Certain Songs #817: Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers – “Born to Lose”

Album: L.A.M.F.
Year: 1977

Because the original album had such a terrible word of mouth reputation — not for the music, but for the mix — I didn’t take a flyer at Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers L.A.M.F. album until the 1990s.

That’s on me, because I clearly had been missing out for decades, because by the mid-1990s L.A.M.F.’s preserved in amber mix of classic rock at punk energy felt brand-new all over again.

It’s stupid, of course, because I’d been listening to Johnny Thunders’ first band — The New York Dolls — for decades by that point, but maybe because glamorizing junkies who are the subject of Paul Westerberg songs (and who aren’t Keith Richards) has never really been my thing, I stayed away from checking out The Heartbreakers long after I’d devoured nearly all of their peers.

Which is stupid, because a song like “Born To Lose,” with its recontextualized and supercharged Chuck Berry riffs, all-hands-on-on deck chorus vocals, sounded like nothing more than the American version of the Sex Pistols, a band that I loved in spite of the junkie that so many idiots glamorized.

Of course, Johnny Thunders was a few years older than Johnny Rotten, so even on a self-dis like “Pretty Vacant,” Rotten made it sound more like a boast and a challenge, whereas Johnny Thunders and cohorts had lived a little bit more. So when they chanted “baby, I’m born to lose,” it felt like they’d already accepted that half of them would die before they got old.

Born to lose
I said hey, born to lose
I said hey, born to lose
Oh baby, I’m born too lose

Which doesn’t mean that with Thunders guitar squealing and caterwauling every which way throughout that they weren’t going go out without a fight, even as they were resigned to their fate. They may be born to lose, but they sure as shit were going to lose noisily.

“Born to Lose”

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