Tuesday, October 30, 2007

No. 213: The New York Dolls

Band: The New York Dolls
Album: The New York Dolls
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Supposedly, the New York Dolls were the band that Malcom McLaren saw in the States and that he stole from, stylistically, when he formed the Sex Pistols. The band's sound was an extension of the Stooges', only sludgier and more referential. It is considered by some to be the ultimate proto-punk album.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm not sure they do.It's not my favorite thing, but I understand its import in the grand scheme of rock and roll.
Best song: "Looking For A Kiss" is classic.
Worst song: I don't love "Frankenstein."
Is it awesome?: It's not terrible, but it's not my thing.

The first thing I notcied in listening to this record for the first time since college is how much the guitar sound is like Steve Jones' (of the Sex Pistols). Johnny Thunders' small blues licks at the end of easy punk riffs echo so much of “God Save The Queen,” it's amazing. Indeed, the Dolls are the missing link between the Stooges/MC5 and the Sex Pistols/Ramones.

Like the Stooges and MC5, the band's sound was something of a Stones cop, only harder, faster and meaner. And like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, they boiled it down to, basically, brass tacks.


One thing that's great about the timing of punk rock is that you can establish, basically, the entire gestation of the form. As compared to rock n' roll proper, so much of the prototype bands found an audience before the form was fully in place, plus you can trace a clear lineage from the Mod bands to art-rock to the protopunk bands to actual punk rock.

The Dolls fit well into that timeline. They took a great deal of stylistic cues from glam, even dressing like boys playing dress-up in their mothers' closet. Their garish sound took much from blues – those riffs – but didn't hold peace and love in the same reverence as the Bowies and T Rexes of the world. Indeed, they were the Stooges' equal in bitterness.

Look at the subjects they sang about. “Looking For A Kiss” tackles the groupie/rock and roll scene of the New York they inhabited. The oft-quoted line, "Everyone's going to your house to shoot up in your room/Most of them are beautiful but so obsessed with gloom," reeks of disdain for the pretentious art students that inhabited the Dolls' world. “Lonely Planet Boy” is the only song on the record with a hopeful tone, and even it is a breakup song. “Trash” is lyrically sparse, but begins with a Bo Diddley homage and falls into different beats beautifully. “Personality Crisis” hits the often enoyed mental illness song style.

So, yes. They were unique.


There's also the issue of David Johansen. I'm of the age that his novelty song “Hot Hot Hot” (as Buster Poindexter) was popular when I was a little kid, so my knowledge of the Dolls is largely based upon the notion that the “Hot Hot Hot” guy was in a band in the 70s. He dressed like a girl.

It really means nothing, but I still find it weird.


Todd Rundgren produced the record, which is just a little weird. He adds sax and multiple guitars to create a bigger sound than the Dolls had originally intended. It sounds wonderful.

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