The Real Reason Joan Jett Was Inducted Into The Rock Hall!

The other day, my friend and I were talking music when the subject of Joan Jett's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame came up.  He suggested that Jett's induction into the hall was undeserved and had more to do with the popularity of her iconic image than the music itself.

Now, one of the great thrills in my life was getting to open for Joan Jett back in '86. Her career was on a bit of a downhill slide at the time, but I still had the same crush on her that I'd had since seing her on the cover of I Love Rock & Roll back in '81.

To make matters worse, the gig was at a county fair right after a tractor pull contest and the crowd that gathered would probably have rather been treated to some Conway Twitty, but Jett came out and played as if her career depended on it.  By the time all was said and done, she had connected with every person in that grandstand and I walked away with a new appreciation for her tireless work ethic and dedication to the cause of rock and roll.

A year later, she made her big-screen debut in "Light Of Day" with Michael J. Fox.  Another year later, she would team up with song doctor Desmond Child and enjoy a major MTV resurgence with hits like "I Hate Myself For Loving You" and "Little Liar"; success that she truly deserved, if you ask me, because the world is just a greater place with Joan Jett in it.

But my friend's argument was that, other than play the nostalgia circuit for the last twenty years, Jett hasn't actually made enough music to warrant such adulation.

The day after our mini-argument, I saw something Shepard Fairey had written about Jett as he unveiled his artwork celebrating the 33 1/3 anniversary of I Love Rock & Roll.  In his admiration for Jett, he had called her "bad ass" and "prolific".  Bad ass, no argument, but prolific?

My friend would say no and, now that I think about it, putting out only five studio albums in the last 20 is not exactly a lot of output.

But is that Joan's fault?

When Joan first hit the scene, labels demanded AT LEAST an album a year from their artists.  Hell, bands like Cheap Trick, KISS, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, and Journey were putting out albums every six months. But by the '90s, the labels, in their infinite wisdom (aka greed), decided to slow things down a bit. They started working albums over a period of years instead of months and artists who might have otherwise been releasing one or two albums a year were releasing one album every two or three years.

See, the reason that there is such a bountiful supply of great "classic rock" is because those bands were firing off albums left and right and labels were all too happy to usher that new product into the marketplace. As a result, the music biz has built a monolithic catalog from which to draw when times got tough. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that this back catalog has kept the music biz afloat in recent years. Oh, Taylor Swift may be doing big numbers today, but the major labels would rather sell you a copy of Journey's greatest hits.  

Labels have completely lost the inclination to keep said catalog refreshed for future generations as they did through the '60s, '70s and '80s.  As a result, most folks currently buying tickets to see Joan this spring and summer when she opens for The Who are doing so on the basis of songs that are 30 years old.

Back when the music we're all still buying was being made, Joan's label would have seen a big tour opening for The Who as a chance to push a NEW album into the marketplace.  As a result, many a band has been catapulted from obscurity to mega-fame by taking advantage of such opportunities. Instead of doing that, Joan's label rushed an abbreviated version of her 2010 Greatest Hits album into the stores. But they didn't stop there, they licensed it exclusively to big-box retailer Target for a guaranteed sum of cash.

In this case, though, the "they" in question isn't some media conglomerate like Sony or Universal, it's Joan Jett herself, who co-owns Blackheart Records with manager Kenny Laguna. Would she rather be putting out a new album every year? My hunch is yes, but, sadly, the only thing the marketplace will accept is the hits we are all familiar with and, quite frankly, tired of hearing.

That's not to say we don't enjoy "I Love Rock & Roll" when we hear it, but, come on, would it kill the music industry to place some importance on NEW MATERIAL?

Oh sure, Taylor Swift is still capable of selling a million copies of her latest album, but she's releasing one album in the time it took Cheap Trick, KISS, Elvis Costello and Journey to release four albums.  And not just four albums, four great albums that are still selling well to this day.

It doesn't take a master mathematician to crunch those numbers and realize that the major labels are prisoners of their own forced attrition. Even as they recoil in horror at their dwindling sales numbers in regard to new product, they continue to stay afloat by exploiting material that is 30 and 40 years old instead of realizing that the only way to truly survive is to begin emphatically replenishing their catalog for the future.

Ah, but what's the motivation?  Nobody wants to build a legacy for a label they won't be with this time next year.  Everybody's in "kill or be killed" mode scrambling for the last few crumbs on a sinking ship instead of fixing the hole.

Joan Jett made it into the RRHOF not for the number of Top 20 hits she has (four), but for her impeccable work ethic despite the fact that the same label executives voting her into the RRHOF today are the very same people who refused to sign her in the first place and remained completely indifferent to her existence until she took matters into her own hands.  In the end, she has not only survived, but thrived in an industry hell-bent on its own slow-motion suicide.

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