Jett wrote this with Kenny Laguna, who produced the album and helped her establish a solo career after her group, The Runaways, broke up. Says Kenny, "It's about Joan having been kind of a wild woman in The Runaways, and us trying to make a record deal, going around having people say, 'No, she's too crazy, like the punks and nazis.' Joan had this bad reputation, no label would sign her - that's why we own the records. It was so frustrating, we thought we should write a song about it. One day Joan said something and I said, 'You shouldn't do this.' I was trying to give her the advice of an old man, but she was a teenager at the time, and she says, 'Look, I don't care about my bad reputation.' I said, 'Whoa, there's the song.'"
Laguna: "We tried to do one of those speedy Punk Rock songs. The day we recorded it, we didn't know it too well, we just managed to get a good drum track. Joan had to play all the guitars - the rhythm track was pretty good. I put on like a Jerry Lee Lewis piano, but until the piano went on, it really sounded kind of unfinished."
Laguna had worked for The Who's European record company and was friends with the band. The Who fronted money so he and Jett could make the album, which was called Joan Jett. In Europe, the album was released on a German label called Ariola Records. They didn't want to use this song as a single, and instead released "Jezebel" and "You Don't Know What You Got." They didn't do very well and Laguna bought the record back from Ariola for $10,000. In the US, they released the album on their own label, Blackheart Records, and changed the track order so this led off the album.
Laguna: "I remember Dan Neer, who was one of the top DJs in New York at WNEW, his girlfriend was helping us out with publicity. She brought him down to see Joan play in Brooklyn and he left after 3 songs, I thought he hated it. The next day WNEW started playing 'Bad Reputation,' which is not the song we wanted them to play, we wanted them to play 'Do You Wanna Touch Me,' but it became their breakout song of the week. In those days, the AOR stations were alternative, but real alternative, not like today's alternative which is really a Top-40 format and is all about record company priorities. These guys were playing something on an independent label. Every time a station didn't want to play 'Touch Me' or burned it out, we would make them play 'Bad Reputation.' That was the beginning of the song becoming known. Then there were a few bands that covered it, and it just took off."
When this started getting airplay, it attracted the attention of record labels and Jett signed a deal with Boardwalk Records. The album was then remixed and the title was changed to Bad Reputation. The next year, Jett released "I Love Rock And Roll," which was a huge hit.
This became Jett's signature song, and although it's very well known, it was never released as a single.
Laguna: "'I don't give a damn about my reputation, it's a new generation,' that was the whole thing, a girl could do what she wants to do. When she was singing those lyrics, it was radical because there were no girls doing anything other than what they were supposed to do, they were all supposed to be like the girl groups. They were supposed to be dainty, wear dresses. They weren't supposed to play instruments. The song was definitely autobiographical." (Thanks to Kenny Laguna for speaking with us about this song. For more, check out www.joanjett.com.)
This was the theme song to the NBC TV show Freaks And Geeks. The show was about a group of kids trying to deal with high school. It was canceled after one season in 1999-2000, but had a large cult following and was praised by critics who felt it would have gotten better ratings if NBC gave it a chance.
Some of the movies this has been used in include Shrek, Wonderland, Kingpin and 10 Things I Hate About You. It's very popular for scenes that portray an outcast in a light-hearted way.