Monday, May 25, 2009

May 25: New York Dolls, "New York Dolls"

Artist: New York Dolls
Album: New York Dolls
Year: 1973
Label: Mercury

Take the attitude of The Stooges and add in the sleaze and bluesy feel of the Rolling Stones, and you have legendary rockers, The New York Dolls. Though only lasting a few short years (though a new lineup formed in 2004), the music they created had a profound impact throughout the music world, influencing everyone from The Smiths to The Ramones to Mötley Crüe. From the albums' cover to the sound within, without New York Dolls, there would most likely not have been "glam rock," "hair metal," or perhaps not even a full fledged "punk" movement. Though they only released two albums before calling it quits for nearly thirty years, their 1973 self titled debut remains one of the finest rock albums ever recorded.

Alienating record labels (and many fans), the early performances of the New York Dolls remain legendary, both for their cross-dressing, as well as the pure chaos that surrounded their live shows. It is this somewhat-controlled chaos that earned them a cult following on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as a large reason why the group only lasted a few short years. After listening to New York Dolls in its entirety, it is rather difficult NOT to pull comparisons to much of the Rolling Stones recorded catalog. With slower tunes like "Lonely Planet Boy" sounding very similar to the acoustic sound that the Stones presented somewhere on nearly every record, it truly becomes the attitude of the New York Dolls that sets them apart. New York Dolls was produced by the seemingly straight-laced and rather conservative Todd Rundgren. Rundgren also lent piano, guitar, and backing vocal parts to the record. The band wrote nearly every song on the record, and they each describe the bands' general life approach. New York Dolls also features a brilliant re-working of the Bo Diddley tune, "Pills."

Perhaps the most notable figure in the New York Dolls was guitarist Johnny Thunders. Though not as common a name as Page, Hendrix, or Clapton, after listening to New York Dolls, there is little one can do to argue the point that Thunders is every bit as much a guitar god. Combining psychedelic, rock and roll, and the urgency of punk, Thunders pushed the sound into what would eventually become the essence of punk guitar style. Thunders would end up forming the legendary band, The Heartbreakers (NOT to be confused with Tom Petty's backing band of the same name), after leaving the Dolls. Bringing with him stellar lead and rhythm guitar talent, the unforgettable Sylvain Sylvain kept Thunders on his toes, and Sylvain made a number of appearances with Thunders' later bands. Drummer Jerry Nolan (who also went on to The Heartbreakers), who happened to be a childhood friend of Peter Criss (he was in some small band called KISS), fits in perfectly, providing perfect beats and fills, regardless of the direction in which the band veers off. Filling out the bands' classic lineup, and sporting one of the funkiest, sexiest bass tones in rock history is the one and only, Arthur "Killer" Kane. Known for standing completely still during live performances, his juxtaposition to the rest of the band furthered the legend of the New York Dolls.

Nearly every singer who followed after him owes a decent amount of their career and style of David Johansen. From the makeup, to the outrageous clothing, to his delivery, it is truly difficult to find a singer that didn't pull some of their stage style from Johansen. Whether singing or screaming, Johansen epitomizes everything in both vocal delivery and attitude that would become the prototype for nearly all punk singers. Though he would call it, "the bane of my existence," Johansen achieved decent commercial success in the 1980's, as his alter ego, Buster Poindexter. Lyrically, New York Dolls is a somewhat typical rock and roll record. Songs about women, drugs, and partying, it is the manner in which the band presents the material that sets them apart from other groups. The overall menacing, angry, yet somehow still "fun" sound which Johansen brings to the songs fits in perfectly with the seemingly unsavory, sinister music behind his vocals. The sleazy, strange, perhaps possessed vocal delivery of Johansen is truly something that had never been heard.

Though perhaps due to their short career and the explosion of punk, the New York Dolls are still a relatively lesser known band to come out of the 1970's New York City music scene. However, the reality is, their influence throughout nearly every genre of music is absolutely undeniable. From their androgynous, cross-dressing stage appearance, to the absolutely chaotic nature of their live shows, the band were truly pioneers out of the studio as much as in the studio. Their two 1970's studio recordings, which are a fantastic combination of blues-rock and punk energy remain fresh and amazing today as much as they were more than thirty years ago. Crushing guitars and the unmistakable vocal delivery of David Johansen helped to garner the New York Dolls a fanatical, cult following. With a career that sadly only lasted a few short years, the New York Dolls managed to release two brilliant albums, with their 1973 debut, New York Dolls, standing as one of the greatest records ever recorded.

Standout tracks: "Personality Crisis," "Looking For A Kiss," and "Trash."

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