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What I’m listening to this week: New York Dolls

May 30, 2009

New York Dolls – 1973

During SXSW a few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend Rachael Ray’s Mojito party at Maggie May’s here in Austin.  The main reason I had wanted to go was, of course, the mojitos and the food (which didn’t disappoint), but Rachael was also kicking off the start of the SXSW music festival and had an interesting line up of bands scheduled.  After wandering around, taking in some shows, and indulging in the free food and drink, my husband and I had the fortunate experience of finding ourselves in the “ultra-VIP” room quite by accident.  While hanging out, we couldn’t help but notice that there seemed to be an awful lot of hip-looking punk band types around.  Sure enough, we recognized the members of Semi Precious Weapons, a band we’d just watched, as they strutted in.  This is no great credit to us; it would have been impossible to miss them.

Several minutes later, we saw some elder statesmen of punk come in…and had no clue who they were, save the fact that a drunk lady kept asking me if one of them was Mick Jagger.  To make a long story short, those men dressed like rock stars turned out to be the New York Dolls, and thanks to one of Rachael Ray’s many handlers, I found myself kneeling on the front of the stage filming them (the footage is featured briefly in this short doc) as they blasted out Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” for a wildly enthusiastic crowd.  One of the best stories ever, and a whole hell of a lot of fun.

Very shortly after that, we rented the documentary “New York Doll”, learned more about the band’s history, and picked up their classic album, New York Dolls.  This proto-punk album is everything you would expect.  The band was heavily influenced by the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, but on this album, invented their own thrashing, drug-fueled sound that would influence nearly every other major punk band to come out of the 1970s.  Listening to New York Dolls for the first time in 2009, you immediately recognize sounds present in punk rock all the way down to the pop-punk of the 90s, but it’s definitely fascinating to think about the fact that genre-defining bands like the Clash found their inspiration here.

The whole album is free-wheeling, highly energetic, and noisy without apology, and the standout songs are the openers “Personality Crisis” and “Looking For A Kiss”, two songs that sound just as fresh now as they must have then.  The vaguely menacing “Frankenstein”, poppy “Trash”, swamp-bluesy “Bad Girl”, and classically punk “Jet Boy” are all choice hedonistic power songs.

It can be difficult to hear New York Dolls and remember that they were at the start of it all; but it’s also a credit that their sound is still relevant and exciting more than 30 years later.  The proof is that they just released a new album and are still touring, albeit without the makeup and wigs.  If you don’t own this album, get it and have a blast.

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