Saturday, May 10, 2014

Happy Birthday, Greatest Album of the 1970s!

The genius begins with the very title. It wasn't Too Much Too Soon; it was New York Dolls in Too Much Too Soon which means you'd have to make its discographical entry look ugly by capitalizing "in" like so - New York Dolls: In Too Much Too Soon. But you'd do it to honor an achievement as cinematic as it is musical. For their second release (and last for 32 years), the New York Dolls starred themselves in a movie-album complete with playlets, sound effects, impersonations, and bits of dialogue. Inspired by record-writers Leiber and Stoller, this gimmicky m.o. doomed the Dolls to a short shelf life in a musicscape where Hollywood films had long since stopped belching up the most popular songs in America.

Their taste in covers didn't help either (nor did the fact that four of these ten songs were covers). By 1974, capital-r Rock's premium on authentic expression was an article of faith. So today, in the post-postmodern/poptimist era, it's difficult to hear how revolutionary it was to pay tribute to such novelty numbers as The Jayhawks' (or was that The Cadets'?) "Stranded in the Jungle" or The Coasters' "Bad Detective" (which was neither produced nor written by Leiber-Stoller, by the way) or to treat a relatively recent dance tune like Archie Bell & The Drells' "(There's Gonna Be) A Showdown" with a gravitas usually reserved for rock's blues forefathers. And when they paid homage to the latter with their take on Sonny Boy Williamson's "Don't Start Me Talkin'," they sassed it up like a bitch queen reading you to filth. Coupled with the pre-punk noise they were kicking up, this shameless alignment with the camp, the novel, and the cinematic gave the listener a glimpse of a utopia that collapsed masculine and feminine, gay and straight, rock and pop.

So in an attempt to juice even more pleasure out of the thing, I finally watched the album's namesake, the 1958 film Too Much, Too Soon based on Diana Barrymore's (daughter of John, aunt of Drew) memoir. Sadly, it's a dutiful social problem film akin to The Lost Weekend, maybe slightly trashier but not trashy enough to inspire visions of utopia.

The best part is when the oily tennis stud John Howard (Ray Danton) is preventing Barrymore (Dorothy Malone) from walking around with goosebumps.

But goosebumps she gets when faced with this.
And really, who can blame her?

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