It’s been observed (in various dinosaur-related movies and elsewhere), that life … finds a way. A hit song will find a way, too. Even if it takes repeated attempts in various guises over many years.
In 1974, Alan Merrill of the UK rock group Arrows, heard “It’s Only Rock & Roll (But I Like It),” the latest single by The Rolling Stones. Interpreting it as Mick Jagger’s apologia to his new, rich socialite friends, Merrill thought to himself, “Well, that’s great, Mick. But I happen to love rock and roll!” And he proceeded to write a song with that very title which, not surprisingly, probably would have sounded great had it then been covered by The Rolling Stones. But destiny desired another cover-er.
Alan and his Arrows recorded and released their original version of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” in 1975. But despite a TV appearance which featured the group performing the song, the single took in very few dimes from the jukebox, baby, and didn’t even tickle the lower regions of the charts.
Normally, that would be the end of the story. Merrill and his band and his nice little song fade into the ether like millions of others before and since.
As luck would have it, though, a producer for the BBC saw them on the telly and liked the cut of the band’s jib. She offered the boys their own show, titled, fittingly, The Arrows Show, which ran for two seasons and led to no bigger things whatsoever.
Normally, that would be the end of the story, were it not for an American musician on tour in England in 1976. That musician was guitarist Joan Jett of The Runaways, who tuned in to The Arrows Show one evening only to see them playing “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” She immediately wanted to record the song with The Runaways but the other members didn’t think much of the track. Jett knew it was a hit. When the band broke up three years later, Jett went solo and drafted the guitarist and drummer from The Sex Pistols to help record her own version, released by her record company as a B-side in 1979.
That might have finished off a lesser song, but the little anthem that could had one more chance to make it big. By the time she started work on her second album, Jett had formed a band called The Blackhearts and they attempted yet another version of the song. Following the exact same arrangement as Arrows’ original, this new iteration struck the perfect balance between raw rock and slick hit, with a sneeringly tough vocal from Jett and powerful guitar riffage from Blackheart Ricky Byrd.
Released as a single in early 1982, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” was #1 all over the world by spring. It only took seven years, three versions, and the unswerving faith of one artist.
So get your Jett on. You don’t even need a dime for this one.
And here’s the original version by Arrows. All the hit elements are there, but Joan just rocks it harder.
I think the Arrows original is the superior version personally. If the record company had done its job, promotionally, with the original maybe all we would ever have heard of Joan Jett was as a member of the Runaways
I agree that the record company must have mishandled the original version. That song was born to be a hit record. It’s often surprising what does and does not become a hit.