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The Runways
Mercury SRM-1-1090
Released: August 1976
Chart Peak: #194
Weeks Charted: 2

Jackie FoxSandy WestLita FordJoan JettCherie CurrieI really wanted to like the Runaways' record for a variety of reasons, the most basic being that the Runaways are five nubile young girls (ages sixteen and seventeen, if you can believe the cover, and I do) who can't help but bring out a bit of the lecher in me; in the face of such ripe adolescent charms, any consideration of music ought to be almost irrelevant. Unfortunately, the music these kids make is for all intents irrelevant, and their record is just not very good. In a perverse sort of way, however, it is useful, because its flaws are illustrative of a lot of what is wrong with rock these days.

They play surprisingly well; simple as the music is, there are enough little Ritchie Blackmore amphetamine runs to demonstrate a fair degree of talent, and although their vocals are essentially faceless (if only they sang as they look, the way Ronnie Spector did!), their harmonies are cleanly and attractively executed. Unlike the Ramones, to whom the Runaways provide a slightly more sophisticated alternative, their problem lies not with how they play but with what they play -- which is a number of things, primarily heavy metal. Now it is my unalterable conviction that most heavy metal is not very good rock-and-roll, first because it has little to do with the black roots that are the sources of rock's vitality (a debatable personal prejudice, I'll grant you), and second because heavy-metal rhythm sections are almost always painfully stiff. It takes real genius to get something of value out of this style, and only a handful of bands -- the Who, the Yardbirds, the MC5, perhaps Led Zeppelin -- have ever pulled it off. The rest -- the Black Sabbaths, Deep Purples, Uriah Heeps, and others -- amount to a vast aural scrapheap.

The Runaways also play what certain critics who should know better have dubbed "punk rock," which is a genre, style, what have you, that over the years that has become increasingly annoying. The term was originally (and accurately) used to lump loosely together all sorts of bands and records. Mostly it meant the music made by the various one-shot sensations of the Sixties who were blatantly imitative (the Shadows of Knight being a good example) but still managed to make good singles, although it was also broad enough to include the major groups these lower-echelon troops were looting. Later it was narrowed down to mean the sort of minimalist hard rock and juvenile-delinquent posturings of the early Stooges, and by now it has become thoroughly institutionalized. The New York underground scene is dominated by bands who want to be the Stooges, and the Runaways are the result of a similar impulse in L.A. Of course, it's all become so cut and dried by now that no punk rocker can avoid being a self-parody at inception.

The Runaways are a case in point; it doesn't matter whether they're as wasted and teen-snotty as they want us to believe. Even if they are for real, the pose is embarrassing. The fact that they're female, a novelty that just might have been expected to excuse the poker-faced tackiness of it all, simply isn't enough; at best, they come off as three Lavernes and two Shirleys. (It's significant, by the way, the Bruce Springsteen, who has the talent to make this kind of "West Side Story" romanticism work, is almost universally despised by the partisans of punk; the fact that he's good, by their particular logic, eliminates him. Mediocrity equals Sincerity.)

As I said, I really wanted to like this record, and at least three of these girls can have my unlisted phone number any time they want. But since their music can be appreciated only on the pop-sociological level, they'll have to leave it at home.

- Steve (Humbert) Simels, Stereo Review, 9/76.

Bonus Reviews!

Were the Runaways anything but 16- and 17-year-old females, their rather ordinary album would rouse nary a nod of recognition. That this much has been accomplished is surely more testimony to the presumed drawing power of jailbait-at-large than it is to the quality of the Runaways' music. This group's got nothing on Suzi Quatro, who in turn has got nothing on anybody else.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Article: Joan Jett Binge-A-Thon

The Runaways Videos

The Runaways Lyrics

What's a joker to make of such a product, rife as it is with warmed-over Kiss and Sweet licks, muddled production easily the equal of that encountered on Grand Funk's first album, totally dispassionate and/or embarrassingly awkward vocals ("Dead End Justice") and adequate, if uninspired, playing?

Lyrically, the Runaways fancy themselves kids living on the proverbial edge; it behooves them to listen more closely to Sweet, who play and sing as they they've really been there.

- David McGee, Rolling Stone, 7/29/76.

Basic rock is loud, repetitive and fun as the world's most publicized quintet of teenage girls slam their way through 10 straight rock cuts. Reminiscent in many spots of Suzi Quatro, with musicianship competent enough and the vocals certainly more lively than most of today's new bands. Lead singer Currie handles her particular style at least as well as anyone else in the genre, with Jackie Fox and Joan Jett providing good backup. The latest discovery from Kim Fowley. Best cuts: "Cherry Bomb," "You Drive Me Wild," "Thunder," "Blackmail," "Secrets," "Dead End Justice."

- Billboard, 1976.

Don't let misguided feminism, critical convolutions, or the fact that good punk transcends ordinary notions of musicality tempt you. This is Kim Fowley's project, which means that it is tuneless and wooden as well as exploitative. How anyone can hang around El Lay so long without stealing a hook or two defies understanding. Maybe its just perversity -- which would make it the only genuinely pervers theng about the man. C-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Their debut album, produced by mentor Kim Fowley, loaded with excitement and featuring the classic "Cherry Bomb." (Japanese import)

- Cub Koda, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

The Runaways is a dead end of a debut that's insulting in its blatant titilation. Queens of Noise, the band's second album, is a touch better than its debut thanks to Joan Jett exerting a little more control. *

- Allan Orski, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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