This rare ballad from Iggy Pop, from his 1996 album “Naughty Little Doggie,” is a profoundly sad song about Johnny Thunders, doomed lead guitarist for the New York Dolls and his own band The Heartbreakers, and their mutual girlfriend, the infamous 1970s groupie Sable Starr. The lyrics are matter-of-fact, but melancholy and sad. It’s laced with the kind of regret only a long-term survivor of bad habits can describe. Iggy is not taking blame for what befell Thunders and Starr, but importantly, doesn’t deny his complicity in some of the sad things that occurred in all of their lives. It’s just the bad s–t that happens when three people suffering from addiction interact with each other on occasion. Still, I find this song incredibly moving.
“Now Thunder and me did not part friends
What we did once I wouldn’t do again
So he stayed with the pure dream and followed the moon
‘Til the drugs in his body made his mind a cartoon
Look away Look away
So a few years later Thunder died broke
Sable had a baby back at her folks
Me I went straight and serious too
There wasn’t much else that I could do
Look away Look away
So now that I’m straight I’m settled too
I eat and I sleep and I work like you
I got lots of feelings but I hold them down
That’s a way I cope with this s–tty town
Here’s the late 1970s punk equivalent of the “east coast v west coast” gangsta rap battles of the 1990s … only with significantly fewer dead bodies. Punks always caused more harm to themselves than to others.
In this corner is the Sex Pistols’ “New York,” which sneeringly spits on the New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders’ follow-up band, The Heartbreakers for being drug-addled hippie tarts.
In the opposite corner is Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers performing “London Boys,” which chastises the Sex Pistols for little boys under the thumb of their manager Malcolm McLaren.
As to who won … well, it’s hard to say. Thunders may have won the battle, because when he recorded “London Boys” for his album “So Alone,” the Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook played on the song (a nice way to bury the hatchet). However, the Sex Pistols are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Dolls currently aren’t, so the Pistols may have won the war. Except that the Pistols protested their inclusion, so maybe that means they lost. Who knows? Who cares? Both songs are funny and immensely cool and I love both.
The version of “London Boys” included here is an earlier version that was an outtake from the Heartbreaker’s “L.A.M.F.” album from 1977. I like the version on Thunders’ “So Alone” album, but I prefer this earlier version.
Not to be confused with the terrific New York punk legend Johnny Thunders, this is Johnny Thunder … singular. While Thunder had a top 5 hit with “Loop de Loop” back in the 1963, “I’m Alive” is a terrific grungy, garage soul masterpiece from 1969. And yes, even at 80 years old, Thunder is still alive and performing.
The one Johnny Thunders song most people know and would agree is a classic. Covered by everyone from Guns ‘n’ Roses to Ronnie Spector. Put to great use not only in Martin Scorsese’s “Bringing out the Dead” but also on “The Sopranos.”