Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

NEW YORK DOLLS

Rock group formed in 1971. They never had any hits but their image was an enormous influence. The original lineup was Johnny Thunders (b John Genzale, d 25 April '91 in New Orleans of drug overdose) and Rick Rivets, guitars; Arthur Kane, bass (d 13 July 2004 aged 55 of leukemia, shortly after the group played a reunion); Billy Murcia (b '51; d 6 Nov. '72, London), drums. They added singer David Johansen (b 9 Jan. '50, Staten Island NY). Murcia died of drink and drugs on a UK tour, where they impressed with a trash-rock stance combining Rolling Stones raunch (Johansen visually like Jagger) and repertoire swiped freely from USA rock (MC5), girl groups (the Shangri-Las), etc. Murcia was replaced with Jerry Nolan and Rivets with Sylvain Sylvain before eponymous debut LP '73, but of the glam-rock image only amateurishness transferred to vinyl; even producer Todd Rundgren couldn't save it (he later described them as a 'novelty act'). But critical excitement (in the heyday of Alice Cooper, the Sweet) kept them going through Too Much Too Soon '74, produced by Shadow Morton; by then their fan club had melted away. Mercury dropped them; Malcolm McLaren briefly managed them and, enchanted by their posing and defiance of musical criteria, returned to London to create the Sex Pistols after the Dolls failed to adopt his 'red leather and Soviet flag' image.

Thunders and Nolan formed the Heartbreakers (no relation to the Tom Petty band), aligned themselves with UK punk in LP LAMF '77, continued chronicling Thunders' love affair with drugs; a further album was Live At Max's Kansas City '79. Johansen and Sylvain worked together until '79 under Dolls' name or Johansen's; Johansen went commercial with LPs on Steve Paul's Blue Sky label, of which In Style '79, Here Comes The Night '81, Live It Up '82 reached Billboard's Top 200 LPs; Sweet Revenge came out on Passport. Sylvain released two flop LPs on RCA. The Dolls obtained posthumous fame when cited by New Wave (see their entry) as one of the first punk acts, by which was meant their couldn't-care-less attitude. Their LPs were reissued and a '72-vintage cassette-only album Lipstick Killers on ROIR. In their day just another glam-rock act, ten years on groups like Hanoi Rocks were still imitating them.

Johansen came back with Buster Poindexter '87 on RCA, a new persona mining songs from standards to soca developed from an affectionately tacky cabaret act in NYC clubs, with Joe Delia on piano, Tony Machine on drums, Soozy (Tyrell Kirschner) singing duets; about his earlier career he said, 'I was just doing a rock oriented or a teen-oriented show -- you know, for rebels without a clue.' Buster's Happy Hour '94 came out on Rhino/Sequel, followed by Latin-flavoured Buster's Spanish Rocket Ship; he also appeared on TV's Saturday Night Live, played a crooked record promoter in a Miami Vice episode, had a cameo in film Married To The Mob.