Classic Tracks: The Runaways "Cherry Bomb"

Jan 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Barbara Schultz


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Cherie Currie, Joan Jett, Sandy West, Lita Ford and Jackie Foxx

Cherie Currie, Joan Jett, Sandy West, Lita Ford and Jackie Foxx

“Here's your headline,” says musical genius Kim Fowley, who occasionally refers to himself in the third person. “‘Kim Fowley and the Runaways recorded “Cherry Bomb” in a store room on purpose. We didn't have an equipment list. We barely had equipment. But we had a plan.’ Then everybody reads it, and this will be the best article you've written in 10 years.” Fowley, who helped form The Runaways and produced their first album, has really thrown down the gauntlet here, especially considering that “Cherry Bomb” could be considered a dubious choice for a “Classic Track.” It's kind of a garage band song, and the band's eponymous debut album, which includes “Cherry Bomb,” barely cracked the Billboard 200. But “Classic Tracks” aren't just about hits, and “Cherry Bomb,” written by Fowley and a then-unknown rocker named Joan Jett in 1976, marked the debut of America's first all-girl rock band. Go back and listen, and those punk guitars and racy vocals sound just as tough as they did back then:

Can't stay at home, can't stay at school


The Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" MP3

Old folks say, ya poor little fool

Down the street I'm the girl next door

I'm the fox you've been waiting for

Hello Daddy, hello Mom

I'm your ch ch ch ch ch ch cherry bomb

Fowley had been in the music biz for almost 30 years when he met founding Runaways members Jett and Sandy West. He made his first studio recording in 1949, when he was 10, and from that point on, he was never not working in studios, or writing, publishing or producing bands. “I've sold 102 million records in a 50-plus-year career,” Fowley points out. “I've produced everybody, worked with almost everyone. The Beach Boys did songs I published. I've recorded with Andrew Loog Oldham, who was producer of the Rolling Stones. Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin played behind me on a song that I did. It's a huge list.”

Fowley's credit list also includes The Byrds, Warren Zevon, KISS, the Hollywood Argyles, Frank Zappa's Mother's of Invention, Cat Stevens, Alice Cooper, Jonathan Richman, BTO, The Germs and Nirvana, to name a handful of the acts that have capitalized on Fowley's songs, productions and his keen, intangible sense of what music the public wants. And he says he knew he had something great from the moment he met Joan Jett, whom he has called the “musical child of Keith Richards and John Lennon.”

“Teenaged girls with guitars,” he states. “We knew it from the day it started. And we were in a hurry. It only took 17 weeks for the band to form, rehearse, play, learn songs and get a deal with Mercury Records, with no demo.”

A major-label deal with no demo? “Kim Fowley is a genius and knows how to do things,” Fowley says.

But let's get back to the forming part. Fowley hooked Jett up with West. Next to join was bassist Micki Steele, who didn't stay with the band but later became known as Michael Steele, bassist in The Bangles. Cherie Currie — then only 16 — joined next as the group's lead vocalist, followed by future metal guitar icon Lita Ford. The last piece of the puzzle was the bassist who appears on The Runaways album, Jackie Fox. Fowley then brought the group he calls the “fabulous five” into Artie Ripp's Fidelity Recording in Studio City, Calif., to make their first album; the lead track was “Cherry Bomb,” a song that is rumored to have been written in five minutes, on the spot for Currie's audition: “There was rock 'n' roll magic there,” Fowley says. “It was no problem.”

Fowley says he chose to record at Fidelity because of the studio's atmosphere, but he doesn't mean that in a good way. “We were in the B room, which was a remade storeroom,” he says. “It was awful. But it wasn't scary. It was the kind of studio you wanted a garage product out of. A lot of young bands go into studios with chandeliers and red-velvet rugs and a receptionist who looks better than they do, and they're terrified. But if you walk into a room where they store stuff, you're not going to be intimidated. You're going to swagger about: ‘What a horrible place. Oh, well, we've played a lot of horrible places. This is nothing new.’”

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