This feature spotlights noteworthy reissues and compilations. Band: New York Dolls.
Title: "Night of the Living Dolls" (Mercury).
History: In 1973, when rock 'n' roll fans were trapped between the pretentious pomposities of stadium-filling supergroups and the equally pretentious, cut-rate cosmosities of supersensitive singer-songwriters, the New York Dolls came on like a break of fresh wind. Trashy, brassy and sassy, this brash quintet of New Yorkers camped it up like a closetful of queens, pouting 'n' preening 'n' teetering on six-inch platform shoes. Following a series of now-legendry gigs/parties at the Mercer Arts Center, the Dolls landed--not without difficulty--a record deal. Their '73 debut, "New York Dolls," produced by Todd Rundgren, was an instant classic. So was the largely underrated '74 follow-up, "Too Much, Too Soon," produced by Shadow Morton of Shangri-Las fame (and Vanilla Fudge infamy). They were also instant cut-outs as the band quickly dissolved in a morass of personal problems, and the tunes collected on "Night" have been unavailable in the U.S. for 10 years. Meanwhile, guitarist Johnny Thunders has had an on-again, off-again solo career. (He hits town for shows Thursday at the Spirit, Friday at Fender's, Saturday at the Coach House and March 24 at the Roxy.) Ditto for drummer Jerry Nolan and bassist Arthur Kane, on a somewhat smaller scale. Guitarist Sylvain Sylvain likewise took the solo route to limbo, while singer David Johansen made one magnificent solo album and three more progressively worse before he hung his hat in Manhattan, where he holds court as his alter ego, lounge act Buster Poindexter. Even though the Dolls never had a hit single, they remain among the most influential American rock bands of the '70s. Not only because Motley CrUe, Twisted Sister anD the like copped the Dolls' entire lipstick-killers look, but also because the Dolls' snotty-but-s'nice musical approach inspired the whole punk movement. Sex Pistols mastermind Malcom McLaren even managed the Doll-babes for a hot minute in the twilight of their daze.
Sound: Live, the Dolls could be amazingly sloppy or sloppily amazing, often within the same song. On record, they held it together a little better. For all the band's three-chord duel guitar boom-boom street-fight ramalama, Thunders and Johansen wrote brilliant songs. The kind with real hooks, verses, choruses, bridges and melodies that you could hear once and remember well enough to sing a week later. Not only that, you wanted to. They were also the absolute champs of false endings, spoken intros, snide asides--all the rock 'n' roll trix that gave the Dolls that undefinable kombonation of style, attitude, insouciance. From the howling, mind-splitting "Personality Crisis" to the hilarious, previously unreleased remake of the Shangri-Las' "Give Him a Great Big Kiss"--a staple of the Dolls' live shows--nine of "Night's" 10 tracks make for dancing faces and laughing feet. Uptown (their gassed-back, steppin' workout on Archie Bell & the Drells' "There's Gonna Be a Showdown"), downtown ("Babylon"), all around the town ("Trash"), this platter is purr-fect for parties, kats 'n' kittens. As Dobie Gray once sang, "Other guys imitate us, but the original's still the greatest. . . ." But this is one time when the reissue will do just fine, fine, superfine.