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Link to original content: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2020/04/02/alan-merrill-singer-songwriter-actor-penned-joan-jetts-hit-love/
Alan Merrill, singer-songwriter and actor who penned Joan Jett’s hit I Love Rock’n’Roll – obituary

Alan Merrill, singer-songwriter and actor who penned Joan Jett’s hit I Love Rock’n’Roll – obituary

He was one of the first western pop musicians to find success in Japan while his band Arrows reached the UK Top Ten with Touch Too Much

Alan Merrill
Alan Merrill Credit:  Michael Putland/Getty Images

Alan Merrill, who has died of Covid-19 aged 69, was a singer and songwriter who became one of the first western pop musicians to find success in Japan; later, in the UK in the mid-1970s, his band Arrows scored several hits, while one of their B-sides, I Love Rock’n’Roll, went on to be a chart-topper for Joan Jett & the Blackhearts.

He was born Allan Preston Sachs in the Bronx, New York, on February 19 1951; his mother was the jazz singer Helen Merrill, his father the saxophonist and clarinettist Aaron Sachs.

He went to Aiglon College, a private boarding school in Switzerland, then schools in New York and Los Angeles, and studied at Sophia University, a Jesuit research institute in Tokyo.

In the early 1960s he began playing in Greenwich Village with various bands. He successfully auditioned for the Left Banke, who had had a transatlantic hit with Don’t Walk Away Renee, but the band dissolved before he could get on board. Instead he returned to Japan, joining a band of other foreign musicians called the Lead. They had one hit but fell apart when two of their members were deported.

Merrill adopted his mother’s surname, as it sounded better in Japanese than “Sachs”, and launched a solo career, becoming a leading figure on the “Group Sounds” scene – a hybrid of Japanese and western pop.

He became the country’s first foreign star, acting in a soap opera, modelling, and making regular appearances on the Saturday-morning teen show Young 720. Alongside two home-grown superstars, Hiroshi “Monsieur” Kamayatsu and Hiroshi Oguchi, he went on to form Vodka Collins, who became Japan’s biggest glam rock act.

Merrill, right, with his Arrows bandmates, drummer Paul Varley, left, and guitarist Jake Hooker Credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images

Moving to London, in 1974 he formed Arrows, who became part of Mickie Most’s RAK empire. With Merrill on bass and lead vocals, they reached the Top Ten with the Nicky Chinn/Mike Chapman song Touch Too Much, which had been turned down by Sweet, David Cassidy and Suzy Quatro.

That proved to be their biggest hit, but another release the following year had the greater impact. Merrill wrote I Love Rock’n’Roll, with Arrows’ guitarist Jake Hooker. Produced by Most, it was put on the B-side to Broken Down Heart, but was soon re-recorded and flipped to the A-side.

It was, said Merrill, “a knee-jerk response” to the Rolling Stones song It’s Only Rock’n’Roll (But I Like It). “I almost felt like it was an apology to those jet-set princes and princesses that he was hanging around with – the aristocracy, you know,” Merrill said. “That was my interpretation as a young man: OK, I love rock’n’roll.”

Joan Jett's version of I Love Rock'n'Roll went to No 1 in the US

The band performed it on the television show 45, as a result of which Arrows were given their own series. When Joan Jett was touring with the Runaways she saw Arrows performing the song on the show, and immediately recorded a version with Paul Cook and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols on drums and guitar. But it was not until 1982, with the Blackhearts, that she released another version, which shot to the top of the Billboard chart.

As for Arrows, the success of having their own TV show, which ran to two series, was undercut by the fact that due to a contractual dispute they were able to release no new music, and in 1977 they split, swept away by the punk revolution.

Moving back to New York, Merrill worked with Rick Derringer and later joined Meat Loaf’s backing band. He had a recurring role in the children’s adventure series Encyclopaedia Brown, and in 1990 reformed Vodka Collins after the successful re-release of their debut LP.

He made a string of solo albums, while in 2015 Homes Under the Hammer used two Arrows songs. In 2017 Eminem’s No 1 album Revival included the song Remind Me, which he co-credited to Merrill after using samples from I Love Rock’n’Roll.

In 1977 Alan Merrill married the model Cathee Dahmen; she died in 1997. They had a daughter and a son.

Alan Merrill, born February 19 1951, died March 29 2020

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