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Wednesday

So Alone



Following the drug-fuelled implosion of the Heartbreakers, Johnny Thunders bounced back with his first solo outing, So Alone. Featuring a veritable who's who of '70s punk and hard rock -- Chrissie Hynde, Phil Lynott, Peter Perrett, Steve Marriott, Paul Cook, and Steve Jones, among others -- the record was a testament to what the former New York Dolls guitarist could accomplish with a little focus. Much like Thunders' best work with the Dolls and Heartbreakers, So Alone is a gloriously sloppy amalgam of R&B, doo wop, and three-chord rock & roll. Despite the inevitable excesses that plagued every Thunders recording session, Steve Lillywhite's solid engineering job and a superb set of songs hold everything together. A cover of the Chantays' classic instrumental "Pipeline" leads things off, and is a teasing reminder of what a great guitarist Thunders could be when he put his mind to it. The record's indisputable masterpiece is "You Can't Put Your Arms Round a Memory," a wrenching, surprisingly literate ballad in which Thunders seems to acknowledge that his junkie lifestyle has doomed him to the abyss. Songs like "Leave Me Alone," "Hurtin'," and the chilling title track continue the theme of life inside the heroin balloon. Fortunately, all this back-alley gloom is leavened by some memorably animated moments. "London Boys" is a scathing reply to the Sex Pistols' indictment of the New York punk scene, "New York." The funky "Daddy Rollin' Stone" features the inimitable Lynott on background vocals, while the rave-ups "Great Big Kiss" and "(She's So) Untouchable" are terrific examples of Thunders' raunchy take on classic R&B. Sadly, Johnny Thunders never followed up on the promise of his solo debut. His subsequent records were a frustrating mix of drug-addled mediocrity and downright laziness. But for one brief moment, he seemed to put it all together. That moment is So Alone.


So for me, it has always been So Alone which stands as Thunders best work. Having shifted from the over the top swagger of the Dolls through to the streetwise punk rock n roll of the Heartbreakers, So Alone always seemed like an attempt to establish Thunders as something of a serious artist. A rocker, to be sure, but a singer-songwriter as well. Maybe he wasn’t that calculating about it, but it was the first album to really show he aspired to something more than just piss and vinegar.
It’s also an incredibly flawed album.
Everything that was wrong with Johnny Thunders the solo artist is on display on So Alone. For a guy apparently looking to go his own way as a solo artist, there are almost no new songs. Of fourteen tracks (on the expanded reissue), well over half are either covers or reworked Dolls/Heartbreakers songs. This would plague the rest of Thunders’ stumbling career, with ensuing albums too often grab-bags of reworked tunes, too seldom offering anything of real impact.
Song writing was certainly not beyond Thunders, but finding the appropriate headspace in which to perform the task was, I suspect, difficult for the man who became a poster boy for heroin as a lifestyle choice. Add to this a thin production, and an even thinner nasal whine masquerading as a singing voice and you’ve got an album that… Well, we’re a long way from Quadrophenia here.
Somehow though, the guy who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with both the Dolls and the Heartbreakers manages to pull it off. In part of course, it’s because the album’s title is a complete misnomer. Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook and Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott play on many tracks, while both Steve Marriott and Chrissie Hynde also make appearances. It’s the first album I owned to feature all of those artists together, which on its own makes this a landmark album for me, but the mix of players also served as a signal of the esteem in which the New York Dolls were held.


Ripped from the 2013 “US Punks Revive” Japanese SHM edition to FLAC

Johnny Thunders – So Alone

1.     Pipeline
2.     You Can’t Put Your Arms Round A Memory
3.     Great Big Kiss
4.     Ask Me No Questions
5.     Leave Me Alone
6.     Daddy Rollin’ Stone
7.     London Boys
8.     (She’s So) Untouchable
9.     Subway Train
10.  Downtown
11.  Dead Or Alive (Single A’Side)
12.  Hurtin’ (Single B’Side)
13.  So Alone (Unreleased Outtake)
14.  The Wizard (Unreleased Outtake)





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