I was about 12 or 13, scanning the FM band on a Walkman that my friend had accidentally left in the back seat of our minivan. The little radio didn’t have a very strong receiver, but it managed to pull in a station I hadn’t listened to before, and that station played the dirtiest song that I had ever heard: Jet’s “Cold Hard Bitch.”
Admittedly, it was a censored version, but the song smacked me right between the ears. It was unrepentantly offensive, dirty, and loud. I felt a tangible illicit pleasure hearing it while my parents were in the front seat. They had no idea what I was listening to—none at all! And for the first time in my life, I was sure that if they did know, I would be told to turn it off immediately.
Rock and roll is supposed to be rebellious. It’s Elvis’ hips, it’s the Beatles’ haircuts, it’s Johnny Rotten. Every fan, even the youngest, understands this. And every fan feels the need, in their own way, to participate in that rebellion. I think that’s why the Jet song hit me so hard: listening to it was the first rock-and-roll thing I’ve ever done.
Musically, it’s pretty derivative: AC/DC swagger, offensive lyrics à la the Rolling Stones, overdriven guitars, breakdowns, etc. Jet’s adherence to tradition ultimately hampered them; their brand of rock revivalism barely outlasted the first decade of the new millennium. Most people have probably already forgotten them.
But the song sticks with me. There’s a whiff of ozone as the first guitar chord crunches to life, and the stretched-out opening “yeah” is just about as elemental as it gets. That shout is the sound of joy, really—the cathartic pleasure of having drums and bass and guitars rumbling and cresting behind you. For me, that song was my own first yell: a declaration that I was an independent entity, free to listen to whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. But of course I didn’t make a sound from the back seat. I couldn’t blow my cover.
A version of this piece first appeared on the blog Vintage Voltage.