This Week In History - Sept. 9 -15

By: David Ball

This Week In History - Sept. 9 -15
The New York Dolls

After they were dropped by their record label, the classic lineup of the New York Dolls split up on September 10, 1974.  The influential glam-punk band formed in New York City in 1971 and recorded just two poor-selling but critically acclaimed albums (both are freaking awesome): New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon. The Dolls made a name for themselves in New York City and London clubs with their audacious drug-fuelled live performances. They pioneered their own unique brand of hard rock and pre-punk by incorporating the dirty androgynous side of the Rolling Stones, gritty raunch of the Stooges, Chicago blues, girl group rock and the glam of T-Rex and David Bowie. Generations of future punk bands soon followed; who could care less that their heroes' records stiffed on the charts. Although the Dolls reformed in various guises over the years, their most famous lineup—singer David Johansen, guitarists Johnny Thunders and Sylvain Sylvain, bassist Arthur Kane and drummer Jerry Nolan—began to dissolve in 1974 and '75 (original drummer Billy Murcia died in 1972 and his replacement, Nolan, along with Thunders, quit in ‘75). Morrissey, a longtime fan of the Dolls and head of their UK fan-club, organized a reunion in 2004 with the three surviving band members (Johansen, Sylvain and Kane) for ‘04's Meltdown Festival. This led to a live film, DVD and LP. Unfortunately, Kane died of leukemia in late 2004, but the two remaining members (with Johansen thankfully not showing even a hint of his annoying ‘80s alter-ego, Buster Poindexter) are still touring and headlining festivals today, somehow  managing to retain their old punk relevance.

The first-ever MTV Video Awards ceremony took place on September 14, 1984, co-hosted by Bette Midler and Dan Aykroyd, a combo that went together about as well as oil and water. Not surprisingly, given rap's slow acceptance by the "suits", categories such as Video of the Year and Best Male Video were dominated by rock and pop acts, with Herbie Hancock coming away the big winner. His crossover hit, "Rockit", landed the jazz-great-turned-pop-sensation five statues including Best Concept Video and Best Experimental Video. Michael Jackson's John Landis directed horror short, "Thriller" won awards in the categories: Viewer's Choice, Best Choreography and Best Stage Performance in a Video.

Oh, and this next bit was included only because I promised some Bowie content in last week's article:

 David Bowie's "China Girl" won for Best Male Video at the first MTV Awards. His video version of an earlier Iggy Pop tune beat out Herbie Hancock's "Rockit", Billy Joel's laughably dated "Uptown Girl" (which starred his trophy ex-wife Christie Brinkley), MJ's "Thriller" and Lionel Ritchie's brilliantly awful, "All Night Long". There's really no excuse for Bowie beating Jackson's masterpiece, other than the judges must have preferred watching The Thin White Duke rolling around in the surf with a half-naked "little China girl". And I bet if the song was called "China Man" and recorded by Madonna or Cher—or David Bowie for that matter—it would have been banned outright.

Almost eight years to the day that rhythm guitarist David Knopfler left Dire Straits, his older brother and band leader, Mark, announced on September 15, 1988, that the popular British rock group had officially broken up. But instead of going out on top a la legendary unbeaten boxing champ Rocky Marciano, Dire Straits did the obligatory comeback and tour a few years later that even diehard fans would like to forget. Their forgettable On Every Street (released on September 10, 1991) did nothing but tarnish a once rather tarnish-free legacy which began with their excellent 1978 debut through to their 1985 commercial peak and "should-have-been-swansong", Brothers in Arms—the latter is one of the biggest albums of the 1980s.

The London-based band began as a trio (joining the brothers was David's bassist roommate, John Illsley) and cut their first demo with drummer Pick Withers in 1977, "Sultans of Swing". A BBC DJ began playing the song and a tour with Talking Heads followed. Not too long after the tour, they were signed by Warner, in 1978. Their self-titled debut showcased the immense talents of Mark Knopfler and was a success in both the UK and North America; its single, "Sultans of Swing", became a Top 10 hit. Dire Straits, with its Dylanesque storytelling and inventive guitar hybrid of country-blues-rock, offered a refreshing rootsy diversion in a music world dominated by heavy metal, disco and punk. But back to "Sultans of Swing" —it is one of the great guitar songs. Guitar World magazine ranked it #22 of all time thanks to its dazzling Chet Atkins-inspired finger-picked solo; and the tune single-handedly made the elder Knopfler a guitar god. Dire Straits got more ambitious on future albums—experimenting with pop, prog and jazz rock—but their debut is still their most consistent and best. On an aside, other than brain damaged classic rock worshippers, I bet you can't find anyone alive—or dead—that isn't sick to death of #1 hit, "Money for Nothing", from Brothers in Arms. It's easily one of the most tediously overplayed rock songs of the past 25 years. Heck, I was already sick of the Sting/Straits collaboration and its "I want my MTV" intro in 1985!

Video: "Jet Boy" by The New York Dolls

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