memories of the ’70s – New York Dolls

In the early 1970s, the mixture of art, glam, punk and music was best found in the one of early adopters of the New York punk scene: the New York Dolls.

Influenced by the sounds of MC5 and The Stooges, the New York Dolls in its early incarnation had a changing lineup, but for its first official gig, featured David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain, Billy Murcia, Johnny Thunders and Arthur “Killer” Kane.

Sylvain and Murcia had gone to highschool together and had been in the band Dolls with Johnny Thunders, which broke up after Sylvain went to the UK for several months.

Meanwhile Kane and Thunders had been in a band Actress which released their album Dawn of the Dolls in 1971.

The first gig for the New York Dolls was a New York City homeless shelter, the Endicott Hotel on Christmas Eve 1971.

Getting some attention for their unique mix of rock and blues and distinct stage presence, the band was invited to the UK by Rod Stewart to be his opening act for a London concert. Murcia unfortunately died during this trip, drowning after heavily partying on drugs and alcohol.

The band hired Jerry Nolan to be their new drummer, signed a record deal with Mercury Records and headed into the studio to record their first album New York Dolls, produced by singer Todd Rundgren.

Despite the mixed reviews when the album was released in 1973, the band performed regularly and started touring, eventually touring across Europe, with their song “Personality Crisis” becoming a live favourite.

Critics described them as punk, glam rock, protopunk and glam punk – coupled with outlandish and unforgettable stage presence and elaborate makeup and costumes, the band was definitely making its mark on the music industry.

In 1973, New York Dolls were voted the best and worst new band of the year in Creem Magazine. Their next album Too Much Too Soon, was produced by Shadow Morton in 1974, well known for his work with girl groups. This would be their last studio album, as Mercury Records dropped the band from the label in 1975.

During a tour through Florida in 1975, Thunders and Nolan left the band, while the remaining three hired replacements as they continued on to tour Japan, resulting in a live album Tokyo Dolls Live. Johansen and Sylvain continued on for two more years with various musicians as the New York Dolls, with their final live shows in 1977.

I remember reading an interview with David Johansen in the late 1980s, then a solo artist, and went looking for the New York Dolls music, which I soon found had influenced many bands, from KISS to the Talking Heads.

A bright flash of a few years led this band to be in the spotlight of New York City’s music scene – a bright flash that influenced many later bands to make a musical statement.