Certain Songs #1326: New York Dolls – “Frankenstein (Orig.)”

Album: New York Dolls
Year: 1973

You could never ever get away with a song like “Frankenstein (Orig.)” today.

Not because it’s particularly offensive or dirty, but rather in the past few decades, we’ve all come to understand that “Frankenstein” was the doctor (and pronounced “fron-ken-steen” as well) and referring to the monster as “Frankenstein” is just inaccurate, and even borderline offensive. Monsters have feelings too!!

In any even, given that “Frankenstein” in the song is actually a metaphor for New York City, it gets even more convoluted, but of course the reality is that even if David Johansen cared enough to separate Doctor from Monster, at the end of the day screaming the three syllables of “Frankenstein” over and over and over scans way better than screaming the five syllables “Frankenstein’s monster” over and over and over.

And honestly, those are pretty much the only lyrics I know, as “Frankenstein (Orig.)” is an absolute and utter cacophony of noise from the very start. My favorite noise is a high-pitch echoing noise that kicks in from the very start and might be a happy accident, or it might be the Moog synthesizer that producer Todd Rundgren is playing.

In any event, even with his drums mixed down, Jerry Nolan is the hero of “Frankenstein.” Alternating massive builds with pure 4/4 momentum, “Frankenstein (Orig.)” is continually lurching forward, propelled by those drums but also Johnny Thunder’s ongoing and near unstoppable shredding throughout.

Even more than “Personality Crisis,” “Frankenstein (Orig.)” is always on the verge of falling apart at any second — the deeper we get into the song, the more the various seams show, and yet it never quite falls apart, held together Rungren’s synth and Johansen’s ongoing screaming of “Frankenstein” as they’re all tumbling forward together like a cartoon fight.

Finally, I always wondered why it was called “Frankenstein (Orig.),” and it turns out that it was a josh aimed at Edgar Winter, whose song “Frankenstein” — which was definitely about the doctor and not the monster — had been released earlier in the year, and of course became a massive hit.

Not so much the New York Dolls version, which wasn’t even released a single, but did serve as a helluva closer to the first side of the album.

“Frankenstein (Orig.)”

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