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Culture Wars

Who Is Better, Aerosmith or the New York Dolls?

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Tue, Apr 16, 2013 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge New York Dolls in the 70s
  • New York Dolls in the 70s
[Editor's note: Deathmatch pairs two things that have something in common, and determines who is better. It's a concept we sort-of ripped off from MTV, except that instead of claymation it's the printed word!]

In the 1970s, two bands took the bluesy swagger of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds to new levels: Recent Songwriter Hall of Fame inductees Aerosmith and proto-punk titans New York Dolls. But which band reigns supreme? The comparison is hardly arbitrary. Readers of Legs McNeil's classic tome Please Kill Me will remember that the two bands originally shared management, with an agreement that one band would make it and the other would be left in the dust.

Full disclosure: The present author hails from New England and is, as such, heavily biased.

Overall Musicianship

The first four Aerosmith records are basically untouchable. The only weak track of the bunch is "Dream On," and even that would probably be fine if it hadn't been run into the ground by classic rock radio. Rockers like "Bright Light Fright" and "Rats in Cellar" take the hard blues monster created by the Yardbirds to dizzying new heights.

The Dolls were a band that couldn't play with a singer who couldn't sing. Ask yourself this: How many tracks do you skip when you listen to the Dolls?

Point: Aerosmith

click to enlarge Aerosmith in the 70s
  • Aerosmith in the 70s
Television Personalities

Younger readers likely know Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler as the frightening old woman on American Idol. Word on the street is he got the gig after Joan Rivers declined and HBO rejected him for a planned Tales from the Crypt reboot.

The Dolls, on the other hand, had Buster Poindexter's Show, a short-lived VH1 vehicle featuring front man David Johansen's alter ego. Basically anything involving a fictional lounge singer with a foot-high pomp is aces.

Point: The Dolls

click to enlarge Aerosmith today
  • Aerosmith today
Ersatz Jagger / Richards

On the one side, we have the Toxic Twins, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. They were so named due to their heavy consumption of unlicensed pharmaceutical pleasures. The toxic days are behind them and they look more ghoulish and frightening with each passing year.

On the other side, we've got David Johansen and Johnny Thunders. Basically every punk rock band with one foot in bluesy rock and roll has been trying to pull off the Johansen / Thunders thing, and with good reason: The pair are an excellent example of a duo that's more than the sum of its parts.

Point: The Dolls

Post-Reunion Output

Aerosmith basically suck without drugs. Ever since they got back together they've been a pretty pale imitation of their '70s output. The main exception here is Done With Mirrors, their first album with the original lineup since Draw The Line. It's not quite what we came to expect from the Bad Boys From Boston, but we'll give it to them based on past performance.

The New York Dolls "reunion" is basically an atrocity. No Johnny Thunders, no New York Dolls. It's really that simple. What were they thinking?

Point: Aerosmith

click to enlarge New York Dolls Today
  • New York Dolls Today
Influence

The Dolls are often credited with being the John the Baptist to punk rock's Jesus. This seems a mischaracterization. If anything, it was The Dictators who had all of New York slapping their foreheads and going "Duh!" before picking up a cheap Strat copy and banging out heavy metal thunder with dumb jokes. Some of their biggest proponents include Mike McCready, Mike Ness and Mike Stipe. Thanks, but no thanks.

Aerosmith on the other hand basically created the sound and image that later gave us Guns 'N' Roses, the last rock and roll band worth listening to.

Point: Aerosmith

Overall

The Dolls aren't without merit and historical importance. When evaluated merely on a musical basis, however, they don't really hold up. They're cool, of course, but they're not very good. I'll gladly trade my copy of Too Much, Too Soon for your copy of Draw The Line.

Follow us on Twitter @LAWeeklyMusic, and like us at LAWeeklyMusic. Follow Nicholas Pell on Twitter @NicholasPell or like him at Facebook.

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