Little Lost Girls
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This album -- the final recordings of The Runaways -- was to have been recorded in August '78 in London by Phil Wainman, best known for his hits with the Sweet and Bay City Rollers. He had seen the band at the Lyceum in London in July, and was excited about the venture.
By the time they were ready to record though, the girls were throwing all night parties on their houseboat on the Thames -- with every punk rocker in London showing up -- to the accompaniment of the usual excesses, all of which left them in less than adequate shape to rehearse, much less record.
Wainman, who could have kept everything evenly balanced and possibly captured The Runaways performing at their peak following heavy touring, was frightened away by the girls themselves. John Alcock was selected as a replacement from his fine work producing Thin Lizzy, so it was back to L.A. to hit the studio.
Of course, Joan Jett (who had moved to the fore after the departure of bassist Jackie Fox and singer Cherie Currie) wasn't about to 'settle down' for the sessions. Her image had been carefully cultivated, and now she felt pressure to live up to it. It wasn't unusual to see her being carried out of the Whisky late at night down the hill the few yards to her conveniently located apartment, where the parties never seemed to stop. With Lita and Sandy carousing up at Alcock's Hollywood Hills home till dawn and beyond, the sessions were bound to be difficult.
Meanwhile, Vicki Blue had a medical condition that precluded her from working at that time, and it was decided to replace her on a permanent basis following the recording. (Lita doubled on bass in the studio). She appeared with the group when they performed at the opening night festivities for the Los Angeles premiere of "Annie," midway through the recording sessions. Sex Pistols' guitarist Steve Jones, who had written "Black Leather" for this LP, was also in town, and he too joined in for the set among the high society folks in Century City.
The album was completed -- with help on keyboards from Duane Hitchings (of Rod Stewart's band) who introduced the girls to his downstairs neighbor, their soon to be bass player, Laurie McCallister. "Saturday Night Special" written by guitarist Earl Slick and then unknown singer/songwriter Tonio K., and was considered to be a potential hit single. "Mama Weer All Crazee Now," the Slade song, was part of their attempt to capture the excitement of those British mid-Seventies hits. Lita's guitar playing stands out on "Black Leather."
Of the five songs written by the girls on the album, everybody thought that Sandy's "Right Now" (her first self-written song!), which she also sang, had the most potential as a hit single. Lita makes her singing debut on "I'm A Million." Joan, who was going through a particularly avid obsession with James Bond and international intrigue at the time, came up with a remarkably accurate prediction of a return to Cold War politics with "Takeover," in which she accuses the Russians of trying to take over the world by controlling weather patterns.
Once the album was completed, Laurie joined the fold officially. While making plans and beginning rehearsals for touring, an agent wanted the band to make a movie about an all-girl band. The various wheels were set in motion for "We're All Crazy Now," a full length feature film starring our Runaways. As script after script, writer after writer, and a few directors were hired then fired, the deal was completed, and advance money paid to The Runaways when they signed on the dotted line. Then came the fun part. Lita and Sandy brought in Alcock to represent their interests (vs. the interests of The Runaways as a group). Before long, things got so polarized within the band that they literally were breaking up in front of everyone's eyes.
In the middle of all this, there were two weeks of gigs in California, planned as a warm-up for regular touring in support of the release of the album. During the Golden Bear gig in Huntington beach, Laurie McCallister had just about the worst case of the flu in history. The Runaways cancelled very few gigs in their career, and they didn't cancel this time either, in spite of the fact that, mid set, Laurie threw-up onstage, managing to sneak behind her amplifier.
She wasn't much better when they flew to the show in San Francisco. A doctor was summoned -- already dressed in his tux and gathering a half dozen friends together for an evening on the town -- but in exchange for $100, tickets and backstage passes to the show, he agreed treat Laurie, ride with her to the gig, stay with her until the set was over, and make sure she survived. According to tour manager Rory Johnston, the ride to the gig was beyond belief. The good doctor had given Laurie some "snake serum" as medicine, putting acupuncture needles into her: "Hey, Rory, pull over and stop for a minute, I've got an important needle to put in." Backstage he gave her more "serum," checked the needles and disappeared. The set went extremely well for both Laurie and the band. Laurie -- with Lita and Sandy -- flew home to L.A., and awoke the next morning feeling totally recovered.
Shortly thereafter, Laurie quit, surfacing later in the Orchids. That left the Runaways pared to three. With complete disagreement over the movie deal, this album's lack of commercial success in Europe, and less than mild interest from U.S. major labels, The Runaways came to an end in Spring 1979.
Subsequently, Sandy and Lita tried to form various bands and record demo tapes with Alcock, to no avail. Joan honored the Z Productions movie contract and filmed "We're All Crazy Now," co-starring Arte Johnson and Peter Noone, with actresses playing the other Runaways. The movie was never completed, but Joan went on to record a solo single and album, forming her new band -- the Blackhearts.
The Runaways are no more. But this album provides a last glimpse of a still potent band, one that was the prime inspiration for thousands of girls throughout the country picking up guitars and drums and forming bands themselves.
--Toby B. Mamis
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