Jett wrote this with Kenny Laguna, who produced the album and helped her establish a solo career after her group, The Runaways, broke up. In a Songfacts interview with Laguna, he said: "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.'"
Speaking with Rolling Stone in 2022, Jett talked about her bad reputation. "I always wore it as a badge of honor," she said. "Because what people were saying to me was I had a bad reputation because I played an electric guitar and I had black hair and a leather jacket, and maybe I swore... So I turned around the meaning of it, and I'm proud of my bad reputation."
This song made a very bold statement, establishing Jett as an independent-minded rocker with no concern for traditional gender roles in rock. Her co-writer Kenny Laguna told us: "'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."
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.
Joan Jett made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 and developed a reputation as a leading lady of rock, but around this time, she was struggling to get noticed and trying to get airplay.
Kenny Laguna told Songfacts how "Bad Reputation" ended up on one very influential station, which gave it the push it needed. "I remember Dan Neer, who was one of the top DJs in New York at WNEW, his girlfriend was helping us out with publicity," he said. "She brought him down to see Joan play in Brooklyn and he left after three 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 the song 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, but not the one Jett wanted to be known for the rest of her life - she didn't write that one.
This became Jett's signature song, and although it's very well known, it was never released as a single.
Speaking about recording this song, Kenny Laguna said: "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."
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 Baby Mama, Kick-Ass and 10 Things I Hate About You. It's very popular for scenes that portray an outcast in a lighthearted way.
This was the entrance song for American judo Olympian and women's mixed martial arts champion Ronda Rousey. The song fit her persona, as she was always an outspoken person and merciless competitor.
When Jett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, she was the first to perform at the ceremony, and opened her set with this song.
Jett released an acoustic version on her 2022 album Changeup.