Johnny Thunders – So Alone

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

After the Heartbreakers disintegrated, Johnny Thunders (John Anthony Genzales) remained in London and embarked upon a solo career that began with So Alone in 1978. Thunders would release a total of six albums into the late 1980s, and he performed live in various guises; he also lived in Europe for many years. Thunders died in New Orleans in 1991, though the cause of death – leukemia, overdose, murder by overdose – remains unclear. Mink DeVille leader Willy DeVille was living next door to the hotel in which Thunders passed away.

What I Think of This Album

While I had heard of “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” I had never heard it completely until I bought this album. I had heard snippets, most famously on an episode of The Sopranos. On the one hand, even now, I don’t think enough people appreciate that song. On the other, I don’t think even those people who do give the rest of this album, which is packed with a slew of fine originals and covers and bursting with impressive guest appearances, enough credit.

Overall, this ten-song affair isn’t that far removed from the New York Dolls, while also displaying new sides of Thunders’ repertoire. So it’s not surprising to hear a cover of Shadow Morton’s “Great Big Kiss” (a hit for the Shangri-Las), which the Dolls played and also incorporated into their own “Looking for a Kiss;” a reworked “Subway Train;” Dolls B-side “Downtown;” and a revamped version of “Chatterbox” called “Leave Me Alone” here. But these tracks aren’t simply old hat for Thunders and his pals, who inject the songs with attitude and joy. Note the campy interplay between Thunders and Patti Palladin (Snatch, Flying Lizards) on “Kiss” and the critical sax work of John Irish Earle.

The revelations are the slower numbers and genre exercises. Who could’ve predicted a cover of the Chantays’ surf instrumental “Pipeline?” Also noteworthy is the open-mike style jam on “Daddy Rollin’ Stone,” an Otis Blackwell song featuring vocals by Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott (second verse) and Steve Marriot of the Small Faces and Humble Pie (third verse).

Obviously, ballad “Memory” is a classic, brimming with poignancy and regret, to say nothing of those nasty little slides and that thrown-in “okay.” The bluesy “Ask Me No Questions” continues the reflective mood. And “She’s So Untouchable” is an unheralded love song, with more fine sax work from Earle. 

“London Boys” is a rejoinder to the Sex Pistols’ “New York,” a feud between that band and the Dolls, instigated by Malcolm McLaren, who managed both. Oddly, Steve Jones and Paul Cook play on the track.

The all-star contributors here include Peter Perrett and Mike Kellie of the Only Ones; Steve Nicol of Eddie and the Hot Rods; Walter Lure and Billy Rath of the Heartbreakers; Chrissie Hynde (vocals on “Subway”); and the aforementioned Lynott, Marriott, Palladin, Jones, and Cook.

Production duties were handled in part by Steve Lillywhite.

I have the 1992 reissue, which tacks on four bonus tracks. Two are from the album sessions, and two are from singles. The title track was left off the album, as was T. Rex cover “The Wizard.” The B-sides were “Hurtin’” and “Dead or Alive.” The B-sides are pretty great and the cover is lighthearted fun; I don’t much care for “So Alone.”

The Best Thing About This Album

I mean, it’s impossible to not choose “Memory.”

Release Date

October, 1978

The Cover Art

Pretty much perfect. I love everything about it.

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