Behind the Song “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” Made Famous by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ ever-enduring ode to rock, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” – seductive in its assertive lyrics, muscular guitar riffs, and deliciously sneering sing-ability – hasn’t always been the invincible anthem of female-empowerment we know it as today.

Videos by American Songwriter

A song that has been on loan time and time again, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” has seen its fair share of re-imaginings, but where did it begin?

The Arrows’ Original

Created by British rockers, the Arrows, of swooning “Walk Away Renee” fame, the original “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” was the B-side of all B-sides.

The song was written by the Arrows’ lead singer Alan Merrill and guitarist Jake Hooker, who took inspiration from another set of English rockers.

“That was a knee-jerk response to the Rolling Stones’ ‘It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll,'” Merrill explained in an interview. “I remember watching it on Top of the Pops. I’d met Mick Jagger socially a few times, and I knew he was hanging around with Prince Rupert Lowenstein and people like that – jet setters. I almost felt like ‘It’s Only Rock and Roll’ was an apology to those jet-set princes and princesses that he was hanging around with – the aristocracy, you know. That was my interpretation as a young man: Okay, I love rock and roll.”

With influence in mind, it was time to write a song. “You have to write a three-chord song with a lick that people remember, and it has to build,” Merrill continued. “So I had the chorus, which to me sounded like a hit. And I thought, ‘I’ll do something really unusual.'”

He explained the idea was that the band would create a song within a song. The chorus would be separate from the verse, playing like it was coming from a jukebox. “And the two kids in the disco who are flirting are hearing this song that’s a hit,” he detailed. “It felt like The Twilight Zone. I was so sure ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ was gonna be a hit for the Arrows that I thought, ‘Well, when we have a hit with it, it’s gonna be a hit within a hit. A fictional hit coming out of the chorus with the kids singing it as their favorite song in the verse of the song.'”

The now-iconic song was released in 1975 as a B-side to the band’s “Broken Down Heart.” Their version features a heftier, more muddied rock sound, hot from a flirtatious fever that unfortunately didn’t spread far.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ Version

It wasn’t until the late 1970s that “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” found a young Joan Jett. She first heard it while in England on tour with her band, the Runaways, getting a taste of the song on the Arrow’s weekly music television show.

The rest of the girl group didn’t want to lay down a cover of the song, so in 1979, Jett first recorded her version with Steve Jones and Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols, exiling the track to the same B-sides fate until 1981 when she cut “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” with the Blackhearts. Her version with the Blackhearts quickly became a chart-topper, residing in the Hot 100’s No. 1 spot for seven weeks.

Jett’s version saw a lyrical shift from the original in which the Arrows narrate the typical story of a guy wooing a girl and taking her home. In a 180-degree take, Jett is the one in hot pursuit of the guy. I saw him dancing there by the record machine / I knew he must have been about seventeen / The beat was going strong / Playing my favorite song / And I could tell it wouldn’t be long till he was with me, yeah me, a tough, confident, and sexually free Jett snarls against a crisp, but guttural rock arrangement.

The song became an anthem of female empowerment and Jett became an inspiration to so many to come.

The Parodies

Jett made her cover even more cover-able and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” has been undertaken by many a musician, like Britney Spears, L.A. Guns, and most recently Miley Cyrus with the help of Dolly Parton. But no covers have stuck quite like … the parodies.

Like Jett herself, “I Love Rocky Road” by “Weird Al” Yankovic, “I Love Sausage Rolls” by LadBaby, and the Apologetix’s “I Love Apostle Paul” have all put a twist on the tune.

Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for USO of Metropolitan New York

Leave a Reply

Maneskin Share Hot “GOSSIP” with Tom Morello