When I say I'm in love you'd best believe I'm in love L-U-V!
- "Looking for a Kiss"
Formation of the Dolls
American glam-punk band that formed in New York City in December of 1971. The original line-up stood as follows: David Jo Hansen* on vocals, Rick Rivets and Johnny Thunders on guitar, Arthur "Killer" Kane on bass and Billy Murcia on drums. This version of the Dolls played their first show on Christmas Eve of that year, at New York's Endicott Hotel. In 1972, after a show at the Mercer Arts Center, where they would play many of their shows, they signed with a manager, Marty Thau, and began to really take shape. Sylvain Sylvain also replaced Rick Rivets around this time. Their manager hired two former agents from William Morris to deal with touring issues, and the team set out with the task of exposing the Dolls to a larger crowd; the Dolls weren't known outside of the New York scene at the time.
The group went to London in October of 1972, opening for Rod Stewart and The Faces. The Wembley Stadium's audience of around thirteen thousand people was substantially larger than their usual crowd of a few hundred. As was the usual reaction to the Dolls, some loved them, some hated them. Many labels showed interest in them, despite being terrified of their antics, but before they could be signed, tragedy intervened. On November 6th, Billy Murcia, the drummer, passed out after drinking and taking Mandrakes. Either his girlfriend or groupies decided to place him in a cold bath and try to force him to drink coffee, which he choked on. He died of asphyxiation, not a drug overdose as most came to believe. The Dolls, badly shaken, quickly went back to New York.
All about that personality crisis you got it while it was hot
But now frustration and heartache is what you got
- "Personality Crisis"
The New New York Dolls
The death of Murcia drew even more attention to the band than before, but now record companies were far less receptive to the idea of signing an incomplete band. The decision was made to hire another drummer and within a month, Jerry Nolan signed on. The new incarnation of the New York Dolls played the Mercer Arts Center on December 19, 1972 to a crowd of four hundred and fifty people. The show was a big success and proved that the Dolls really were something special. Their managers booked shows all over New York City, which would have over-exposed other groups but people couldn't get enough of them. The band finally signed with Mercury Records and got ready to make their first record.
Their self-titled debut album was done in two weeks, at a cost of $17,000. The legendary Todd Rundgren produced, to mixed reactions: some thought he kept the Dolls on too short of a leash, but some felt the restraint he used on them was just right. The Dolls weren't crazy about the way he treated them and felt that he hadn't accurately encapsulated the pure manic energy that was their signature sound. The album debuted in July of that year. Johansen had penned most of the lyrics with Thunders, and occasionally with Sylvain. Songs like "Personality Crisis," "Looking for a Kiss" and "Trash" are considered punk classics, and the group even put their own spin on Bo Diddley's "Pills." While it was a critical success, the album didn't sell as well as hoped, reaching number 116 on the U.S. music charts.
There are hints of girl group pop and more than a hint of the Rolling Stones, but The New York Dolls doesn't really sound like anything that came before it. It's hard rock with a self-conscious wit, a celebration of camp and kitsch that retains a menacing, malevolent edge. The New York Dolls play as if they can barely keep the music from falling apart and David Johansen sings and screams like a man possessed. The New York Dolls is a noisy, reckless album that rocks and rolls with a vengeance. The Dolls rework old Chuck Berry and Stones riffs, playing them with a sloppy, violent glee. - Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide
Just before the band was about to kick off their national tour in L.A., the band had another setback: Kane's girlfriend, for reasons unknown, attempted to chop off his thumb, which forced the Dolls to use one of their roadies as a temporary replacement drummer. They played to a packed house at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go four nights in a row. The group also put in an appearance on the television show, Midnight Hour, which was seen nationwide and was the first time the country really got a look at the Dolls. Of course, their teased hair, lipsticked mouths, mile-high platforms, and skintight pants scared the hell out of middle America. The newspapers in Memphis featured articles cautioning parents to keep their kids away from their show, but the fans still turned out in droves, although Johansen was arrested on an obscenity charge when an overzealous fan hopped up onstage to kiss him on the cheek. They also appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test in the UK, much to the chagrin of host Bob Harris, who derided their "mock rock" as being "to the Stones what the Monkees were to the Beatles." In an interesting bout of publicity for the band, Creem simultaneously voted them the best and worst new group of the year.
The Dolls played a Halloween show at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in October of 1973, under the guise of a debutante ball. Three thousand people weren't admitted because there were already too many present, but the concert-goers left the place a mess anyway. Another disaster occurred while the Dolls were on a second European tour; an actual riot took place after more than four thousand people were denied entrance for the same problem, and police were called in. People were starting to think the Dolls were trouble.
New Record, New Look
The band's record label wanted the Dolls to make their follow-up album, which they did, with George "Shadow" Morton as their producer this time. Morton, who had worked with the Shangri-Las and many other girl groups in the sixties, managed to tone down the Dolls on this album, at least compared to the first one. Critics weren't as in love with Too Much Too Soon as they'd been with the group's debut, calling it overly commercial, but the record still wasn't a commercial success, peaking at number 167 on U.S. charts, and their record label dropped them soon after. Even worse, Thunders and Nolan had begun to abuse heroin, and that, combined with Kane's alcohol abuse, was a contentious issue for Sylvain, Johansen and the group's managers.
The Dolls prepared for another tour, with Aerosmith and Kiss opening for them. Attendance was inconsistent; the band could play to thousands one night and a few hundred another. Because of the lack of turnout, the band had to go back to playing smaller clubs. It looked like things were coming to an end and really, they were. Malcolm McLaren, who would later go on to manage the Sex Pistols, stepped in as manager, and succeeded in convincing the Dolls he could reignite their career. In some sort of reference to a Communist affiliation the group did not actually have, McLaren put the Dolls in head-to-toe red leather and had them perform their music with a Soviet flag in the background, which completely scared off any other record labels that may have been remotely interested in signing them.
After the Dolls
Nolan and Thunders had both left the band by mid-1975 to start the Heartbreakers with Richard Hell; Sylvain and Johansen kicked Kane out, hired replacements and discharged McLaren. The Dolls underwent several lineup changes as members came and left for about two years, and Sylvain and Johansen declared the band over in 1977.
David Johansen enjoyed a somewhat successful solo career and became known as Buster Poindexter during the eighties, (his song "Hot Hot Hot" was a smash hit) with Sylvain as his bandmate for about two years after the Dolls broke up, but Sylvain went on to start another band, the Criminals, and later went solo. The two got back together in the nineties for David Johansen and the Harry Smiths, a folk/blues band. Johansen also acted in a few films such as Scrooged, Married to the Mob, and The Fisher King; he also hosted his own show on VH1 for a time. Along with his career in the Heartbreakers, Thunders also released a few solo albums. He never kicked his drug habit and was found dead of an apparent heroin and methadone overdose on April 23, 1991 in a New Orleans hotel room. Nolan died a couple of months later on January 14th, 1992, after he had a stroke.
Everybody's Reuniting Nowadays
Morrissey, who at one time was the head of a UK-based New York Dolls fan club, asked the remaining band members to reunite for the 2004 Meltdown Festival, and their performances resulted in the release of a DVD and a live album from their shows. A documentary about Kane, New York Doll, was put into production and is slated to come out later this year, but sadly Kane would not survive to see it: he died suddenly of leukemia on July 13th, 2004.
The last two members of the Dolls declared their intentions of touring and releasing a third album. One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This debuted on July 25, 2006 and also showcased Steve Conte on guitar, Sami Yaffa on bass, Brian Koonin on keyboard and Brian Delaney on drums. The group performed on Late Night with Conan O'Brian on July 20th of this year and taped a segment for IFC's The Henry Rollins Show two days later. The Dolls also gave a free concert for the River to River Festival on August 18th of 2006, which was seen by nearly ten thousand people. They have continued to tour since then, releasing two new albums, Cause I Sez So and Dancing Backward in High Heels, in 2009 and 2011, respectively.
The Legacy of the Dolls
The Dolls didn't look or sound much like anyone that had come before them. They took the androgynous look and ran even further with it, all the while culling elements of sixties girl groups, rhythm and blues, glam-rock, the Rolling Stones, the Stooges and MC5 to create a look and a sound that preceded and influenced punk rock and metal in the eighties. And their performances were never dull, what with Sylvain falling off of his platform shoes, Johansen spitting on audience members before it became something that was commonplace at shows, and Thunders toppling off-stage and shooting up heroin while being hoisted back up. While the band was driven more by attitude than by musical ability, their fierce, uninhibited style of performing inspired countless other New York bands that would follow them and create the famed music scene that included Blondie, Talking Heads, the Ramones, Television, and the Neon Boys and Richard Hell and the Voidoids.
Oh can't you hear me callin'
I'm a thousand miles away
And I don't wanna stay
I'm thinkin' words I gotta say
- "Lonely Planet Boy"
*He would later change it to Johansen.
New York Dolls (1973, Mercury)
Seven Day Weekend (1973, Sanctuary/Trojan)
Too Much Too Soon (1974, Mercury)
Lipstick Killers: The Mercer Street Sessions 1972-1973 (1981, 1990, ROIR, ROIR/Important, ROIR) (ROIR / Important)
Red Patent Leather (1984, Fr. Fan Club)
Best of the New York Dolls (1985, UK Mercury)
Night of the Living Dolls (1986, Mercury)
Personality Crisis EP (1986, UK Kamera)
Paris Le Trash (1993)
Live In Concert, Paris 1974 (1998)
From Paris With Love (L.U.V.) (2002, Sympathy for the Record Industry)
Manhattan Mayhem (2003)
Morrissey Presents the Return of the New York Dolls Live From Royal Festival Hall (2004, Attack/Sanctuary)
One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This (2006)
Cause I Sez So (2009)
Dancing Backward in High Heels (2011)
New York Dolls / Too Much Too Soon (1977)
Very Best of New York Dolls (1977)
Night of the Living Dolls (1985)
The Best of the New York Dolls (1985)
New York Dolls + Too Much Too Soon (1987)
Super Best Collection (1990)
Paris Is Burning (1993, Skydog)
Rock'n Roll (1994, Mercury)
Hootchie Kootchie Dolls (1998)
The Glam Rock Hits (1999)
I'm A Human Being (1998, Sanctuary/Trojan)
The Glamorous Life Live (1999, Big Ear Music)
Street Trash (1999, Recall)
Actress: Birth of The New York Dolls (2000, Get Back)
Endless Party (2000)
Great Big Kiss (2002, Sanctuary)
Looking For A Kiss (2003)
20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: The Best of New York Dolls (2003)
All Music New York Dolls Biography. http://www.allmusicguide.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:51ud6j6h7190~T1
The History of Punk - The New York Dolls.
The Legend of the Lipstick Killers. http://www.popmatters.com/music/features/020625-nydolls.shtml
The New York Dolls. http://www.nostalgiacentral.com/music/newyorkdolls.htm
New York Dolls. http://www.nydolls.org
New York Dolls. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_Dolls
TrouserPress.com: New York Dolls. http://www.trouserpress.com/entry.php?a=new_york_dolls