Sunday, February 17, 2013

New York Dolls -- "Frankenstein" (1973)

Do you think that 
You could make it 
With Frankenstein?

The cover of the New York Dolls' eponymous debut album either depicts the five ugliest crossdressers in the Western Hemisphere, or five really good-looking crossdressers who were rode hard and put away wet after a long, long night of debauchery.

How do you vote?

You might assume that the Dolls chose that name because of the way they dressed and made themselves up.  But the real source of their moniker was a doll repair business called the "New York Doll Hospital," which was right across the street from the men's boutique where guitarist Sylvain Sylvain (who was born Sylvain Mizrahi in 1951 to Jewish parents living in Cairo, Egypt) was working when the band was formed.

I'm sure a lot of people looked at the Dolls and figured they were shock-rockers who weren't to be taken seriously.  Think again, boys and girls.  The Dolls wrote good songs and played the absolute hell out of them.  As one critic said, the Dolls music "doesn't really sound like anything that came before it.  It's hard rock with a self-conscious wit, a celebration of camp and kitsch that retains a menacing, malevolent edge."

Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain with
lead singer David Johansen in 2006
Legendary rock critic Robert Christgau ranked the Dolls' first two album in the top 15 of all the albums of the 1970s.  (The only other musicians with two albums in his top 15 were the Clash and Neil Young, so the Dolls are in very good company.)  

Legendary singer/songwriter Morrissey of the late, great Smiths, ranked the Dolls' album as his all-time personal favorite (ahead of very worthy albums by the Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop, Roxy Music, the Ramones, and the Sparks).  

If Robert Christgau and Morrissey say the Dolls are great, who am I to disagree?  Not that I would ever disagree.  I've loved the Dolls ever since I picked up their first two albums in a cut-out bin at some long gone Harvard Square record store a couple of years after they were released in 1973 and 1974, respectively.

Unfortunately, those two records didn't sell -- hence my finding them in the aforementioned cut-out bin -- and the Dolls' record company dropped them like a hot potato.  The band then found itself "foundering in drug abuse and interpersonal conflicts" (to quote Wikipedia) and broke up shortly thereafter.  

If I were asked what genre the Dolls' music belonged in, I would say "glam punk" -- which sounds like an oxymoron.  Their music was a precursor of punk rock, and their appearance also influenced the glam-rock and glam-metal groups who started popping up a few years later.

The backstage toilet at the legendary CBGB
The Dolls were the first of the great New York punk/new wave bands who populated Max's Kansas City and CBGB and the other lower Manhattan clubs -- like the Ramones, and Blondie, and Television, and the Patti Smith Group, and the Talking Heads.

As such, they are more than worthy of inclusion as one of the New York City bands featured in this year's "29 Posts in 28 Days."

The are half a dozen songs I could have happily picked from the Dolls' first album -- "Personality Crisis," "Looking for a Kiss," "Trash," "Bad Girl," etc.  "Frankenstein" is interesting because the lyrics sound so improvised -- Johansen doesn't so much sing the words to the song as he declaims them.

Here's "Frankenstein" -- this song is hot, hot, HOT!

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. OK--this is a corner of music that I haven't explored much; among other things, my "ride" in most of the 70s was a 1960 Ford pickup without a radio (compared to some of the trucks of today, it wasn't that far removed from my Dad's 1929 Chevy). So I'll just throw in some comment about the 1931 movie "Frankenstein" and the 1974 takeoff, "Young Frankenstein". First of all, I'll mention a bar in East Pasadena (CA) called "Frank 'n' Stein"; I only saw it from the outside, but I presume it featured beer and hot dogs, served in a "horror movie" atmosphere. Then there's the time I met Ken Strickfadden, the electrical wizard behind all the "mad scientist lab" hardware that goes "Zap!" "Frapazorch!" and "Kazark!" in the movie. After the various iterations of "Frankenstein" were produced in the 1930s, he tucked all the spark gaps, Tesla coils and other neat stuff in his garage (sounds like my garage), and it was still there when Mel Brooks was gearing up for "Young Frankenstein" in 1973-74. In the 1980s, the Motion Picture Academy mounted a special exhibit featuring Mr. Strickfadden's creations. I went over to "Oscar's House", where the master was assembling his creations for the show. At one point he needed some assistance, so I stepped in and lent a hand. When he found out I worked for the Edison Co., he gave me his business card and requested that I give it to our salvage sales office in case they might have some large capacitors that he could use. After the equipment was set up, a local TV news crew came over and asked if he could demonstrate the apparatus. Some of the units were connected to the building power system, and he turned them on for some electrical fireworks. The only bad thing was that the electrical impulses were strong enough to disable the video cameras!
    One line gets borrowed from the old movies when we finish working on a streetcar, take down the blue flags and put the trolley pole up. If we've done everything right, the lights come on, the air compressor starts, and someone usually says "It's ALIVE!"