Never Heard of 'Em: New York Dolls

Never Heard of 'Em: New York Dolls

Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.


New York Dolls

I CAN'T DO THIS ANYMORE, YOU GUYS, I'M HAVING A BREAKDOWN. Phew. I just had to let that out. I mean, I can still do this column, I just can't do Nipper's recommendations two weeks in a row. Nipper, who literally sits in our offices inside a plastic booth and listens to records all day (I'm not kidding! You can visit him!), does not know how regular human ears work, and so I can tell when he's behind the picks for this column because they drive me bonkers.

Dude is great; he's like a library of music knowledge—totally unusable knowledge, because when he talks, so much weird shit comes out that you can't find the wisdom in between the mom jokes and the esoteric music slang. But everyone else who recommends albums for this column takes at least one second to question if they might drive me over the doom ledge. He only hears something that's like a synesthetic combination of the actual music sounds plus the encyclopedia entry on that band, all wound together in a big knowledge symphony.

So what I hear is a scrooooowowow of guitar, somebody pounding on a piano, and this lead singer screaming the way a baby does when it gets cartoony—its lips waggle and vibrate and you can tell the poor dear is going to run out of air.

New York Dolls are glam rock, which means something about outfits and that sometimes they sound like the soundtrack to a wacky musical. The first track has a lot of piano, and the screaming reaches baby level about halfway through. It hurts.

At first, I was trying to picture listening to this in some dark, 1970s New York place—a club, a warehouse, an apartment decorated in animal prints. But truthfully, without the extra genre-knowledge gained from looking at the album cover, this sounds like sunny road-trip music. Like you should listen to it while driving through golden afternoon fields in an old-fashioned car. "My pretty baby," etc. Sure, the snarls and gyrations come through. But there's something stately and traditional to the structure here, and if you don't listen to the words (it's cool, you can't understand half of them anyway), it's just bright, organized guitar jags and straightforward drumbeats building to crescendos. American as apple pie, porn titles with puns in them, and capitalism. It's fine.

I do not, however, understand how music nerds always forget that other people don't get a simultaneous microfiche slide show of history while they're listening to music. It's just sounds, dude! They have to stand on their own.

I give this a "sure, whatever" out of 10. recommended


Comments (17) RSS

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Larry Mizell, Jr. 1
Sounds about right.
Posted by Larry Mizell, Jr. on September 28, 2013 at 7:51 PM · Report this
inquiastador 2
Finally, someone who can admit that NYD were never as good as their legend would suggest.
Posted by inquiastador on September 29, 2013 at 11:47 AM · Report this
Fifty-Two-Eighty 3
Oh, hell, @2, I've been saying that for more than 40 years now — and I actually knew these guys. Yeah, it helped a lot if you were part of the whole Lou Reed/Todd Rundgren/Bebe Newell that was going on in New York at the time, but deep down, if anyone really told the truth, we were all kinda like "huh?"
Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty on September 29, 2013 at 12:22 PM · Report this
4 nerds always forget that other people don't get a simultaneous microfiche slide show of history while they're listening to music.

Posted by d.p. on September 29, 2013 at 12:30 PM · Report this
I say the same thing about watered down whiny pop (punk really?) of Nirvana.

The second and last NY Dolls album is much better and grittier.
Posted by neo-realist on September 29, 2013 at 12:55 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 6
The kids have been saying New York Dolls were more signifiers than good for at least a decade now. We like them, but they're not particularly good. It's almost harbingers.
Posted by TheMisanthrope on September 29, 2013 at 1:45 PM · Report this
When the Dolls played Bumbershoot in 2005 (opening for Iggy Pop in a one-two punch of nostalgia), they put on a really good show. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed them.
Posted by Monty on September 29, 2013 at 3:29 PM · Report this
@7, Check a documentary called All Dolled Up: A New York Dolls Story. Terrific live footage in not just the film, but the extras.

@6, if it wasn't for the Dolls, we wouldn't have Hair bands (and some may say that would have been a good thing)--No Motley Crue, no Poison, no WASP, no LA Guns.

We wouldn't have KISS either.
Posted by neo-realist on September 29, 2013 at 3:39 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 9

Yes, the Dolls were a trend...inside a trend!

So there was regular glam rock, like Marc Bolan in T. Rex and Sweet, and it did what it did and stayed there.

But then there were the New York Dolls which spawned punk and new wave because it simultaneously performed and mocked its own genre, it both created...and destroyed rock flamboyancy.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on September 29, 2013 at 4:19 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 10
@8 As I said...harbingers. Without them we wouldn't have X, Y or Z...but that doesn't mean they were GOOD.
Posted by TheMisanthrope on September 29, 2013 at 7:17 PM · Report this
bunnypuncher 11
@7 - Actually the Dolls headlined Day 1, and the Stooges headlined the final day (with Mudhoney opening!)
Posted by bunnypuncher on September 29, 2013 at 11:08 PM · Report this
And of course the lead singer of the Dolls became Buster Poindexter and told us all how Hot, Hot, Hot the 80s were.
Posted by MRM on September 30, 2013 at 5:07 AM · Report this
gttim 13
Their influence on other bands was much more than their talent, but they did some decent stuff. Their albums put out more recently are actually pretty good. It is garagey, punk music, but good
Posted by gttim on September 30, 2013 at 5:49 AM · Report this
Keekee 14
Thanx! I recall seeing the Stooges, but thought that I was going Old Timers, since I had no recollection of NYD opening for them.
Posted by Keekee on September 30, 2013 at 10:00 AM · Report this
I'm glad you picked up on the fun aspect of the Dolls, sure they wasn't anything “new" or “groundbreaking" about them, very few bands are. I liked them for their sloppy tung in cheek version of the music they obviously loved and grew up on. Motown girl groups, 50's pioneer Rock n' rollers etc. they were the punk Rolling Stones IMO, witch were born of good old American Blues witch came from gospel witch came from the field songs sung by the slaves witch originated from their various ancestral African tribes... Phew! Yeah I guess I'm a music nerd. But you have to admit, it was a long strange & not always pleasant journey from ancestral African tribal music to the N.Y. Dolls.
Posted by poptartpunk on September 30, 2013 at 12:30 PM · Report this
#15. YESSSS!
Posted by Taryn on October 2, 2013 at 1:02 PM · Report this

This wasn't a review of the Dolls or their music. This is someone - I'm guessing a kid - spouting a hipper than thou little joking ditty of a writing project. Same with most music 'reviews' in the last decade or so. I get that.

But anybody who actually cares about, and has sufficient knowledge of rock music will recognize that the Dolls weren't only *directly* responsible for seismic shift bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols - those guys fell all over themselves at the time acknowledging as much - but they were a great, sloppy, loud, damn fun, damn wonderful band on their own, as well.

And btw, holy creeping shit - only the truly ignorant would blame the Dolls for putrid 80s hair bands. Outside of hairspray, the two have absolutely zero in common. That's like blaming or equating Bowie or Bolan with Warrant or Poison. Not their fault, and not their doing.

PS to whoever ragged on them: I know it maybe feels rad and cool to say otherwise, but, like the Dolls, Nirvana were genuinely better than the hype.

Posted by Velvetbabe on October 5, 2013 at 5:09 AM · Report this

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