Too Much Too Soon (album)

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Too Much Too Soon
Studio album by New York Dolls
Released May 10, 1974
Recorded A&R Studios, New York City
Genre Hard rock, protopunk
Length 36:44
Label Mercury
Producer Shadow Morton
New York Dolls chronology
New York Dolls
(1973)
Too Much Too Soon
(1974)
Lipstick Killers
(1981)
Singles from Too Much Too Soon
  1. "Stranded in the Jungle / Who Are the Mystery Girls?"
    Released: July 1974
  2. "(There's Gonna Be A) Showdown / Puss 'n' Boots"
    Released: September 1974

Too Much Too Soon is the second studio album by American hard rock band the New York Dolls, released on May 10, 1974, by Mercury Records. The band was dissatisfied with the sound of their 1973 self-titled debut album, so frontman David Johansen enlisted Shadow Morton to produce Too Much Too Soon. Morton had become disenchanted by the music industry, but was enthused by the band's energy and agreed to work with them as a personal challenge. They recorded the album at A&R Studios in New York City.

Despite their affinity for him, the New York Dolls produced little original material with Morton and recorded several cover songs to complete Too Much Too Soon. Johansen impersonated different characters on some of the novelty covers, while Morton's refined production incorporated a large amount of studio sound effects and female backing vocals. For the album, lead guitarist Johnny Thunders wrote and recorded "Chatterbox", his first lead vocal track.

Too Much Too Soon was released to poor sales and only charted at number 167 on the Billboard 200. After a problem-ridden national tour, the New York Dolls were dropped by Mercury and disbanded in 1975. The album was well received by most music critics, who praised the band's raw sound and felt that it was improved by Morton's production. Like the band's debut album, Too Much Too Soon became one of the most popular cult albums in rock music and has since been reissued on CD by Mercury in 1988 and by Hip-O Select in 2005.

Background[edit]

After being signed by Mercury Records, the New York Dolls released their self-titled debut album in 1973 to poor sales.[1] Although it received praise from critics, the band was not satisfied with producer Todd Rundgren's sound for the album and subsequently had disagreements with him. Songwriting and production partners Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were originally enlisted to produce Too Much Too Soon, while the band's guitarist Johnny Thunders wanted to produce it himself. However, Leiber and Stoller withdrew shortly before recording was to begin.[2] The band subsequently held a single session with Mercury A&R executive Paul Nelson at Media Sound Recording Studios, where they recorded 14 songs, most of which were cover songs.[3]

At the recommendation of Leiber and Stoller,[4] frontman David Johansen then enlisted Shadow Morton to produce Too Much Too Soon. Morton was best known for his work with the Shangri-Las, of whom the New York Dolls were avid fans. He was also more familiar with New York City than Rundgren had been and was Johansen's original choice to produce their debut album.[5] Morton had become disenchanted with the music industry and wanted to challenge himself with the band: "The Dolls had energy, sort of a disciplined weirdness. I took them into the room as a challenge. I was bored with the music and the business. The Dolls can certainly snap you out of boredom."[6]

Recording[edit]

We were pushing it. We were running twenty-six hours each day. They had an incredible amount of energy. God, I remember the scenes in the studio ... the word intense is not intense enough! I let them do what they naturally did and merely tried to catch some of it on tape.

Shadow Morton, on the New York Dolls in the studio[6]

The New York Dolls recorded Too Much Too Soon with Morton at A&R Studios in New York City. The album was later mastered at Sterling Sound and Masterdisk.[7] During the sessions, he had Johansen record his vocals several times. In his production, Morton also incorporated sounds effects such as gongs, gunshots, and feminine choruses to the songs.[8] In his report on the album's progress for Melody Maker, journalist Lenny Kaye wrote that "they're taking more time [than their debut album], bringing in occasional strings and horns, following Shadow's advice not 'to settle'."[9] Morton found the band's energy in the studio refreshing,[6] while Johansen was fond of Morton and the "looser" feel he provided their music in the studio: "That man is completely unpretentious. He doesn't think he ever did a marvellous thing in his life."[9]

Despite their affinity for each other, Morton and the New York Dolls produced little new material together and had to record cover songs and some of the band's early songs to complete the rest of the album; "Babylon", "Who Are the Mystery Girls?", "It's Too Late", and "Human Being" had previously been recorded by the band in March 1973 as demos for Mercury.[3] According to journalist Tony Fletcher, Morton would have been more productive had it not been for his alcoholism and the lifestyles of the band members—bassist Arthur Kane was also an alcoholic, while Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan had heroin addictions.[10] Robert Christgau, on the other hand, believed that the New York Dolls relied more on cover songs for Too Much Too Soon because, "like so many cocky songwriters, David Johansen overloaded his debut with originals and then found that record promotion wasn't a life activity that inspired new ones."[8] English writer Clinton Heylin said that their inability to sell enough records before may have discouraged them from writing new songs.[3]

Music and lyrics[edit]

"Chatterbox" was written and sung by lead guitarist Johnny Thunders (pictured in 1979).

According to Billboard magazine, Too Much Too Soon is another album of hard rock by the New York Dolls, but with more "sophisticated" production from Morton.[11] It features covers of the Cadets' 1956 hit single "Stranded in the Jungle", Archie Bell's 1969 hit "There's Gonna Be a Showdown", and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Don't Start Me Talkin'".[12] On the novelty cover songs, Johansen impersonates different characters, including a high-stepper in "Showdown" and Charlie Chan in "Bad Detective",[13] whose nonsensical narrative is set in China.[14] On "Stranded in the Jungle", he alternates between a comical reject and a lecherous man at lover's lane.[13] Journalist Ellen Willis remarked that, like the band's 1973 song "Personality Crisis", "Stranded in the Jungle" suggests a theme of "clashing cultures and the dilemma of preserving one's uniqueness while reaching out to others".[15]

Johansen wrote the lyrics to "Babylon" as a tribute to the band's following from outside New York City: "[The song] is about people who live in Babylon, Long Island, New York, who go into the city every night dressed to kill. These people have to get home before sun-up, you know, like vampires that can't get caught by the sun."[16] On the other hand, Spin magazine's Eric Weisbard and Craig Marks interpreted "Babylon" as a reference to the Biblical city of the same name because of how the song portrays "the symbol of decadence as a sanctuary".[17] The song's subject leaves Babylon for Manhattan, where she is hired in a massage parlour.[16]

"It's Too Late" questions nostalgic fashions and makes reference to actress Diana Dors in a lyric rebuking drug use.[18] According to music journalist Nina Antonia, it assails indifferent, decadent people who cannot "parlez New York français".[19] "Puss 'n' Boots" was titled after an illustrated, podoerotic magazine sold in adult book stores.[9] Johansen said the song is "about shoe fetishism, or as Arthur [Kane] observed, it's about 'the woofers in relationship with the woofee'."[20] Its lyrics depict adversities faced by the protagonist, "Little Rhinestone Target", as he tries to change his name in pursuit of his shoe fetish before it ends with a gunshot, which was inspired by The Olympics' 1958 song "Western Movies".[9] Willis interpreted a feminist subtext and cited the lyrics "Sometimes you gotta get away someway / And now you're walkin' just like you're ten feet tall ... I hope you don't get shot for tryin'."[15]

"Chatterbox" was written and sung by Thunders,[12] whom Willis remarked "uses his voice as a wailing instrument" in a way similar to Robert Plant.[15] The song was his first time singing lead.[17] Its lyrics describe the narrator's growing frustration over a crossed-wire phone connection with a female subject.[14] On "Human Being", an ode to self-respect and personal liberty,[17] Thunders opens with a roughly performed variation on Bill Doggett's 1956 song "Honky Tonk".[21] Johansen addresses critics of the band in the song: "Well if you don't like it go ahead and / Find yourself a saint / Find yourself a boy who's / Gonna be what I ain't /And what you need is / A plastic doll with a / Fresh coast of paint / Who's gonna sit through the madness / And always act so quaint".[22]

Release and promotion[edit]

"Stranded in the Jungle" became the New York Dolls' most successful single.[23]

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Too Much Too Soon was titled after the biography of the same name on actress Diana Barrymore. According to music journalist Jon Savage, the title was "more than applicable to the Dolls themselves. 'Johnny had got into junk,' says Sylvain, 'and Jerry [Nolan] had hepatitis. It was heavy, heavy drinking.'"[24] A dedication to Barrymore was printed in the album's gatefold LP.[7] The album's front cover shows the band in a mock live performance and avoids the drag style of their debut's cover. For shock value, Thunders held a doll in his arm as if to strike it against his guitar.[12]

Too Much Too Soon was released on May 10, 1974.[12] It was another commercial failure for the band, as it only charted at number 167 on the Billboard 200.[25] The album ultimately sold less than 100,000 copies.[26] Two double A-sided, 7" singles were released—"Stranded in the Jungle / Who Are the Mystery Girls?" in July and "(There's Gonna Be A) Showdown / Puss 'n' Boots" in September 1974; neither charted.[27] Music journalist Joe Gross later wrote in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004) that the band's attempt to garner more airplay by enlisting Morton did not work because, "with a slicker sound, background choruses, and cleaner riffs, the Dolls just sounded skankier".[28]

When the album was released in Europe in July, the New York Dolls performed at the Buxton Festival in Derbyshire and the Rock Prom Festival at Olympia in London.[29] They also embarked on their second tour of the United States, which was marred by cancelled shows, escalating drug and alcohol addictions, and internal strife. They were subsequently dropped by Mercury and ultimately disbanded in 1975.[30]

Critical reception[edit]

Too Much Too Soon was acclaimed by contemporary music critics.[12] In his review for Rolling Stone, Dave Marsh hailed the New York Dolls as the leading hard rock band in the US and took note of Nolan's competent drumming, Johansen's ability to add depth to his characters, and Thunders' innovative guitar playing, particularly on "Chatterbox", which Marsh called "a classic". He felt that even the most brazen songs sound successful because Morton's production highlights the band's more unrefined qualities.[31] Creem magazine's Robert Christgau said that the polished sound reproduction retains their raw qualities, particularly with Johansen's vocals and Nolan's drumming, and remarked that Rundgren "should be ashamed—Shadow Morton has gotten more out of the Dolls than they can give us live on any but their best nights."[32] Robert Hilburn, writing in the Los Angeles Times, viewed it as a markedly better-produced album that proves the New York Dolls are "the real thing" and hailed it as "perhaps the best example of raw, thumb-your-nose-at-the-world, punk rock since the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street".[33] In her review for The New Yorker, Ellen Willis said that she learned to appreciate Too Much Too Soon more than New York Dolls after having seen the band perform songs from the former album in concert, particularly "Human Being" and "Puss 'n' Boots".[15]

However, some reviewers were critical of the album and felt that it sounded unfinished and overproduced.[30] In a negative review for NME, Nick Kent said that it sounded cluttered and "shot through with unfulfilled potential".[34] Circus magazine panned the album as "cut after cut of annoying screeching".[34] Nonetheless, Too Much Too Soon was voted the tenth best album of 1974 in the Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of critics run by The Village Voice.[35] Willis, one of the critics polled, said that it was her fifth favorite album of the year.[36] Christgau, the poll's creator and supervisor, named it the third best album of the year in his own list,[37] and in a decade-end list for The Village Voice, he named it the fourth best album of the 1970s.[38] Richard Cromelin of the Los Angeles Times included Too Much Too Soon on his list of favorite albums from the decade and wrote that Morton's production makes the album slightly better than New York Dolls.[39]

Legacy[edit]

Professional ratings
Retrospective reviews
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[40]
Blender 5/5 stars[41]
Chicago Sun-Times 3/4 stars[42]
Robert Christgau A+[8]
The New Rolling Stone Album Guide 4.5/5 stars[43]
The Rolling Stone Record Guide 4/5 stars[44]

Along with the band's self-titled first album, Too Much Too Soon became among the most popular cult records in rock music.[25] According to AllMusic senior editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine, the New York Dolls predated punk rock with their "gleeful sleaziness and reckless sound" on the album, which was embellished by Morton's production details and exemplified by "musically visceral and dangerous" songs such as "Human Being".[40] In 1985, Sounds magazine ranked it sixtieth on its list of the 100 best albums of all time.[45] When it was reissued by Mercury in 1987, Don McLeese of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that Morton's production highlighted the New York Dolls' sense of humor and was rendered "in vivid detail" by the CD reissue, but felt that the album was still marred by inconsistent material.[42] On the other hand, Don Waller of the Los Angeles Times asserted that the "largely underrated" album was just as much an "instant classic" as the band's debut.[46]

In 2005, Too Much Too Soon was remastered and reissued by Hip-O Select and Mercury. In his review of the reissue for Blender magazine, Christgau claimed that both the band's first album and Too Much Too Soon make up "a priceless proto-punk legacy". He felt that, although Johansen's best original songs are on the debut, Too Much Too Soon has consistent hooks, clever lyrics, and exceptional cover songs, including "two R&B novelties whose theatrical potential was barely noticed until the Dolls penetrated their holy essence."[41] That same year, rock journalist Toby Creswell named "Babylon" as one of the greatest songs of all time in his book 1001 Songs.[6]

Track listing[edit]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Babylon"   David Johansen, Johnny Thunders 3:31
2. "Stranded in the Jungle"   James Johnson, Ernestine Smith 3:49
3. "Who Are the Mystery Girls?"   Johansen, Thunders 3:07
4. "(There's Gonna Be A) Showdown"   Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff 3:37
5. "It's Too Late"   Johansen, Thunders 4:35
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
6. "Puss 'n' Boots"   Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain 3:06
7. "Chatterbox"   Thunders 2:26
8. "Bad Detective"   Keni St. Lewis 3:37
9. "Don't Start Me Talkin'"   Sonny Boy Williamson II 3:12
10. "Human Being"   Johansen, Thunders 5:44

Personnel[edit]

Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.[7]

New York Dolls
Additional personnel
  • Album Graphics – graphic supervision
  • Dennis Druzbik – engineering
  • Bob Gruen – photography
  • Gilbert Kong – mastering
  • Hans G. Lehmann – photography
  • Pieter Mazel – photography
  • Shadow Morton – production
  • Paul NelsonA&R
  • Dixon Van Winkle – engineering

Release history[edit]

Information is adapted from Nina Antonia's Too Much Too Soon: The New York Dolls (2006).[47]

Year Region Format Catalog
1974 Australia LP 6338 498 1
France 9 100 002
Japan RJ-5135
Netherlands 6 463 064
Spain 63 38 498
United Kingdom 6 338 498
United States 8-track tape MC-8-1-1001
cassette MCR-4-1-1001
LP SRM-1-1001
1977 United Kingdom double LP* 6641631
1986 cassette* PRIDC 12
double LP* PRID 12
Australia LP 6 463 029
1987 Japan CD* 33PD-422
United States CD 834 230-2
1989 Japan 23PD111
1991 PHCR-6044
1994 PHCR-4241
2005[48] United States B00005027-02
(*) packaged with New York Dolls.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Knowles 2010, p. 160.
  2. ^ Fletcher 2009, p. 322; Lake 2003, p. 723.
  3. ^ a b c Heylin 2005, p. 83.
  4. ^ Fletcher 2009, p. 322.
  5. ^ Lake 2003, p. 723.
  6. ^ a b c d Creswell 2005, p. 41.
  7. ^ a b c Anon. 1974c.
  8. ^ a b c Christgau 1981, p. 279.
  9. ^ a b c d Antonia 2006, p. 123.
  10. ^ Fletcher 2009, p. 322–3.
  11. ^ Anon. 1974a, p. 78.
  12. ^ a b c d e Gimarc 2005, p. 12.
  13. ^ a b Christgau 1998, p. 195.
  14. ^ a b Antonia 2006, p. 124.
  15. ^ a b c d Willis 1974, p. 145.
  16. ^ a b Antonia 2006, p. 82.
  17. ^ a b c Weisbard & Marks 1995, p. 269.
  18. ^ Christgau 1998, p. 197.
  19. ^ Antonia 2006, p. 122.
  20. ^ Kent 2007, p. 173.
  21. ^ Christgau 1998, p. 191.
  22. ^ Christgau 1998, p. 198.
  23. ^ Talevski 2010, p. 466.
  24. ^ Savage 2002, p. 86.
  25. ^ a b Erlewine n.d.(a).
  26. ^ Christgau 1998, p. 200.
  27. ^ Strong 2002, p. 126.
  28. ^ Gross 2004, p. 584.
  29. ^ Anon. 1974b, p. 53.
  30. ^ a b Pilchak 2005, p. 106.
  31. ^ Marsh 1974.
  32. ^ Christgau 1974.
  33. ^ Hilburn 1974, p. C12.
  34. ^ a b Hermes 2012, p. 92.
  35. ^ Anon. 1975.
  36. ^ Willis 2011, p. 47.
  37. ^ Christgau 1975.
  38. ^ Christgau 1979.
  39. ^ Cromelin 1979, p. J86.
  40. ^ a b Erlewine n.d.(b).
  41. ^ a b Christgau 2005.
  42. ^ a b McLeese 1988, p. 31.
  43. ^ Gross 2004, p. 583.
  44. ^ Milward 1979, p. 360.
  45. ^ Anon. 1985.
  46. ^ Waller 1986, p. 65.
  47. ^ Antonia 2006, pp. 214–17.
  48. ^ Anon. 2005.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]