When this elemental band signed to Mercury in March 1973, they headed into New York's Planet Studios and, tape rolling, ran through one-take versions of their repertoire to that point. All 23 songs were set down (15 originals and eight covers) to give both Mercury and their eventual producer, Todd Rundgren, a good idea of what to select from the abundance for a first LP. That night's work of instant demoing is what is released on A Hard Night's Day. Demo LPs are rarely a big deal. Usually they're too similar to the known versions, only not as good. But this is an entirely different animal. For one thing, the mix on Rundgren's The New York Dolls was too muddy, whereas Hard Night's is extremely clear -- even clearer than the legendary girl group producer Shadow Morton's better work on the later Too Much Too Soon. But the performances are sloppy! That was, of course, one of the fundamental charms of the Dolls in that horrible era of bloated '70s rock, but it's really strange that the later LP versions would seem so tight in comparison! So this great-sounding, super-loose artifact is like a totally different band, and it's a fine pleasure. The songs are familiar: 18 of these 21 would end up properly recorded for those albums. (The other two not included weren't: a cover of "Hoochie Coochie Man" and an original, "Endless Party," were edited for space. Would rather have heard these!) But so many of them sound so different it's like hearing them for the first time. "Jet Boy," "Babylon," and "Looking for a Kiss" in particular rip with the better sound (you can even hear, clearly, the different parts Johnny Thunders and Syl Sylvain are playing!), and David Johansen is positively arresting, singing along live with the band. Though this can't replace the Mercury LPs, and a few of the live LPs show the group in a more exciting light, Hard Night's is too damn fascinating to miss. The Dolls were unique, a conglomeration of personality, style, dirty chops, rock'n'blues knowledge, and molten lead power. This is the duct-tape-held-together side of it, and it's a hoot.
AllMusic Review by Jack Rabid