Various Artists

I Only Wrote This Song for You: A Tribute to Johnny Thunders [Essential]

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This is one of the rare tribute albums that successfully pays the intended respect and appreciation. No doubt about it, Johnny Thunders was a remarkable talent, a true original, and an inspiration to several generations of rock & rollers. Unfortunately, his legacy was a mixed one, as he not only inspired people to play great music, but was also the poster child for the rock & roll junkie lifestyle. This collection focuses almost exclusively on the positive side of Thunders, one that many were not even aware of. It is as notable for the songs that were not chosen as for those that were. No "Too Much Junkie Business" or "Chinese Rocks" here. Instead, the artists involved (basically everyone who ever worked with J.T. in any capacity) did songs that are overwhelmingly positive, or at least -- dare it be said -- sensitive. Michael Monroe has two songs on the disc, "Disappointed in You" and "So Alone." Both kick. Longtime associate Patti Palladin does the New York Dolls' classic "Chatterbox," and ex-girlfriend Alison Gordy does a burning version of "Just Another Girl." All the surviving New York Dolls turn in excellent performances, with David Johansen's version of "Some Hearts" (a song most people had never heard as it was just demo'd up before J.T.'s death) being perhaps the highlight of the entire album. The song sounds like it was written for Johansen and has a sentimental take on the relationship between the two. It is easily the best song Johansen has recorded in over 15 years. CBGB cohorts the Ramones turn in a solid version of "I Love You," and ex-Heartbreaker Walter Lure does "Let Go" (a song he sang in the Heartbreakers) with his Waldos, another band decimated by drug-related deaths. Perhaps the surprise of the album is the one band that had nothing to do with Thunders: Los Lobos, whose version of "Alone in a Crowd" is absolutely gorgeous, a shimmering pop/rock masterpiece. Willy Deville's soulful take on what is perhaps Johnny's best song, "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory," best sums up the feeling of most of the artists on this disc. The album closes with the Screwballs doing "Help the Homeless," another late demo that had never been properly recorded. Featuring Jayne County, Glen Matlock, and Johnny's protege Stevie Klasson, this is a fittingly chaotic way to close this tribute. Johnny Thunders may be remembered for being a messed-up doper. If that is the case and the scandals overshadow his great music, it won't be the fault of this album.

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