The Runaways – Neon Angels-On The Road To Ruin 1976-1978 (5 CD Set)


When American musician, songwriter and producer Kim Fowley pieced together The Runaways from gigging female musicians plucked from around the LA club circuit he probably wasn’t aware that like their predecessors Fanny they would be a huge influence on so many other female artists and bands for years to come. Initially marrying the punk attitude of Joan Jett with Sandy West on drums and singer/bassist Micki Steele it wasn’t long before Steele exited making way for both lead guitarist Lita Ford and Peggy Foster on bass, then the cherry (literally) on the cake arrived in the shape of singer and blonde bombshell Cherie Currie. One final change (the early Runaways haemorrhaged bass players faster than Spinal Tap did drummers) when Foster was replaced by Jackie Fox and the band were ready to take on the world. This new collection pulls together all of The Runaways albums into one handy clamshell box set. That means across the five discs we find their four studio releases, The Runaways, Queens Of Noise, Waitin’ For The Night and And Now… The Runaways as well as the live album Live In Japan.

Album #1 the self titled The Runaways (1976) literally kicks off with ‘Cherry Bomb’. The band’s debut single and the track that most people will be familiar with and which was the only track written by Jett for this album to feature Currie on vocals. As expected Joan Jett takes vocals on the edgier rockier numbers like ‘You Drive Me Wild’, ‘Lovers’ with its ‘Antmusic’ drums, ‘Blackmail’ and Velvet Revolver cover ‘Rock & Roll’ with it’s rolling drums while Currie contributes with her power pop vocal approach demonstrated on the Kisslite ‘Thunder’ and ‘Secrets’ and she only decides to punch hard on the exceptional ‘Cherry Bomb’ and ‘American Nights’. Ending on duel vocals from both Jett and Currie the two part ‘Dead End Justice’ should have been their tour de force but with its opening pastiche of ‘Cherry Bomb’ (but without the Ch!Ch!Ch!) and back and fore vocal finale it is more notable for West’s driving marching drum assault. A fairly strong debut but it failed to capture the raw energy that the band were demonstrating within their live shows.

Jett summed it up perfectly in the closing lyrics of ‘Dead End Justice’… “you must try harder” so Fowley led them back to the studio and Queens Of Noise (1977) was the result. The first album to feature Jackie Fox on bass (she was credited but Nigel Harrison supplied bass on the debut) this sophomore release ticks a lot of the boxes left unchecked on it’s predecessor. Heavier in places (‘Queens Of Noise’, ‘Take It Or Leave It’, ‘Neon Angels On The Road To Ruin’), poppier in others (‘Midnight Music’, ‘California Paradise’, ‘Hollywood’) with a definite glam rock slant and some sweet harmonies (‘I Love Playin’ With Fire’). However the mix is muddy rather than dirty and this drags Queens Of Noise down with the real triumph left until the closing salvo when Lita Ford sets things ablaze on ‘Johnny Guitar’, the perfect showcase for her incendiary guitar playing. Unfortunately Queens Of Noise failed once again to set the American charts alight (the UK was a little more receptive).

With minimal interest in their homeland attention was turned to the land of the rising sun where the band had capture the hearts of the Japanese youth culture. During packed shows at Tokyo’s Koseinenkin Kaikan and Shibuya Kokaido between 5th-12th June 1977 the band recorded Live In Japan (1977). Originally only planned for release in limited territories including Japan and Canada but not for US or UK distribution this is possibly the best recorded example of the bands true potential with tracks from the first two albums given the punch that they truly deserve alongside new tracks ‘All Right You Guys’, Gettin’ Hot’, ‘You Drive Me Wild’, ‘I Wanna Be Where The Boys Are’ and ‘C’mon’ none of which would appear on album #3 (‘C’Mon’ would surface on the post break up compilation Flaming Schoolgirls). Also featured is Sandy West’s Peter Criss moment where she takes over the mic for a fairly feeble attempt at The Troggs ‘Wild Thing’. I’m sure the partisan and very noisy crowd loved it.

Although it was a great document of what the band could delivery Live In Japan still failed to bond the band members and by the time they recorded their next studio album Waitin’ For The Night (1977) both Fox and Currie had headed for the door mark exit. Whether the two barbedwire circles adorning the cover signify the spikiness of those departures or not, who knows? But with Jett taking over the lead vocal roll the album finds The Runaways putting in a more consistent set of pop rock tunes. All bar two tracks come from Joan’s pen but it is those two Ford compositions, ‘Fantasies’ with its deep dirge and the sleazy riffs and soloing of ‘Trash Can Murders’ that supply the true force. Vicki Blue fills the place vacated by Fox admirably making her presence felt on the punky ‘Wasted’ and galloping ‘Schooldays’. Overall a promising introduction to the new four piece line-up but what Waitin’ For The Night cuts ‘Gotta Get Out Tonight’, ‘Don’t Go Away’ and ‘You’re To Possessive’ (which would appear on The Blackhearts I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll album) really did was put Joan Jett very firmly in the shop window.

With Fowley moving on following Waitin’ For The Night the ladies found themselves without a label to release what would turn out to be their final opus. Eventually released on fledgling UK label Cherry Red And Now… The Runaways (1978) was a real contender with its mix of original rockers ‘Takeover’, ‘My Buddy And Me’, ‘Little Lost Girl’, the pounding ‘I’m A Million’ and Sandy West penned single ‘Right Now’ married with some strong covers including a sultry take on The Beatles ‘Eight Days A Week’, some gritty Jett vocals on the rabble rousing ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’ by Slade but top of the pile was ‘Black Leather’ from the Jones/Cook songbook (recorded by The Sex Pistols two years later). And Now… The Runaways seems to see the musical differences within the band converge but it was all to little to late and despite good sales in the UK in 1979 they called it a day.

Everyone is probably more than aware of Joan Jett’s success with The Blackhearts through the I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll and Bad Reputation albums and their accompanying singles as well as Lita Ford’s collaboration with Ozzy Osbourne on ‘Kiss Me Deadly’ and album like Lita, Stiletto and Dangerous Curves. Cherie Currie went on to have a long career in film alongside her life as a solo musician and she played in London as recently as March 2023. Sandy West was not so lucky and it would seem that she had a varied and sometimes shady life following the split sadly passing away in 2006 after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Many late comers may have discovered The Runaways via the 2010 film biopic which charted their career but not be as aware of the groundbreaking catalogue of music that they created. Neon Angels-On The Road To Ruin 1976-1978 is the ideal way to fill that void in one hit.

  • Reviewed By Peter Brockwell.
  • Neon Angels – On The Road To Ruin 1976-1978 is released via Cherry Red Records on 29th September 2023.

Track List:

Disc OneThe Runaways
1. Cherry Bomb
2. You Drive Me Wild
3. Is It Day Or Night?
4. Thunder
5. Rock & Roll
6. Lovers
7. American Nights
8. Blackmail
9. Secrets
10. Dead End Justice

Disc TwoQueens Of Noise
. Queens of Noise
2. Take It or Leave It
3. Midnight Music
4. Born to Be Bad
5. Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin
6. I Love Playin’ with Fire
7. California Paradise
8. Hollywood
9. Heart Beat
10. Johnny Guitar

Disc ThreeLive In Japan
1. Queens of Noise
2. California Paradise
3. All Right You Guys
4. Wild Thing
5. Gettin’ Hot
6. Rock & Roll
7. You Drive Me Wild
8. Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin
9. I Wanna Be Where The Boys Are
10. Cherry Bomb
11. American Nights
12. C’ Mon

Disc FourWaitin’ for the Night
1. Little Sister
2. Wasted
3. Gotta Get Out Tonight
4. Wait for Me
5. Fantasies
6. School Days
7. Trash Can Murders
8. Don’t Go Away
9. Waitin’ for the Night
10. You’re Too Possessive

Disc FiveAnd Now… The Runaways
1. Saturday Nite Special
2. Eight Days A Week
3. Mama Weer All Crazee Now
4. I’m A Million
5. Right Now
6. Takeover
7. My Buddy And Me
8. Little Lost Girls
9. Black Leather