The New York Dolls presented me with a dilemma when I was Melody Maker’s man in America. My predecessor in that role, Roy Hollingworth, adored them, declaring them the future of rock’n’roll, and such was his enthusiasm that it seemed churlish for those that followed not to share it, to some extent anyway. There was much to admire about them, not least their us against the world attitude, a stance that was respected by all music writers who harboured a militant streak, but at the same time they could be very loose, almost to the point of incompetence. 

They were social animals, hanging out in New York bars like Max’s Kansas City and Ashley’s where musicians gathered, and I got to know their singer David Johansen and his girlfriend Cyrinda Foxe, a beautiful blonde who left him for Steve Tyler, the singer with Aerosmith, whom she married. My pal Bob Gruen loved the Dolls too, and this only added to my dilemma when it came to writing about them.  

    Fifty years ago last week I watched them headline over Elliott Murphey at the Academy of Music in New York, and this was my rather orthodox review for MMs Caught In The Act page, dated February 23, 1974. 

A noticeable aspect of the current rock scene here is the number of artists who are very directly influenced by musicians from the sixties. Generally, these fall into two schools – those with Dylan leanings and those with Rolling Stones leanings.

    The Dylan school encompasses a string of “thinking” lyric-writing electric guitar players who front their own bands and seem to be reliving Dylan’s Blond On Blonde era. The Stones school includes hordes of bands who are out to shock and outrage and whose musical ability is far surpassed by their physical appearance and apparent enthusiasm.

    Elliott Murphey belongs to the former school and the New York Dolls to the latter. Both appeared at the Academy of Music on Friday evening, the Dolls headlining in front of a sell-out crowd that was partisan to say the least.

    Enough words have been written about the Dolls in these pages recently to encircle the globe, but it seems only fair to point out that their prowess as musicians does seem to have increased since the last time I saw them – four months ago at the Whiskey in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, of course, there isn’t a shadow of originality about their entire performance, based so obviously on the Rolling Stones that one tends to think that maybe it’s some kind of Mike Yarwood of rock and roll up there on stage.

    The early half of their set – which began with a film of themselves – was surprisingly tight. They’ve obviously been rehearsing recently and taken instant courses on how to play guitars. The latter half, however, descended into a deafening musical abyss, all stemming from David Johansen’s vocal work which gradually lost its pitch amidst his enthusiasm. By the end he was yelling his head off.

    But the Dolls are the Dolls and in New York it doesn’t really matter how well or badly they play.

    Elliott Murphey, on the other hand, had to work hard but even then his music seemed lost on the Dolls aficionados. While Murphey’s band does have its flaws, the man himself has star quality. He plays an electric guitar well, writes some good songs and stands squat about the stage as if he means business. 

    Murphey’s band includes an excellent drummer, his own brother on bass and a keyboard and rhythm guitarist. The second guitar player might as well not have been there – his contribution was a big zero – while the organist, too, seemed held back. Murphey, in white suit and shades, is the obvious star of the proceedings and some of his guitar licks were both tasteful and original.


Jonathan King said...

I totally agree. JK

Colin Harper said...

I never saw the appeal myself, Chris (but my view is retrospective, not having been 'there' at the time). Funnily enough, I was on a podcast yesterday with Brian Young - singer with Ulster punk legends RUDI during the Good Vibes era and in more recent yearts leader of rockabilly stalwarts The Sabrejets - and his favourite album is the NYDs' first LP: his whole ethos has been influenced by them. So what do I know!