After the breakup of the New York Dolls in the mid-70s, singer David Johansen released his first solo album in 1978. It's been out of print for ages, and I've been waiting for somebody to re-release it, and lo and behold this year that's what happened. Let me tell you what: this is one rockin' album, maybe even better than the Dolls' second, Too Much Too Soon. It's rife with all that smart-ass charm and Noo Yawk attitude Johansen wielded so well, plus some classic '70s production--you know, lead guitars squealing out of your speakers over chugging rhythm tracks, thanks to Johnny Rao and guest appearances from ex-Dolls guitarist Syl Sylvain and Aerosmith's Joe Perry.
West Side Story-esque, the rather epic "Lonely Tenement." Vocally, I think the singer's in top form; he's rife with sass and humor and pathos and yearning. Johansen's voice always reminded me of Louis Armstrong, crossed with a Hanna-Barbera cartoon character whose name I can't remember, am I right?
The opening track is perhaps his most famous solo song, "Funky But Chic," and sets the tone and 'tude for the rest of the album in the same way "Personality Crisis" introduced the first Dolls album in '73. "Funky funky but--oh chic!" Hilarious. If you'll recall, chic was a big word in the '70s. So was funky. Great choruses on "Pain in My Heart" and "Not That Much" ("She said, 'I'm in love with you daddy/But not that much'"). "Cool Retro" is good but a bit diminished somehow; Joe Perry's guitar seems mixed down--on purpose?! I'm sure it was a rave-up live, maybe down at Max's Kansas City or the Bottom Line.
If you're DJing some dingy bar you could throw any track on and skip nary a beat; sitch a track between some vintage Cheap Trick or that solo album from Ace Frehley. Perhaps some Ronettes and Shangri-Las along with old-school Aerosmith, or follow up the Johnny Thunders solo masterpiece "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" with the equally awesome "Frenchette." Syl Sylvain co-wrote this last song, which starts off as a pretty piano ballad but turns into a tough rocker with a real girl-group vibe. Love the lyrics: "You call that lovin' French but it's just Frenchette/I been to France... It's just like all your leathers baby/They don't scare me, I know it's only leatherette." As a suffix, -ette was big in the '70s too, if you'll recall, and David Jo scores off all of 'em, using the pretenses of a suitor as an excuse to not get serious--"I can't get the kind of love that I want, that I need... so let's just dance." Really. Always good advice.
And here's a gorgeous and blistering "Frenchette" from MTV's 1982 New Year's Eve Party.
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