I have a confession to make; I am a little bit of a latecomer to Johnny Thunders’ music. Sure, I’ve liked the New York Dolls for a long time, but their stuff didn’t resonate with me, right away. I also got sucked into a lot of other music before I even thought to check out Johnny Thunders’ work outside New York Dolls. Funny enough, it was my Social Distortion phase that led me back to Johnny Thunders and ultimately, The Heartbreakers. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, either, since I needed a little break from the Stones and I admittedly got a little bored with Social D’s output post-Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell. I needed something that was just as rock n’ roll with a little more attitude, maybe even a little rougher around the edges. Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers fit the bill and then some. L.A.M.F. should be subtitled The Johnny Thunders/Walter Lure Guide to Rock n’ Roll Guitar. There are tons of slurs and fills and glorious Chuck Berry chords and Bo Diddley turnarounds played with so much raw immediacy and all those snarling solos and if you play guitar, you will instinctively wanna grab it and go to school on these tunes because they’re just so infectious. Every track on this album could stand alone as a hit and there are no sound-a-likes in the bunch and there’s a freshness to it that only something original and innovative could possess. L.A.M.F. is the very definition of an iconic album and the beginning of a prolific solo career for Johnny Thunders.
The Heartbreakers featuring Richard Hell on bass!
Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers rose from the ashes of the New York Dolls in 1975, after the failed Red Patent Leather tour in Florida, Dolls’ manager Malcolm McLaren’s misguided comeback attempt for the band complete with red patent leather outfits. Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan formed The Heartbreakers with second guitarist Walter Lure and ex-Television frontman Richard Hell on bass to share vocal duties with Thunders. The band soon split following Richard Hell’s unsuccessful bid to take over as leader and chief songwriter. The Heartbreakers reformed a year later with Billy Rath taking over on bass. Bonded by their shared love of rock n’ roll and dope, The Heartbreakers reveled in their junkie lifestyle with songs like Chinese Rocks (An early Heartbreakers song mostly written by Dee Dee Ramone with Richard Hell) and One-Track Mind. The Heartbreakers were a hit on the New York scene and with a huge following at Max’s Kansas City but record label execs found their junkie persona off-putting and avoided signing the band.
Photo: Gary Varnam
After a bumpy tour in England with the Sex Pistols, The Heartbreakers were broke and desperate to go home, however, band manager, Leee Black Childers was determined to get the band a record deal and booked two London Gigs. The shows were a huge hit and The Heartbreakers signed with The Who’s label, Track Records. Work on L.A.M.F. was a tumultuous affair with erratic studio hours to coincide with intermittent touring breaks and the band clashing with producers and studio engineers. The sessions were tight with the band at the top of their game but the tape recordings transferred poorly to vinyl. Sound engineers at multiple studios attempted remixes; even Jerry Nolan and Walter Lure worked on mixes to un-muddy the tracks for the next vinyl pressings. In addition to technical glitches, the band encountered visa problems and Lambert and Stamp’s shady dealings. Chris Stamp had the band agree to sign onto Track Records under the name Chris Stamp Band, Ltd., a holding company set up to milk royalties from The Who’s “Tommy”. The Heartbreakers even had a bizarre encounter with a gunman claiming to be a Secret Service agent sent to protect the band. The band, once again broke and forced to live on £5 a day, was pressured by Lambert and Stamp to wrap up production on the album and released L.A.M.F. on October 3, 1977.
The poor mix and poor critical reception prompted Jerry Nolan to leave The Heartbreakers just before their U.K. tour to promote L.A.M.F. Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook filled in until Jerry Nolan was persuaded to return for the rest of the tour. Poor management and poor album sales forced Track Records into bankruptcy. Lee Black Childers broke into Track Record’s offices and grabbed the L.A.M.F. mixes, along with The Heartbreakers’ other mixes and multitracks and released the first of several remixed editions in 1984 for Jungle Records. Despite the album’s troubled production history, subsequent remixes have proven more successful and Jungle Records has even released a 4-disc L.A.M.F. box set with 4 separate mixes and various other goodies including a 44-page booklet with memories from Walter Lure and an Introduction from Johnny Thunders/New York Dolls biographer, Nina Antonia. On a side note, I can’t wait to read her New York Dolls book Too Much Too Soon!
Though Johnny Thunders’ presence is felt all over this album, his fellow Heartbreakers are integral to the overall voice and tone of L.A.M.F. Thunders really feeds off his back and forth with Walter Lure as much as he feeds off Jerry Nolan’s skillful beats. Billy Rath’s strutting feels right at home with Thunders, Nolan, and Lure in a way that Richard Hell’s bass never did. The songs are tighter, grittier, and less theatrical than any of Thunders’ and Nolan’s previous work with the New York Dolls. Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan continue to build on their raw 1950s rock n’ roll sound with Walter Lure playing the manic Bo Diddley foil to Johnny’s feral Keith Richards. Here’s a taste of what I’m talking about.
Born to Lose is a snapshot of the seedier side of the New York Punk scene in the 70s with all the dope, danger and sleaze. “Living in the jungle, it ain’t so hard, living in the city, it’ll eat out your heart…” Johnny wears his heroes on his sleeve with a riff that’s Chuck Berry by way of Keith Richards. This one is the definitive Johnny Thunders rock n’ roll song.
One-Track Mind is a giddy ode to the junkie lifestyle written by Lure and Nolan and feels like the band’s general philosophy. Many would argue that Chinese Rocks would be the band’s theme song, but for me, that one just sounds and feels more like a Ramones song especially alongside the rest of the album. Like Chinese Rocks, this song also dates back to the Richard Hell days and is even based on Richard Hell’s Love Comes In Spurts. Walter Lure’s leads the charge here as he and Jerry Nolan double down on their rock n’ roll rhythms with a propulsive beat and Johnny’s slurs and slides. Walter Lure and Jerry Nolan’s gallows humor can be heard in lines such as “…I got tracks on my arms and tracks on my face tracks on the walls all over the place, but I don’t think I’d miss it if I had you to fix it, I need all your juice for just one night…”
Baby Talk is a sexy machine gun attack with Nolan and Thunders goading each other on over Lure and Rath’s playful boogie beat. Thunders’ come-on’s saying so much by saying so little “…Well I don’t mind baby anytime, you and me baby I tell you alright…” This track boasts one of my favorite Thunders’ solos and like it or not, is pure proto-glam metal.
Get Off The Phone is a gleefully snotty one from Lure and Nolan with a dizzying energy and one of the catchiest riffs of all time. “What’s that ringing sound? Everything’s going round and round, calling everybody and their mother too, but don’t call me cause I just left you…”
Pirate Love is pure Johnny Thunders, snarling and Stonesy in all the right places. Johnny is a swaggering lothario on the prowl half-bragging and half-begging “Pirate love, is what I’m looking for, Pirate love, is what I’m wanting for, I never ever needed it so bad.” Pirate Love is the perfect bookend to Born to Lose in terms of exemplifying that Johnny Thunders guitar sound and style.
Originally ran on 50thirdand3rd January 12, 2017
Looking for Johnny. Dir. Danny Garcia. Curiouscope. 2014. Documentary
Antonia, Nina. “Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers: L.A.M.F.”, Hauser, Alan. “Compiler’s Notes.” Liner Notes L.A.M.F. The Lost ’77 Mixes, Jungle Records, 1994
Lloyd, Peter Alan. “Photos: The Sex Pistols Anarchy Tour in 1976” BombedOutPunk.Com Jun. 2016, Web.
“Heartbreakers LAMF definitive box” Jungle Records, 26 Nov. 2012