Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers

L.A.M.F. - The Lost '77 Mixes
So Alone

L.A.M.F. - The Lost '77 Mixes (Track Record ’77, Jungle Freud '95) Rating: A-
After leaving the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders briefly teamed up with Richard Hell in the Heartbreakers, whose lineup upon Hell’s departure solidified around guitarist Walter Lure, bassist Billy Rath, and ex-Dolls drummer Jerry Nolan. The Heartbreakers made the rounds in the U.K. at the height of the punk movement, but unfortunately their debut album, L.A.M.F. (short for Like A Motherfucker), was so poorly mixed as to almost totally dilute the music’s power. An attempted rerecording with a drum machine in 1984, L.A.M.F. Revisited, failed to rectify the problem, but the 1995 remix (as opposed to rerecording) got things right, and now L.A.M.F. - The Lost ‘77 Mixes can rightfully take its place among the classic punk rock albums of the era. Alas, by the time of this albums release Thunders was dead of a drug overdose, probably the least shocking O.D. ever as Thunders’ habit was all too well-known and is fairly broadcast throughout this album. And while I don’t condone the use of hard drugs (pot should be legal, though), these are some really good songs, with Thunders’ wailing guitar leading the way and many a catchy shout along chorus making up for Thunders’ vocal limitations (David Johansen he ‘aint). “Born To Lose,” a self-fulfilling anthem if ever there was one, and “Chinese Rocks,” whose heavy, hurtling riffs were tailor made for the Ramones (Dee Dee Ramone and Richard Hell co-wrote it and the Ramones also recorded it, though I prefer this more energetic and punkish take), are pretty much acknowledged classics, but there are plenty of other tunes worthy of that designation as well. I’m sorry if I intimated that Nolan was anything less than a fine rock drummer in my New York Dolls review, as his impressive pounding elevates “Baby Talk” and “I Wanna Be Loved,” and Lure effectively sings lead on “One Track Mind,” though as per usual the key is still Thunders’ razor-sharp riffs and the band’s ragged sing along harmonies. Elsewhere, “I Love You” and “Can’t Keep My Eyes On You” (the latter sung by Nolan) are particularly poppy but work reasonably well, while “It’s Not Enough” is even more surprising, being an affecting proto-power ballad with a melodic guitar solo. “All By Myself” and ““Let’s Go” are quite good as well, but the album is probably a few songs too long, as “Get Off The Phone,” “Pirate Love,” and “Goin’ Steady” are kinda silly punk-by-numbers space fillers, though Thunders’ buzzsaw riffing largely redeems them anyway, and their cover of The Contours’ Motown classic “Do You Love Me” is both inferior to the original and completely anti-climactic, though since neither that or “Can’t Keep My Eyes On You” were on the original L.A.M.F. I suppose you can consider them bonus tracks. Besides, those flaws merely make L.A.M.F. - The Lost ‘77 Mixes a minor rather than a major classic, and any fan of the New York Dolls or punk rock in general would do well to seek out this version of the album; avoid all others, though.

So Alone (Mercury ’74) Rating: A-
After L.A.M.F. found little success, Thunders broke up the Heartbreakers and released his first and best solo album, So Alone, on which Lure and Rath play along with a host of surprising guest stars: Steve Jones and Paul Cook (The Sex Pistols), Steve Marriott (The Small Faces, Humble Pie), Peter Perrett (The Only Ones), Paul Gray (Eddie and the Hot Rods, The Damned), Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), and Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy). On second thought, it may seem an odd combination of characters, but most of them had one thing in common: heroin. Anyway, musically speaking this album strips away some of the gutter-worthy grittiness of L.A.M.F. and is more in line with the r&b/doo-wop/glam pop influenced Too Much Too Soon, though certainly "Leave Me Alone" and "London Boys," the latter a scathing "answer song" to the Sex Pistols' "New York," deliver raw, highly energized punk rock. Elsewhere, Thunders reveals a surprising depth on wasted ballads like "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory," on which he seems to all but predict his sad fate, and "Ask Me No Questions," with its memorable advice ("ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies"), while "(She's So) Untouchable" is another excellent semi-ballad, though it has its upbeat sax-led r&b moments as well. Like Too Much Too Soon, So Alone is a little too reliant on covers, and Thunders also resurrects a pair of old New York Dolls tunes: "Subway Train" is recast in a more low-key yet arguably more effective manner, while "Downtown" delivers a draggy dirge whose sloppy guitars flail all over the place. Among the covers, Lynott and Marriott shine on the rollicking mid-tempo grooves of "Daddy Rollin' Stone," while "Pipeline" ends all too abruptly, though it's impressive while it sticks around as Thunders recklessly transforms the famous Chantays' surf instrumental into a hard-charging garage rocker. Even better is his cover of the Shangri-Las "Great Big Kiss," which reprises the "LUV" bit that Johansen had done at the beginning of "Looking For A Kiss," which they stole from the Shangri-Las in the first place, but anyway, this song is a lot of campy girl group fun that wouldn't have sounded too out of place on the Grease soundtrack a few years later. All in all, the whole album is a lot of fun, though certainly there's some redundancy given the amount of retreads and covers on display, as Thunders was obviously too "busy" to write a full batch of new tunes. Alas, this was as good as it would get for Thunders, who sank further into a seedy drug induced abyss while succeeding new records, mostly shoddy compilations, were scarce. The romanticism that has surrounded him for being arguably rock 'n' roll's ultimate bad boy addict is insulting when you consider that Thunders was a genuine talent as a guitarist, songwriter, and even singer (his reedy Parrett/Tom Verlaine reminiscent voice wasn't pretty but worked well enough with the material) who completely wasted his gifts for much of his brief life. Fortunately, L.A.M.F. - The Lost ‘77 Mixes and So Alone capture different facets of his surprisingly versatile talents and provide enduring testaments to both the power of his music and the destructive pull of drugs.

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