Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Albums of 1978: Johnny Thunders: So Alone

Release Date: October 6, 1978
Produced by Johnny Thunders and Steve Lilywhite
Special Guests: Many from the punk and hard rock scene took part in the sessions for So Alone including Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy), Steve Marriot (Small Faces), Peter Perrett (Only Ones), Steve Jones (Sex Pistols), Paul Cook (Sex Pistols)

Side One: Pipeline; You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory; Great Big Kiss; Ask Me No Questions; Leave Me Alone


Side Two: Daddy Rollin' Stone; London Boys; (She's So) Untouchable; Subway Train; Downtown

Bonus Tracks added to 1992 Release: Dead or Alive; Hurtin': So Alone; The Wizard


Johnny Thunders led a chaotic life. A key figure during the early days of punk (or pre-punk), he was a founding member of the New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers. So Alone marked Johnny's solo debut, an against all odds triumph. 

A near masterpiece, So Alone runs the gamut of emotions from the euphoria of pure freedom to the deepest depths of despair. The LP also works as a history of rock and roll, a work offering depth and passion.

A cover of "Pipeline" from The Chantays sets the tone, a guitar driven thrash through an "oldie" still pulsing with life. 

Then the brilliant "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory," used to great effect in Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead. An existential rocker about loneliness, addiction, frustration, bordering on spiritual, the epic chorus supplies the defiant hope (essential for dark times.)

Another 50's homage, "Great Big Kiss", is all camp with heavy guitars and suggestive theatrics. "Ask Me No Questions" adds a ominous tension, a desperate yearning for connection with Johnny's pleading vocal driving the song. "Leave Me Alone" is all punk, rude and confrontational.

The second side opens with "Daddy Rollin' Stone", a bluesy rocker with hints of doo-wop. "London Boys" attacks the punks who scoffed at the "pre-punk" The New York Dolls. A Sex Pistols pastiche, Thunders does his best Johnny Rotten imitation. "(She's So) Untouchable" brings soul to an unrequited love ballad, the album version lightens the mood with backing guitars and saxophones, acoustic versions on bootlegs are more desperate. 

"Subway Train" continues in a similar vein with some blistering Chuck Berry riffs, featuring one of the best lyrics, "I wrote you an epic letter, but it never got sent." "Downtown" outdoes the Rolling Stones, ending the album with some more addled blues.

The exuberance of 1950s jukebox rock gets reconfigured into the downbeat and existential.  Moments of levity appear, yet most of these tracks deal with frustration and loss. So Alone, one of the ultimate comedown records ever recorded, containing all the contradictions of the late 1970s.

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