Few bands are remembered both for their music and how they changed the course of history, but The Runaways (members through the years included Sandy West, Joan Jett, Micki Steele, Cherie Currie, Lita Ford, Peggy Foster, Victory Tischler-Blue, Laurie McAllister, Michael Steele, and Jackie Fox) have both squarely under their studded belts. Formed on August 5, 1975, this group of teenage women initially kicked in the teeth of the rock world with "Cherry Bomb," and thrived in the legendary '70s glam scene of Los Angeles.
At the time, though pop music had a history of female-driven groups and all-women rock groups like Fanny had laid groundwork earlier in the decade, there was nothing quite like The Runaways. Not only did they break commercially in a way other all-women rock bands hadn't been able to, but also they were cut from a different cloth. With their no-nonsense attitude, lyrics that were at once brash and normative-challenging ("I wanna be where the boys are/ I wanna fight how the boys fight/ I wanna love how the boys love/ I wanna be where the boys are"), and gripping performances that flaunted the mastery of their craft and instruments (something woefully rare at the time), they weren't just a band, they were a spit in the face of what was expected of women in music.
Being a trailblazer often means being the brunt of abuse, and as snarling, leather-clad vanguards in an industry not only dominated by men on stage but behind the scenes as well, The Runaways suffered plenty of it. Their very existence exposed how differently women were (and arguably still are) treated differently in music, and how as artists, women's sexuality is judged, scrutinized, and used as a weapon against them. In one famous story, on a houseboat on the Thames, Sid Vicious (of the Sex Pistols) insisted on pawing Jett, who was in no mood for advances. Despite being told to quit, Vicious kept harassing Jett, so Sandy West picked up the gangly punk rocker and dropped him overboard into the river.
Despite what they had to weather, their persistence and legacy inspired generations of women to not only feel they had a place within rock and punk but taught them that, as artists, they could own both their talent and sexuality without being objectified mouthpieces. Every risk they took made the tangled path a little clearer for everyone else to follow in their steps; they created a space where one could live and perform boldly without apology. Today, on the anniversary of the band's founding, we talk with women musicians on how The Runaways changed their lives. To Joan, Sandy, Micki, Cherie, Joan, Lita, Peggy, Victory, Laurie, Michael, and Jackie, thank you.
Lizzy Hale (Halestorm)
"The Runaways carved a path, demolishing the white picket fence stereotype of how ladies were supposed to act. I've had the privilege of being influenced by these ladies and touring with the lovely Lita Ford. She and I had similar views when starting our bands, we even began gigging at the same tender age of 13. We both had supportive parents who saw the fire in our eyes and bravely decided, despite the dangers of rock 'n' roll, not to snuff out that fire.
But the difference between me and Lita is that I had a door already opened for me. I had a beacon of hope because The Runaways came before me. Those girls, only a generation before, had to kick that door down and crawl over it.
What would've happened if when things got tough for Joan, Lita, Cherie, Sandy, and Jackie, they decided to give up and just conform to what society wanted little girls to be? Would I have the career I have now? Would radio stations have played my songs? Would I have had the courage to bring it and prove myself night after night on stage? I don't know for sure—I'd like to believe I would. But they certainly left a breadcrumb trail for me to follow when I felt lost.
Let's not forget that this is not a matter of gender, it's a matter of talent, and this is also a ripple effect. I'm in a position to pass the torch after 19 years of being on the road with my own band. That torch that was passed to me by those ladies. Now, I have a responsibility to look into the eyes of this generation’s little girls, and tell them that they can be whatever they want to in life. Joan, Lita, Cherie, Sandy, Jackie, and I are living proof of that! Don't conform, don't give up, do what you love and follow your gut. Five young girls on August 5, 1975, did just that and introduced the world to the power of women in rock 'n' roll. Thank you and happy anniversary to The Runaways! We couldn't have done it without you."