New York Dolls

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New York Dolls, 1973

The New York Dolls were a rock music group formed in New York City in 1971. They found little success during their lifetime, but the New York Dolls prefigured much of what was to come in the punk rock era and even later; the Dolls' over-the-top crossdressing influenced the look of many hair metal groups.

Initially, the group was comprised of singer David Johansen, guitarists Johnny Thunders and Sylvain Sylvain, bass guitarist Arthur "Killer" Kane and drummer Billy Murcia, who died before the New York Dolls recorded their first LP. He was replaced by Jerry Nolan. Their music was influenced by the likes of Marc Bolan, the MC5, The Rolling Stones and Rhythm and Blues in general. Despite these influences, their sound remains distictive (Stephen Thomas Erlewine writes that their eponymous debut "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."[1] (, and the New York Dolls are often cited as an important protopunk ensemble.

The New York Dolls released two studio albums: the self titled New York Dolls in 1973 and the aptly titled Too Much Too Soon in 1974. Both records received mostly positive reviews, but sales were disappointing. When Too Much was issued, point internal tensions and drug abuse had left the band on the edge of splitting. They were dropped by their record label, and hired Malcolm McLaren as manager. His provocative stunts such as dressing the band in red leather for performances before Soviet flag gained some attention, but no other record labels came calling.

Thunders and Nolan left in 1975 to form The Heartbreakers, while the other Dolls recruited replacements and continued until 1977.

Afterwards, Johansen had a moderately successful solo career (later he began recording under the name of Buster Poindexter), and is currently active as a blues singer. Thunders and Nolan found short-term fame with the Heartbreakers, who supported their heirs the Sex Pistols on tour in England in 1976. A third New York Dolls album (comprising a 1972 demo session with the original line-up) was released on cassette only in 1981, finally making it to CD as "Lipstick Killers" in 2000.

The Dolls influenced a whole era of musicians and bands such as Hanoi Rocks, The Ramones, Mötley Crüe, Guns N' Roses, The Damned, and Morrissey of the Smiths, who was once the head of a New York Dolls fan club. They were a major influence on the rock music scene in New York City, having accumulated a devoted cult following during their career. By the time the New York Dolls had disbanded, Ira Robbins writes that they "singlehandedly began the local New York scene that later spawned the Ramones, Blondie, Television, Talking Heads and others. A classic case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, the Dolls were much more than just a band. Their devoted original audience became the petri dish of a scene; they emulated their heroes and formed groups in their image."[2] (

Perhaps their most lasting influence was on the sound and style of The Sex Pistols whose manager, Malcolm McLaren, was briefly involved with the Dolls at the end of their career.

Johnny Thunders died in New Orleans in 1991, of an overdose. Nolan died a few months later in 1992, following a stroke, brought about by bacterial meningitis.

Morrissey organised a reunion of the three surviving band members (Johansen, Sylvain, Kane) for the Meltdown festival, which was rapturously greeted. All the greater was the shock when the news came of Arthur Kane's unexpected death on July 13, 2004 from leukemia. A live LP and DVD has been released by Morrissey's Attack label.


  • New York Dolls, 1973
  • Too Much Too Soon, 1974

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