The Donnas are an all-female American punk/hard rock band from Pal Alto, CA, formed in 1993. The band consists of Donna A (Brett Anderson) on vocals, Donna R (Allison Robertson) on guitar, Donna F (Maya Ford) on bass, and Donna C (Torry Castellano) on drums. Amy Cesari replaced Castellano in 2009. The Donnas are my favorite all-female rock band. If you’ve never listened to them, just take The Runaways with a dash of the Ramones, then, add a healthy dose of 70’s Kiss and 80’s Judas Priest, and that’s what The Donnas sound like.
The girls started, in high school, as a Ramones-inspired punk band called The Electrocutes. They perfected that sound, with a Runaways influence, over three albums as The Donnas. The third, Get Skintight (1999), produced by Jeff and Steve McDonald of Redd Kross (whose power pop influence is obvious), is the best of their early albums and, arguably, my favorite of all of their albums. It’s raw, juvenile and a whole lot of punky fun, with great tracks like “Skintight,” “Hyperactive” and, my favorite, “Get You Alone.”
Then, on The Donnas‘ excellent fourth album, The Donnas Turn 21 (2001), the girls started to mix it up with more of a hard rock sound, and they did, in fact, turn 21. “Play My Game,” which was used as the theme song for the MTV reality series Surf Girls, is a great track, as are “You’ve Got a Crush On Me,” a cover of the Judas Priest classic “Living After Midnight,” and, most of all, “Drivin’ Thru My Heart,” which is like an update of “Skidmarks On My Heart” by The Go-Go’s. Judas Priest and The Go-Go’s? Yeah, that’s The Donnas!
The Donnas‘ fifth album, Spend The Night (2002), their major debut on Atlantic Records, was also a major step forward in honing their new sound, and these four California girls rocked harder than ever before! Just listen to the riff that drives the first single “Take It Off,” especially during the chorus. And, the second single, “Who Invited You?,” is just as badass, cowbell and all. But, the album had even more great tracks like “All Messed Up,” “Take Me To the Backseat,” “It’s on the Rocks” and, the awesome B-side “Backstage.” However, my favorite track is “Too Bad About Your Girl.”
Watch the videos for “Take It Off” and “Too Bad About Your Girl” here:
The Donnas second release on Atlantic Records, Gold Medal (2004), sadly, was kind of boring, even though it was produced by Butch Walker (one of my favorite artists, post-2000). It’s not bad, but, not great, either. The best track is “I Don’t Want To Know (If You Don’t Want Me),” which was used as the theme song for the first season of The N‘s cool series South of Nowhere. But, the first single, “Fall Behind Me” and “Don’t Break Me Down” are OK, too.
The Donnas left Atlantic, amicably, and formed their own label, Purple Feather, on which they released their seventh album, Bitchin’ (2007), which was a fine return to form. Bitchin’ is anchored by the amazing single “Don’t Wait Up For Me,” in which the girls proudly wear their love for Joan Jett & the Blackhearts out on their Converse. “Don’t Wait Up For Me” is the best track Joan Jett or Gary Glitter never wrote, and, even if you don’t like Jett’s music much, I guarantee you will instantly recognize her undeniable style on that song! But, the rest of the album is, at least, as good as “Don’t Wait Up For Me,” the only single. Tracks like “Wasted,” “What Do I Have To Do,” “Smoke You Out,” and “Love You Til It Hurts” reference Kiss, Thin Lizzy, Motley Crue, and every other hard rock band that ever mattered.
Watch the video for “Don’t Wait Up For Me” here:
The Donnas are also known for their covers which have peppered various soundtracks and compilations over the years. My favorites are Billy Idol‘s “Dancing With Myself,” on the Mean Girls soundtrack (2004), Kim Wilde‘s’s “Kids in America,” on the Nancy Drew soundtrack (2007), and The Runaways‘ “Queens of Noise,” on the Take It Or Leave It tribute (2011). But, I also like earlier covers like the Kiss classic “Strutter,” on the Detroit Rock City soundtrack (1999) and REO Speedwagon‘s “Keep On Loving You,” on the Drive Me Crazy soundtrack (1999).
In 2009, The Donnas released a retrospective Greatest Hits Vol. 16. The “16” refers to their years together, and, the album included 2 new tracks, B-sides, unreleased tracks, live cuts, and re-recorded versions of older songs. Yeah, traditional “greatest hits” compilations suck anyway.
So, the girls are currently recording their eight, as yet untitled, album. It will be the first without drummer Torry Castellano, who “retired” due to shoulder problems. If you watch her in the videos, you’ll know why. I don’t think girls were made to pound drums like that! Anyway, I wait, with anticipation, for that next release!!
Watch a Target ad with The Donnas‘ Torry Castellano dueling on a drum solo with Cheap Trick‘s Bun E Carlos here:
The Donnas Discography
1997.00.00 – The Donnas [Album] (re-released on 1998.07.28)
1998.01.27 – American Teenage Rock ‘n’ Roll Machine [Album]
1999.06.08 – Get Skintight [Album]
2001.01.23 – The Donnas Turn 21 [Album]
2002.10.22 – Spend the Night [Album]
2004.10.26 – Gold Medal [Album]
2007.09.18 – Bitchin’ [Album]
2009.07.07 – Greatest Hits Vol. 16 (retrospective) [Album]