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Gotham Sleaze: New York Dolls

Were the New York Dolls instigators of the punk seventies, the founders of late seventies/eighties glam, or just plain sleazy New York City rock and roll? The answer of course is all of the above.

Their self-titled debut, with David Johansen (vocals), Johnny Thunders (guitar), Arthur Kane (bass), Sylvain Sylvain (guitar, piano) and Jerry Nolan (drums) is now regarded as one of the great rock and roll debuts of all time. That success was not instant; the perfect example of this was the poll in Creem magazine for new rock groups in 1973. New York Dolls finished both “best” and “worst” in the poll, story of their life. Their second album, Too Much Too Soon, is also held in high regard (along with the first album) as influences for future rock bands: Sex Pistols, Kiss, Ramones, the Smiths, and Guns N’ Roses.

The New York Dolls were more than the sound of their album. It was the attitude, look, and energy from their live shows that was special. As many rock bands, they burned out pretty fast. Tension and drugs led to Thunders and Nolan departure in 1975. Blackie Lawless (W.A.S.P.) replaced Thunders and the band continued to tour and play around the city at Max’s, CBGB’s, and Beacon Theater. In 1977 the New York Dolls finally called it quits.

David Johansen went on to have a solo career as Buster Poindexter while Thunders and Nolan formed The Heartbreakers. In 1991 Thunders died of a heroin and meth overdose, Nolan died in 1992 of a stroke.

In 2004 the band was back. It was actually Morrissey that got the remaining members (Johansen, Sylvain, and Kane) together for Meltdown Festival in London. Kane would die later that year from leukemia. In 2006 a posthumous New York Dolls album, Lipstick Killers (first released on cassette in 81) was released and the band released a new album titled One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This featuring Steve Conte, Sami Yaffa (ex-Hanoi Rocks), Brian Delaney, and Brian Koonin. That year they appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and played a free concert at New York’s South Street Seaport. In 2007 the band toured Australia and New Zealand.

In 2009, the New York Dolls released Cause I Sez So and in 2011 released Dancing Backward in High Heels, which featured Frank Infante (Blondie) on guitar. That year they toured with Motley Crue and Poison.

The New York Dolls music was about a place in time and this resonated with the next generation. It made people feel different and influenced many others. Whether it’s punk, glam, or rock and roll it really doesn’t matter. In fact, it may be easiest to just say the New York Dolls were and are New York City.

(Author Note: Now would be a good time to ride the 6 train with “Subway Train” blasting through your ear buds.)

New York Dolls Essentials Playlist

Personality Crisis


Subway Train

Looking For A Kiss

Jet Boy

Kids Like You


‘Cause I Sez So


New York Dolls Website

New York Dolls Facebook

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