look, need remember that Philip Oakey of Human League did it first by recruiting Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley. Oakey went on to make the greatest new wave album of all time, weaving a rhythmically majestic, dark, and sexy masterpiece that has lot none of its magic in the 35 years since its release.


10. Berlin - Pleasure Victim

Those who take independently recorded and released music for granted these days may need a refresher course in how much of an uphill battle such endeavors were in 1982. That an unknown L.A. band could not only succeed in cutting an album for less than $3,000, but also sell over 25,000 copies quickly got the attention of the same record labels that had already passed on the band.



Pleasure Victim
remains the band's best-selling album, certified platinum in 1993 and spawning "80's lunch" staples "The Metro" and "Sex (I'm A)". Not bad for an album that was almost universally panned upon release for its overt sexual references and "cheesy-sounding synths". This writer is hopeful that the album currently being recorded by the reunited original line-up will recapture the campy rawness of Pleasure Victim as opposed to the overly glossy mainstream act they turned into on Love Life.


9. Duran Duran - Seven & The Ragged Tiger

While Rio had been the proverbial sneak attack, unexpected by the American audience that quickly embraced it, Seven & The Ragged Tiger was an album that everybody saw coming and for which there were huge expectations to not only match the success of Rio, but to build on it.



To do so, Duran did the unthinkable and ditched producer Colin Thurston, who had produced their first two albums, in favor of Alex Sadkin (Bob Marley, Grace Jones, Thompson Twins) and Ian Little (OMD, Sparks, Roxy Music). The album outsold Rio, but peaked at #8, whereas Rio had managed to hit #6. That Duran Duran were able to create an album under such scrutiny that matches Rio step for step earns it a place in this list's Top 10.

8. Wall of Voodoo - Call of The West

On an L.A. scene loaded to the rim with breakout new wave acts, Wall of Voodoo stood alone even then for their genius mix of spaghetti western soundtrack aesthetics given further lo-fi production treatment and Stan Ridgway's trademark sing-speak vocal style.

Photo: Paul Natkin
Previous album Dark Continent had grabbed the ears of music critics, but Call of The West finally delivered a product that even the masses could embrace, as they did by making "Mexican Radio" a huge MTV smash in 1983. Like Gary Numan's Pleasure Principle (mentioned in Part 1 of this list), WOV's Call of The West is an exercise in attempting to put various pieces of the band's formula into just the right combination to strike gold, which they ultimately did with "Mexican Radio".



7. Devo - Freedom of Choice
There are many albums for which the sole hit single was by far the best song on the album, but for how many albums can it be argued that "the hit" was actually one of the weaker songs on the album?

In the case of "Whip it", remove it from the track listing of Devo's third studio album and what you are left with is a uniformly hooky and intelligent collection of tracks that never fall into campy self-parody, yet sure-fire gems like "Girl U Want", "Gates of Steel" and the album's title cut all failed to chart.

With what three songs did the band hit the Top 100? The aforementioned "Whip It", the equally hokey "Working In A Coalmine" and, yes, even the "Theme From Dr. Detroit". Sigh.



6. A Flock of Seagulls - s/t

Released in April 1982, before new wave had truly gone mainstream, the self-titled debut by A Flock Of Seagulls is a sonic delight from start to finish thanks to the production efforts of the legendary Mike Howlett The Alarm, OMD, Gang of Four) and criminally underrated multi-instrumentalist Bill Nelson (Be Bop Deluxe).

Had MTV not come along at the precise moment that they did, it's safe to say that the band's visual elements would not have overshadowed their musical prowess and ability to create unforgettable ear worm hooks so effortlessly, but they'd have more than likely not achieved the same levek of success that they attained via the success of "I Ran" and "Space Age Love Song".

Forgive the hyperbolic headline, but it's all coming back to me today, on the 50th anniversary of the debut of The Monkees' TV show.

While I was alive when the first episode premiered, I was only months old, so my record collection was understandably lacking.

By the time I was five, though, I was already tiring of Shaggy and Scooby's predictable hijinx and looking for something a little more, you know, cool. Heck, I was already rocking at a fifth grade level thanks to a tennis racket and wall-size mirror.

So when I caught my first episode of "The Monkees" one afternoon, my regularly scheduled trip to the local park to play with friends was slightly delayed. By "slightly", I mean I really should get going. If my pals are still waiting for me, well, I could have a bit of explaining to do.

What caught my attention first was how "The Monkees" was like a real-life version of Scooby Doo with much better music. The second thing to catch my attention was quickly addressed to my mom, who, just a few days prior, had nixed my attempt to unwittingly become a hipster: "Hey, that guy gets to wear a snow cap and its not even winter."

She took one look at Michael Nesmith on the boob tube, shook her head, and replied, "When you get your own TV series, you can wear anything you want."

As the credits rolled, I hopped off to my room singing nonsensical lyrics to the tune of "The Monkees' Theme", powered up my computer and attempted to log-on to the internet in order to buy a Monkees CD on Amazon.



Unfortunately none of those things had been invented yet so, instead, I peppered my mom with questions about my new "Second" favorite band, including "Can we go see them play?"

It was at this point that my mom politely informed me that, like me #1 favotite band of all time, the Beatles, they had disbanded. That's right, Mr. Young and Innocent, your two fave bands were gone before you ever knew they existed.

Thankfully, the Monkees have tried valiantly to make it up to me over the years, reforming on an almost annual basis in hopes of one day earning my forgiveness. I kid, of course. I have never seen the Monkees perform, wouldn't go if you gave me tickets and flew me to the show, but would cancel plans to see Al Jourgensen perform With Sympathy in its entirety if a Monkees marathon came on the boob tube.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that YouTube is a treasure trove of full episodes of the TV show so if you're at work staring down a pile of TPS Reports and need a diversion in a hurry...click above and all your worries will drift away. You've heard of "kitten therapy", right? How about a little "Monkee therapy"?


It was "Full House" that started it all.

The ABC sitcom about a widowed husband and father to a "full house" of kids, who got help from his "Uncle Joey" and bad-boy "Uncle Jesse", hit the airwaves in 1987 with all the substance of a half-eaten bag of cotton candy.

I was 21 years old at the time, reasonably versed in what constituted "good television". Keep in mind, we had only three channels in those days, four if you count PBS, which was insufferable. What I saw in the first five minutes of the premiere episode of "Full House" was a new low in writing, acting and casting a TV show and it shook me to my core.

I'm not kidding.

Now, one doesn't need to have worked in episodic TV to know whether a sitcom was funny or not without the aid of a laugh track and, judging from the intentionally bad humor and wooden acting, "Full House" was a show for people who didn't just need to be told when to laugh, but when to breathe and eat as well.

By then, it was no secret that networks had come to rely upon focus groups and market research to determine programming decisions rather than simply selecting shows they believed in from a creative standpoint

See, this is when the networks began pandering to people at the other end of the taste and sophistication spectrum for the sole purpose of selling advertising space at a higher rate. By pandering to this untapped audience of, for lack of a better term, half-wits, ABC chose to offend the comedic sensibilities of a great many people.

Why would they do that, you ask?

Keep in mind that, even then, there was considerable data proving that less sophisticated audiences are more responsive to suggestion (a.k.a. advertising). As a TV executive reliant upon advertising dollars for your flashy suits and Rolexes, the idea of being able to literally promise advertisers "guaranteed results" would be a license to print money and don't think for a minute that every suit in Advertising hasn't been trying to figure out a way to do just that since there was a department called "Advertising".

Even a simpleton employing basic logic at a major corporation, when asked if they'd like their ads run during a sophisticated crime drama or a mindless (and I do mean mindless) sitcom is gonna go with "Full House" over "Columbo", 100% of the time.

It was a dilemma the suits in advertising had been wrestling with since the dawn of broadcasting: "How can we advertise to dumb people if the boys upstairs keep airing such sophisticated programming?"

Well, one of the "boys upstairs" at ABC, upon hearing of the advertising department's predicament, finally went and did something about it and "Full House" was the coming out party.

The show had been the brainchild of Jeff Franklin, a man this writer had no reason to dislike, as he'd been a writer on "Laverne & Shirley" and "Bosom Buddies". While neither comedy was what you would call "sophisticated", they were full of actors and actresses who would go on to have great careers in the industry: Penny Marshall, Tom Hanks, Michael McKean, just to name a few.

What had begun in Franklin's mind as a show about three comedians who live together was given new life at ABC just by adding kids to the equation. And losing the comedians. And selling your soul.

Hey, a writer's got to make a living, I guess.

Thing is, Bob Saget sold his soul, too. By signing on to play milquetoast Danny Tanner, a white, male TV reporter in San Francisco, a man who, even then, had a golden reputation as one of the "blue-est" comics you will ever see held his nose and took the paycheck..

As for John Stamos, he'd already taken a gig on a soap opera while waiting for his music career to take off and the rest, as they say, is history. On a semi-related note, wanna know when the Beach Boys officially jumped the shark?



Yes, that would be when America's band, the Beach Boys, showed up on "Full House" during the show's 1988 season to play "Kokomo" (a huge hit at the time from the movie "Cocktail", itself a shallow tale on the life and times of a business student who "took a paycheck" and became a bartender in New York City. Riveting stuff!).

This new trend in programming quickly spread like a plague of fleas and by 1989, we could also add
"Look Who's Talking", a movie about a bastard love child voiced by Bruce Willis also featuring Kirstie Alley and John Travolta, and "Saved By The Bell", a Saturday morning comedy about the antics of high school students at Bayside High School.

In both instances, the influence of "Full House" is readily apparent as subtlety and nuance are pushed out the door to make room for the actors to telegraph every joke so that even the dimmest bulb can anticipate the punchline in advance and, most importantly of all, be swayed by all of those commercials.

As for this dim bulb, I'm off to spend a beautiful weekend in San Francisco and I've found just the place to relax for just under $500 a day. What a deal!

RENT THE 'FULL HOUSE' HOUSE

You start out in a band, barely in command of your own chosen instrument, and attempt to perform a cover song because, hey, that's what bands do. Before long, it becomes quite obvious to all involved that "covers might not be our thing".

Cover band aspirations dashed against the jagged rocks of reality, it is then decided to come up with our own song, dammit. If Kelly Clarkson can write a song, darn it, so can we. After hours of intense jamming, each musician approaching their instrument with the patient demeanor of a master craftsman, a song begins to emerge and it's got just enough dizzy swagger to it that you momentarily allow yourself to imagine seeing your band's name up in lights on the marquee of the cool venue in town where all the hippest bands serve it up.



A few weeks later, you play your first gig, jammed into the middle of a ten-band bill on a Tuesday night during one of the strongest blizzards anybody in these parts has seen since Elvis was alive. Sure, the audience was mostly comprised of members of other bands who hadn't played yet and their bored-looking friends, but, despite having to start your first song over a couple times, once the lopsided trolley gets some momentum, the rest of the set flies by in a blur.

As you load out, you try to recall as much of it as you can, but can pull out only bits and pieces: looks on faces in the crowd, the EXIT sign at the back of the room, the way the waitresses chuck empty beer bottles into the trash can with absolutely no regard for the beat, how dare they!

Most of all, you remember the moment during your band's last song when even the bar staff clapped.

Hey, that's gotta mean something, right?



And then the band splits the night's take - $40 - four ways after spending an hour trying to track down the guy with the money. Get used to that one.

Once in the van and headed back home, your fellow band mates help fill in some of the blanks from the night's performance, some so kind as to point out each one of your eight, no, nine flubs, and, in doing so, a sense of brotherly camaraderie develops that will propel you well beyond their obvious musical limitations.

In such limitations, your band seems to almost thrive, creating a sound that outsiders perceive as well-conceived and mysterious when, in fact, it's four kids who can barely tune their instruments just trying not to suck.


The world is full of bands whose musical limitations ultimately worked to their benefit: The Ramones, R.E.M., Velvet Underground, the B-52's, the Go-Go's, and on and on. It has often been said that showing up is 80% of the battle and, to a band, it has been well-documented that each of the aforementioned bands would "show up" anywhere to play for anyone at any time, sometimes traveling great distances just to do so.

Hell, R.E.M. barely knew ten songs before they were off on any number of van tours to neighboring states while the Go-Go's finally broke through in their hometown of L.A. by going to England and playing shows with Madness.

Both would eventually sign with I.R.S. Records and become cultural touchstones. Not bad for "bands who could barely play their instruments".



By their examples, what motivation is there for becoming as accomplished at their instrument as, say, Joe Satriani or Steve Vai when the only advantage would seem to be being stereotyped as a virtuoso and have the focus be on your physical talent and not so much your music?

Oh, and you also get to make instructional videos. Yay!

Can you imagine an instructional guitar-playing video featuring a young Peter Buck? Me neither, although I'd buy it a heartbeat because just hearing Peter Buck talk about music is enough for me because he'll more than likely wind up talking about other cool bands than about his own, which only widens my own musical horizons.

Thing is, put ANY band on the road long enough and they will begin to get the hang of things and become "good at their craft". It's only natural that a young drummer with dreams of being a professional musician wants to be able to play to a click track or make it to the end of a song without messing up, or a guitarist would want to be adept at scales and alternate tunings, but there is always the risk of becoming "too good".



Since we've been using R.E.M. and the Go-Go's as an example, we'll continue to do so:

In the case of R.E.M., with the release of the mostly-acoustic Out Of Time in 1991, we saw a band that had started out barely able to play their instruments gradually become a band capable of performing those same early songs in an acoustic setting and, in doing so, attain their greatest commercial success.

And we watched this very same band abandon the mandolins and bongos to crank up the guitars and partake in the grunge explosion soonafter.


It was the first bad move the band had made, in this writer's opinion, and it forever changed how the public responded to every album the band would make thereafter. See, in watching R.E.M. willingly break from their own creative trajectory to partake in such trend-chasing as heard on Monster, many of the band's longtime fans saw a band that was now following instead of leading, slumming instead of soaring.

Subsequent albums such as Reveal, Up, and Around the Sun were pleasant and well-received albums that, quite sadly, could have been made by any number of bands - none of which are in this writer's collection.


In becoming musically adept at their chosen instruments, the members of R.E.M. had unwittingly futzed with the magic and, in doing so, completely lost touch with the ambitious novice within who, together with three other equally ambitious novices, had created a sound unlike any that had ever been heard.

I'm reasonably sure that if Peter Buck were here right now, he'd implore you to work hard to become only reasonably accomplished at your craft, but not so good that the mystery is lost and calamity no longer lurks around every corner. Breaking rules that you don't even know exist is how great things get made.

One of the best examples of this has to be the Go-Go's, whose musical limitations did not stop them from appearing on Saturday Night Live, Fridays, American Bandstand, or MTV, nor did it prevent their first album (Beauty & The Beat) from hitting #1.

When this writer caught them during their farewell tour this summer, it was evident from the first song that the Go-Go's were the same moderately accomplished musicians they'd always been. Sure, decades on the road had tightened their skills to a considerable degree, enabling band members to play their instruments and kick beach balls into the audience simultaneously (harder than it looks, ladies and gentlemen), but, beyond that, they remain the same rag-tag rockers they were when "This Town" was sparkly and new.

There are no acoustic/unplugged albums in the Go-Go's discography, no moments of mandolin-driven self-reflection, and, most importantly, no albums that sound like any number of other bands could have made them. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Go-Go's are smart enough to know that getting too good at their craft would kill the charm of their joyously hormonal teenage racket.

Need we remind anyone that this is rock & roll and not architecture. Can't play that instrument? So what? Pick it up anyway and change the world.
"Take on meeeeeeeeeeeee!"
In talking with numerous musician pals, the current process of being in a band in the year 2016 appears to revolve around spending an inordinate amount of time and money on recording a professional-sounding batch of tunes (once referred to as an "al;bum")  that will then be distributed by CD Baby or made available via the artist's Bandcamp page.

What happens from that point is anybody's guess, but usually winds up being "zilch" because, sure, you may get a few obligatory streams from your friends on social media after you hype your new music, but then what?

One friend says that his band's singer is confident that all it will take is a tastemaker in charge of a popular "station" on Spotify or Soundcloud will pluck one of their songs from screaming obscurity and start the Benjamins flowin'. It's just a matter of time.

Yet another is trying to navigate the murky waters of online distribution through CD Baby, where the indie distributor submits your music to iTunes and other pay sites, but also to free streaming sites like Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube.

"What message am I sending to fans of my music when I expect them to purchase something that I am also making available for free elsewhere?"

This question comes from a lifelong musician pal whose living one came from CD and merch sales, but could come from anyone who got into music thinking their might be some money in it.. After all, by giving an indie distributor like CD Baby the right to submit your material to pay sites like iTunes and Amazon, you more than likely also grant them the right to submit your music to streaming sites like Spotify and YouTube.

"Don't turn around, uh-oh, Der Kommisar's in town, uh-oh!'
Thing is, if you don't make your music available on such sites, how are new fans supposed to find you? And, once they do, what makes you think you can turn them into PAYING customers when you've just set the precedent of giving your art away for free?

This isn't meth where the first free taste soon leads to drooling zombies with wads of money pounding on your door at all times of day and night, the artist needs the consumer much more than the consumer needs the artist.

So what can an artist do in the year 2016 to differentiate themselves from the pack?

It's easy to say that everything cool has already been done and to not even try, but have you ever put yourself in the place of someone who writes for Pitchfork or Brooklyn Vegan?  Think about the number of email pitches and links to yet another Bandcamp page that these poor verb wranglers have to wade through every morning.

And, sure, they probably still get tons of CD's, too.

Cassettes are currently very popular, but, unless you can give yours some sort of new spin that the recipient might find noteworthy (and potentially newsworthy), it's been done.

"Jitter bug!"
Best bet, go vinyl. Most pressing plants offer a "random colored vinyl" option equal to black vinyl so, as long as you don't wind up with shit brown records with what appear to be undigested corn kernels, prospective hipster journalists will note the "extra effort". Your music still has to be good, though.

Keep in mind that going the vinyl route requires some advance planning, as most vinyl pressing plants have a backlog of 6-8 weeks MINIMUM.

It is worth mentioning that making a profit from vinyl is tricky at best so jam that slab of wax with as much goodness as possible (21 minutes per side, baby) so that the perceived value to the consumer warrants a higher price tag. A realistic baby band would call it a promotional expense, much like business cards for a door-to-door urinal cake salesman.

Thing is, unless you've got songs that actually live up to the eye-catching presentation, it will all be for naught. So, as much as one needs a great schtick to wedge their foot into the door and get heard by new fans, at the end of the day, it comes down to having great songs that would stand out in any situation.
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