New York Dolls – New York Dolls (1973): Review

Label – Mercury
Producer – Todd Rundgren

There was a time, many years ago, when music TV presenters could speak their minds. There was none of the sycophantic cuddling up and overtly flowery language we see and hear today. New York Dolls first live appearance in 1973, on UK TV show “The Old Grey Whistle Test” was introduced in disparaging tones as “mock rock” by that venerable hippy, ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris. “They are to the Rolling Stones, what The Monkees were to The Beatles” he quipped, and a small nation of young, alienated teenagers (including one, Steven Morrissey) saw this as a call to arms against the music establishment that Harris was so firmly rooted in. Their performance of “Personality Crisis” was typically ramshackle, loose, but nonetheless charming in its brash exuberance. They dressed like filthy sluts, singer David Johansen prancing around like Jagger’s delinquent sister, whilst guitarists Johnny Thunders and Sylvain Sylvain attempted to match the singer’s howls with sympathetically raucous musical support. Part of the appeal must have been their wilful commitment to the excesses of glam, which had by this time crossed over to mainstream audiences via Marc Bolan, David Bowie and many others.

Many critics cite “New York Dolls” as one of the archetypal Proto-punk recordings. It’s not. For whilst the band’s swaggering attitude may be considered a blueprint for all that happened post 1976, the music is heavily influenced by The Rolling Stones. Johnny Thunder’s stormy licks are indebted to Keith Richards and to a lesser extent, Chuck Berry. The lead off track, and signature tune, “Personality Crisis”, borrows heavily from “Let’s Spend The Night Together”; even down to the Bar room Piano melody. “Looking For A Kiss” carries a simple Berry riff that Marc Bolan had used previously for “Get It On” from his “Electric Warrior” album. “Subway Train” sounds like a cast off from any number of late 60s Stones albums. Johansen’s street wise chronicles of New York’s underbelly articulate to an entourage of disaffected teens (particularly in the U.K.), the highlights of which are the opener, “Trash”, and the closer “Jet Boy”.

There isn’t a musical move you haven’t heard somewhere in some form already, but one has to give New York Dolls credit for their original trashy aesthetic, and their highly charged rough and ready delivery. Sadly, the songs never matched the image, and looking back, there’s some substance to Bob Harris’ withering introduction.

6/10

A1 Personality Crisis 3:42
A2 Looking for a Kiss 3:19
A3 Vietnamese Baby 3:39
A4 Lonely Planet Boy 4:08
A5 Frankenstein 5:58
B1 Trash 3:07
B2 Bad Girl 3:03
B3 Subway Train 4:20
B4 Pills 2:48
B5 Private World 3:39
B6 Jet Boy 4:40

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