Alan Merrill, who wrote and first performed one of rock’s most iconic songs, died at age 69 in New York City from the COVID-19 virus on Sunday morning. The singer-guitarist was the frontman of ’70s band The Arrows, who originally recorded “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” before Joan Jett & The Blackhearts famously covered the tune.
Merill’s death was reported by his daughter Laura on Sunday morning, who wrote on Facebook, “The Coronavirus took my father this morning. I was given 2 minutes to say my goodbyes before I was rushed out. He seemed peaceful and as I left there was still a glimmer of hope that he wouldn’t be a ticker on the right hand side of the CNN/Fox News screen.”
She added, “By the time I got in the doors to my apartment I received the news that he was gone. How could this be? I was just at his show a couple of weeks ago. I had just photographed his portrait for his new album. Texted with him earlier.”
The veteran musician had been active prior to falling ill, performing shows as recently as a few weeks ago in New York with this band The Alan Merrill Extravaganza.
Merrill was born Alan Sachs in The Bronx, and lived in Japan as a teenager, where he formed the Tokyo-based band The Lead and eventually went solo. He would become a pop star in Japan, recording two albums, Merrill 1 and Alone in Tokyo.
In 1974, Merrill relocated to London, where he formed The Arrows, who scored hits such as “Touch Too Much” and “My Last Night With You”, and even had their own weekly TV series in England before breaking up in 1977.
It was The Arrows’ 1975 single “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” that remains the band’s biggest claim to fame. Merrill once told Songfacts that he wrote the track as a “knee-jerk response” to The Rolling Stones’ “It’s Only Rock n’ Roll (But I Like It)”. While it failed to chart high in the UK for The Arrows, it became a signature song for Joan Jett & the Blackhearts.
Jett first saw The Arrows perform “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” on their TV show in 1976 when she was touring England with The Runaways. Her 1982 cover became a No. 1 hit in the United States, and remains one of rock’s most recognizable tunes.
Upon hearing of Merrill’s passing, Jett wrote the following via Twitter:
“I’ve just learned of the awful news that Alan Merrill has passed. My thoughts and love go to his family, friends and music community as a whole. I can still remember watching The Arrows on TV in London and being blown away by the song that screamed hit to me. With deep gratitude and sadness, wishing him a safe journey to the other side.”
New York City is currently the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. As of Sunday morning, more than 33,000 people in the city have been infected, with close to 700 deaths.
See Alan Merrill and The Arrows performing “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” below, followed by the video for Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ famous cover.
— Joan Jett (@joanjett) March 29, 2020