Friday, January 28, 2011

Deep Bands: New York Dolls

It's been a while since I wrote an entry for Deep Bands. I wanted to write on these guys for a long time. The time seems right with their new album coming out soon. Before its release, learn about the band's history...mostly!

The genre of punk rock may’ve not been created by anybody. Personally, I think the four bands who brought the genre to its existence would be The Velvet Underground, MC5, the Stooges, and the New York Dolls. While they may not sound familiar, the New York Dolls set an example for the other punk bands that were also from New York. They even had an impact on hard rock and glam rock, as they were known for performing in lipstick and fishnets. The band also showed that it was okay if the members in your band had minimal musicianship, which is what made the New York Dolls fun.
            It was around the mid-1960s when guitarist Sylvain Sylvain and drummer Billy Murcia met each other at school. Both were good friends throughout middle and high school and in 1967, they formed a band. At some point, a guy named Johnny Thunders joined on bass.  Sylvain left at the beginning of the 1970’s and went to London. When Murica left, Thunders formed another band. Thunders took on the role of guitarist and with him at first was guitarist Rick Rivets and bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane. Murica later joined as the drummer. Thunders tried being the lead singer but when he got tired of it, singer David Johansen joined the band. Rivets left in 1971 and was replaced by Sylvain. With Johansen, Thunders, Sylvain, Kane, and Murica the New York Dolls were born. The band got their name from Sylvain and Murica. While Sylvain and Murcia used to work at a clothing store called Truth and Soul, there was a place across the street called the New York Doll Hospital. The band played their first gig on Christmas Eve 1971. The band was influenced by R&B group but mostly the female ones. They also liked the earlier material by the Rolling Stones and liked the MC5 and the Stooges. Their glam attire was mostly inspired by Marc Bolan from T. Rex.  Within months, the New York Dolls had made it far. In 1972, they were offered to tour with either the Faces or Rod Stewart (one source says the Faces but another said it was Stewart, who was the singer for the Faces). Shortly into the tour on November 6, 1972 Murica died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Murica was said to have passed out or died from a mix of alcohol and drugs. It has also been said that when his Murica’s girlfriend saw him, she put him in a bath tub and force-fed him some black coffee. No one is quite sure what happened next. So, Murica apparently died from drowning in the bath tub or even one book suggests, the coffee.
             It didn’t take long for the band to try and find another drummer. Murica was replaced by drummer Jerry Nolan. Before the band hired Nolan, they had been signed to Mercury Records. With that, the band began recording what would become their legendary debut album. Released in 1973, New York Dolls was produced by Todd Rundgren (although Rundgren later said that he barely touched the recording). The band had some love in America and played mostly around New York. In fact, Creem magazine had them as the best and the worst band of 1973. The band also toured Europe and made an appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test. Host Bob Harris compared them negatively to the Rolling Stones. In 1974, the band began work on their second album. In the producer’s seat this time was George “Shadow” Morton, best known for producing the Shangri-Las (one of the band’s favorite groups). The album, Too Much Too Soon, was released in 1974. Sales for the album, as well as the debut, were terrible. As a result, Mercury dropped the band. Drugs were in the mix also. The band was able to get around and toured for a while. For some time, the band performed in new attire: red patent leather, for the faux red communism theme going at the venue. No one liked it. In 1975, both Thunders and Nolan left the band during their Florida tour. Future W.A.S.P. frontman Blackie Lawless replaced Thunders for the rest of the tour (which meant Lawless was in the band for only two weeks). Kane also left and was replaced by Peter Jordan. Johansen, Sylvain, and Jordan went on tour for a while joined with drummer Tony Machine and keyboardist Chris Robinson. In 1976, the band played their last 28 shows (with Robinson replaced by Bobby Blaine). By 1976, the New York Dolls were over.
            Each of the five members of the Dolls went on to do something else. Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan both formed The Heartbreakers. The band released on album before breaking up around 1978. Johnny Thunders went on to have a solo career and tour frequently. Sylvain Sylvain continued to play and David Johansen had a solo career. Johansen, however, had an unexpected hit but not as David Johansen. Under the name and alter ego Buster Poindexter, he had a hit single in 1987 with the dance hit “Hot, Hot, Hot”. Johansen even got some acting gigs here and there.  As for Arthur Kane, he went a different path.  He stayed away from music and became an alcoholic. One night while at home, Kane watched the movie Scrooged. When Kane saw the scene with Johansen in it, he became depressed and jumped out of a three story window. Kane survived since a door cover saved him. The impact, however, caused some damage and it affected his speech. In 1989, Kane shocked all of his friends when he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and became a Mormon. On April 23, 1991, Johnny Thunders died under mysterious circumstances. Some believe that Thunders overdosed. While that is true in part, Thunders also had advanced leukemia according to the autopsy. Thunders had plans to reunite with Jerry Nolan. Then almost a year later on January 14, 1992, Jerry Nolan died after being in a coma as a result of a stroke. Nolan was also very sick as he was being treated for both bacterial meningitis and bacterial pneumonia.
            Despite the deaths of Thunders and Nolan, the New York Dolls’ legacy lived on with the release of several archival albums and compilations. The band had also influenced many over years including Kiss, Guns N Roses, Hanoi Rocks, Motley Crue, Faster Pussycat, and the Smiths just to name a few. Speaking of the Smiths, Morrissey asked Johansen, Sylvain, and Kane if they’d liked to play at the Meltdown Festival in 2004. They agreed to do it. Replacing Thunders and Nolan were Steve Conte and Gary Powell, retrospectively. The show was a great success. The band had plans to tour and release a live album of the 2004 show. Those plans were halted on July 13, 2004 when Arthur Kane passed away from leukemia. In 2005, Johansen and Sylvain announced that they would go on tour with a new line-up and even release a new album. The new band included Johansen, Sylvain, guitarist Steve Conte, former Hanoi Rocks bassist Sami Yaffa, drummer Brian Delaney, and keyboarist Brian Koonin. In 2006, One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This was released. While some were against the idea of the Dolls reuniting with most of the members dead, the album received positive reviews and it got the band back on the music scene. In 2009, the band released Cause I Sez So. The album saw the band reunited with Todd Rundgren, who had produced the first album. As of 2011, the New York Dolls are planning yet another tour and another album. The current line-up is David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain, Brian Delaney, former Blondie guitarist Frank Infante, and bassist Jason Hill. The band’s fifth album, Dancing Backward in High Heels, will be released on March 15, 2011.

Recommended albums: New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon

Personal Thoughts: For the longest time until 2006, the Dolls only had two studio albums. Both of them are great. I personally prefer the debut over Too Much Too Soon (like many others). If you really like both of those albums, consider on getting the reunion albums: One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This and Cause I Sez So. Both are great albums.

Recommended songs: Personality Crisis, Looking for A Kiss, Trash, Jet Boy, Pills, Stranded in the Jungle, Babylon, Human Being, Chatterbox, Who Are The Mystery Girls?, We’re All In Love, Dance Like A Monkey, Cause I Sez So

Recommended compilations: There aren’t too many. There are two that I know of. One is the 20th Century Masters one, which has covered many artists. The problem with that series is that their song selection is too short. Personally, I’d get Rock N Roll which is a compilation that contains the best of the first two albums and even throws in some unreleased studio material. But seriously, I would get the first two studio albums. You can decide for yourself which songs are the best. 

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