For this version of The Original vs. The Cover, we are covering the classic song “I Love Rock & Roll” by The Arrows and by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. We are not going to explore the cover by Britney Spears because, well it is Britney Spears and so not worthy!
The song was written by Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker of the band The Arrows back in 1975 and when it was released, it ran into a run of bad luck and never amounted to much on the charts thanks in part to a Paper Strike and no news was printed around its release. The song itself was a reaction to the Rolling Stones song “It’s Only Rock & Roll (But I Like It)” according to an interview Merrill had with Songfacts.com…
“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 band would play this song on Top of the Pops in 1976 and it was at that time, a young lady by the name of Joan Jett heard it while she was touring her band The Runaways. She decided she wanted to record it, but The Runaways didn’t want to cover it so when she went solo, she recorded it herself.
The Arrows version was pretty raw. The production was pretty simple. You basically get a guitar, bass and drums with limited effects and not a lot of punch. The vocals were handled the same way. I had never heard the song before by The Arrows, but I can see why Joan Jett enjoyed that song when she heard it.
There are elements about it that are nice including the guitar solo. It has a great and memorable guitar riff throughout and of course the lyrics are fantastic. A wonderful little rock anthem; however, it is missing something extra to take it over the top.
The song is about a cocky guy who sees a girl playing a hit song on the jukebox and he is already has it in his head that the girl will be his. That he will walk over there and talk to the girl, they will bond over that song and she will leave with him. What a cocky bastard. And in fact, that is exactly what happens. Man, I never had that much self-esteem to do something like that. I think that is why I love the song itself so much.
JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS
Joan Jett really fell in love with this song so in 1979, she recorded it with a couple of the musicians form the Sex Pistols and the song did absolutely nothing for her. But that didn’t sway her. When she finally had the Blackhearts together, she re-recorded it in 1982 and BAM!!! She had a #1 song…#1 in at least 7 countries.
What was different? One was the lyrics were changed to now be from a female perspective. She was the one going after the guy not the other way around. This is more realistic because we all know the girl is the one that really decides if she is going home with the guy. It is not the guy’s choice. The woman holds all the power in that game.
The song production is so much better than the original. The guitars have all the grit and pop that pushes into a pure Rock & Roll song. It is much heavier and the Blackhearts are way better musicians than The Arrows (sorry Arrows, but it is true). The backing vocals are amped up and it sounds like a ton more people singing and it helps giving it the full on rock anthem feel and that everyone would sing along and that they did.
How big was the song for Joan, well it is now ranked as one of the 100 Greatest Guitar Rock Songs of all time. Not bad.
Well, I think for me this is one of the few times where I find the Cover to be the best version of the song. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts took this song and turned it into their own, so much in fact that I never heard the original until I did this post. The original was very plain and simple, but the elements were there for a great song and Joan was able to show the world why she thought it was so great. Her version had all the rock & roll gusto needed to propel it to the heights it reached. It is now an iconic song thanks to her.
I found an interview on YouTube with Alan Merrill about the song and if you have 6 minutes, give it a watch. The man has made a lot of money off this song from Joan Jett, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and the cover in the Rock of Ages Broadway show and movie.
Let me know which version you like the best. If it is Britney’s or Miley’s you will be blocked from this site permanently (I am kidding, but I will think less of you). Thanks for stopping by and have a great day.