When the New York Dolls formed in 1971, they were greeted with a bevy of strong opinions. "People said, 'They're the best band,' or 'They're the worst band,' " frontman David Johansen recalls. "It was every kind of extreme reaction to what we were doing with music."
There's no denying that the Dolls' raw, provocative sound, combined with their gender-bending glam image and nonchalant attitude, created a legacy that would live long past their breakup in 1977.
Years later, acts including the Ramones and Kiss would claim the New York Dolls as an influence and today, their made-up faces appear on T-shirts worn by the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus and college-aged hipsters. But even though the band essentially defined punk music, it never really found commercial success.
In 2004, the three remaining Dolls (drummer Billy Murcia died during the band's first run; guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan passed away in the interim) reunited to perform at London's Meltdown festival, at Morrissey's request. Bassist Arthur "Killer" Kane died from leukemia months after the gig, but Johansen, guitarist Sylvain Sylvain and the three newest members went on to release "One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This" in 2006 on Roadrunner Records.
Manager Ron Stone says that even though he felt "One Day" was a solid album, it took the band time to "get its sea legs." "It didn't do what I think they hoped it would do, which was to kind of energize this particular generation about who they are," he says.
At this point, the new lineup has been together almost as long as the first — a feat, considering its rocky past — and with the May 5 release of " 'Cause I Sez So" on Rhino Entertainment's Atco Records, the Dolls might get their commercial due.
Rhino senior director of marketing Michael Kachko describes the Dolls as "more of a hip band than a hit band," noting that most people know the group's name but probably couldn't name two of its songs. "I think a New York Dolls album coming out excites a certain group of people, but not necessarily everybody," he says. "But I believe if another group listens to the record, they're going to get hooked."
" 'Cause I Sez So" finds the Dolls revisiting its roots in a few ways. As previously reported, the set reunites them with Todd Rundgren, who produced the 1973 debut, and also features a tamer, reggae-infused rerecording of the song "Trash" from the band's first album. On the night of the album release the band will perform at designer John Varvatos' store in Manhattan, located in the former location of CBGB, where the Dolls played in the '70s.
The group played two gigs at South by Southwest in March and will tour in mid-May, with Rundgren joining on several dates. Stone says the live shows are key because while the gigs will draw longtime listeners, they'll also give the younger crowd a chance to see the band for the first time. "I think for younger fans, it's this fascination they've heard about this band that existed in conversation for 20-some odd years, and that other bands constantly are crediting them," he says.
In addition to the tour, Kachko says he's aiming for a late-night TV performance slot and the label is in discussions with a major online partner to stream the album near its release. The album's title track will be marketed to radio as the first single, but it won't be the campaign's focus. "They are not a radio band," Kachko says. "We're not going to try to make them a radio band at this stage in the career."
But regardless of the album's success, it's clear that the Dolls still don't care what anyone thinks. "We don't really pay that much attention to what anyone else does," Johansen says. "We just have this idea of what rock'n'roll should be and how it should swing, and that's how we play."