So many years later, and still most musicians in the trashy rock’n’roll underbelly can’t shake that Ramones rush. In fact, there has been a Rockaway Beach-like surf rolling in for the past couple years; boffo bands from all over have their debt to the four leather-clad lads instantly assessed, in that charming/jarring way where you realize the Ramones are kind of like the Garden of Eden story, fossil fuel burning, and pizza—they won’t go away anytime soon.
But if this new round of trash-punk bands digs the Ramones, the even earlier influence of the New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders (not to mention his Heartbreakers and solo efforts) is just as dominant—especially given that the fun androgyny and mascara-stained sleaze the Dolls added to punk’s DNA often shadows the “one-two-three-four” calls. And hey, it’s Johnny Thunders’ birthday—he would have turned 60 today, and there’s a party honoring his legacy tonight at Bowery Electric. (He died in 1991 at age 36.) We asked new groups that are flying the fishnet flag to list their favorite New York Dolls and/or Johnny jams.
Johnny Thunders, “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory”
Cranium-cracking, downhill steamrolling punk from London that leaves you feeling fried like an egg left in the sun for 3 days then cooked with a bottle of Tabasco.
Dan May, bass: “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” Johnny Thunders
“Because I am terribly sentimental, this song is my favourite. It is about the feeling you get when you just had your best night ever, and things can’t get any better, and you are walking down the street the next day chuckling to yourself about it. But then the chuckle freezes in your throat, and what’s that floating six feet in the air? There’s a diamond skull staring right at you. Johnny Thunders’ voice is like when that diamond skull is knocking at your door; you can’t see it but you can hear it, and its voice is calling in debts you forgot you even had. I hope no one has tried to use it for an advert or a soundtrack—that would make me sicker.”
Power pop from Atlanta. But they wear tight black jeans rather than skinny ties and drink Pabst rather than soda pop—hence they’re more knackered than The Knack.
Adrian Barrera, singer: “I Wanna Be Loved,” Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers
“Another radioactive rock’n’roll stomper. Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan had a really great knack for mixing really tough tribal beats with high energy R&B, and when you throw in the primal sexual battlecry, you’ve got damn near a perfect song in my book. I turn into teenwolf when this comes on a jukebox.”
A Dublin fearsome foursome that stomps out garage riffs like a mushroom-gobbling Godzilla with a Big Muff pedal revenge fantasy.
Robbie Brady, vocals/bass: “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” Johnny Thunders
“This was one of the first Thurders songs I got hooked on, and was while hitting NY for the first time to do some gigs. So this song evokes some happy thoughts on being wasted in NY! On that particular trip, I saw [New York Dolls singer] David Johansen on the subway while we were on the way to Penn Station with guitars and organs etc to do a show in New Jersey. We all just stood staring at him cause no one had the balls to go up and say hello… Think we may have freaked him out a bit as well. Probably best we didn’t say hello!”
Superior slice’n’dicers from Austin’s suddenly well-stocked scene of punk rockers. The singer admitted to me that he spent a full month of his teens listening to the first Dictators album three times every day—and he is 20 years old. There is hope.
Max Vandever, guitar/vocals: “London Boys,” Johnny Thunders
I love when bands have a beef with each other and write songs about it. See “Free Drugs” off the Flesh Lights’ record, Muscle Pop. (Shameless self-promo!) Thunders took the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” and made it 10 times better with “London Boys.” Also, Paul Cook and Steve Jones (of the Sex Pistols) played on this record, which makes this song even cooler.
“Death doo-wop” from Los Angeles that drags the band’s childhood imaginings of the Bowery” through their childhood imaginings of their home city’s noir 1950s, then dresses it all up in fine vintage suits and booze.
Gabriel Hart, singer: Anything off Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin’s Copycats LP
“One of the best things about Thunders catalog was his perfect choice of covers, whether it be the Stones’ ‘I’d Much Rather Be with the Boys’ or anything off this duet covers collection, which feels like some ornate back-alley musical. The highlight on here for me lately is Dion’s ‘I Was Born To Cry,’ which breathes into it a new brimstone, the tear ducts runneth over…”
The New York Dolls on The Old Grey Whistle Test
Bumpy ride, party-rockin’ Brooklyn band who add in a honking sax and good ripped genes (leader Pierce Boaz’s dad was in Tex & the Horseheads).
Pierce Boaz, guitar: “Frankenstein,” New York Dolls
“That was the first New York Dolls song I really got into. And then when I finally got to see them—well, the new formation, down at Coney Island—I was crowd surfing during ‘Frankenstein’ and my jean leg split all the way up to my crotch.”
Guitar-as-switchbalde scuzz-punk from San Juan, Puerto Rico. They put on one of the best punk shows at Don Pedro this year… and that’s saying something.
Giancarlo Cervoni, lead vocals: “Subway Train,” Johnny Thunders
“I love [Johnny’s version] even more than the New York Dolls’ original. And now I can identify so much with this song after recently taking 452,985,048 mothafucking subway rides in just one weekend in New York with all the junkies, whores, drunks, thugs, punks, scum of the earth… oof! Save me, Jesus!”
Chicago’s dive denizens make a pounding racket that’s brought its near-power-pop hooks closer to the surface.
Ethan D’Ercole, guitar: “Who Are the Mystery Girls?,” New York Dolls
“Here Johnny Thunders’ ADHD is in perfect form. His enthusiasm is so high that he rhythmically levitates above the rest of the band. To the unsophisticated, it sounds like reckless slop. But really, Thunders just feels things more than you or me.”
Denton, Texas’s prodigal sons (seems they left again, for Austin), and current fave raves of the garage-punk world. Their recent live gigs in NYC did not disappoint, and there are like a million good offshoot bands from these guys too. Yee fuckin haw!
Orville Neeley, vocals: “Bad Girl,” New York Dolls
“I like bad girls. I mean, I like good girls too, even if they look like bad girls. But I especially like good-looking good girls that are bad under the surface, and so on. This and ‘Tropically Hot’ by the Berlin Brats are two parallel songs from the same era/style of rock’n’roll that I hold in high regard for subject matter and because they rock, obviously.”
Brooklyn’s answer to a question about a shockabilly revival that never got asked. They mash in monster surf riffs, beer-dumped Farfisa organ, and huge drum destruction and are maybe the best live local band going. Plus, bassist Rico is one of the best conversationalists in town!
Rico, bass: “Jet Boy,” New York Dolls
“The intro!! On the 1970s TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test, the song starts with Johnny’s cool guitar riff and a shot of his leather jacket with a skull and bones painted on. Then it is followed by Arther ‘Killer’ Kane’s handclapping with a guitar pick in his mouth on. The intro is enough to give me goosebumps.”
Johnny Thunders, “So Alone”
Bodily fluid-soaked jeans, an uncanny ability to laugh while puking, and viciously delivered riffs are just some of the delights of this Charlotte trio.
Elijah von Cramon, vocals/guitar: “So Alone,” Johnny Thunders
“This song is so fuckin’ sad. Especially those live takes of it where you can totally tell Thunders had been shooting up before the show. It’s a tragic, yet beautiful song.”
Defying the usual stereotypes about France never hatching fine rock’n’roll, this sick psych-pop bunch from Bordeaux are hoping to come over and drink our shitty wine on tour very soon.
Lucas Donaud, lead vocals/guitar: “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory,” Johnny Thunders; “Pirate Love,” Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers; “Que Sera Sera,” Johnny Thunders
“These three songs represent perfectly Thunders’s character to me. Beautiful melancholic music and lyrics with ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory’; great glam punk in ‘Pirate Love'(I used to skateboard a lot listening to this song); and ‘Que Sera Sera’ shows that Johnny Thunders did what he wanted to do, in his way, and didn’t care about what people would think about him. What a shame to be born one year after Thunder passed out…”
In their original configuration, this Philadelphia band leaned even more New York Dolls-y, and have since mutated into a squirrelier, fuzzy-pop thing.
John Heald, guitar: “Chatterbox,” New York Dolls
“This is the toughest, meanest thing the Dolls ever did and probably my all-time favorite song of theirs. I probably heard the song originally through some crappy Sid Vicious bootleg, but you could hear the riff cut through and it was obvious that this was a serious song. I love when a guitar player gets to take the lead vocal, and Thunders really took full advantage with this one. Top-shelf guitar action and truly exciting sounds—up there with the best Stooges and MC5 or Hendrix!”
Dynamic duo from Madison whose kind demeanor masks sick, scrunchy trips through the garage rock grease.
Bobby Hussy and Heather Hussy: “Chinese Rocks,” The Heartbreakers
“Yo! The Hussy collectively picks ‘Chinese Rocks’ cuz, duh, it rules! It’s not really Johnny’s song—but oh well, he played it!”
Johnny Thunders’ Birthday Bash takes place tonight at Bowery Electric.