New York Dolls

12/31/2016

Classic Review: New York Dolls (self-titled), 1973

–Joe Lund

The New York Dolls didn’t invent punk rock, and they didn’t invent glam, and yet no rock band before or since has so successfully fused those genres. Emerging from the bowels of Manhattan in 1972, the group combined a love of trashy pop nuggets, Stones-like swagger, and drag-queen decadence to create a style that – both musically and visually – paved the way for such later bands as the Ramones, Blondie, and Television. Indeed, sometimes lost in the Dolls’ garish wigs, make-up, and insolence is the fact that the group’s music captured the essence of rock and roll in all its rebellious splendor.

Released in the fall of 1973, the Dolls’ debut album remains one of the ‘70s most vital documents. With singer David Johansen’s hand-on-hip yowl leading the charge, guitarists Sylvain Sylvain and Johnny Thunders slice and dice in a loosely-locked stream of riffage that’s raw with attitude. Even producer Todd Rundren’s efforts to polish the band’s sound works to the group’s advantage, with the occasionally trebly sheen serving to emphasize the AM-radio tradition from whence the Dolls’ music sprang.

High points include “Personality Crisis,” which comes off like Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and a prison riot rolled into one; “Trash,” a thrashing sing-along rocker that sounds like the template for just about everything on the Ramones’ first album; and “Pills,” a harmonica-laden cover of a Bo Diddley gem that, in the Dolls’ hands, becomes a blustery, tongue-in-cheek anti-drug rant. The album also serves up the occasional unexpected detour – most notably “Lonely Planet Boy,” a sax-spiced, acoustic-guitar driven ballad that stands out like a desert flower alongside its noisier compatriots.

Perhaps inevitably, in the end the Dolls’ thrilling musical mayhem couldn’t be sustained, and after just one more studio album the group disbanded. Still, it’s worth noting that fully three years before Johnny Rotten sang of “No Future” and Richard Hell penned “Blank Generation,” these flag bearers for punk nihilism were talking the talk and walking the walk.

 

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