Recently, I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, when I came upon a post from the group Junkshop Bubble Gum Glam and Glitter. It read, “Japanese ‘70s all-girl glam/punk band GIRLS covering the Runaways!,” with a link to YouTube.
The song and the fan-made video, which includes images of the group, did not disappoint. Soon I was falling down the rabbit hole, trying to find more of their tunes, as well as information and imagery related to the GIRLS. The band isn’t all that well-known outside of Japan, and as their name’s been used by so many other groups, it was a challenge. But I believe I came through for you, dear reader.
GIRLS consisted of five members, who all adopted nicknames: Gill (bass and vocal), Ilia (lead guitar), Rita (lead vocal), Lena (guitar), Sadie (drums). Notice that the first letter of each name spells “GIRLS.” Their discography includes two studio albums and three singles, with quite a few covers.
“Cherry Bomb” is the B-side of their debut single, and was also included on their first album, Noraneko (Google translation: “Stray Cat”); both records were released in 1977. As she does on other GIRLS songs, Rita alternates between singing in Japanese and in English on “Cherry Bomb.” It’s a solid cover.
Visual images of the Runaways, which frequently included a teenage Cherie Currie wearing sexually suggestive outfits, raised eyebrows in the States, so the GIRLS, who adopted this image for the Japanese market, must have made quite the impression in their home country, which is more socially conservative. In both countries—worldwide, really—all-female rock bands who played their own instruments were rare.
Other noteworthy covers from Noraneko include a version of Blondie’s “In the Flesh”:
Their rendition of KISS’s “Hard Luck Woman” has a really cool, spacey intro.
The second GIRLS LP, Punky Kiss, also came out in 1977. The record has another Blondie song, “X Offender”:
Debbie Harry poises in front of the ‘Punky Kiss’ album cover.
I had heard a few of their covers, so by the time I found their rendering of the Ramones’s “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” I was extra shocked to learn that—surprise—it’s a disco version!! It still has lots of attitude and a distorted guitar break. A unique interpretation, for sure.
The GIRLS did another Runways song on Punky Kiss, “All Right You Guys,” but alas, it isn’t streaming anywhere.
Their second single is the most excellently titled, “Punky Highschool Love” (1978). It doesn’t appear to be a cover, though it was written by songwriters outside of the group, so I can’t say for sure. It sure is great, though.
It looks like only one GIRLS record was released outside of Japan, a self-titled compilation of their material that was released in the Netherlands in 1978.
Magazine coverage, 1978.
Their final single was for the song “Love Jack.” It’s certainly more poppy than what we’ve heard so far, but it’s the picture sleeve that really marks an image change.
By the time the ‘70s had come to end, so had the GIRLS. Lead guitarist, Ilia (real name: Atsuko Okuno), went on to front the Juicy Fruits, who were popular and influential in Japan. As for the GIRLS, I can’t say what sort of impact they had, but I’d like to think they’ve inspired many Japanese girls and young women to start their own bands.
We’ll leave you with two TV appearances by the GIRLS. First up is a performance of their punky new wave single, “Naraneko” (the A-side of the 45 with “Cherry Bomb”)—complete with attempts at Cherie Curie-like moaning. It’s followed by a brief interview. The next clip is of them playing “Love Jack,” with the band members dressed in white, presenting a more wholesome image. The song is pretty poppy, yes, but dig that pleasingly distorted rhythm guitar.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Who was this amazing ‘Suzi Quatro meets the New York Dolls’ proto-punk mystery band?