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Remembering Alan Merrill With THIS Iconic Rock ‘n’ Roll Tune

This week has been a really sad week as notable names have died due to Coronavirus or other alignments. In the entertainment industry, many legends have died: Bill Withers (not due to coronavirus), Japanese comedian Ken Shimura, singer-songwriter Alan Merrill, Adam Schlesinger (composer of “Stacey’s Mom” and “High School Never Ends”), country legend Joe Diffie, and Julie Bennett (who voiced Cindy Bear in the Yogi Bear cartoons).

Since the theme for this week’s #SongLyricsSunday is about “Birthday/Cake/Gift/Party/Surprise”, I want to honor the life of Alan Merrill by talking about a classic that he wrote: “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”. It doesn’t feature the words birthday, cake, gift, party, or surprise. But, it is a type of song that you would probably play or hear at a party as it is such an iconic tune that will have you get up on your feet and dance/party along.

(This is part of a #SongLyricsSunday challenge, which is hosted by Jim at An Unique Title For Me. Anyone can join! Details on how to participate are found at the end of this post!)

The Life of Alan Merrill

Made in Japan

Alan Merrill got his start in the entertainment industry during the late 60s as he was a member of the band The Lead. Before joining the band, he successfully auditioned for the New York City-based band Left Banke. But as the band dissolved, Merrill moved to Japan and joined a new band, which was The Lead. The band released one hit single, which was “Akuma ga Kureta Aoi Bara”, before disbanding as two members were sent back to the US after the cops found drugs on them.

Despite The Lead being dissolved, Alan Merrill went solo and released his first solo album Alone in Tokyo in 1971. During his time in Japan, he acted in various TV dramas, starred in commercials and TV variety shows, modeled, and even formed the glam-rock band Vodka Collins.

Arrows and After

Arrows on the cover for “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” (1975)

Merrill moved to London and then formed the band Arrows with drummer Paul Varley and guitarist Jake Hooker in 1974. During their four years together, the band released a handful of singles and albums., during which “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” was released. They also had a weekly TV show from 1976-7, which was targeted towards the teen market who was the major demographic for the band.

After the band broke up in the late 70s, Alan Merrill released various albums over the years. He worked with various musicians like Rick Derringer, Steve Winwood, Mick Taylor, and Dallas Taylor. He reunited with Vodka Collins in 1990 and did various collaborations such as Hello with Bob Bradbury in 2016. Of course, various songs that he wrote were covered or sampled by many artists over the years like Joan Jett, Eminem, and Lou Rawls.

Alan Merrill’s last performance was March 13, 2020. He was also planning to release a new album. His wife Joanna Lisanti said on Facebook that he kept on making music and performing as “he was 69 acting like he’s 40 years old”.[1] (You can read the events leading up to Merrill’s death on here, which is based on Lisanti’s Facebook post).

The History “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”

The Original Version

“I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” was written by Alan Merrill and Arrows bandmate Jake Hooker. Originally, the song was released as a B-side on the 1975 single “Broken Down Heart”. Merrill told the website Songfacts that the band’s producer Mickie Most didn’t initially like the song as he preferred ballads and blues. But, it was Most’s wife that encouraged the band to flip the single and release “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” as an A-side.

Arrows re-recorded the song and released it in 1975. However, the single failed to chart and faded into obscurity due to three reasons: “[the song] had to be re-released as an A-side”, “the song came out during an English newspaper strike, so new songs weren’t getting the exposure they’d normally get”. and “The Arrows were feuding with their record label”.[2]

The Early Version With Joan Jett

Even though the song wasn’t a hit, it did leave an impression on TV producer Muirel Young when the band performed “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” on the UK TV series Pop 45. Young gave The Arrows their own TV show for one year. And it was on that TV show that Joan Jett heard the song and fell in love with it. She wanted to initially record it with the band The Runaways, which were on tour with her in the UK when Jett discovered the song. But, they refused. So Joan Jett then recorded a version with Paul Cook and Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols in 1979.

“I did a very early version with them, it was great working with them, and no, there was no sense of trepidation on my part, despite the fact that everyone was telling me they were the most notorious band on the planet.”

https://www.songfacts.com/facts/joan-jett/i-love-rock-and-roll

The Break Out Hit for Jett

The cover for “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Joann Jett and the Blackhearts (1982)

After she recorded with Paul Cook and Steve Jones, Joan Jett formed the band the Blackhearts. Songwriter and producer Kenny Laguna recounted the day when Jett wanted to start a new band: “I told Joanie to forget the band and support herself on the advance money. There was enough for her but not for a band. She said she had to have a band. And I believe to this day that it was the Blackhearts, that concept, that made Joan Jett.”[3]

Jett was eager to release “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” with the Blackhearts. However, she couldn’t do it right away. The band struggled to bring in a fan base and get a major record deal.

“They could care less about Joan Jett, they were busy signing every other Runaway. They thought Joan was the loser and they signed the other girls, who we’re all friends with, but I looked at the band and thought she was the Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the band. The company decided that if I would pay the studio cost of $2,300, I could have all the rights, and I got three songs.

I got ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ with The Sex Pistols, I got ‘You Don’t Own Me’ – they did a great version of the Lesley Gore hit, and they did a song Joan wrote called ‘Don’t Abuse Me.’ So I buy these songs back.

Kenny Laguna[2]

With the financial support from Lagunas, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts were able to release their first album Joan Jett (later re-titled as Bad Reputation when released on a major label). Two songs from the album, “Bad Reputation” and “Do You Wanna Touch Me”, gained traction on the airwaves and the attention of Boardwalk Records. The label offered a contract, which prompted Jett to finally release “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” in 1982.

Jett’s version was empowering as it was a song that detailed a female pursuing a romantic interest aggressively. It was heralded as a female-empowering anthem. After the release of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, Jett became an inspiration to future female rock stars as many saw her a tough, confident rock star.

Behind the Scenes of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”

Alan Merrill told the website Songfacts about how he crafted this iconic rock song:

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?

I had the chorus, which to me sounded like a hit. And I thought I’ll do something really unusual. I’ll write it that this is a song separate from the verse. So the actual chorus is something that’s coming out of a jukebox, and the two kids in the disco who are flirting are hearing this song that’s a hit. It felt like The Twilight Zone.

I was so sure ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ was gonna be a hit for the Arrows that I thought, Well when we have a hit with it, it’s gonna be a hit within a hit. A fictional hit coming out of the chorus with the kids singing it as their favorite song in the verse of the song. So when it actually became a huge hit for Joan Jett, my Twilight Zone concept came true. And I don’t think too many people get that about the song, you know? They just like the melody, and it’s catchy. But it was actually a pretty clever stroke, one that I’m proud of.

https://www.songfacts.com/facts/joan-jett/i-love-rock-and-roll

The Other Versions of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”

After the infamous cover by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, many other artists have covered “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” or even sampled it. I have featured some below. But, if you have a favorite cover, let me know in the comments below!

Pop Princess Britney Spears covered the song in 2002. It was her fourth single off her 2002 album Britney and was featured in her movie Crossroads. Spears has said that “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” is one of her favorite tunes.

Japanese rock band L’arc~en~ciel covered the tune for a 2011 Pepsi commercial:

My favorite Japanese rock singer, Superfly, and her 2015 cover. Alan Merrill played guitar on this cover:

Japanese 80s pop-rock singer Hideki Matsuoka’s take on the tune. This is a live recording of the song, which was the only thing I could find on Youtube. He did record his cover on the 1989 album KISS KISS.

“Weird Al” Yankovic’s parody “I Love Rocky Road”. Some people don’t like “Wield Al” but I like his parodies. It takes creativity to think of crafty parodies.


Lyrics to “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”

I saw him dancin’ there by the record machine
I knew he must a been about seventeen
Big and so strong
Playin’ my favorite song

An’ I could tell it wouldn’t be long
Till he was with me, yeah me
An’ I could tell it wouldn’t be long
Till he was with me, Yeah me

Singin’!

I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come an’ take your time an’ dance with me
Ow!!!

He smiled so I got up and’ asked for his name
That don’t matter, he said,
‘Cause it’s all the same
Said can I take you home
Where we can be alone

An’ next we were movin’ on
He was with me, Yeah me
Next we were movin’ on
He was with me, Yeah me

Singin’!

I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, Baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come an’ take your time an’ dance with me

Said can I take you home
Where we can be alone
Next we were movin’ on
He was with me, Yeah me
An` we’ll be movin’ on
An’ singin’ that same old song
Yeah, with me

Singin’!

I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come an’ take your time an’ dance with me

I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come an’ take your time an’ dance with me

I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come an’ take your time an’ dance with me

I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come an’ take your time an’ dance with me

I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come an’ take your time an’ dance with me!!


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References

[1] Smith, Emily. “Widow of ‘I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll’ Writer Alan Merrill Details His Coronavirus Death.” Page Six, Page Six, 1 Apr. 2020, pagesix.com/2020/04/01/widow-of-i-love-rock-n-roll-writer-alan-merrill-details-his-coronavirus-death/.

[2] Songfacts. “I Love Rock And Roll by Joan Jett – Songfacts.” Song Meanings at Songfacts, www.songfacts.com/facts/joan-jett/i-love-rock-and-roll.

[3] Gross, Jonathan (June 1983). “Joan Jett: The Road Goes On Forever”. Record. 2 (8): 1, 10–11, 30.