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10 Rockin’ Chapters from Joan Jett’s Melody Maker Rhythm Guitar Bible

Ted Drozdowski
|
03.11.2014

Lead six-stringers usually get all the love in rock guitar land, but the truth of the matter is that when it comes to the guts of the music, it’s really all about rhythm playing.

That’s also a good description of Joan Jett’s musical approach: all about rhythm. When Jett arrived at the crossroads of punk and pop in the late 1970s and early ’80s, she almost single-handedly restored the core values of big, chunky, riff-blasting rhythm guitar to the musical mainstream.

Her rhythm sound — nasty and snarling on mega-hits like “Bad Reputation,” “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and “Do You Wanna Touch,” all blasted out via her heavy down-stroke-based strumming style on the white single-humbucker Gibson Melody Maker that’s been her sidekick since she bought it in 1977 — could easily be used as an audio textbook definition of “rock.”

Jett’s played other Melody Makers during the course of her career, slamming chords on Gibson double-Ms with two pickups and other mods, but her go-to axe has remained her first — the guitar that Gibson has now immortalized by issuing the Joan Jett Blackheart deluxe artist’s model.

So here’s a rundown of Jett’s 10 most rockin’ albums, all driven by her signature Melody Maker sound:

 

The Runaways (1976): Expect a resurgence of interest in Jett’s first band, the teenaged all-girl outfit the Runaways this year after the group’s bio-pic is released. Meanwhile, get an earful of Jett playing the first classic she wrote “Cherry Bomb,” with the band. Jett later rerecorded the song for 1984’s excellent Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth.
Joan Jett/Bad Reputation (1980/1981): After being turned down by every major label, Jett and her producer Kenny Laguna started their own Blackheart Records to release Jett’s solo debut. “Bad Reputation” remains a punk-pop classic. And after FM radio began spinning the single Jett’s career caught fire, prompting another pressing of the disc as Bad Reputation and launching Jett into the Top 40 with that song and a cover of Brit-glammer Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me.”
I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (1981): Jett’s always had classic pop roots and she bared them here, cutting fanged versions of the Dave Clark Five’s “Bits and Pieces,” Tommy James’ “Crimson and Clover,” and the Arrows’ title track, which she took to number one on the pop charts. This disc also debuted Jett’s backing band the Blackhearts.
Album (1983): The crunchy-catchy “Fake Friends” was this disc’s big charter, but it’s got bigger surprises, like a rubber burning rendition of the Rolling Stones’ nasty “Star Star” and Sly Stone’s “Everyday People.”
Up Your Alley (1988): This disc’s jolt was a Stooges worthy version of “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” but what really stuck in the cultural craw was Jett’s own “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” which reached number eight on the pop charts and — with altered lyrics — became a theme song of NFL Sunday Night Football broadcasts.
The Hit List (1990): Once again Jett revealed her inner pop fan by making her eighth studio album a set of classic covers. It’s a real pleasure hearing Jett and her crew bite into Z.Z. Top’s “Tush,” AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” the Sex Pistols “Pretty Vacant,” and Hendrix’s “Up From the Skies.”
Evil Stig (1995): Jett fronted Seattle grrl power band the Gits for this disc after the group’s singer Mia Zapata was raped and murdered. Zapata’s killing is still unsolved, but the album raised money for the Home Alive anti-violence organization with the most furious outpouring of punk-rock energy Jett had given since Bad Reputation.
Sinner (2006): This disc ended a 12-year hiatus in recording new original material for Jett, who found inspiration in co-writing with Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna as well as her long-time collaborator Kenny Laguna and 4 Non Blondes’ Linda Perry. It’s a stomping return to form for Jett, who seemed to be losing her rock ‘n’ roll bearings as the ’90s went on, and returned to form with Sinner.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts Greatest Hits (2010): This just-released collection culled by Jett herself is a crash course in all of the above. And, of course, in Jett’s classic Melody Maker sound.

 

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