Did the New York Dolls drag gimmick kill their chances commercially?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by FuturisticWorkshop, Nov 6, 2021.

  1. FuturisticWorkshop

    FuturisticWorkshop Forum Resident Thread Starter

    United State
    The Dolls made 2 pretty great albums. The heroin problem in the band seemed to kill it off more than anything else, but they were also in Florida playing terrible gigs after years of going for it.
    It’s been said before that the drag gimmick, and especially the cover of the album with them in heavy drag (not the lighter version you see on their tv appearances) killed their chances of being commercially successful. I can see how they thought it might work in the era of Alice Cooper and glam in England. the Stones dressed in drag for Beggars too. My question is do you think they would’ve been a big band (at least a gold record or more) if they’d played it more straight (not pun intended)? I wonder if there was pressure from the label before the album came out to change the cover or the image. They definitely should have stepped in before the 2nd one. Seems like an odd choice for them to stick with it for so long only to then play the fake commie thing. These guys must not have thought their music could stand on its own. Anyone around at the time that was aware of them or that could fill in the blanks of how their were received/perceived? Thanks
  2. Michael

    Michael I LOVE WIDE S-T-E-R-E-O!

    that's really hard to tell...they weren't the only ones...If I liked their music it would not matter to me how they dressed or looked...music first and foremost for me...
  3. Electric Sydney

    Electric Sydney Forum Resident

    Scarsdale, NY
    A good question! I think it ends up falling into the camp of blessing/curse, damned if do/damned if don’t.
  4. Flaming Torch

    Flaming Torch Forum Resident

    A great band and one of my favourites but possibly not the easiest of bands to manage and promote. Thunders had some success later in the UK with the Heartbreakers and then as a solo act. Perhaps the Dolls may have done better to have relocated to the UK. That though in the early 1970s may not visa wise etc even have been possible - I don't know. They supported Rod/Faces at a big Wembley show so they did get coverage here. They would have been a hoot on Top of the Pops! I have not answered the question but I do not think the dresses were the biggest factor in them not say making it.
  5. chickendinna

    chickendinna Homegrown’s All Right With Me

    It didn't bother me. I thought the way they looked fit perfectly with the way that they sounded. In a way, it might have helped them.
  6. rockerreds

    rockerreds Senior Member

    I go with Paul Nelson's analysis that the subway train they were riding was too real.
  7. egebamyasi

    egebamyasi Forum Resident

    Worcester, MA
    It probably got some attention and it probably scared some folks away. They just look like a rock band on the second album cover. I remember hearing Stranded In The Jungle on the radio as a ten year old kid. I had no idea what they looked like.
    uzn007 likes this.
  8. Chemguy

    Chemguy Forum Resident

    That’s a fine question. Without thinking to hard on it, I’d have to say yes.
  9. Clonesteak

    Clonesteak Forum Resident

    Kalamazoo, MI
    Before this forum I have never heard of them. Musically growing up in the late 80's and 90's not knowing who they are I will say I don't know. I don't feel their music has stood the test of time commercially. I can't say I could name a tune by them. I will have to check them out and see if their music sticks.
    At the time I bet the drag probably did make them less commercial for sure. I can't really comment but I can assume it did.
  10. The Sneak

    The Sneak Forum Resident

    RI USA
    The over the top cover art on the self titled album was just so stupid and misguided. I'm sure their friends in NYC thought it was a hoot, a smirking joke or exaggeration, but I am quite certain the same kids buying Stones and Aerosmith records in the midwest or wherever took one look at that and said no way.

    When I think of them, frankly, I think of Johnny and the prototypical bad boy he was. He was the one all the 80s bands ripped off, look and attitude wise. There's a reason the Heartbreakers' album crushes the 2 Dolls records --- and that's because the musical weak links in the Dolls were replaced by legit musicians in Walter and Billy.

    Clonesteak - they are one of the most influential bands of all time.
  11. Evethingandnothing

    Evethingandnothing Forum Resident

    Dressin' up weird didn't seem to harm Bowie's and other Glam rocker's careers in the 70's. Least not in the U.K.
    CoachD, TheRunoutMatrix, Tanx and 8 others like this.
  12. Curveboy

    Curveboy Forum Resident

    New York City
    Or maybe they just weren't very good...
  13. Brian Lux

    Brian Lux One in the Crowd

    Placerville, CA
    Not to me it didn't. That was a big part of their stage presence. Johansen in particular pulled it off terrifically. Check out "Vietnamese Baby" in the DVD extras of "All Dolled Up". David's strong, anything but feminine voice, combined with that killer outfit and all the right moves- fantastic!
  14. Jose Jones

    Jose Jones Outstanding Forum Member

    Detroit, Michigan
    Dressin' up (and Makeupin' up) didn't seem to help KISS in the early days, but it must have helped once they got more notice. Gimmicks are a gamble.
    uzn007 and Fullbug like this.
  15. lennonfan1

    lennonfan1 Senior Member

    baltimore maryland
    I was 14 when that 1st album came out and the look was humorous to me but I could never get with David's vocals.
    Steve Litos and clhboa like this.
  16. Slackhurst Broadcasting

    Slackhurst Broadcasting Forum Resident

    I think the Dolls could never have been much bigger than they were. The New York scene was still largely underground, and too rough/sleazy/trashy/arty for most early Seventies tastes.
  17. Today, they would probably be hunted down, whether good or bad music.
  18. "Art over $$$"
  19. Chemically altered

    Chemically altered Forum Resident

    Ukraine in Spirit
    Probably, but their music didn't help either.
  20. JoeRockhead

    JoeRockhead Forum Resident

    New Jersey
    Nope. Absolutely not.
  21. Ginger Ale

    Ginger Ale Snackophile

    New York
    I really don't think anyone cared one way or another.
  22. Danby Delight

    Danby Delight Forum Resident

    I'm probably going to regret asking this, but: Why do you think they would be "hunted down" in 2021, and by whom?

    The New York Dolls' music, great as it was then and is now, would never have had the slightest chance of mainstream commercial success in the early '70s, no matter how they dressed. It was the music that was too out-there for Top 40, not just the look.
  23. Kiss73

    Kiss73 Forum Resident


    I thought the NYD's were simply not very good with a terrible singer.
  24. Peter Mork

    Peter Mork Forum Resident

    I do think their image and that couch photo, combined with their name, hurt their potential somewhat. Yes, the music was rawer than what radio was pushing at the time, but there were some very catchy songs on that first album. But if they'd smoothed out the production, it wouldn't be the Dolls. (I recall producer Todd Rundgren making some dismissive remark about their musical abilities.)

    I saw them at the Performance Center in Harvard Square on a weeknight. Not a big crowd. There was at least one middle-age gay male couple in the audience, mainly it was young people who may have heard Maxanne play "Looking for a Kiss" on WBCN. I came glammed up in a homemade Astro Boy t-shirt and gold spangled belt, because I really wanted to hear "Jet Boy", and they didn't disappoint. I guess the typical Dolls fan back then didn't care for Supertramp or whatever was getting the mainstream push at the time - Creem readers, not Rolling Stoners.

    Also, the college radio station I was a DJ at was mainly Grateful Dead followers, and someone wrote a homophobic remark on the review sticker of the Dolls album, so that was the mindset.
  25. flaxton

    flaxton Forum Resident

    I played the first album yesterday for the first time in ages. Really enjoyed it. I can hear a lot of early uk punk influences in it.

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