sat 18/05/2024

Reissue CDs Weekly: New York Dolls | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: New York Dolls

Reissue CDs Weekly: New York Dolls

'Personality Crisis' is a frequently wonderful collection of what New York’s finest did not originally release

New York Dolls: blues, girl group records and soul were integral to who they were

Playing Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom on 8 September 1974, the New York Dolls opened their first set of the evening with three cover versions. Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man” was followed by The Shangri-Las’ “(Give Him a) Great Big Kiss” and Otis Redding’s “Don’t Mess With Cupid”. They were acknowledging that blues, girl group records and soul were integral to who they were.

A pretty comprehensive sweep considering they were a prime influence on the purportedly reductive punk rock. Once the building blocks were revealed to the audience, Vancouver witnessed them lurching into their own "Chatterbox".

Of course, the New York Dolls were their own thing and just how much so is rammed home forcefully by the new 5-CD clamshell box set Personality Crisis: Live Recordings & Studio Demos 1972–1975. The Vancouver show is included (given a date of “circa June/July 1974”) as is more live material and studio recordings: all of which was not issued during the original band’s late 1971 to early 1975 lifespan. Here, then, is one of rock’s most rag-bag bands in its unadorned, raggiest and baggiest glory.

New York Dolls Personality Crisis Live Recordings & Studio Demos 1972-1975Personality Crisis does not, though, collect anything previously unreleased. Discs One and Two are dedicated to studio demos: nine tracks from June 1972 which first surfaced on the Lipstick Killers cassette in 1981; four tracks recorded in the UK in October 1972 initially released on two Bellaphon label singles in 1978; the 23 tracks from New York Planet Studios taped in March 1973 – two weeks before they signed with Mercury Records – originally heard on the 7 Day Weekend double-album bootleg. All the tracks have been repackaged and reissued many times.

Similarly, the live material on Discs Three, Four And Five has been round the block repeatedly: the Vancouver show; Paris 23 December 1973; Detroit 31 December 1973; My Father’s Place, Long Island 14 April 1974; Dallas, September 1974 (the date this show is usually given after it was bootlegged on vinyl thus in 1978: it is actually from September 1973); New York’s Little Hippodrome, 3 March 1975. Excepting three tracks from 1984, these three discs are as per the 2006 release From Here To Eternity, The Live Bootleg Box Set.

The sound quality of the new package varies from good to OK. In old bootleg terms an A+ or A for the studio material and some of the live recordings made for radio, and down to a B+ grade for the edgiest of the live recordings. The remastering is noted as being new and details of the audio sources are not given (do master tapes for this stuff exist?). No audible difference to From Here To Eternity is discernable. However, the Long Island show sounds better than the cassette versions which circulated during the 1980s, but not markedly so. Thankfully, the tired-sounding, unenthused Little Hippodrome show lacks the distracting overdubbed piano which ruined proceedings when it was first issued in 1984 as Red Patent Leather.

Really, the recycling and spotty sound don’t matter that much. Most fans will already have much or all of this material and those who don’t will find Personality Crisis a keenly priced and useful one-stop purchase. A bonus comes with liner notes actually focusing on the contents rather than taking the easy/lazy path by cantering though the band’s well-known history.

New York Dolls Personality Crisis Live Recordings & Studio Demos 1972-1975 Disc FiveOf the studio material, the pre-first album Planet Studios demos are wonderful. The band, with recently inducted drummer Jerry Nolan, are in their high-energy prime and every track is infectious. Despite being an audience recording, Dallas is the pick of the live shows. Amusingly, the card sleeve containing the disc with the show (pictured left) recycles the cover of the bootleg album on which the show was first released.

In terms of how this reading of the New York Dolls story plugs into the development of what would become punk rock, the presence of future Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren is tangible. He saw the band play London’s Biba boutique in late November 1973 (the UK visit during which they appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test) and was so smitten he went to see them in Paris a few days later: some of the Paris show is heard here. While in France, parts of his future were mapped out when he met music scene mover, shaker and pivotal punk propagator Marc Zermati for the first time. The Little Hippodrome show from March 1975 was recorded while McLaren was steering the band’s course, when he had them playing with Communist imagery. The support band was Television, whose Richard Hell had appealingly ripped clothes and short, spikey hair. Personality Crisis tracks more than the New York Dolls’ path.

The band’s two original albums will always be the best introduction to the New York Dolls. The All Dolled Up documentary is also essential. For anyone wanting more, the hugely enjoyable Personality Crisis is just the ticket.

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