Sunday, July 26, 2009

New York Dolls - First Time Around

By Russell Shortt

They didn't age well, however recently they have being experiencing something of a renaissance. Their circus never fitted well with many, dismissing them as a band of freaks with nothing much going on underneath the smeared lipstick, knee boots, high heels and mini skirts. This is simply not to know your music, the Dolls are the source of so, so much that came after them. Arguably, they set the punk rock ball rolling and look where that ended up.

They looked like they came from Pluto and in many ways they had, boiled in a cauldron of dull AM radio, soft seventies feel good hits and soppy acoustic warblers, their's was a voice in the wilderness, but there were many folk dwelling in the wild. They emerged into a scene that was jaded after all the broken ideals and crushed dreams of the 1960s.

Fighting the insurmountable odds of The Man had failed, everyone had squirreled away, burrowing themselves deep into fun-time Bobbie crooning, preferring to forget. Of course, the problems still lingered rotten, and in 1971 the Dolls had decided to take them on. Their influences were diverse from 50's R&B to classic American girl groups, from post-psychedelic bands like The Stooges and MC5 to the burgeoning British glam rock scene of T-Rex and Slade.

But the public never got down with the words or the music, been completely unhinged by the antics of and exhibits that were the band. With America not happening, the band re-located to London, where after playing support to Rod Stewart, they were chased by every record company in the city. However, their drummer Billy Murcia, tragically died of accidental suffocation after he passed out from drugs and alcohol at a tenement party, forcing the Dolls to beat a hasty retreat.

Of course, the slack-jawed gawker brigade turned their vulture necks in their direction, nothing like a rock and roll death to make your place in rock and roll. Momentum began to gather, the Dolls played to bigger and bigger crowds every night, eventually been signed to Mercury Records in 1973. The first record, New York Dolls (1973), faced the challenge of trying to channel the energy of their live performances, difficult, but it is a fine record.

Raw, gritty, stomping, slashing ... it's a compelling record, confused by clashing ideals, it's bloody original. Macho but prissy, technically flawed but bustling with energy, part Stones, part Ramones. They say it's punk, it isn't, not now, now it's rock and roll but it was punk before punk, meaning it paved the way for the antics of 1977, confused?

You better be ... you see it was more that the ethos was punk rather than the music. The Dolls proved that you didn't have to be The Allman Brothers to make great rock and roll. However, the public remained nonplussed, perhaps the mother's closet/Frankenstein cavern antics were too garish or too confusing, either way no-one bought the record. Pity.

They went on the road with it, it was rambunctious - bassist Arthur Kane stabbed by girlfriend, lead singer David Johansen was charged with obscenity, lead guitarist Johnny Thunders broke his guitar over an over zealous fan's head, venues were wrecked - the record company was bugged. They demanded another record, drafting in legendary girl group producer, Shadow Morton to work something different for the band.

It was a rushed affair, four tracks being covers, indicating that the muse wasn't sitting too easily on the shoulders of Johansen, the songwriter, although considering the timescale and off stage antics, it really isn't any wonder. There are tremendous silver linings in Chatter Box and Human Being but ultimately it bombed and Mercury, tired with the dalliance dropped them. It was all but over and then Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan began banging up heroin and Kane hit the bottle big-time.

Step in the ominous knight in shining armour, Malcolm McClaren, promising that he could revive the band's fortunes. Insanely, he dressed the Dolls in red leather from head to toe, placed them in front of the Soviet flag and ordered them to PLAY! Perhaps a good idea in the schlock bars along the Griboyedov canal in St. Petersburg but not in America. Suffice to say it didn't go well, McClaren was fired while Thunders and Nolan left. Sylvain and Johansen battled on through various incarnations before giving up the ghost in 1977.

Russell Shortt is a travel consultant with Exploring Ireland, the leading specialists in customised, private escorted tours, escorted coach tours and independent self drive tours of Ireland. Article source Russell Shortt,

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