Cult Classic: David Johansen-Here Comes The Night.

Singer, songwriter and actor David Johansen first came to prominence as the lead singer of the seminal proto punk band the New York Dolls, in the early seventies. This was the start of a long and varied career for David Johansen, who after the demise of the New York Dolls embarked upon a solo career in 1978.

This period of his career is often overlooked,  especially his first three solo albums. He released his eponymous debut album in 1978 and followed this with In Style and Here Comes The Night in 1979. Both are oft-overlooked and underrated albums from David Johansen whose career began eight years earlier in 1971.

In October 1971, David Johansen joined the proto punk pioneers, the New York Dolls, and just two months later, they made their debut at a homeless shelter, the Endicott Hotel on Christmas Eve 1971. This was the start of the New York Dolls roller coaster career.

Seven month later, on July the ‘27th’ 1973, the New York Dolls released their hard rocking eponymous debut album to widespread critical acclaim. Despite the critical acclaim, New York Dolls stalled at just 116 in the US Billboard 200. This was a disappointment for everyone concerned, especially David Johansen who had assumed the role of the New York Dolls’ songwriter-in-chief. 

He had played a part in writing ten of the eleven songs on New York Dolls. David Johansen had written three songs and cowrote another seven on an album that later, would be hailed as a classic. New York Dolls was the first of two classic albums the band would release within a year.  

For the New York Dolls’ sophomore album Too Much Too Soon, lead singer and songwriter-in-chief David Johansen had written five of the ten songs on the album with various songwriting partners. Too Much Too Soon was produced by veteran producer Shadow Morton after the New York Dolls had voiced their dissatisfaction with Todd Rundgren’s production on their eponymous debut album.  The band hoped that a change of producer would result in a change of fortune for the band.

On May the ’10th’ 1974, the New York Dolls returned with their sophomore album Too Much Too Soon. It was released to the same critical acclaim as New York Dolls, and would also be hailed as a classic album in the future. Despite the critical acclaim Too Much Too Soon reached just a lowly 167 in the US Billboard 200 and this was a worrying time for the New York Dolls.

After the release of Too Much Too Soon, the New York Dolls embarked upon a national tour, which was fraught with problems. On their return home, the New York Dolls were dropped by their record company Mercury. However, the group continued to play live.

By 1975, the New York Dolls were being “managed” by British “musical impresario” Malcolm McLaren. By then, the New York Dolls found themselves playing much smaller venues as the group began to unravel. Drug and alcohol abuse was a problem within the New York Dolls, with Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan and Arthur Kane embracing the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle fully. This would prove costly for Arthur Kane who occasionally, was too drunk to play live. When this happened roadie Peter Jordan took over on bass. That was the case for much of an eventful tour of Florida and Carolina during March and April of 1975. 

During the tour, Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan argued with David Johansen, and the two men left the band. Blackie Lawless was drafted in to replace Johnny Thunders and the New York Dolls finished their tour in Florida and Carolina in April of 1975. Not long after this, the New York Dolls split-up for the first time.

Just three months later, the New York Dolls reformed in July 1975 and toured Japan with Jeff Beck and Felix Pappala. This time, the lineup of the New York Dolls featured David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain,  Peter Jordan, drummer Tony Machine and former Elephant’s Memory keyboardist Chris Robison. After an uneventful and relatively successful tour of Japan, the New York Dolls returned to New York and began playing in venues in America and Canada. 

Everything seemed to be going to plan with the New York Dolls’ performance at the Beacon Theatre, in New York, in New Year’s Eve being hailed as one of their finest performances by critics. However, it wasn’t long before the New York Dolls pressed the self destruct button again.

After a drunken argument with Sylvain Sylvain, keyboardist Chris Robison was sacked, and replaced by Bobbie Blaine. He was a member of the New York Dolls when they played their last show on December the ’30th’ 1976. This was the end of the road for one of the most important and influential bands of the seventies. 

Solo Years.

After the demise of the New York Dolls, Malcolm McLaren wanted David Johansen to jump on the punk bandwagon. Fortunately, David Johansen resisted Malcolm McLaren’s overtures, and decided to divide his time between the David Johansen Band and the solo career that embarked upon in 1977.

With his former New York Dolls bandmate Sylvain Sylvain, David Johansen began writing then new songs that would form the basis for his live sets and eventually, his eponymous debut album. Before that, David Johansen had to secure a recording contract, and this wasn’t far away.

By the time Blue Sky Records, an imprint of Columbia Records signed David Johansen, he had already established a reputation as a talented performer, and was regarded as a singer who could have a big future ahead of him. With David Johansen signed to Blue Sky Records, he was paired with Richard Robinson, who would co-produce the former New York Dolls’ frontman’s eponymous debut album.

David Johansen.

When recording of David Johansen began, nine tracks had been chosen for the album. This included a trio of David Johansen compositions Pain in My Heart, Donna and Lonely Tenement. They were joined  Funky But Chic, Girls, Cool Metro and Frenchette which were penned by Sylvain Sylvain and David Johansen. He wrote Not That Much with Buz Verno and the pair wrote I’m A Lover with Johnny Ráo and Thomas Trask. These songs were recorded at The Record Plant, New York.

Joining David Johansen who took charge of lead vocals and played guitar, castanets and chimes, were drummer Frankie LaRocka, bassist Buz Verno and guitarists Johnny Ráo and Thomas Trask. This core band were joined by Sylvain Sylvain who played guitar on Cool Metro, organist Bobby Blain and percussionist Tony Machine who had all been part of the New York Dolls’ story. Other musicians included rhythm guitarist Joe Perry, saxophonist Stan Bronstein, violinist Scarlet Rivera and organist Felix Cavaliere, rhythm guitarist Joe Perry, saxophonist Stan Bronstein and vocalists Sarah Dash, Nona Hendryx, Gene Leppik and Jimmie Mack. Taking charge of production were Richard Robinson and David Johansen as his eponymous debut album was recorded during February 1978.

Three months later, in May 1978 David Johansen which was a carefully crafted album of tight, focused and hard rocking music. Gone was the sloppiness that had almost been a trademark of the New York Dolls, with David Johansen and his hand-picked band created a sharp and powerful backdrop for his vocals. They were very different and eschewed the camp, theatrical sound that had dismayed their critics. However, there was a nod to the New York Dolls on Funky But Chic while Cool Metro epitomises good time rock ’n’ roll. On Girls and I’m A Lover David Johansen’s vocal is full of machismo, before his vocal on Pain In My Heart is full of hurt and despair. Then on Donna and Frenchette, David Johansen lays bare his soul for all to see on his critically acclaimed eponymous debut album. 

Despite the quality of music on David Johansen, when the album was released in May 1978 it failed the chart. Even the single Funky But Chic never troubled the charts, which was another disappointment for David Johansen, who tow months later, recorded an album with The David Johansen Band.

The David Johansen Band.

This was no ordinary album though. Instead, The David Johansen Group Live was originally a promotional only album that was released by David Johansen in an attempt to help promote his solo career. It was recorded at The Bottom Line, in New York on July the ’21st’ 1978.

That night, The David Johansen Band featured David Johansen who took charge of lead vocals and played acoustic guitar on Frenchette. The rhythm section featured drummer Frankie LaRocka, bassist Buz Verno and guitarists Johnny Ráo and Thomas Trask. They were joined by Sylvain Sylvain who played guitar, piano and like the rest of the band added backing vocals. The band worked their way through eighteen tracks including cover  versions, songs David Johansen and the New York Dolls two albums. This included Babylon, where Johnny Thunders took to the stage with The David Johansen Band for the final song of what was a truly memorable set. It was no surprise that the recording of that night at The Bottom Line was eventually released commercially.

Initially, the album was meant to promote David Johansen’s career, but by 1983 The David Johansen Band was released on CD and found favour with critics. They were won over by The David Johansen Band’s performance five years earlier, and wondered aloud why it had taken five years to release the album? By then, David Johansen’s solo career was almost at an end. 

In Style.

After the disappointing sales of his eponymous debut album, David Johansen was forced to rethink his approach to his sophomore solo album In Style. Being realistic, he knew that there was no point in releasing David Johansen II, as there was every change that the album wouldn’t sell in vast numbers. David Johansen knew that if he wanted to enjoy commercial success, he was going to have to change direction musically. If he didn’t he wasn’t going to be signed to Blue Sky Records for long.

Face with that stark reality David Johansen began work on his sophomore album, which became In Style. David Johansen wrote Big City, Justine and In Style, and with his songwriting partner Sylvain Sylvain wrote She Knew She Was Falling in Love, Swaheto Woman, Wreckless Crazy and Flamingo Road. Just like on his eponymous debut album, David Johansen wrote songs with other songwriting partners. He penned Melody with Ronnie Guy, She with Buz Verno and You Touched Me Too with Johnny Ráo. These ten tracks became In Style, which was recorded at The Schoolhouse, Westpoint, Connecticut during 1979.

At The Schoolhouse producer and guitarist Mick Ronson joined David Johansen who was set to take charge of vocals and play guitar on In Style. His band featured a rhythm section of drummer Frankie LaRocka, bassists Buz Verno and Dan Hartman plus guitarists Johnny Ráo and Thomas Trask. They were joined by organist Tommy Mandel, pianists Ronnie Guy and Ian Hunter, saxophonist Stan Bronstein. Joining the rest of the band in adding backing vocals were Sylvain Sylvain, Gary Green and engineer Dave Still. With a new producer and a few changes to the lineup of his band David Johansen set about recording his sophomore album In Style.

When In Style was completed, Blue Sky Records scheduled the release of the album for later in 1979. In Style would mark the debut of David Johansen’s new more commercial, pop rock sound. Deep down, he knew that his music had to change to attract a wider audience. It was all very well making albums that albums uncommercial albums that found favour with the musical cognoscenti, but they didn’t pay the bills. Nor would their sales please executives at Blue Sky Records. David Johansen hoped his new pop rock sound that debuted on In Style would find favour with executives at Blue Sky Records, music critics and record buyers.

The majority of critics on hearing In Style were impressed by David Johansen’s new sound. Even Robert Christgua the self-styled Dean of American rock critics, grudgingly gave In Style a B+ in one of his usual pompous reviews. At least this was a sign that David Johansen was on the right road with In Style.

In Style was a much more polished and slick album with several radio friendly songs. Gone was the hard rocking, swaggering  sound of his eponymous debut album, and in its place was a much more eclectic album. 

Melody the album opener saw David Johansen move towards R&B, before She showcased an almost snarling, post punk sound. Big City which features saxophonist Stan Bronstein, stylistically sounds not unlike Bruce Springsteen. So too does Justine, which like Big City, is a memorable, melodic and anthemic track. Very different is You Knew You Were Falling In Love with its reggae beats, before Swaheto Woman heads in the direction of disco. In Style marks a return to the rocky sound of David Johansen, while You Touched Me combines soulful vocal with harmonies that have been influenced by sixties girl groups. Then on Wreckless Crazy David Johansen pays homage to the New York Dolls, before delivering a soul-baring vocal on the Flamingo Road a six-minute epic that closes the album In Style.

Buoyed by the reviews of In Style, the album was released in the autumn of 1979. Sadly, history repeated itself and In Style failed to chart. Neither did Swaheto Woman when it was released as a single. By then, it was too late to jump on the disco bandwagon, which had crashed earlier in 1979. The commercial failure of In Style resulted in David Johansen rethinking his future.

Here Comes The Night.

When David Johansen returned in 1981 with his third album Here Comes The Night, much had changed since the release of In Style. David Johansen had been working with new songwriting partners, producers and even his band had changed. Much of the changes were down to David Johansen’s decision to recruit a former Beach Boy.

This was Blondie Chaplin, who had been drafted in to the Beach Boys when Dennis Wilson injured his hand and was unable to play for the best part of two years. Two new musicians joined the Beach Boys on a temporary basis, drummer Ricky Fataar and guitarist Blondie Chaplin. After a while, Brian Wilson who was impressed by both musicians made them fully fledged Beach Boys. That was the case until Blondie Chaplin left the band in 1973.

Seven years later, in 1980, Blondie Chaplin, who had spent just a couple of years with the Beach Boys, was looking for someone to work with, when he met David Johansen. Blondie Chaplin told David Johansen how he admired him as a performer, and proposed that they work together. Despite having established a songwriting partnership with Sylvain Sylvain, David Johansen agreed, and in an instant, had marginalised his old friend and songwriting partner.

Straight away, Blondie Chaplin joined David Johansen’s band as they headed out on the road. This was so Blondie Chaplin could collaborate on songs with David Johansen. Eventually, the pair had written She Loves Strangers, You Fool You, My Obsession, Here Comes The Night, Suspicion and Rollin’ Job. The pair also wrote Party Tonight with Bobby Blain. David Johansen wrote Heart Of Gold, wrote Bohemian Love Pad with Sylvain Sylvain and Havin’ So Much Fun with Elliot Murphy. These songs were recorded by David Johansen’s new band at Sundragon Studios, New York where The Ramones and Suicide had recorded pioneering albums.

One man who was missing as the recording session began was Sylvain Sylvain, who had received the musical equivalent of a kiss on the left cheek. His replacement was Blondie Chaplin who played guitar and added backing vocals. The man he had replaced, Sylvain Sylvain, was working on his own burgeoning solo career, while David Johansen’s was much changed.

David Johansen’s band featured a rhythm section of drummer Tony Machine, bassists Ernie Brooks plus rhythm guitarist Elliot Murphy who also played harmonica. They were joined by organist and pianist Tommy Mandel, pianist Bobby Blain, percussionist Ulysses Delavega and Othello Molineaux who played steel drums. David Johansen and Barry Mraz took charge of production with Blondie Chaplin credited as giving “production assistance” on Here Comes The Night. 

As recording began, Barry Mraz brought the band into the studio and laid down the dominant guitar parts on each song on Here Comes The Night. Straight away, it became apparent that the two co-producers David Johansen and Barry Mraz were determined to record an album that would appeal to rock radio stations. 

Mostly, David Johansen and his band unleash a hard rocking music, especially on the album opener She Loves Strangers and My Obsession, which is a mixture of urgency and paranoia. Bohemian Love Pad a carefully crafted, hard rocking song tribute to the beatnik lifestyle, while You Fool You is a catchy song which could only have been recorded in the early eighties. However, It’s not all hard rocking songs, as Marquesa de Sade heads in the direction of nu-samba, and Rollin’ Job incorporates elements of  calypso. 

After that, there’s no stopping David Johansen as he unleashes vocal powerhouse on the über rocky Here Come The Night, before Party Tonight and Havin’ So Much Fun showcase a good time rock ’n’ roll sound. Closing Here Comes The Night was Heart Of Gold, one of the album’s highlights. The big question was, was Here Comes The Night as the album that would see David Johansen make a commercial breakthrough?

When Here Comes The Night was released later in 1979, the album failed to make any impression on the US Billboard 200. For David Johansen this was just latest disappointment for the former New York Dolls’ frontman.

He had been trying to make a breakthrough since releasing David Johansen in 1978. It had failed to find an audience, and neither did In Style nor Here Comes The Night. Both albums showcase a talented singer, songwriter and musician who spent the first three albums of his career trying to find his true sound.

As befitting a former member of the New York Dolls, David Johansen’s eponymous debut album featured a hard rocking sound, which he eschewed on In Style, which features a number of songs written with his songwriting partner Sylvain Sylvain. These songs play their part in the sound and success of an album that deserved to find a wider audience. 

After the commercial failure of In Style, David Johansen changed his songwriting partner, band and style. One person who was missed was Sylvain Sylvain, who had been David Johansen’s songwriting partner on his first two albums. He was usurped by Blondie Chaplin, on Here Comes The Night which was mostly, a hard rocking album, albeit with David Johansen throwing the occasional curveball. Sadly, Here Comes The Night followed in the footsteps of In Style, and failed to make any impression on the charts. However,  Here Comes The Night is hidden gems and a cult classic that is a reminder of David Johansen’s solo career, and proved that there was life after the New York Dolls.

Cult Classic: David Johansen-Here Comes The Night.

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