Album Review: Various artists' 'Take It or Leave It: A Tribute to the Queens of Noise: The Runaways'
In the brief but vivid history of the Runaways, sex and drugs provided such sensational subplots that the primary narrative of rock ’n’ roll tends to get overlooked. People remember Cherie Currie’s corsets and Joan Jett’s Hollywood party spot, but “Take It or Leave It” and “School Days” remain sadly missing from oldies radio playlists. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame continues to scandalously overlook the band and Jett. Even Floria Sigismondi’s teen-star-driven Runaways biopic tanked at the box office (though it has had a second life on TV and DVD).
Aficionados of the seminal, L.A.-based all-girl teenage band might be surprised that a tribute album could find enough admiring acts and enduring songs to fill a two-disc, 55-track (!) compilation. Admittedly, 18 of the cuts are interview snippets, radio spots and other historical ephemera. But with acts including the Dandy Warhols, Miss Guy and the Toilet Boys, Richard Barone and Care Bears on Fire tearing up the Runaways catalog, “Take It or Leave It” makes clear that the Runaways weren’t just an almost-one-hit (“Cherry Bomb”) wonder.
With a troop of songwriters including Jett, Currie, guitarist Lita Ford and lyricist Kari Krome, led by charismatic but creepy drill sergeant Kim Fowley, the Runaways played anthemic garage rockers about teenage lust, late nights, absentee parents and misunderstood misfits. In other words, classic rock. “It’s too late to be a kid in love, we’re the kids in hate,” the Serpenteens snarl on a heavy-metal remake of “Little Sister.” The Runaways were post-hippie and pre-punk — too glam to live, too rock to die.
The songs prove amazingly versatile and adaptable. Nailing “Blackmail,” David Johansen demonstrates the continuum from the New York Dolls to the Runaways. Laura Warshauer finds a plaintive ballad in “Little Lost Girls.” Peaches and Kathleen Hanna turn the camp epic “Dead End Justice” into an anarcho-techno knockout.
Jett and Currie announced they were suing to prevent the release of this tribute, part of whose proceeds will be donated to the American Institute for Cancer Research, according to label Main Man. Fortunately, that litigation seems to have been merely a threat. The Runaways need this kind of musical recognition, not more drama and trauma. “Take It or Leave It” honors the music behind the mayhem and misogyny.
“Take It or Leave It: A Tribute to the Queens of Noise: The Runaways”
Four stars (Out of four)
— Evelyn McDonnell