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Genre: Popular Music
Media Format: Compact Disk
Release Date: 14-JUL-1992
The Unexpected Masterwork From The Classic Punk Flameout
BluesDuke | Las Vegas, Nevada | 03/26/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"By the time his Heartbreakers were reduced to playing the occasional gig to raise the rent money (it's anyone's guess why the quartet couldn't make it in a punk revolution which they had a hefty hand in stirring up, when they formed in the aftermath of the New York Dolls's crackup), Johnny Thunders was as renowned for his seeming determination to cripple his own faculties as for his furiously amateurish, angry-hornets-on-speed guitar playing and attitude. He might well have been the last one from whom to expect any kind of even passable solo project - but he may well have surprised himself as well as punk watchers with this 1978 gem. He didn't lack for distinguished help - Sex Pistols mainstays Steve Jones (guitar) and Paul Cook (drums) repaid the Pistols' debt to the Dolls by providing yeoman bandsmanship to Thunders's greatest post-Dolls blast (anyone who thinks the Heartbreakers - even on their own surprising "Live At Max's Kansas City" - were better than this should have their inner ears checked); Thin Lizzy mastermind Phil Lynott chipped in with some stellar bassmanship; and, above all, there was Thunders himself, spinning out lick after lick of buzzing, pinpoint controlled guitar, singing with surprising feeling for a fellow with one of the thinnest voices in rock and roll, and generally cranking out an album which in hindsight proves introspective in a way its creator probably didn't expect. The highlights: Thunders beats himself at his own game with "Leave Me Alone" (the umpteenth re-write of his underappreciated Dolls chestnut, "Chatterbox"), brings the two ex-Pistols in on the gag with "London Boys," an obvious answer to the Pistols's Dolls cop "New York," and exposes himself as a self-immolating romantic via "(She's So) Untouchable," laying back just so for a classic doo-woppish saxophone break. It probably wasn't that bright an idea for him to cover a couple of Dolls tracks; not that he drops the ball when he remakes "Subway Train" but his crunchy, stomping version isn't quite as panoramic as the Dolls's original (and he'd been the key to making the Dolls version work, with his dead-on impressionistic guitar sounding just as though it had come up from the Canarsie local). On the other hand, his take of "Daddy Rollin' Stone" (a Dolls cut that band never nailed in the studio) is now a rather haunting epitaph, if you consider that three of the five players who make that dripping cut work here - Thunders, Lynott, and erstwhile Humble Pie frontman Steve Marriott - would be dead within a decade of cutting it. And if you wonder about some of his rock and roll heart, give a nod to the leadoff track, a shattering, roaring cover of the ancient surf hit, "Pipeline". Thunders sounds like he's having real fun for one of the few times in his career, and he's infectious enough that the two ex-Pistols forget their own selves and just get lost in the ride with him. But then, there's "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory," which follows immediately, ostensibly a love song but sounding as much as though Thunders was trying to gain closure on a past which made him both an underground rock legend and his own worst enemy. The edge of fear in his sensitive vocal says it only too well. Behind the glazed, diffident stage style [...], there seems to have been a lost soul scraping to find his way home, only to discover he didn't have the grip it took to reach the door once it came to within his sight, but somehow finding through the glaze and the haze an occasional ability to savour the journey without collapsing under his own dissembling weight. "So Alone" was such a finding, and it made for the most powerful recording of Johnny Thunders's career."
An absolute classic!
Johnny Roulette | 02/17/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"You don't often get to use the word eclectic when dicussing punk rock platters...the word fits when you're talking about So Alone. This is the definitive Thunders offering. If you want to know why he's a legend, this is it! Guest musicians include: Steve Jones & Paul Cook(Sex Pistols)/Phil Lynott(Thin Lizzy)/Patti Palladin/ Paul Gray(The Damned)Steve Marriott(Humble Pie)/ Chrissie Hynde(The Pretenders) & more. There are amazing covers of Great Big Kiss, Pipeline & Marc Bolan's The Wizard. John Irish Earle's saxaphone gives a level of class on tunes like (She's So)Untouchable & Subway Train, originally a New York Dolls song. So Alone also features Johnny's finest individual effort, an amazing song called You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory(featured on the Bringing Out The Dead soundtrack). Daddy Rollin' Stone features excellent vocals from a trio of dead rock legends(Steve Marriott,Phil Lynott & JT), giving the song, in hindsight, a very eerie quality.. There are four bonus tracks that weren't offered on the original vinyl release. The disc also comes with six pages of liner notes by Ira Robbins, plus another four pages of credits and photos. You'll want to check out London Boys, a ferocious and funny attack on The Sex Pistols. Johnny Thunders was one of the few punk enough to get away with it. This is a wonderful cd with virtually no weak spots...a must have! JT's work with the Dolls, as well as his work on L.A.M.F., So Alone, Live At Max's, & Copy Cats are all the proof you need that the Thunders myth was not built on junkie behavior alone. There were moments of musical brilliance...this is one such moment. There are many unbearable bootlegs floating around. You should start with the aforementioned albums, his best, so that you can better tolerate the busts. Johnny Thunders deserved every ounce of his legend-status. So Alone was originally released in the Uk in October, 1978."
More than Punk - it's pure Rock 'N Roll
Michael Gross | Burke, VA | 04/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Johnny is thrown in with the Punk crowd even though he never really fit into the genre's sometimes confining borders. Both his work with the Dolls and his solo stuff is much more 60's Rock and Roll than 70's Punk. When he toured England with his band, The Heartbreakers, Punk bands of the era (Pistols, Clash, etc) wouldn't be caught dead playing blues-based music. However, they ALL respected Johnny and saw him for what he was, a great guitarist who could REALLY play - read John Lydon's biog, Rotten, for info about that tour.
This album is more Gene Vincent than Johnny Rotten, with some outstanding covers of early 60's classics (Pipeline, Daddy Rollin' Stone, Great Big Kiss). Johnny was always more of a heroin-soaked blues-man than a punk guitarist.
His voice is never on key, often stumbling through verses in his trademark junkie slur. His guitar playing is sometimes sloppy. Put those two qualities together and 99 times out of 100 you'll be listening to a trainwreck, but with So Alone, Johnny pulls everything off in spades! An all-star backing band makes this his most beautiful album.
This album is almost NEVER mentioned on anyone's list of all-time great ones, but that is a big mistake. His legend is built on tales of heroin and junkie life, but to those who know his music, that stuff is only PART of his story. The real legend comes from his music, and this CD is a monument of pure Rock 'N Roll. Buy it."
Let's Get Real, Real Gone....
J P Ryan | Waltham, Massachusetts United States | 10/02/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Johnny Thunders' discography is such a vast and endless heap of cruddy sounding live albums (reissued ad nauseum), half-baked compilations, and other artifacts not worth the price of a bag of dope, that anyone not around back in the day might understandably be a bit overwhelmed by it all and wonder just how to identify the genuine great music made by a hugely important and influential guitarist and all-round rock 'n' roll original. There are of course two classic New York Dolls albums - "New York Dolls" (1973) and "In Too Much Too Soon" (1974) - which you'd be better off tracking down in their original vinyl since CDs of both titles date to the very early (more bluntly, premature) days of the format, and are in dire need of remastering. The debut sounds especially thin and lifeless, JT's dense chording and blistering solos drained just like the rhythm section is, so what you're left with sounds dinky - the piano on "Personality Crisis" was NOT intended to dominate! The best-sounding CD to feature the Dolls' original recordings, for now, remains 1994's 21 track compilation, "Rock and Roll", with 10 out 11 tracks from the debut, 7 out of 10 from "Too Much", and a few worthy rarities. Johnny was as essential to the Dolls as Keith Richards is to the Stones, and like all the best collaborators (Mick/Keith, John/Paul, Reed/Cale, Duke/Strayhorn, etc.) each was in a way made complete by the other. Thunders' "primitivism" (for lack of a better word) and intuitive genius had a way of keeping the more conceptual/intellectual David Johansen grounded in the grime of the streets and subways (JT's riffs smeared and whined like a Subway Train grinding to a halt, noise transformed into something exhilarating and transcendent), and cut David's slight air of wariness and careerism with a romantic faith in rock 'n' roll salvation mixed with an anarchic defiance: defiance against commerce, the industry's everpresent, inevitable need to package, tame, and see some return on its financial investments; defiance, loud loose and snotty, at the era's cult of guitar-hero as technical virtuoso; Johnny's defiance would eventually turn against his and his fans best hopes and expectations, a process complicated by a small part of his 'fanbase' that gathered to see shows like they were viewing car accidents, waiting to see if he'd OD onstage, a morbid, voyeristic kick stimulated by the artist's perceived self-destructiveness (Johnny publicly embraced junk, of course, thus his career arc differed from another fallen genius, Sly Stone, whose audience simply stopped coming as Sly's downward spiral became increasingly evident). Johnny's singular brand of loyalty, a 'street cred' whose contradictions glared, meant 'defiance' darkened into a helpless betrayal of all expectations, personal and professional, and for much of his last decade, betrayal of his own talent. Of course, all such compulsions to ward off pain and disorder and dread lead to the very nightmare of chaos one is trying to avoid. Yet, as a handful of Heartbreaking late-period songs and astonishing performances attest, Johnny never really extinguished his soul or humanity, even if his sometimes bloated hands and poverty and addiction meant his guitar playing did not keep pace with his (admittedly sporadic) remarkable evolution as a songwriter. Where was I? After Thunders and Nolan split from the Dolls in 1975 they formed the Heartbreakers, who blew the Brits away on the "Anarchy Tour" (with Sex Pistols, Damned, etc) and made "L.A.M.F" (1977), a supposed punk classic that to me remains a rather uneven album. Inspiration wavers, with a few too many less than inspired rockers, whose eccentric rewrites of pop cliches were soaked with heroin references and salvaged by the raw energy and grimy ambience. Their sole studio set never achieves the status of a masterpiece on the order of either Dolls set, not to mention seminal debuts from the same season by Television, X-Ray Spex, The Clash, or whatever your faves might be from that vital and transformative era. "L.A.M.F." is still pretty essential, for Thunders' and Walter Lure's barbed wire twin-guitar attack, Jerry's relentlessly powerful (and reliable) drumming, and a handful of classics: the losers' anthem, "Born Too Loose," the great Yardbirds raveup/cop, "Baby Talk," Johnny's magnificent mid-tempo "It's Not Enough" (a moodier "Satisfaction"), the lurid/celebratory/hilarious take on junk life, "Chinese Rocks", and the red-hot rave-up "Pirate Love." The mix on the original lp was dreadful, but in the past two decades an endless string of upgrades has restored much of its power, and the latest 2-cd set of "lost '77 mixes" on disc one, with the second disc's assortment of alternates/demos/etc is definitive, for now. Nothing really could have prepared fans for "So Alone," a brief, seemingly padded effort that underwhelmed more than a few fans and critics. "Slight," I recall thinking, tho' I dug it and kept playing it. On the surface, hardly a unified statement, rather randomly patched together when Real Records indicated a willingness to support a solo project six months after his "Downtown" single. Nor did we get a generous set of new original material. Ten songs clocked in just over 32 minutes on the original LP, and that includes two seemingly pointless remakes of Dolls songs (one from each of their lps), another unrecorded Dolls song going back to '74, three covers representing a retro/punk aesthetic (surf, girl group, and an Otis Blackwell classic that simultaneously pays tribute to Brit Invasion r&b as well). A Heartbreakers-written sendup of the Sex Pistols' "New York." Oh, and one fine new original that, by default, would be seen as a masterpiece. Finally, "So Alone" did not exactly impress me as a showcase for Johnny's guitar - he's in there, but usually with a couple other lead guitars, including contributions from some of Thunders' most accomplished students - Steve Jones (Sex Pistols), Peter Perritt (Only Ones), and ... That was so long ago...Time has been kind to "So Alone," and - I assure you - not just because Thunders never really surpassed it. It just resonates with emotional depth and authority, a coherent sensibility hitherto only hinted at, and stands musically as a rock 'n' roll classic both dark and joyous, harsh and tender, remarkable for its stylistic range - here's a punk icon celebrating mid-60s Girl Groups (three guitars, sax, and Patti Palladin's vocal turn "Great Big Kiss" into a sexy, densely produced party classic worthy of Lesley Gore). Johnny opens his set with the Chantays' surf classic "Pipeline" and along with Steve Jones makes it roar with pure Pistols/Dolls adrenalen, and later trades verses with Small Faces'(and 60s Mod Icon) Steve Marriott and Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott on a slinky, blues rock classic ("Daddy Rolling Stone"). With time, the disorganized circumstances of the album's construction (as with other accidental classics such as "December's Children" ) have become irrelevant. In a way, it's Johnny's tour de force, as he touches on a remarkable range of musical styles, influences, and perhaps more importantly, themes and emotions that never made it to the Heartbreakers album and were mostly filtered through David Johansen's words and vocals in the New York Dolls. "So Alone" also intends to be the first Johnny Thunders album on which the artist demands to be taken seriously as a vocalist - his singing is consistently effective, voice snarling, mocking, or sometimes breathy, almost girlish - that voice might convey vulnerability, tenderness, or even affectlessness; it would be utilized to magnificent effect on the hauntingly personal songs from "Hurt Me" (1984). The familiar behind-the-beat drawl, snide, playful, whiney (it never succumbs to punk caricature) enlivens his witty and affectionate response to the Sex Pistols on "London Boys", and Thunders ends the set with the scorching "Downtown," a dark track of an oddly insular power, a grimy urban blues featuring referances to Methadone and complacency amid squalls of vivid, barbed wire guitars, for once all of them played by Thunders. Lest we forget, "Ask Me No Questions" is a prototypical Thunders original, with a fresh, galloping rhythmic approach and beautifully executed vocal, plus a one note chicken scratch guitar break from Peter Perrett. And "Untouchable," is one of Johnny's sexiest (and catchiest) originals, all yearning and melancholy except for those asides during the last verse... After years of familiarity, the versions of "Leave Me Alone" (ne "Chatterbox") and "Subway Train" stand on their own, distinct from the Dolls' originals. This 1992 CD edition of "So Alone" could use a new remaster from the original tapes. However, it has been expanded by nearly half its original length, enhanced by four superb bonus tracks, most of which became familiar songs in Thunders' live repertoire. "Dead Or Alive", a non-album single, has an animated Thunders imagining his own overdose with mordant humor and Stones-like crunch and energy (again Thunders plays all the guitars on this solid rocker). "Hurtin'", originally the B-side of "You Can't Put Your Arms 'Round A Memory" is another terrific addition, this time a adding dirty guitar runs over a catchy and propulsive shuffle beat and somehow hilarious/childlike/poignant lyrics. The vocal adds to the slightly bizarre and utterly characteristic mood. The title track to this set never made the final cut in 1978, but "So Alone" is familiar from live versions issued in subsequent years. It's a truly classic and soul searing Thunders song; this five minute version seems neither as passionate nor as developed as the truly devastating take on "Live At The Lyceum, 1984." Finally, Johnny adds an aptly fey vocal over a dub-like version of T. Rex's "The Wizard" - another gem that closes this essential set on a weird and wonderful note. Thunders issued more studio and live material up to his death in 1991 (and the stream of product continues fifteen years later). Working with Jimmy Miller, the live/studio hybrids "In Cold Blood" and "Too Much Junkie Business" (both 1983) are incredibly raw, especially the low-fi "Junkie Business." The studio tracks from "In Cold Blood" appear as bonus material on Thunders beautiful and highly recommended 1984 acoustic set, "Hurt Me." "Que Sera Sera" (1985), was both darker (beginning with the cover) and more drab, hence less powerful than "So Alone", with a couple of remakes and new songs that wanly echoed old classics, but it still contains several gems. 1988's album of covers, "Copy Cats" was a disappointment in that Thunders played virtually no guitar, but his singing (partnered with Patti Palladin) and choice of material was committed and convincing, and the album is quite enjoyable...Many of Thunders' best new songs from his last four or five years were never recorded in the studio, and are scattered on various 1987 - 91 live sets. Perhaps the best of the posthumous live albums is the fierce "In The Flesh" from '87, with JT reunited with Jerry Nolan and Arthur Kane. They play like their lives depend on it, no stoned breakdowns or forgotton words. It's killer. RIP Johnny, Jerry, and Arthur."
Worth buying just for Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory
Michael Gross | 05/07/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"That song still sends shivers up my spine every time I hear it; surprisingly subtle and aching beautiful."