Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll

First Hit #1: March 20, 1982

The pop charts aren’t often blessed with music that sounds rough and aggressive. There’s a reason for this, mainly that pop music is directed to everyone, and lots of people don’t like music that’s confrontational and aggressive. A wall of angry distorted guitars has its appeal and a ready market, but pop music tends to trend towards nice and friendly. Even Joan Jett’s first trip to the top of the charts, for all it’s loud rough guitars and Jett’s angry-sounding vocals, isn’t that negative, not really.

I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll is actually quite sincere, and for all the aggressive swagger in the production itself it’s an all-around positive track. It’s a tribute to the music Jett and co. love, performed in the style of the subset of that music they love best. They may love it because it’s angry and aggressive, but their love is sincere, so even if they’re trying to punch it up with that attitude they do it out of that love.

Granted, it’s a cover of a track by the Arrows, and it doesn’t deviate too far from the original – though it’s gender swapped and Jett has a better vocal – but the love of the genre comes through in both versions.

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2 Responses to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll

  1. Robert Berman says:

    Huh. Another song I had no idea was a cover. Jett’s version is quite faithful to the original. The music has a bluesy ambiguity in that it’s in E major, so the third note in the scale should be a G#. But when it’s sung (on the “love” in “I love rock and roll”), it’s sung as a G natural instead, suggesting that the song is actually in E minor. The dissonance between the expected G# and the actual G produces a lively musical tension.

    Now that we’re safely out of 1981, were there any big musical trends of that year that the Number One songs failed to catch? UKers like U2 (“Gloria”), The Police (“Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”), and Duran Duran (“Girls on Film”) were still on the way up, so that’s excusable. Probably the biggest “miss” was the fact that Journey had three big hits in 1981, most notably the now-ubiquitous “Don’t Stop Believing,” whose chord progression can be found in half the songs on the radio in the last five years (see this montage for 65 examples:, including 80% of the Taylor Swift discography. A whole lotta country (Juice Newton, Oak Ridge Boys, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, Emmylou Harris, Alabama, etc.) was poking around on Top 40 stations in 1981. Rush’s much-loved signature song “Tom Sawyer” was also in 1981 but didn’t hit the Top Ten, just as their similarly awesome “The Spirit of Radio” has had more of a long-term impact than it did on release in 1980. The most durable New Wave tracks not to claim the top spot in 1981 were “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, and “Mickey” by Toni Basil. Phil Collins’ paranoid divorce rant “In the Air Tonight” failed to top the charts, but its gated drum sound would come to define 80s percussion.

  2. RBerman says:

    Also, a more careful re-listen to the lyrics showed me that the song is not about music as music, but about music as aphrodisiac.

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