This is the 104th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
The story goes that while at an L.A. club one night in the late ’70s, teenage twin sisters Cherie and Marie Currie were approached by Joan Jett and songwriter Kim Fowley. Marie Currie thought Fowley was a “creep,” but Cherie Currie was intrigued. Jett and Fowley invited her to audition for The Runaways, of which Jett was a member and Fowley was a producer.
The story also goes that Cherie Currie showed up to the audition ready to perform Suzi Quatro’s version of “Fever.” When she didn’t know any other songs that the band members knew, Fowley and Jett opted to write a song on the spot so that Currie would have something to sing. The result was the hyper-sexualized “Cherry Bomb.”
Or, so the stories go. In her book “Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways,” writer Evelyn McDonnell suggested that in reality, Cherie Currie probably approached Fowley, rather than the other way around. Furthermore, McDonnell wrote, “Cherry Bomb” had probably been written the night before the audition.
Regardless of how the players met and when the song was written, Currie joined the band, and soon after, The Runaways had a record deal. The Runaways’ self-titled debut came out in 1976. It reached Number 194 on the Billboard Hot 200.
The Runaways released a few more albums, but never had another song on the same level as “Cherry Bomb.” After butting heads with Fowley, Currie was gone by the end of 1977. Jett became the lead singer, but she left the band in the spring of 1979, paving the way for the band to break up soon after.
Currie went on to release some solo records, including 1980’s “Messin’ with the Boys,” which she recorded with her sister Marie Currie. The 1997 re-release of that album featured the sisters teaming up on “Cherry Bomb.”
After leaving The Runaways, Jett was soon fronting her own band. Covers were important to the success of Joan Jett and The Blackhearts; the band had huge hits with “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Crimson and Clover.” On the 1984 album, “Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth,” the band tackled “Cherry Bomb” with Jett on lead vocals.
The next year, the band Idiot Pills covered “Cherry Bomb” for the aptly named collection “Covers: Our Favorite Bands Mutilate Your Favorite Songs.”
The wonderfully-named Cocknoose covered “Cherry Bomb” on the 1992 album “Pain From the Prairie.” It was a lo-fi quality, but that was part of its sneering, angry charm.
The 1993 Joan Jett and The Blackhearts compilation “Flashback” featured a performance of “Cherry Bomb” with the band L7. There was no reinterpretation here, but there was no need. For L7, this was a tribute as much as a cover, as evidenced by my favorite line of the recording: “In case y’all didn’t recognize who that was… I’m sure you did… That was the queen of rock and roll… Joan Jeeeeeeeetttttt.”
Like the Runaways, Bratmobile was an all-female punk band. “Cherry Bomb” was the third song on the riot grrrl band’s 1993 “Pottymouth” debut. In a review for Trouser Press, Ira Robbins wrote:
Mustering 17 songs (including a relatively protracted bash at the Runaways’ seminal “Cherry Bomb”) in under a half-hour, the album is like a slap in the face: it’s over before you realize what you’re feeling but its sting lasts a good long while. Spewed out in the simplest, rawest manner possible, the songs’ conflicting emotions have the unfocused frenzy of adolescence: lust one minute, spite the next, anger at enemies and self, jealousy, disdain, fitting in, standing out.
That sounds about right.
All-female Japanese band Shonen Knife drew upon 1960s girl groups, punk, and surf rock, singing in both in English and Japanese. That premise is delightful enough, but the band’s covers are pretty good, too. On the reissue for the band’s “Pretty Little Baka Guy,” Shonen Knife blitzed through its own version of “Cherry Bomb.”
On her 1995 album “Deviation,” punk singer Jayne County dedicated her cover of “Cherry Bomb” to Cherry Currie. County’s sneering delivery was faithful to the original, with the added bonus of her pronouncing “girl” as “goil.”
Scary Cherry and the Bang Bangs covered “Cherry Bomb” in 2010, and while the cover was fine, it was the band’s video that was most memorable.
The story of The Runaways was the subject of a 2010 movie called “The Runaways,” starring Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie and Kristen Stewart as Jett. The film, based on Currie’s book “Neon Angel,” portrays Currie as being uncomfortable with the song, particularly the line “Have ya, grab ya, till you’re sore.” But in an interview with SPIN, Currie said that’s not how it happened in real life:
I had no problem singing that line. The filmmakers took a lot of liberties. If you read the book, then you’ll know that my twin sister’s boyfriend had raped me and took my virginity. That’s why I was angry, that’s why I cut my hair to look like David Bowie’s. I really felt that detail was important. The filmmakers didn’t. They did not want the Cherie character to lose her innocence so early in the film.
The bio on the website for Toronto band Moon Violet describes the band’s sound as “the heart of rock’n’roll, the soul of the blues, the honesty of country, the attitude of punk…” On the band’s 2011 album, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Party with Moon Violet,” one can hear those influences, particularly in the thumping but country-fied, almost-twangy cover of “Cherry Bomb.”
“Take It or Leave It: A Tribute to the Queens of Noise” was a 2011 tribute compilation that not only featured acts like Kittie, The Donnas, Kathleen Hanna, Peaches, Shonen Knife covering The Runaways, but also included interviews with the original members. The Dandy Warhols’ “Cherry Bomb” stood out, in part because that’s Runaways’ biggest hit and because The Dandy Warhols were one of the biggest names on the album. That, and Courtney Taylor-Taylor could sing anything and sound cool.
With a slower tempo, some jazzy horns, and a lot of swagger, “Cherry Bomb” became a bluesy romp for The Lightnin 3. The song sounds less aggressive this way, but it’s in now way meek, as it has all the strutting confidence of the original.
Amsterdam DJ and singer Wannabeastar included “Cherry Bomb” on 2017 album, “Greatest Hits.” Incidentally, the same album included a cover of The Dandy Warhols’ “Bohemian Like You.”
Of all of these covers, few of them reinvent the song. The artists put themselves into the song — The Dandy Warhols’ version dripped with Courtney Taylor-Taylorisms — but these versions felt less like reinterpretations and more like tributes. In a way, “Cherry Bomb” covers are like covers of Kim Wilde’s “Kids In America”: on their own, few of the covers stand out, but when viewed en masse, they show how influential the source material was.
In the four decades since The Runaways’ debut, much has been said about the band’s legacy, but very little of that discussion mentions the band’s actual music. With good reason: the spats between former members have a new context in light of Jackie Fuchs’ statement that her former bandmates had witnessed her being raped by Fowley.
Beyond that, though, there’s not much to say about the music of the Runaways compared to what the band’s members did later. Runaways alums had more success after the band than they ever had with the band: Joan Jett had hits with “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Crimson and Clover,” Lita Ford found a niche in hair metal, and Michael Steele was bassist for The Bangles. Those successes, along with the fact that bands like The Bangles or The Go-Go’s existed, has been the gift of The Runaways. But that we also got a great song about wild youth from the band? Well, that’s just the cherry on top.