Never in the history of music has an album title proved to be so prophetic than the New York Dolls’ sophomore album Too Much Too Soon. Released in 1974, Too Much Too Soon features one of the hardest rocking and hardest living bands in musical history. Unfortunately, The New York Dolls were music’s equivalent to Icarus. They literally flew too close to the sun. Having released Too Much Too Sun, which reached a disappointing number 167 in the US Billboard 200, Mercury sent the New York Dolls out on an American tour.

That would’ve been okay for an ordinary band. The New York Dolls were no ordinary band. Far from it. Best described as dysfunctional, it’s no surprise what happened next. During what was a chaotic, problematic tour, the New York Dolls literally imploded. Amidst a backdrop of alcohol and drug abuse, and general chaos, the New York Dolls were dropped by Mercury in 1975. This lead to them splitting up. By then, the New York Dolls had lived life to the fullest. Since their debut album, they’d lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Remarkably, most of them survived to tell the tale. Somehow, during that time, they’d spawned a thousand imitators and released two classic albums. 

Their second classic album Too Much Too Soon, was recently released by the Legends Of Rock label. Described as an audiophile recording, it’s the best sounding version of Too Much Too Soon I’ve heard. This should be the standard other labels aspire to. If only all rereleases sounded this good. The same could be said of the New York Dolls. if only every band sounded as good as the New York Dolls, music would be a better place. One of the New York Dolls finest moments was Too Much Too Soon, which I’ll tell you about, once I’ve told you about their career.

Founded in 1971, the original lineup of the New York Dolls included vocalist David Johansen, guitarist Johnny Thunders and Rick Rivets, bassist Arthur Kane and drummer Billy Murcia. A year later, came the first on countless changes in the New York Dolls’ lineup. Out went Rick Rivets and Billy Murcia. Their replacements were Jerry Nolan and Sylvain Sylvain a pianist and guitarist. This would be the lineup the played on their debut album.

Released in 1973 on Mercury, New York Dolls divided opinion. Some critics hailed New York Dolls as a stonewall classic, others deemed it a parody of a rock album. It certainly took the world by storm, spawning a million imitators. Strangely, on its release, sales of New York Dolls were disappointing. It only reached number 167 in the US Billboard 200. Mercury had hoped that the album would be one of their big sellers of 1973. It certainly captured the attention of critics and music lovers, it was voted both the best and worst album of 1973. It seems that New York Dolls was an enigmatic album and one that divided opinion. Forty years later, history has been rewritten.

Nowadays, New York Dolls is now perceived as a classic album. The New York Dolls fusion of glam rock, proto-punk and hard rock is perceived as Innovative and ahead of the musical curve. The New York Dolls are credited as one of the founding fathers of punk rock. Since then, many groups have imitated the New York Dolls swaggering brand of good time music. Nobody comes close. No ifs, no buts. Having released a career defining album, the New York Dolls never bettered. If ever there’s a case of a band peaking to soon, this was it.  

A year after the release of New York Dolls, the band headed back into the studio. Todd Rungren was replaced as producer by Shadow Morton. Unlike their debut album, Too Much Too Soon comprised a combination of cover versions and original songs. David Johansen and Johnny Thunders cowrote Babylon, Who Are The Mystery Girls, It’s Too Late and Human Being. David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain penned Puss ‘N’ Boots, while Johnny Thunders wrote Chatterbox. Cover versions included Kenny Lewis’ Bad Detective, Sonny Boy Williamson’s Don’t Start Me Talkin, ’Gamble and Huff’s (There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown and Stranded In The Jungle, a James Johnson, Ernestine Smith and Al Curry composition. These ten tracks were recorded at A&R Studios, New York.

Replacing Todd Rundgren as producer, was Shadow Morton, an experienced and enigmatic producer. He seemed to get the best out of the New York Dolls. Their lineup included vocalist David Johansen, plus a rhythm section of guitarist Johnny Thunders, bassist Arthur Kane and drummer Jerry Nolan. Sylvain Sylvain played piano and guitar, while David Johansen added gongs. This was the lineup that played on what should’ve been the New York Dolls’ breakthrough album, Too Much Too Soon.

On the release of Too Much Too Soon, in May 1974, critics hailed the addition of Shadow Morton. He they thought, had harnessed the raw power and energy of the Dolls and added a sheen of refinement. With backing vocals and a myriad of sound effects featuring on Too Much Too Soon,  it was a very different band, one that should’ve made their breakthrough. They didn’t. Sadly, Too Much Too Soon  wasn’t a commercial success. It stalled at number 167 in the US Billboard 200. Worse was to come.

The New York Dolls headed out on a tour. It was an unmitigated disaster. By now, the band were constantly arguing. Drug and alcohol use was rife on the tour. Performances varied. One night the Dolls were on their game, the next the concert descended into a chaotic shambles. That was part of the charm of the band. It was like a rock ‘n’ circus, with the band unravelling before the audience’s eyes. Mercury watched all this unfold. They felt the band had no future, and dropped them in 1975. Later in 1975, the band split. This was only temporary. Little did they realize, that Too Much Too Soon, which I’ll tell you about, would be the last album the classic lineup of the New York Dolls released.

After a wolf-whistle and a shout of “come on boys,” the New York Dolls explode into action on Babylon, which opens Too Much Too Soon. Driven along by a powerhouse of a driving, rhythm section, scorching, screaming, rocky guitar licks accompany David’s strutting vocal. A mixture of machismo and drama, soaring, coquettish harmonies accompany him. By then the Dolls have hit their stride. Like a well oiled machine, they seamlessly fuse genres. Everything from classic rock, glam rock, proto-punk and blues are thrown into the mix, as the track reaches its dramatic crescendo.

Stranded In The Jungle was recorded by The Cadets in 1959. Here, the Dolls breath new life and energy into the track. Thunderous drums, sound effects, scatted vocals and machine gun guitars accompany David’s vocal is a tongue-in-cheek vamp. Soon, they get down to their hard rocking best. David’s vocal is throaty roar, while punchy, sweet, female harmonies answer his call. Then just as you’re enjoying the Dolls kicking loose, it’s all change, and a return to the earlier slower, dramatic style. Criticized by critics, as a novelty track, it’s more a case of the Dolls experimenting and toying with you, seeing whether you’ve a sense of humour.

Pounding drums and searing, screaming, scorching guitars combine as David struts his way through Who Are The Mystery Girls. Mixing power, bravado and sass, he questions and probes, delivering a vocal masterclass. As for the rest of the Dolls, they create an arrangement that’s best described as raw, refined power. Guitars assail you, as seamlessly, fingers fly up and down the fretboard. The rhythm section provide the heartbeat, never once missing a beat, the Dolls are at their very best. They’re so good, that they sound better than the Rolling Stones did during 1974. 

(There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown is a track Gamble and Huff wrote for Archie Bell. Although it’s one of his best known tracks, it’s nowhere near as good as the Dolls’ version. Somehow, they’ve the ability to sound sloppy and tight simaltaneously. Shadow Morton’s influence is apparent from the opening bars, as David’s half-spoken vocal sounds draws inspiration from The Shangri Las. Then machine gun guitars are unleashed and drums punished, while David’s vocal is a sassy, feisty vamp. When his vocal drops out, the Dolls kick loose and demonstrate just why, they’ve spawned countless imitators and are regarded as rock ‘n’ roll royalty.

As drums pound, a bluesy harmonica enters, before machine gun drums and the bass set the scene for David’s vocal on It’s Too Late. It’s the template for punk. Best described as proto-punk in style, I can hear where Johnny Rotten amongst numerous wannabe punks got their inspiration from. Unlike most punk bands, the Dolls were talented musicians. Here, effortlessly, they fuse rock, blues, proto-punk and glam rock. As guitars pogo across the arrangement, a mesmeric bluesy harpsichord solo is unleashed. That’s sheer genius, and adds the finishing touch to a track that inspired a musical revolution.

Raw, refined and controlled power describes the New York Dolls on Puss ‘N’ Boots. They unleash a blistering performance, which features some of the best guitar playing on Too Much Too Soon. That’s saying something. Peerless, scorching, blazing guitar licks join a rhythm section that’s like a well oiled machine. They provide the backdrop for David’s raucous, boisterous vocal and add cooing, coquettish, soaring harmonies. Best described as a fusion of raw power and musical genres, the Dolls sounding like this, have no equals.

David counts the band in on Chatterbox and immediately, there’s an edgier, innovative sound. The band aren’t as tight, as a myriad of searing guitar licks are unleashed. That suits the song, where feisty female vocals deliver a proto-punk vocal. As for the Dolls, they spray machine gun licks above their vocal. Then when the vocals drop out, continue to develop what was the template for punk. 

Bad Detective, where David pays homage to Charlie Chan, sees the New York Dolls sound not unlike Talking Heads. Again, here was a band who were way ahead of their time. They would go on to influence future generations of musicians. With a driving rhythm section, searing guitar licks and singalong harmonies, for company, David’s vocal is vampish.He mixes humor and drama, rock, proto-punk and glam rock unite.

Don’t Start Me Talking explodes into being. With an explosive cocktail of machine gun guitars, bluesy harmonica and honky-tonk piano, the Dolls kick loose. This what they were born to do. David struts his way through the track. He’s in his element, with his band at the top of their game, behind him. Rock and blues melt into one, as the New York Dolls must have looked like serious contenders to the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. It’s a heady cocktail of blues rock, that represents the Dolls at their best on Too Much Too Soon.

Human Being picks up where the previous track left off. This makes it the perfect way to close Too Much Too Soon. A hard rocking New York Dolls is a tantalizing prospect. For six minutes the rhythm section, and screaming, rocky guitars lock horns. Feeding of each other, they lock into the tightest of grooves. Above the arrangement, sits David’s proto-punk vocal. It’s an outpouring of frustration anger, and angst, which proves prophetic, given what would happen in 1976. 

Too Much Too Soon, the New York Dolls’ sophomore album, is an iconic, innovative album. Ironically, Too Much Too Soon almost passed unnoticed. It hardly troubled the American charts. After its release, Mercury sent the New York Dolls on an American tour. It proved chaotic and almost broke the band. On their return from the ill-fated tour, Mercury dropped the Dolls. Later in 1975, they split up, against a backdrop of rancour, drug abuse and hedonism. The hardest living party band were no more…briefly. 

Soon, the band were back together and playing some of the best shows of their career. Then later in 1975, Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan left the band. Their replacements were drummer Tony Machine and keyboardist Chris Robinson. This was just the latest change in lineup. It proved to be one of the most successful lineups of the band. They played some of their best concerts and were hailed as one of the hottest bands of the mid-seventies. Nothing lasted long as far as the New York Dolls were concerned. The band broke up and in the last four decades have continued to reform and split up.

Despite reforming, the New York Dolls never reached the heights of Too Much Too Soon. It’s their finest moment. Innovative, groundbreaking and ahead of its time, this fusion of rock, proto-punk, blues and glam rock, helped inspire punk and spawned a thousand imitators. None came close to replicating the New York Dolls at their best. For two albums, the New York Dolls were one of the best bands of that time. Innovative, inventive and determined to rewrite the musical rulebook, there was one problem, the New York Dolls were fundamentally flawed. Their downfall was their penchant for the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and hedonism. Just like Icarus, they flew to close to the sun. Before flying to close to the sun, the New York Dolls released their 1974 Magnus Opus, Too Much Too Soon. Standout Tracks: Babylon, Who Are The Mystery Girls, Don’t Start Me Talking and Human Being.



1 Comment

  1. K

    Music is my religion and Johnny Thunders is God

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: