The genre many know today as punk rock goes back a long way, over thirty years. Many say it began with "proto punk" bands such as The MC5
, The Velvet Underground
and The Stooges
in Michigan during the late sixties. These bands brought something very different into most music happening at the time. Contrary to many pop bands with a clean image; they brought sleaze, attitude, recluse lyrics and a dirty raw sound. While owing great debt to The Rolling Stones and the previous mentioned bands as influences, new similar bands started to gain recognition and popularity (though not mainstream of course) and people were starting to notice what was happening on the scene. Simultaneously in New York, bands like Television
, The Ramones
and this band, The New York Dolls were formed and would further develop the genre. Each member of the New York Dolls was playing in local bands around New York City in the early seventies before finally forming in late 1971. Various line up changes occurred prior to the bands final members which included original drummer Billy Mercia who died of a drug overdose, being replaced by a drummer by the name of Jerry Nolan and original guitarist Rick Rivetts who was replaced by Sylvain Slyvain a few months after the band's origin. Finally the band was set, with these new members along with David Johansen on lead vocals with Johnny Thunders on guitar, and Arthur Kane on bass to complete the classic lineup. The New York Dolls' New York Dolls
is listed at # 213 on Rolling Stone Magazine's 500 greatest albums of all time.
Something that stood apart from the New York Dolls compared to other bands was their very strange appearance. The band's infatuation with cross dressing drew influence from the original glam rocker himself, David Bowie (among others), and both would often be cited as stage setters to the countless glam-metal bands years later in the eighties who would dress the part as well. But it was the wardrobe that would tend to scare record labels into signing them. But eventually, the New York Dolls were signed to the Mercury label, and would record their debut self titled album to be released in the summer of '73. And while this album (or the band) isn't a basic punk album by many's standard's, it's influence goes far and they're are elements of punk here that would later be expanded on by other bands. The album, consisting of eleven tracks, is fairly long one for this many songs, with only one song under three minutes to the almost six minute Frankenstein
. This debut album shows why they are one of the pioneers of the genre and why this is essential to a fan of rock and roll or punk, regardless if it sounds like anything today. Many musical elements come into play here including pop, blues, punk to rock & roll with the effective use of other instruments such as the piano and harmonica making for a unique sound. Lead singer Dave Johansen doesn't have the most technically skilled voice, but fits the music well with his harsh vocals with a touch of humor, and ability to hit different notes as well. His lightly toned voice on Lonely Planet Boy
contrasts well with his harsh vocals on Personality Crisis
, and shows two different sides. And the band itself, while again not being the greatest at their respective instruments, delivers a solid performance, especially for the time of the album and the sound production at the time. The two guitarists, the popular Johnny Thunders and Syl Sylvain are able to play various raw punk style riffs like on Vietnamese Baby
, and bluesy ones demonstrated on Jet Boy
. And there are not very many solos, but there is the odd one thrown in here and there, which are done well, most noticeably on Bad Girl
. Bassist Arthur Kane's best work shows on tracks like Looking for a Kiss and Trash. And lastly, drummer Jerry Nolan is a key part to the band, obviously as being the drummer, but one of the better musicians in the band. He keeps it simple, but shines through on songs like Bad Girl
. But on the downfall, sometimes the production makes it difficult to really show his best work, and it's sometimes overshadowed by the guitars.
Lyrically, the band covers a variety of subjects, ranging from the meaningful to the plain silly. Leaning more to the silly side. The album opener Personality Crisis
talks about trying to be someone you're not, or around the lines of these, and fit into the music on the scene. Other songs like Subway Train
tell what sounds like personal stories with lyrics like "We was all riding, right on the Subway Train, and you can hear the captain shouting, He thinks I've gone insane"
. But sometimes, David slurs the lyrics, making them difficult to understand at times, but in a way you can still understand where he's coming from. A main part of the words here deal with something that reflects the bands appearance, something that would be dominant in later hair metal bands, that being raunchy lyrics that sound as though Poison could have sang them a decade later. Songs like these make it clear in the titles, Looking for a Kiss
, Bad Girl
, and Lonely Planet Boy
. Although they aren't the greatest lyrics, they're pretty humorous and make for a fun listen with lyrics from Bad Girl
like "A new bad girl, who get on my block I gave her my keys, said don't bother to knock, I said c'mon, ya got what I need"
and from Looking for a Kiss: "You think it's bad, but you know that its true; So why don't let me live baby; When I'm lookin' for a kiss"
. To sum it up in short, lyric-wise there is something for every occasion, the fun, and the serious, to the ridiculous.
Although the New York Dolls were only around for a short period of time in their prime, they left their mark and some signature songs. And this album has most of the best tunes they made in their day. The album opener Personality Crisis
sets a fun filled tone with the howling of Dave over the guitar riff and piano complete with the backing vocal effect in the chorus. Needless to say, it starts the album in a good way, and makes for a memorable song too. Probably the best song on the album, or at least my favorite would have to be Vietnamese Baby
, probably the most punk-esque type song here, but still hinting various other genres. It doesn't really have the fun of the other songs, but loses it for the better I think. Built around a brooding riff, with admirable guitar work, it is definitely one of the better here. Subway Train
both exemplify the band's ability to play great rock songs. Trash
is extremely catchy, driven by Kane's bass hook, and Dave's immense vocals, backed up by the band. Subway Train
follows along the same lines as Trash, but a tempo down a notch. The instrumental work is nothing really special here and even sounds messy at times in the chorus, but brings a very mellow feel in the verse. Both songs are pleasant additions to the album.
But not every here song can be up to standards of the preceding ones. The slower Lonely Planet Boy
shows the band trying something different but seems out of place. The 'glam-rock ballad' is sung well and calmly, but drags on at it long at over four minutes, and with no real change of pace. The record also features a Bo Diddley cover, the very bluesy Pills
. With some very odd lyrics along with some distorted guitar and harmonica (or what sounds like), it is one of the heavier songs on the album as well as the shortest, but not a lesser track. The longest song on the album, Frankenstein
, at over five and a half minutes, it has one of Johansen's best vocals displays on the album, as he sings with intensity and power as it builds up. It is quite heavy, and although doesn't seem to drag on. Like Vietnamese Baby
, this one has a more serious feel to it. The album closer Jet Boy
ends the album on a rocking note. Showcasing a very simple but efficient guitar riff and Dave's dominant vocals highlights this one. The guitar duo also delivers one of its best performances on the record. It ends the album on a note the same way it started; a fun rocking song.
New York Doll's self titled album is a vital record in punk/rock. It has been said that this album inspired a countless number of bands after them including several bands in the UK a few years after this. But not only punk did they influence, but many glam-rock bands that came later as well. Like The Stooges and other of similar genres, there is nothing amazing instrumentally here, but the raw feel, originality and attitude makes it a true pioneering punk album.