New York Dolls: Too Much Too Soon

MAY 1974 (38 YEARS AGO)
New York Dolls: Too Much Too Soon is released.
# allmusic 5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
As I have said a small handful of times before, there are instances that change my outlook and open up different avenues of music.  Seeing the New York Dolls on (I think Midnight Special doing “Personality Crisis”) just floored me… I went out and bought the self-titled album as soon as I could afford it. I couldn’t define what they were musically and have never really got into “oh, they sound like so and so.”  They were different and damn good, plus it seemed like they were having a helluva good time.
Too Much Too Soon, also known as New York Dolls in Too Much Too Soon, is the second album by New York Dolls and the last studio album by the original classic line-up, released in May, 1974. The album was produced by Shadow Morton, a songwriter and record producer closely associated with girl group The Shangri-Las.
Discounting the proto-punk ’60s work of groups like the Stooges and the MC5, the New York Dolls are probably the first punk band. Visually they flirted with glam, but that’s just because they were emulating their main influence, the Stones, whose one-time penchant for wearing ladies’ clothes the Dolls aped. Like the Stones, the Dolls had a flamboyant singer (David Johansen) full of sexy swagger and soul, and a strung-out-looking guitarist (Johnny Thunders) who’d chewed up and spit out the Chuck Berry catalogue. The Dolls revved up that rootsy sound, combining a hard edge with a respect for the rock & roll verities.
Songs such as “Who are the Mystery Girls?” and “It’s Too Late” meld punk abandon with soulful rock & roll, with Thunders’s slashing guitar slicing the ’50s and ’60s aesthetics into little pieces. The iconoclastic Dolls had an undeniable respect for tradition, shown by their cocky covers of the soul classic “(There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown” and the ’50s novelty hit “Stranded in the Jungle.” Despite all these nods to the past, though, Too Much Too Soon burst onto the 1974 rock scene sounding like exactly what it was–the dawning of a new day.
The New York Dolls’ first album expanded their cult from Manhattan to the rest of hard-core, hard-rock America. As a result, Too Much Too Soon is less specifically rooted in Manhattan, though its bluster and swagger are no less urban. Rather than the specifically New York City “Subway Train” of their first LP, there’s “Babylon,” the town on Long Island, the Philadelphia soul of “There’s Gonna Be a Showdown,” and the Chinese accents of “Bad Detective.” Too Much Too Soon is plainly about moving a lot and not going anywhere. “All dressed up/Got nowhere to go,” sings lead guitarist Johnny Thunders and he is aching for release.
Just as lead singer David JoHansen’s taunting “Do you think you could make it with Frankenstein?” encapsulated the first album, Thunders’s “C’mon, gimme some lips” becomes the motif of this one. The Dolls have never lacked arrogance, which has earned them often invidious comparisons to the Rolling Stones. But now their self-confidence seems matter of fact. “Frankenstein” defended their eccentricity — bassist Arthur Kane’s chemise, Thunders’s feathery hair, and JoHansen’s New York accents. “I’m a Human Being” isn’t a taunt but a statement of complicity: The Dolls have discovered that they really aren’t that different.
Onstage the Dolls’ dynamism covers their rough edges. But their records work as well. Too Much Too Soon owes much to producer Shadow Morton, who has shown the Dolls how to make those edges stand in relief against the group’s natural and undeniable talent.
Consequently, even their nerviest attempts turn out successes. For instance, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s “There’s Gonna Be a Showdown” is of interest not just because it is the album’s strongest cut but because it is built on Jerry Nolan’s drumming. Nolan is the one Doll who approximates the standard definition of musical competence. Critics usually ignore the issue of competence with groups like the Dolls — but musical competence simply has a different meaning to the Dolls than it has for most groups. They are searching for effects and it is to their credit that we only hear the best of them.
To that end, Too Much Too Soon makes it clear that the Dolls are not just David JoHansen’s backing band. Both Nolan and Thunders emerge as powerful forces. Thunders’s “Chatterbox,” which he wrote and sings, is a classic — his guitar work as inventive as the most underrated of all metal guitarists, the MC5’s Fred Smith. Meanwhile, JoHansen is a talented showman, with an amazing ability to bring characters to life as a lyricist.
Ultimately, the Dolls remind me not of a rock band, but of a baseball team. Like the Mets, they are rising from deprecation to become champs. I think they’re the best hard-rock band in America right now. As they say, “I can hold my head so high, ’cause I’m a human, a riff-raff human being.”
~ Dave Marsh (June 24, 1974)
All songs written and composed by David Johansen and Johnny Thunders, except as indicated.                                
Side one                                             
1              Babylon  3:31
2              Stranded in the Jungle (James Johnson, Ernestine Smith, Al Curry) 
3              Who Are the Mystery Girls? 3:07
4              (There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown (Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff)             
5              It’s Too Late  4:35
Side two                                             
1              Puss ‘N’ Boots (Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain) 3:06
2              Chatterbox (Thunders) 2:26
3              Bad Detective (Kenny Lewis) 3:37
4              Don’t Start Me Talkin’ (Sonny Boy Williamson II) 3:12
5              Human Being 5:44

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