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The New York Dolls were an American rock band formed in New York City in 1971. Along with the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, they were one of the first bands of the early punk rock scenes. Although the band never achieved much commercial success and their original line-up fell apart quickly, the band's first two albums—New York Dolls (1973) and Too Much Too Soon (1974)—became among the most popular cult records in rock. The line-up at this time comprised vocalist David Johansen, guitarist Johnny Thunders, bassist Arthur Kane, guitarist and pianist Sylvain Sylvain and drummer Jerry Nolan; the latter two had replaced Rick Rivets and Billy Murcia, respectively, in 1972.
On stage, they donned an androgynous wardrobe, wearing high heels, eccentric hats, satin, makeup, spandex, and dresses. Nolan described the group in 1974 as "the Dead End Kids of today". After Thunders, Nolan and Kane all left in spring 1975, Johansen and Sylvain continued the band with other musicians until the end of 1976.
According to the Encyclopedia of Popular Music (1995), the New York Dolls predated the punk and glam metal movements and were "one of the most influential rock bands of the last 20 years". They influenced rock groups such as the Sex Pistols, Kiss, the Ramones, Guns N' Roses, the Damned, and the Smiths, whose frontman Morrissey organized a reunion show for the New York Dolls' surviving members in 2004.
Sylvain Sylvain and Billy Murcia, who went to junior high school and high school together, started playing in a band called "the Pox" in 1967. After the frontman quit, Murcia and Sylvain started a clothing business called Truth and Soul and Sylvain took a job at A Different Drummer, a men's boutique that was across the street from the New York Doll Hospital, a doll repair shop. Sylvain said that the shop inspired the name for their future band. In 1970 they formed a band again and recruited Johnny Thunders to join on bass, though Sylvain ended up teaching him to play guitar. They called themselves the Dolls. When Sylvain left the band to spend a few months in London, Thunders and Murcia went their separate ways.
Thunders was eventually recruited by Kane and Rick Rivets, who had been playing together in the Bronx. At Thunders' suggestion, Murcia replaced the original drummer. Thunders played lead guitar and sang for the band Actress. An October 1971 rehearsal tape recorded by Rivets was released as Dawn of the Dolls. When Thunders decided that he no longer wanted to be the front man, David Johansen joined the band. Initially, the group was composed of singer David Johansen, guitarists Johnny Thunders and Rick Rivets (who was replaced by Sylvain Sylvain after a few months), bass guitarist Arthur "Killer" Kane and drummer Billy Murcia.
In the band's early days, the New York Dolls performed at the Mercer Art Center, where Ruby and the Rednecks opened for and were influenced by them.
Billy Murcia's death
While on a brief tour of England in 1972, Murcia was invited to a party, where he passed out from an accidental overdose. He was put in a bathtub and force-fed coffee in an attempt to revive him. Instead, it resulted in asphyxiation. He was found dead on the morning of November 6, 1972, at the age of 21.
Once back in New York, the Dolls auditioned drummers, including Marc Bell (who was to go on to play with Richard Hell, and with the Ramones under the stage name "Marky Ramone"), Peter Criscuola (better known as Peter Criss, the original and former drummer of Kiss), and Jerry Nolan, a friend of the band. They selected Nolan, and after US Mercury Records' A&R man Paul Nelson signed them, they began sessions for their debut album. In 1972, the band took on Marty Thau as manager.
For their next album, Too Much Too Soon, the quintet hired producer George "Shadow" Morton, whose productions for the Shangri-Las and other girl-groups in the mid-1960s had been among the band's favorites. Mercury dropped the Dolls on 7 October 1975, their contract with Mercury having expired on 8 August 1975 - five months after Thunders' and Nolan's departures from the band.
By 1975, the Dolls were playing smaller venues than they had been previously. Drug and alcohol abuse by Thunders, Nolan, and Kane, as well as artistic differences added to the tensions among members. In late February or early March, Malcolm McLaren became their informal manager.
He got the band red leather outfits to wear on stage and a communist flag as backdrop. The Dolls did a five-concert tour of New York's five boroughs, supported by Television and Pure Hell. The Little Hippodrome (Manhattan) show was recorded and released by Fan Club records in 1982 as Red Patent Leather. It was originally a bootleg album that was later remixed by Sylvain, with former manager Marty Thau credited as executive producer. Due to Kane being unable to play that night, roadie Peter Jordan played bass, though he was credited as having played "second bass". Jordan filled in for Kane when he was too inebriated to play.
In March and April, McLaren took the band on a tour of South Carolina and Florida. Jordan replaced Kane for most of those shows. Thunders and Nolan left after an argument. Blackie Lawless, who later found W.A.S.P., replaced Thunders for the remainder of the tour after which the band broke up.
The band reformed in July for an August tour in Japan with Jeff Beck and Felix Pappalardi. Johansen, Sylvain and Jordan were joined by former Elephant's Memory keyboardist Chris Robison and drummer Tony Machine. One of the shows was documented on the album Tokyo Dolls Live (Fan Club/New Rose). The material is similar to that on Red Patent Leather, but notable for a radically re-arranged "Frankenstein" and a cover of Big Joe Turner's "Flip Flop Fly." The album is undated and has no production credit, but was issued circa 1986.
After their return to New York, the Dolls resumed playing shows in the US and Canada. Their show at the Beacon Theater, on New Year's Eve, 1975 met with great critical acclaim. After a drunken argument with Sylvain, Robison was fired and replaced by pianist/keyboardist Bobbie Blaine. The group toured throughout 1976, performing a set including some songs with lyrics by David Johansen that would later appear on David Johansen's solo albums including "Funky But Chic", "Frenchette" and "Wreckless Crazy.” The group played its last show December 30, 1976 at Max's Kansas City; on the same bill as Blondie.
Shortly after returning from Florida, Thunders and Nolan formed The Heartbreakers with bassist Richard Hell, who had left Television the same week that they quit the Dolls. Thunders later pursued a solo career. He died in New Orleans in 1991, allegedly of an overdose of both heroin and methadone. It also came to light that he suffered from t-cell leukemia. Nolan died in 1992 following a stroke, brought about by bacterial meningitis. In 1976, Kane and Blackie Lawless formed the Killer Kane Band in Los Angeles. Immediately after the New York Dolls' second breakup, Johansen began a solo career. By the late 1980s, he achieved moderate success under the pseudonym, Buster Poindexter. Sylvain formed The Criminals, a popular band at CBGB.
Sylvain formed his own band, The Criminals, then cut a solo album for RCA, while also working with Johansen. He later became a taxicab driver in New York.
Johansen, meanwhile, formed the David Johansen Group, and released an eponymous LP in 1978, recorded at the Bottom Line in NYC’s Greenwich Village,featuring Sylvain Mizrahi and Johnny Thunders as guest musicians.
In May, 1978, he also released “David Johansen,” on Blue Sky Records, a label created by Steve Paul, formerly of The Scene. Johansen continued to tour with his solo project and released four more albums, In Style, 1979; Here Comes the Night, 1981; Live it Up, 1982; and Sweet Revenge, 1984.
During the later 1980’s, Johansen, ever-evolving, decided to try to liberate himself from the expectations of his New York Dolls perceived persona, and, on a whim, created the persona Buster Poindexter.
The success of this act led him to be invited to appear in multiple films: “Scrooged,” “Freejack, “Let it Ride” among others.
He also formed a band called The Harry Smiths David Johansen and the Harry Smithsnamed after the eccentric ethnomusicologist, performing jump blues, Delta blues, and some original songs.
According to AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine, the New York Dolls developed an original style of hard rock that presaged both punk rock and heavy metal music, and drew on elements such as the "dirty rock & roll" of the Rolling Stones, the "anarchic noise" of the Stooges, the glam rock of David Bowie and T. Rex, and girl group pop music. Erlewine credited the band for creating punk rock "before there was a term for it." Ken Tucker, who referred to them as a proto-punk band, wrote that they were strongly influenced by the "New York sensibility" of Lou Reed: "The mean wisecracks and impassioned cynicism that informed the Dolls' songs represented an attitude that Reed's work with the Velvet Underground embodied, as did the Dolls' distinct lack of musicianship."
When they began performing, four of the band's five members wore Spandex and platform boots, while Johansen—the band's lyricist and "conceptmaster"— often preferred high heels and a dress occasionally. Glam rock "look of androgyny—leather and knee-length boots, chest hair, and bleach". According to James McNair of The Independent, "when they began pedalling [sic] their trashy glam-punk around lower Manhattan in 1971, they were more burlesque act than band; a bunch of lipsticked, gutter chic-endorsing cross-dressers". Music journalist Nick Kent argued that the New York Dolls were "quintessential glam rockers" because of their flamboyant fashion, while their technical shortcomings as musicians and Johnny Thunders' "trouble-prone presence" gave them a punk-rock reputation.
By contrast, Robert Christgau preferred for them to not be categorized as a glam rock band, but instead as "the best hard-rock band since the Rolling Stones". Robert Hilburn, writing for the Los Angeles Times, said that the band exhibited a strong influence from the Rolling Stones, but had distinguished themselves by Too Much Too Soon (1974) as "a much more independent, original force" because of their "definite touch of the humor and carefreeness of early (ie. mid-1950s) rock". Simon Reynolds felt that, by their 2009 album Cause I Sez So, the band exhibited the sound "not of the sloppy, rambunctious Dolls of punk mythology but of a tight, lean hard-rock band."
Blue Rock Studio, NYC June 1972
01. Bad Girl 03:46
02. Looking For A Kiss 03:43
03. Don't Start Me Talking (Written-By – Williamson) 03:42
04. Don't Mess With Cupid (Written-By – Parker, Floyd, Cropper) 03:07
05. Human Being 06:16
06. Personality Crisis 4:13
07. Pills (Written-By – McDaniel) 03:15
08. Jet Boy 05:14
09. Frankenstein 07:03
Escape Studios, England October 1972
10. Personality Crisis 04:04
11. Looking For A Kiss 03:27
12. Bad Girl 03:27
13. Subway Train 04:44
Planet Studios, NYC, March 1973
14. Seven Day Weekend (Written-By – Pomus, Shuman) 03:23
15. Frankenstein 05:43
16. Mystery Girls 02:57
17. (There's Gonna Be A) Showdown (Written-By – Huff, Gamble) 01:34
18. Back In The USA (Written-By – Berry) 02:15
Planet Studios, NYC, March 1973 Contd.
01. Endless Party 06:17
02. Jet Boy 04:46
03. It's Too Late (False Start) 01:27
04. It's Too Late (Full Version) 03:29
05. Bad Detective (Written-By – Lewis) 03:29
06. Lonely Planet Boy 04:07
07. Subway Train 05:00
08. Private World (Written-By – Kane) 03:48
09. Trash 03:10
10. Human Being 05:56
11. Don't Start Me Talking (Written-By – Williamson) 03:20
12. Hoochie Coochie Man (Written-By – Dixon) 04:33
13. (Give Him A) Great Big Kiss (Written-By – Morton) 03:35
14. Vietnamese Baby 03:36
15. Babylon 03:27
16. Bad Girl 03:16
17. Pills (UWritten-By – McDanie) 03:21
18. Personality Crisis 03:58