The New York club circuit’s first supergroup, the Heartbreakers originally (circa 1975) consisted of ex-NY Dolls Johnny Thunders (Genzale) and Jerry Nolan, ex-Television bassist Richard Hell and ex-nothing guitarist Walter Lure. After butting heads with Johnny over leadership of the band, Hell quit to go solo and was replaced (in only the most technical sense) by Billy Rath; the Heartbreakers moved to England and recorded a musically significant but technically disappointing debut LP, L.A.M.F., for the Who’s Track Records. (Who associate Speedy Keen produced.) The irony of the label’s name was not lost on fans, who guessed (correctly) that the group’s move to Britain was motivated primarily by the legal heroin-maintenance program available there. So feeble was the album’s mix that drummer Jerry Nolan actually quit over it, though the material itself shows the band to be masters of the stripped-down, souped-up arrangement later copied by many punk groups (generally minus the ’50s rock ‘n’roll/R&B essence at the root of Johnny’s songwriting). Through Thunders’ solo work and countless covers, “One Track Mind,” “Chinese Rocks” (co-written by Dee Dee Ramone) and “Born Too Loose” have become standards of the genre, but the performances here are surprisingly tame, like Dolls outtakes with Thunders (never as great a singer as David Jo) at the mic. The rest of the album ranges from really good (“Get Off the Phone,” the Lure/Nolan composition “All by Myself”) to really weak (“It’s Not Enough,” “I Love You”). A mixed blessing, to be sure, and one argument against heroin addiction.
The Heartbreakers subsequently returned to New York, where they performed an endless succession of “farewell” gigs with pickup drummers, most often Ty Styx. One of these shows was preserved for the Live at Max’s LP, an ultimate party record — loud and sloppy with lots of dirty talk — and probably the best official document of any New York band of the era.
In 1982, a 1977 London performance was sprung from the vaults and released as D.T.K. — Live at the Speakeasy. Recorded with Nolan, it presents the darker side of the ambience that pervades the Live at Max’s set, if only because the band has a more secure drummer. Clearly the Johnny Thunders show, the album exposes some incredibly sloppy playing, self-righteous audience baiting and a few devolved lyrics (like a reworking of “Can’t Keep My Eyes on You” into “Can’t keep my cock in you.”)
Another live release — this one from a March ’84 show at London’s Lyceum — turned up a few years later, showing how far the Heartbreakers had come and how little they had changed. The program is a full-fledged Thunders retrospective: the Dolls’ “Personality Crisis,” the Heartbreakers’ “Born To(o) Lo(o)se,” his solo “So Alone” and a couple of chestnuts (like “Pipeline”) from his youth. The show is hot and reasonably coherent, with fine singing by JT and Lure; clear production helps immeasurably.
In 1984, Thunders and Tony James of Generation X remixed L.A.M.F., and the Heartbreakers’ lone studio album was given a much improved and much-needed second life as L.A.M.F. Revisited. (In the process, “All by Myself” was dropped, replaced by “Can’t Keep My Eyes On You” and a cover of the Contours’ “Do You Love Me” that were not on the original album.) Jungle also paired L.A.M.F. Revisited and the Speakeasy live album on a single disc as D.T.K L.A.M.F.
A decade later, a re-examination of the album tapes yielded another version of the album, dubbed The Lost ’77 Mixes, which has been widely praised as the best available.
The Heartbreakers played a reunion show in New York in late ’90; Thunders died in April 1991. Nolan died the following year. Lure formed the Waldos and pursued a respectable career on Wall Street.