Hello there! This week our blog features an iconic hard-rock anthem, I Love Rock ‘n Roll. We will first discuss the original version by The Arrows. Next, we will review a cover by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and finally a parody version by Weird Al Yankovic.
The Arrows and I Love Rock ‘n Roll:
The Arrows were a British-American rock ‘n roll band from the 70s. Bassist and lead singer Alan Merrill teamed up with guitarist Jake Hooker and drummer Paul Varley. Merrill and Hooker were American while Varley was English. Below is a photo of the Arrows. From L: Alan Merrill; Paul Varley; Jake Hooker.
The Arrows were produced by the legendary British figure Mickey Most. Most was the brains behind such British pop sensations as
the Animals, Herman’s Hermits, the Nashville Teens, Donovan, Lulu, Suzi Quatro, Hot Chocolate, Arrows, Racey, and the Jeff Beck Group.
The Arrows released songs on Most’s label Rak Records. They had a few hits in the U.K., but found very little commercial success in the U.S.
I Love Rock ‘n Roll was a song written by Alan Merrill in 1975. Merrill claims that the song was meant as a rejoinder to the Rolling Stones’ tune It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It). The song describes a romantic encounter between a young man and a woman.
I saw her dancin’ there by the record machine
I knew she must a been about seventeen
The beat was goin’ strong
Playin’ my favorite song
An’ I could tell it wouldn’t be long
Till she was with me, yeah me,
An’ I could tell it wouldn’t be long
Till she was with me, yeah me, singin’
[CHORUS] I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come an’ take your time an’ dance with me
She smiled so I got up an’ asked for her name
That don’t matter, she said,
‘Cause it’s all the same
I said “Can I take you home where we can be alone?”
An’ next we were movin’ on
The song was released in 1975 and became a hit in Britain. So here is the music video of Arrows performing I Love Rock ‘n Roll.
Alan Merrill is the lead singer here. Arrows is a competent rock band, and this song has a catchy melody and a simple but effective ‘hook’ in its guitar riff. This music video alternates between showing the band performing at the Granada/ITV studios in Manchester, and horsing around in London’s Berkeley Square.
The commercial success of this song led the ITV network to offer Arrows a weekly TV show called, appropriately, Arrows. The show began airing in March 1976. Arrows ran for 14 shows in 1976, and then repeated for a second season in 1977.
The last single released by Arrows came out in 1976, just weeks before the first episode of their TV show. This gives Arrows the dubious distinction of being the only band to have their own show for at least two years, but never release a record during the run of their TV series.
Apparently the band’s manager Ian Wright became embroiled in a dispute with their producer, Mickey Most. The net result was that Arrows never released another song, and the group disbanded after their final TV show.
So that was it for Arrows. During the period 1974-75, they had two other British pop hits with Touch Too Much and My Last Night With You.
Drummer Paul Varley passed away in 2008 while guitarist Jake Hooker died in 2014. That leaves Alan Merrill as the only surviving member of Arrows. You can catch Mr. Merrill still performing I Love Rock ‘n Roll at various venues in his hometown of New York City.
Although the band Arrows is long gone, their hit record I Love Rock ‘n Roll lives on. However, it is now known as the signature tune for Joan Jett, as we will discuss in the next section of our post. In addition, that song has been covered by artists such as Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and I Love Rock ‘n Roll:
Joan Jett has been a female rock icon for a few decades now. She can rock out with the best of them, and has crafted a career that has taken her through eras of hard rock, glam rock, punk rock, and now hip-hop.
Joan Marie Larkin was born in September, 1958 in a suburb of Philadelphia. As a child, she began taking guitar lessons, but quit when her instructors insisted on teaching her folk music. After her parents divorced, Joan adopted her mother’s maiden name Jett.
In 1975, Joan Jett was one of the founding members of the West Coast all-girl band The Runaways. They developed a strong regional following and opened on tour for bands such as Cheap Trick, Van Halen and The Ramones.
Although the Runaways became international favorites in Europe, Asia and South America, they never had much commercial success in the U.S. When they disbanded in 1979, Joan Jett set out on a solo career.
While pursuing a number of potential projects, Joan met songwriter and producer Kenny Laguna. The two teamed up and recorded a demo album in England, which they brought back to the States. After the album was rejected by 23 record companies (!), Laguna took his daughter’s college savings, created Blackheart Records, and issued Jett’s record on his own label.
Laguna then assembled The Blackhearts to serve as Joan’s backing band. Over the next couple of years, the group steadily built up a following, although they were often reduced to selling albums out of the trunk of their car after concerts.
Below is a photo of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, circa 1989.Embed from Getty Images
However, this all changed in 1982 when I Love Rock ‘n Roll, the title single from the group’s album of the same name, rocketed up to #1 on the Billboard singles chart. Here are Joan Jett and the Blackhearts in a live version of I Love Rock ‘n Roll.
This was shown in May 1982 on the German TV show Rockpop, which ran from 1978-1982. It apparently was shot during Joan Jett’s 1982 European tour, where they opened for Queen.
The good news is that Joan Jett and the Blackhearts can really rock out. The riffs from lead guitarist Ricky Byrd are a good match for Joan’s powerful vocals. The German audience are very enthusiastic, and they sing the chorus at one point.
However, I was surprised to see that Joan Jett is essentially playing a note-for-note copy of the original Arrows version. Well, that’s rock music for you – while the Arrows original did not make much of an impact outside of the U.K., Joan Jett’s cover catapulted her straight to international stardom.
I Love Rock ‘n Roll became a youth anthem and a cult classic. It is currently rated #56 all time by Billboard magazine, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016. Joan Jett and her band became superstars, and she has remained on top for the past few decades.
Joan Jett has been described as “The Godmother of Punk” and “The Original Riot Grrrl.” Hard rock is not a particularly welcoming place for female artists, and women have to work hard to be accepted into this male-dominated society. However, few would argue with Joan Jett’s credentials as a bona fide rocker.
You know that you have achieved fame when you become a household name in popular culture. Thus, Joan Jett knew she had truly made it when Mattel released a “Joan Jett Barbie doll” in 2009. Also, cartoonist Berke Breathed introduced a band called Tess Turbo and the Blackheads in his comic strip Bloom County.
Cementing her reputation as a legitimate rocker, Joan Jett is ranked #87 on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 greatest guitarists. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. Ms. Jett has also appeared in a number of films, to generally supportive reviews.
Here’s a bit of trivia: both Alan Merrill and Joan Jett are naturally left-handed, but they play their instruments right-handed. Sinister!
So, here’s to Joan Jett. She worked hard at her craft in a genre where very few women make it to the top; and she succeeded on her own terms. We hope that she continues to enjoy success.
Weird Al Yankovic and I Love Rocky Road:
Alfred Yankovic was born in October 1959 and raised in Lynnwood, California. When his parents were offered music lessons for Al on either guitar or accordion, they chose the latter. That choice would generally kill your chances of success in rock music, but Al has managed to capitalize on this.
Al first gained recognition when his parody songs were featured on a weekly syndicated radio program, The Dr. Demento Show, the brainchild of ethnomusicologist Barry Hansen. While still in high school, Mr. Yankovic had success with parodies of My Sharona by The Knack (“My Bologna”), and Another One Bites The Dust by Queen (“Another One Rides The Bus”).
Below is a photo of Weird Al Yankovic.
In the early 1980s, Weird Al received a big boost from MTV. He was able to produce “music videos” of parody songs that spoofed not only the original song, but also the official music video for the tune.
Here is one of Weird Al’s songs, a parody of I Love Rock ‘n Roll by Joan Jett. Al’s parody is called I Love Rocky Road, and includes the following lyrics:
I hear those ice cream bells and I start to drool,
Keep a couple quarts in my locker at school
Yeah, but chocolate’s gettin’ old,
And vanilla just leaves me cold,
There’s just one flavor good enough for me, yeah me,
Don’t gimme no crummy taste spoon, I know what I need, baby
[CHORUS] I love rocky road,
So won’t you go and buy a half gallon baby
I love rocky road,
So have another triple scoop with me, OW!
Here is Weird Al Yankovic’s music video for his tune I Love Rocky Road.
As always, Weird Al has lots of fun with this tune. The band is dressed up as employees of an ice-cream parlor, and he substitutes an accordion for the guitar solo. In his signature style, Weird Al exactly copies the lyrics and rhyming scheme of the Joan Jett classic. In fact, on a few of his parodies he was accompanied by the artists who produced the original song.
I really enjoy Weird Al Yankovic, but this is not my favorite among his parodies. To me, this is a song that writes itself once you choose the title.
After his initial successes, Weird Al Yankovic regularly scored best-selling parody songs. He segued effortlessly from rock ‘n roll to grunge to rap music. Until 1992, his albums and music videos were produced by rock guitarist Rick Derringer, who won two Grammy Awards for his efforts.
It is hard to imagine that Weird Al has managed to assemble a career that has lasted over 40 years, during which time he has recorded over 150 songs and sold at least 12 million records. Weird Al Yankovic has been nominated for 16 Grammy Awards and has won 5 times. An album released in 2014, nearly 40 years after his first release, reached #1 on the album charts in its debut week.
Many of the artists that we highlight have serious addiction issues, and several have died from drug or alcohol overdoses. So it is refreshing to feature an artist who abstains from alcohol, drugs, tobacco – and even profanity!
Since his parodies are so close to the original, it is crucial that Yankovic get permission from the artist before releasing a song. In a few instances, artists have refused permission.
One of the most famous cases occurred with rap artist Coolio. Under the impression that the record label had granted him permission, Yankovic released a parody of a Coolio song, only to have the artist insist that Al had never been granted permission. Eventually the two musicians made up, but since this time Weird Al has always communicated directly with the artist.
Paul McCartney refused Weird Al permission to release a parody of his song Live and Let Die (“Chicken Pot Pie”). Because McCartney is a vegetarian, he
didn’t want a parody that condoned the consumption of animal flesh.
McCartney suggested that Al try “Tofu Pot Pie” as an alternative, but Yankovic was not satisfied with the outcome.
Weird Al is still touring and releasing albums. His latest was the 2018 “Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.” He has hosted numerous TV specials, and in 1997 he even had his own Weird Al Yankovic Show on CBS (a children’s show that lasted for 13 episodes). In addition, he has appeared on various TV shows, both live and animated (The Simpsons). He does voice-over work for several animated films, and he has authored a couple of children’s books.
Who would have thought a novelty song-writing accordion player could put together such an impressive career, and become a live concert favorite? We salute the always-wacky Alfred Matthew Yankovic, congratulate him on never growing up, and wish him a long and happy life.