Certain Songs #791: Joan Jett – “Bad Reputation”

Album: Bad Reputation
Year: 1980

When Tim & I saw Joan Jett & The Blackhearts at the Warnors Theatre in May of 1982, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” had just finished its seven-week run as the number 1 song on the Billboard chart (where it had replaced “Centerfold,” so as you can imagine, there was a shitton of heat around her at that time.

What I remember mostly about it was that the crowd was incredibly young and female: this was clearly tons of teenage girls first concert, and I hope a lot of them were inspired to pick up guitars (or whatever) and start bashing out their own versions of the straighforward rock ‘n’ roll that was Jett’s forte.

I just wanted to bring that up because I’m not going to be writing about “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” a song that I like and respect, but have never truly loved. Which isn’t the case for “Bad Reputation,” which kicked her debut off to a rip-roaring start.

With the rumbling drums and hyper-strummed power chords, “Bad Reputation” could have been just another Ramones cop, but Joan — coming off of her stint in the then-infamous Runaways — leans hard into her statement of intent:

I don’t give a damn ’bout my reputation
You’re living in the past it’s a new generation
A girl can do what she wants to do and that’s
What I’m gonna do
An’ I don’t give a damn ‘ bout my bad reputation

With a counterpoint boys choir chanting “oh no no no no no not me me me me me” throughout, at least one modulation, and handclaps popping in at key times, “Bad Reputation” was a pure adrenalized sugar rush from start to finish.

That said, because it came before her success, “Bad Reputation” kinda got lost for nearly two decades until Judd Apatow & Paul Feig used it as the absolutely on-point theme song for Freaks and Geeks — despite that none of the kids in the should would have realistically been listening to it — and it’s now quite possibly her most well-known song.

Fan-made video for “Bad Reputation”

Official video for “Bad Reputation” (Shitty sound)

“Bad Reputation” performed live in 1981

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