Thirty Five years later it still sounds as raw and snotty as ever.
Chris Jones 2007
Never as bad as the press at the time held them to be, The New York Dolls are probably the point where style definitely won over substance. Their influence can be felt just as much in their dress sense and openly dysfunctional behaviour as in their sometimes questionable musical output. But that doesn’t stop their debut album being one of the most visceral, thrilling rides ever released. Thirty Five years later it still sounds as raw and snotty as ever.
By the time this album was released they’d already packed enough rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle into their three years existence than most bands get in a lifetime. Having supported Rod Stewart, lost a drummer to heroin and lived as hard as their songs suggested, they’d emerged from a residency in New York’s Mercer Arts Center as both pariahs and icons. Hated by the old guard (Bob Harris’ sneering intro on the Old Grey Whistle Test showed exactly what his generation thought of these preening transvestite lookalikes) they gave early hope to a teen audience sick of bloated prog and muso posturing.
For their first album they’d taken the rather unusual step of hiring the decidedly muso Todd Rundgren. Legend has it that he’d been taken to see the band to demonstrate how awful they were, but decided that he liked them anyway. In the studio he took a largely hands-off approach which captured them in their raw essence. To this day fans blame Todd for the album’s somewhat muzzy tone, but the truth is that the band were victims of their own snobbishness; wresting the tapes from him before he could mix it properly.
No matter. The New York Dolls is a powerhouse of Stones swagger, bluesy attitude, garage punk sloppiness and 60s girl group pastiche. From the opening scream of “Personality Crisis” (which still sounds similar to Noddy Holder’s) via the social commentary of “Vietnamese baby” and chronicling of NY’s demi-monde in “Looking For A Kiss”, “Subway Train” or “Bad Girl” it appealed equally to fans of the MC5, glam or heavy metal. No one at this time had combined all this into a single band. The riffs of Johnny Thunders and the bawling of David Johansen gave birth to big hair metal as well as punk and still sounds like the end of civilisation. As their follow-up was so rightly named, Too Much Too Soon, it couldn’t last. But today their debut still startles on every listen.