''Makes some men crazy and then they act like fools Makes some men crazy, and then they start to drool It's a crass and raucous crackass place It's a plague upon the the human race It's a terrible illness, it's a terrible case And it's usually permanent when it takes place'' - Little Feat
There’s a unique sensation that really loud, evil rock ‘n’ roll gives you. I believe the truly great rock ‘n’ roll will give you something similar to a shot of adrenaline that almost tips you over the edge; an ignition of something in your body that is joyously primal, and ignorant and far away from the stiff science of your brain, or a sweaty, glorious ‘f*ck off’ to anything and everything. Here’s the first of three records in a series that give me that release and them some: The New York Dolls’ 1973 debut album.
This kind of music, unlike how many romantic journalists make it out to be, was not some virtuous reaction to ‘classic rock’s excesses’ (see the life and times of Iggy Pop for proof). It was a reaction to their beloved rock ‘n’ roll culture becoming the ownership of California softies like Jackson Browne and the Eagles (see Barney Hoskyns’ book ‘Hotel California for the dirt). In other words: sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll had gone from being the ideology of angsty youths to being the secretive excesses of the 30-something year-olds who wrote ‘You Make Loving Fun’. The New York Dolls were not ‘punk’, because punk is primarily political: England’s punk revolution was not sparked by disgust at Fleetwood Mac, but by The Winter of Discontent, unemployment levels, Margaret Thatcher, and so on. This album is rock music but played with the levels of speed and energy normally expected of punk. That don’t make it proto-punk, though.
I imagine these Manhattan brats were actually reasonably intellectual once the lipstick was off (lead singer David Johansen later formed a lounge jazz/calypso band…). That doesn’t matter: In performance, they take sleaze to levels the Stones had bad trips about. Acting like Jerry Lee Lewis is one thing, but dressing up as Jerry Lee Lewis’ most perverted nightmare is pure rock ‘n’ roll in its most wicked, urban form, and I love it.
Next time: The Clash’s 1977 debut cracker. Here’s a taster: