Album Review

New York Dolls "Dancing Backward in High Heels"

Megan Eidelbach
Chances are, if your music tastes veer towards punk rock (especially original, old-school 70's punk, such as The Ramones or the Sex Pistols, you have probably heard of the New York Dolls. Their cross-dressing clothes style, simple but entertaining songs and sardonically humorous attitudes have gone as far as to influence many of the original punk rockers of England and New York, as well as the many generations of punks and their varied subcultures to follow. Living in New York City's Lower East Side during the past three summers, I have been lucky to walk daily by the building where the famous CBGB's used to be, where many of these older punk rock idols played to pogo-ing teenagers and adolescents desperate to find something unique and different and listen to something other than the typical arena rock available at the time. Amongst the dilapidated buildings, drug-addicted youth, art cafes, and coffee shops in this area of the borough of Manhattan, is where the famed New York Dolls made their mark amongst millions of people worldwide in the late seventies, and even influenced New-Wave, and the glam-metal of the 80’s. And now? Unbelievably, they have created a new album.

Originally formed in 1971, the band consisted of various members, notably the glam-rock icon David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain and the infamous Johnny Thunders on guitar, Arthur “Killer” Kane on bass, and drummer Billy Murcia. Their name was influenced by the locale of Murcia and Sylvain’s clothing shop for men, “Truth and Soul”, that happened to be across the street from The New York Doll Hospital, a doll repair shop that Sylvain claimed inspired the name for their future band. The band with the aforementioned lineup played their first show at a homeless shelter on Christmas Eve in 1971 at a homeless shelter called The Endicott Hotel. The band was truly discovered when Rod Stewart invited them to open for him at a London show. Murcia died not long after, at age 21, from accidental drowning, and they chose Jerry Nolan to replace him, and were later signed by Mercury Records. Named by Creem Magazine in 1973 as “The Best and Worst New Group” of the year, they toured the US and Europe, to mostly ambivalent audiences. Mercury dropped the Dolls not long after the album Too Much Too Soon, in ‘74, and in ‘75, the band broke up due to personal issues and problems with substance abuse.

While Thunders, Johansen, and Nolan released solo work and joined other bands (Thunders and Nolan are also known as members of Richard Hell’s band the Heartbreakers, who participated in 1976’s Anarchy Tour with the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and The Damned in Britain), throughout the years they fought addictions to drugs and alcohol. Thunders died in 1991 in New Orleans of an alleged overdose and Nolan died of a stroke in 1992. David Johansen, unknown to most, was the singer of 80’s pop hit “Hot Hot Hot“, under the name Buster Poindexter. By the time the band had disbanded, however, they had changed the New York music scene forever. Bands like Motley Crue, the Dead Boys, Guns N’ Roses, Blondie, and even KISS had been influenced by the Dolls, and were making their way through the charts. One band member, however, stood out by organizing a reunion of the Dolls for the Meltdown Festival in 2004, one who happened to have been head of the New York Dolls Fanclub in the 1970’s as well- The Smiths’ former member and solo artist Morrissey.

The reunion led to a live LP and a DVD on Morrissey’s “Attack” label with the reunion concert consisting of three of the original members - Johansen, Sylvain, and Kane (who died of cancer after their first reunion concert.) The other two continued to release new material, one of which is the newly-released Dancing Backward in High Heels, a 12 track odyssey of mixing doo-wop and disco with ska-influenced sound, simple lyrics, and an ironic tone. Johansen’s “Fabulous Rant” about the conservatives destroying their raw home city of New York is followed by “I’m So Fabulous” with its excellently blunt-to-the-core lyrics throwing a punch at the bourgeois of the City, "Don't come around here making new clothes for us-I don't need them I'm already fabulous- I'm so fabulous I don't want to hear about it/-I'm so fabulous I don't want to look at you.” stood out to me while I listened with a nod of agreement to the changes even currently occurring in my summer home in The Big Apple.

Other songs that definitely stand out are “ Talk To Me Baby”, with its head-bobbing rhythm and poetic lyrics, and my personal favorite, “I Sold My Soul To The Junkman”, which combines a doo-wop sound with a “doomed love story” story of an addiction to heroin. Their first official music single and video, “Fool For You”, however, I was unimpressed with, due to its simplicity and sound that didn’t seem as interesting as the other tracks, in my opinion. “Funky But Chic” combines an old-school punk sound with doo-wop, and is a great tune in which definitely had me cracking a smile. All in all, the album had its good and bad points, good being that the enthusiasm and sound of the Dolls is alive and kicking, with a combination of vintage and modern sounds, and their token anti-establishment lyrics. Some of their songs, such as “End of The Summer” and “Kids Like You” I think could have been better, but the other tunes greatly make up for the flops.

I would say in general to anyone who is interested in the New York punk scene, and the evolvement and evolution of punk/New Wave sound (as well as metal, rock, and other styles of modern music into today’s world, I recommend this album- if not purely to see how wonderful it is to see that your parents were wrong- you don’t always have to give up what your views are, change your ways, and grow up. The aging blatant sarcasm and energy of the New York Dolls may just cause some people to have a mid-life crisis, or perhaps, even an epiphany.