Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

  • I Love Rock 'n' Roll [Boardwalk, 1981] B+
  • Album [MCA, 1983] B+
  • Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth [MCA, 1984] B+
  • Good Music [Blackheart, 1986] B+
  • Up Your Alley [Epic, 1988] B+
  • Notorious [Epic Associated/Blackheart, 1991] Dud
  • Flashback [Blackheart, 1993] A-
  • Pure and Simple [Warner Bros., 1994] **
  • Fit to Be Tied: Great Hits by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts [Blackheart/Mercury, 1997] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

I Love Rock 'n' Roll [Boardwalk, 1981]
Covering the Dave Clark Five and "Little Drummer Boy" on the same side is a great schlock yea-saying move, but a move is all it is--makes me want to hear the originals rather than play the side again. Maybe if I knew the real "Nag" I'd feel the same about that. As it is, "Nag" has a spark that's lacking in all of Jett's originals except the complementary "You're Too Possessive." And I love rock 'n roll for its spark. B+

Album [MCA, 1983]
It's one of Jett's virtues that unlike so many rock traditionalists she doesn't let her sense of humor undercut her commitment--"Fake Friends" (cf. "Back Stabbers") and "The French Song" (cf. "Triad") are the real stuff. It's also one of her virtues that unlike so many other rock traditionalists she does have a sense of humor. Even makes fun of the Stones--they called "Starfucker" "Star Star," she covers it as "Star Star" (cassette-only until retailers pressured MCA into taking it off, still available as twelve-inch B-side), then dubs her own "Scumbag" "Coney Island Whitefish." And if you don't see what's so funny about her tuneless "Everyday People" (the twelve-inch in question), I guarantee Sylvester Stewart is laughing all the way to his next label. No joke: her nagging love-is-pain clichés. B+

Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth [MCA, 1984]
Seekers after the unvarnished rock and roll truth needn't haunt used record stores and postbohemian beer joints--here it is in all its generic glory, with an independent woman on top providing a preideological political kicker. The problem for those of us who still care about "art" is that it's all a little too generic--in 1984 they may be better than the Stones, but they'll never be as good. I don't miss Mick--if Joan's lyrics are rarely clever, they're always pithy, and these days she's the smarter singer--but I do miss Keith, some musician whose writing/playing might make the songs sound like models rather than examples of the genre. B+

Good Music [Blackheart, 1986]
The title signifies something cruder than coverees Hendrix, Richman, and Beach Boys, who aren't likely to show up on WNCN or WPAT themselves, and its moral certitude is what you have to love about her. She's a bit simple, our Joan, but so undoubting she can get away with transporting Route 128 to the West Side Highway. And even though only three or so of these selections--"Good Music," "Black Leather," maybe "Just Lust" or "This Means War," none of the covers--will be on her song list in 1990, it's heartening to know she'll be there in 1990, and that she'll sound like she did in 1982. B+

Up Your Alley [Epic, 1988]
Jesus I wish she was just a little bit better than she actually is, and by closing side one with the cover exacta "Tulane" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog," she comes this close to convincing me she's made the leap. But though nobody else male or female puts out such a reliable brand of hard rock, lean and mean and pretension-free, and though being female gives her an edge in a quintessentially male subgenre, not since her start-up has she made something special of her populist instincts. It's almost as if that's the idea. B+

Notorious [Epic Associated/Blackheart, 1991] Dud

Flashback [Blackheart, 1993]
A career's worth of outtakes, half covers and 13 of 22 from her 1983-86 heyday, this may end up a last gasp. But her simultaneous rediscovery by Warner bigshots and angry old gurls leaves room for hope that instead it will prove a marker. And either way it's her strongest album ever, full of stuff originally judged not weak but impolitic--the censored "Starfucker," the girl-loving "Play With Me," "EMI" as "MCA"--as well as Jett standards backed by Sex Pistols and Melle Mel and L7, soundtrack finds penned by Bruce Springsteen and Janna Allen, oldies new to me like "Hide and Seek" and "She Lost You," oldies forever young like "Rebel Rebel" and "Call Me Lightning," and "Activity Grrrl," in which she advises her spirit children to forget the animal rights stuff and buy a set of leathers. She still loves rock 'n roll. And vice versa. A-

Pure and Simple [Warner Bros., 1994]
hasn't lost a step, hasn't gained one either ("Spinster," "You Got a Problem") **

Fit to Be Tied: Great Hits by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts [Blackheart/Mercury, 1997]
Now semiretired, I guess, an honored spinster godmother throughout grrrlland, she's always been endearingly, maddeningly consistent, stubbornly unimaginative in all matters of form. Hence her albums have failed to ignite even though explosions were what her commitment to the rock and roll basics was supposed to insure. But this compilation is the cherry bomb. Combining her own songwriting peaks--from "Bad Reputation" and "I Love Rock n Roll" to "Fake Friends" and the Light of Day non-Oscar winner--with the like-minded strokes of such symbolic friends as Sly Stone, Jonathan Richman, and Tommy James, the material only dips as semiretirement approaches. And she goes out on the Mary Tyler Moore theme. A