This was originally recorded by a British group called The Arrows in 1975, and it was written by their lead singer Alan Merrill and guitarist Jake Hooker. Merrill explained in a Songfacts interview how this song came about: "That was a knee-jerk response to the Rolling Stones' 'It's Only Rock 'N' Roll.' I remember watching it on Top of the Pops. I'd met Mick Jagger socially a few times, and I knew he was hanging around with Prince Rupert Lowenstein and people like that – jet setters. I almost felt like 'It's Only Rock and Roll' was an apology to those jet-set princes and princesses that he was hanging around with - the aristocracy, you know. That was my interpretation as a young man: Okay, I love rock and roll. And then, where do you go with that?"
The song was released as a B-side with The Arrows' "Broken Down Heart." The group was recording for RAK Records, which was run by Mickie Most. As Merrill explains, "I Love Rock And Roll" didn't suit his current tastes, as during that time Most preferred ballads and blues. Most's wife Christina Hayes encouraged him to flip the sides, but the song didn't catch on, as it suffered from a poor run of luck at the time of its release. First, it had to be re-released as an A-side. Second, the song came out during an English newspaper strike, so new songs weren't getting the exposure they'd normally get. Third, The Arrows were feuding with their record label. As a result, the song didn't chart and was banished to obscurity.
All was not lost, however, as The Arrows performed this song when they were guests on the UK TV series Pop 45. The show's producer, Muriel Young, was so impressed that on the strength of this performance, she gave them their own TV show, simply called The Arrows Show, which ran from 1976-1977 in the UK for two full 14-week seasons on the ITV network. It was this show that Joan Jett saw in 1976, which prompted her to acquire a copy of "I Love Rock and Roll" and later cover it in 1981, producing what is arguably one of the most successful covers in rock history.
Jett was touring England as a member of an all teenage girl group called The Runaways when she discovered this song. She wanted to record it with The Runaways, but the other members didn't like the song and made the mistake of passing it up. So, in 1979, Jett recorded it with Paul Cook and Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols and released it as a B-side. Finally, in 1981, Jett recorded the song with her band The Blackhearts, resulting in a monster hit.
Jett recalled to Uncut August 2010 her version with the Pistols duo: "I did a very early version with them, it was great working with them, and no, there was no sense of trepidation on my part, despite the fact that everyone was telling me they were the most notorious band on the planet."
Alan Merrill: "I had the chorus, which to me sounded like a hit. And I thought, I'll do something really unusual. I'll write it that this is a song separate from the verse. So the actual chorus is something that's coming out of a jukebox, and the two kids in the disco who are flirting are hearing this song that's a hit. It felt like The Twilight Zone. I was so sure 'I Love Rock and Roll' was gonna be a hit for the Arrows that I thought, Well, when we have a hit with it, it's gonna be a hit within a hit. A fictional hit coming out of the chorus with the kids singing it as their favorite song in the verse of the song. So when it actually became a huge hit for Joan Jett, my Twilight Zone concept came true. And I don't think too many people get that about the song, you know? They just like the melody, and it's catchy. But it was actually a pretty clever stroke, one that I'm proud of." (Want to find out what shot down The Arrows and see them in action? Check out our full interview with Alan Merrill.)
When the Runaways broke up, Joan Jett and her producer Kenny Laguna put her first solo album together with studio time and travel arrangements fronted by The Who. They struggled to get a record deal and had to form their own label, Blackheart Reocrds, to release the album in America. Jett and Laguna both thought "I Love Rock and Roll" was a great song, but since they didn't have the backing of a major label, they held off on it until they could establish themselves and get better distribution. When "Do You Wanna Touch Me" and "Bad Reputation" started getting airplay, they got a deal with Boardwalk Records. That first album, which was called Joan Jett, was remixed and renamed Bad Reputation. Now that she had a record deal, Jett released "I Love Rock and Roll," which was her first single on a major label and was included on her second album.
The Runaways' bass player Michael Steele went on to join the Bangles, and their guitarist Lita Ford had a successful solo career, but Joan Jett emerged as their most famous alumna. Kenny Laguna plays a big part in her story, as he helped Jett get started as a solo artist and worked with her throughout most of her solo career. In 1972, after working with acts like Tommy James & the Shondells and Tony Orlando, Kenny was looking for work and found it through Peter Meaden, who managed The Who when they were still known as The High Numbers. Meaden got Kenny a job working at Mobile Records in England, where he became friends with The Who and met The Runaways' manager, who asked him to produce what would be their last album. Kenny didn't work on that album, but when The Runaways broke up, he started working with Jett. Peter Meaden, who introduced Kenny to The Who and helped revive his career, was the manager of The Arrows, the group that wrote and originally recorded "I love Rock and Roll." If Kenny had accepted the job and produced The Runaways' last album, there is a good chance he would have made them record it, since he thought it was a hit.
Jett's 1979 version of the song was owned by The Polygram company, who were not enthusiastic about Joan or the song. Laguna explains: "They could care less about Joan Jett, they were busy signing every other Runaway. They thought Joan was the loser and they signed the other girls, who we're all friends with, but I looked at the band and thought she was the Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the band. The company decided that if I would pay the studio cost of $2,300, I could have all the rights, and I got three songs. I got 'I Love Rock and Roll' with The Sex Pistols, I got 'You Don't Own Me' - they did a great version of the Lesley Gore hit, and they did a song Joan wrote called 'Don't Abuse Me.' So I buy these songs back. In the meantime, Joan has a couple of fans. Rodney Bingenheimer of K-ROCK, KMAC in Long Beach, BCN in Boston, LIR in Long Island, they were playing The Sex Pistols' kind of cruddy version of the song, and it was #1 on the alternative stations. It was really alternative music, they were way-out stations that would play some pretty adventurous stuff, that's why they would play Joan, because Joan was not getting a record deal, Joan was way on the outside, like a Fugazi of her day. We saw some kind of potential there. I remember these guys from the big record distributors in Long Island kept calling and saying, 'This is a hit record, we're getting so many requests for it.' So we cut it over and did a really good version of it." (The above two Songfacts come from our interview with Kenny Laguna)
In the original version, the lyrics are about a guy picking up a young girl and taking her home, which was fairly typical rock and roll subject matter. When Jett covered this, however, it became a song about a girl who notices a guy next to a jukebox and brings him home to have sex. Other hit songs like "Physical" by Olivia Newton John and "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar also had sexual overtones, but Jett sang about aggressively pursuing the guy, which for many women made this a female-empowerment anthem. This song helped shape Jett's image as a tough, confident rock star and became an inspiration to many female musicians.
The line "Put another dime in the jukebox" was dated by the time Jett released her version, as very few jukeboxes took dimes. "Quarter" didn't sound good in the lyrics, and as jukeboxes slowly disappeared or became computerized contraptions accepting paper currency, it didn't matter anyway.
Jett's next two singles, "Crimson And Clover" and "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)" were also covers of songs originally recorded by male singers. When Laguna worked with Bow Wow Wow, he had them record "I Want Candy," another song that had to be adapted for a female singer.
In the US, this was #1 for seven weeks in 1982. "Ebony And Ivory" by Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney did the same a few weeks later.
The video was directed by Arnold Levine, who also did many of the Loverboy and Bruce Springsteen clips. Jett wore a red leather outfit to the shoot, which took place at New York club called Private's with an assortment of fans that showed up that day forming the crowd. When Jett and Levine looked at the edit, the colors were a mess, with way too much red and mauve in the shots because of poor fashion choices. This was not the rock and roll video they imagined, but when Jett saw the black-and-white work copy, she loved it. Without the color, the clip looked gritty and retro, which is what they were going for.
This black-and-white version stood out on MTV among far more colorful clips by the likes of the Go-Go's and The J. Geils Band. It became a huge hit on the network, which had launched just months earlier and was becoming a criterion of cool. The video helped send the song up the charts and establish an image for Jett as a rough-hewn rocker.
The color version, now available on YouTube, was released in 2003 on Jett's Real Wild Child video anthology.
In an interview with Mojo magazine January 2008, Jett looked back on this song: "I think most people who love some kind of rock 'n' roll can relate to it. Everyone knows a song that just makes them feel amazing and want to jump up and down. I quickly realized, this song is gonna follow you, so you're either gonna let it bother you, or you gotta make peace with it, and feel blessed that you were involved with something that touched so many people."
In 1998, Rolling Stone magazine reported that Jett, Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker made a very unusual financial move when they offered bonds secured by future royalties from this song. The story turned out to be very deceptive, as only Hooker was in on the deal, which never materialized.
This seems like a perfect fit for a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performance, but when Jett was inducted in 2015, she didn't play the song. Although it is by far her biggest hit, Jett has downplayed it throughout her career, typically performing it in the middle of sets while typically using "Bad Reputation" and "I Hate Myself For Loving You" as bookends.
George from Vancouver, CanadaI love Jett AND I still love Suzy Quatro (still got her in vinyl!)
George from Vancouver, CanadaThis is the song that brought Joan onto my music listening radar in '81 (14 years old); Had no idea it was a cover. . .
Camille from Toronto, OhI loved reading what Alan Merrill says about the lyrics, that the verses are a separate story from the chorus. I never realized that until now. It paints an even more clear picture of the song. A main reason for the success of Joan Jett's version of this rock anthem is due to the twist of having the female's perspective of the story. There have always women who had the power to pick up guys but no one sang about how fun and freeing (and empowering) it was until Joan came along. I do want to say to Jay in Brooklyn, I agree that the lyrics are unintelligible; the reason I came on to songfacts was to find the lyrics (without success because they aren't here, so I got them from another site). The song gets stuck in your head but you really are just singing mumbo jumbo to yourself if you don't know the words!
Robin from Bolton, United KingdomFor Christopher, Vienna: the (IMHO much inferior) version (and I love the Pistols) can be found on YouTube at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mij3TzTnNqs
Kaylah from Stoneville, NcThis is a song I like to sing when I'm at a karaoke party. Everybody knows it and starts dancing. Great song
Elizabeth Mcgee from New Mil;ford Ct, CtJoan jett had a Album called Naked it was released in 2004, but was sent back befor reaching the North Central and South America and a few other places. All because of Lindsay Lohan had plagerized her cover,but in her way. Lindsay had possed naked and was called naked,but translated into jappanese. And Joans was originally Her possing naked and the title name was "Naked" Later on Joan Jett had sued her for what she done and had released another album Changing most of her lyrics and notes. (FACT)
Stewie from Nashville, Tnif u listen closly u can hear it in the backround of the "raisins" episode of south park
Christopher from Vienna, Austriawhere do you get that early sex-pistols version???
Jay from Brooklyn, NyIt is just me, or are the lyrics unintelligible, other than "I love rock and roll, put another dime in the jukebox, baby!"? Despite the fact I have no idea what is being said, this is a great song.
Rob from Vancouver, CanadaThe story is more believable if Britney was just being stupid(even if its not true). Its kind of like the urban myth about Ricky Henderson. He supposedly said to John Olerud that he knew another player who played the field with a batting helmut when he had played with the mets. Olerud said 'yeah, it was me'. Didn't happen but it fits and is more fun than the truth.
Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScHeather when Britney said the bit about "Because I love Pat Benitar" shw was apparently being sarcastic. Obviously she's not clever at alll, for the most part anyway, but this is an exception.
Joshua from Twin Cities, MnHayseed Dixie, a bluegrass band known for their humorous covers of AC/DC and Kiss songs, also did a cover of "I Love Rock & Roll".
Johnny from Los Angeles, CaHey, Matthew, I really liked I love rocky road. I always laugh
Heather from Holbrook, Ny>>i would like to thank britney spears for killing a great and legendary song for all eternity. - paul, concord, NH<<
And remember this little fact. When she (Britney)was asked why she covered the song, her reply was, "I've always loved Pat Benatar."
Peter from Berlin, GermanyFamous photographer Mick Rock did the covershot for the album of the same title
Jonathan from Oklahoma City, OkLast summer Joan Jett came to Oklahoma City. Very Good Show. A lot of fun
Pete from Nowra, Australiai remember, when Joan Jett 1st came onto the scene, Suzi Quatro wasn't impressed.. Suzi virtually said , "she's ripped off my look ,hairstyle" etc etc .. and she was right
Paul from Concord, Nhi would like to thank britney spears for killing a great and legendary song for all eternity.
Stephen from London, EnglandThere was never a Wall Street deal done on this song. It's a hoax. An urban legend. Also, Joan Jett saw The Arrows do the song on the tv show "45" in the UK 1975 when she was with the Runaways. Their only tv appearance with the song. The Arrows weekly uk tv series was in mid 1976, and their single "I love rock n roll" was long gone and yesterday's news by then for The Arrows.
Matthew from New York, NyWeird Al Yankovich did a parody of this song called "I Love Rocky Road." Not his best work, but good for a giggle.