After signing a two-record deal with , the New York Dolls recorded their first album at in New York with producer , who was known for his sophisticated sound and held a lukewarm opinion of the band. They incorporated carefree and pop influences in the album's hard rock songs, while the lyrics were written mostly by lead singer and touched on themes of urban youth, teen alienation, adolescent romance, and authenticity.
When they began performing, four of the band's five members wore and , while Johansen—the band's lyricist and "conceptmaster"— often preferred high heels and a dress occasionally. Fashion historian said that, while the majority of the punk scene pursued an understated "street look", the New York Dolls followed an English glam rock "look of —leather and knee-length boots, chest hair, and bleach". Music journalist argued that the New York Dolls were "quintessential glam rockers" because of their flamboyant fashion, while their technical shortcomings as musicians and Johnny Thunders' "trouble-prone presence" gave them a punk-rock reputation.
|New York Dolls
|Too Much Too Soon
According to editor , the New York Dolls developed an original style of that presaged both and , and drew on elements such as the "dirty " of , the "anarchic noise" of , the of and , and pop music. Erlewine credited the band for creating punk rock "before there was a term for it." , who referred to them as a band, wrote that they were strongly influenced by the "New York sensibility" of : "The mean wisecracks and impassioned cynicism that informed the Dolls' songs represented an attitude that Reed's work with embodied, as did the Dolls' distinct lack of musicianship."
In 1971, vocalist formed the New York Dolls with guitarists and , bassist , and drummer ; Rivets was replaced by in 1972. The band was meant to be a temporary project for the members, who were club-going youths that had gone to New York City with different career pursuits. As Sylvain recalled, "We just said 'Hey, maybe this will get us some chicks.' That seemed like a good enough reason." He and Murcia originally planned to work in the clothing business and opened a boutique on Lexington Avenue that was across the street from a toy repair shop called , which gave them the idea for their name. The group soon began playing regularly in and earned a within a few months with their reckless style of . Nonetheless, record companies were hesitant to sign them because of their onstage and blatant vulgarity. In October 1972, they garnered the interest of critics when they opened for English rock band at the in Wembley. However, on the New York Dolls' first tour of England that year, Murcia died after consuming a lethal combination of alcohol and . They enlisted as his replacement, while managers , Steve Leber, and David Krebs still struggled to find the band a .