Friday, August 1, 2008

Currently listening: David Johansen, David Johansen (1978)

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.

The David Johansen Group

But there's also some serious girl-group and '60s soul going on here, from the Stonesy ballad "Donna" to the 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.

Girls, he likes 'em hangin' around

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.


Suggadelic said...

Will, I've been meaning to get in touch with you, because after you mentioned Johansen's solo record on my blog, I pulled out my old vinyl copy of it, (which I purchased some where during an old tour for 98 cents), and I have not been able to get enough of it! I had forgotten how awesome it is...

And yes, I'm with you that it may be a stronger record than "Too Much Too Soon," (although any hardcord Dolls fan would probably punch me in the mouth for saying so).

Just this morning I was listening to "Not That Much," thinking, "Hmmm... Could this song be a potential cover?"

Dan E said...

I love this record, too; it pretty much got me through the first half of my freshman year in college.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's better than TMTS, though — more "adult", maybe?

I think it IS more even and consistent than the second Dolls album, but to me the production is slicker and duller, and nothing on it really matches the inspired lunacy of "Stranded in the Jungle," "Puss in Boots" or "Who Are the Mystery Girls".

But you're spot-on with the Armstrong/Disney comparison; just the way he sings, "There's a pain in my heart and it HOITS" should have qualified him for a lifetime of Pixar voiceover work...

Jeremy Richey said...

Awesome Will, Sorry I missed this post before and I am thrilled to hear the album is still in print. It's among my top albums of all time and yes I think it is at least the equal to that second Dolls platter.
If you haven't heard it. check out the Johansen's live at the Bottom Line disc that is out as well. He does pretty much the whole album, some Dolls tracks and some killer covers. Oh, and JT is in the audience and joins him on stage at the end for a face melting Babylon. It's one of the great live recordings ever...anyway, great post and Viva the New York Fuckin Dolls!

Anonymous said...

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