❉ A conclusive round-up of the band’s first seven years, featuring much of their best work, this box set is a must for all Toy Dolls fans.
Sunderland’s The Toy Dolls are one of the rare breed of punk bands that manage to be massive in the punk scene, whilst remaining largely unknown to the general public. They did manage a huge UK Number 4 hit single in 1984 with their cover of “Nellie the Elephant” but it didn’t exactly make them a household name. However, they’re big enough in the punk fraternity that they’re able to headline punk festivals all over the world, although they don’t play in the UK that often. I’ve only seen them live once, and whilst I enjoyed the gig, they’re a band that I hadn’t really listened to that much, and I couldn’t really name that many of their songs. Therefore I jumped at the chance to review this cracking box set on the superb Captain Oi! label.
“The Albums 1983-87” is a 5-disc collection covering all the band’s output from 1980 to 1987. Discs 1 to 4 contain the band’s first 4 albums “Dig That Groove Baby”, “A Far Out Disc”, “Idle Gossip”, and “Bare Faced Cheek”, and the 5th disc is entitled “Rare Dolls” containing the A and B sides of their singles from 1980 onwards, compilation cuts, and a few assorted rarities.
“Dig That Groove Baby” is a strong debut with fun and effortlessly catchy tunes peppered throughout. The standout tunes here for me are “Fiery Jack” and their magnum opus “Nellie the Elephant” (which is also present in its hit single version on the “Rare Dolls” disc) but there isn’t really a duff track on here.
The high standard continues through the next two albums “A Far Out Disc” and “Idle Gossip”. “She Goes To Finos” is ludicrously catchy and their cover of “Wipe Out!” is the fastest I’ve ever heard. “PC Stoker” manages to sample the theme to Z Cars and really stands out too.
The 4th album, 1987’s “Bare Faced Cheek” sees the quality dip marginally. The sound is slightly different here, and it doesn’t feel like the Dolls are firing on all cylinders on this one. That said, “Yul Brinner Was a Skinhead” is up there with their finest work, and is by far the best song on this album.
“Rare Dolls” rounds out the set nicely, as many of their most famous recordings are present. Perhaps the band were slightly unfortunate not to have had further hits given that the standard of their singles was so high. Perhaps the fact that they never signed to a reasonable-sized label held them back somewhat, but based purely on what I’ve heard here, they certainly deserved more commercial success than they had.
A couple of things really strike you when listening to this set. Firstly, the musicianship is incredibly high. Frontman Michael “Olga” Algar really is a guitar virtuoso and is the only ever-present member here. His songwriting and delivery are top-notch, and he must be one of the most musically talented performers to emerge from the punk scene. The other thing that stands out is that the band have a unique sound that makes them sound like no other band. You can hear a few bars of a Toy Dolls song and know instantly that it’s them. Not many bands can say this.
This set is a must for all fans of the The Toy Dolls. It features much of their best work and is a conclusive round-up of the band’s first seven years. It serves as a reasonably good introduction to the band, although a one-disc Greatest Hits release might be better for newcomers. This release has made me want to listen to the band’s post-1987 output though, so I can certainly call myself a fan on the back of listening to this release. I really must go and see them again soon, as well.
❉ ‘The Toy Dolls: The Albums 1983-87’ is out now from Captain Oi!, a Cherry Red Records subsidiary. RRP £21.99.
❉ Brad Shepherd is a regular contributor to We Are Cult and is the frontman of punk band Monkish. Their debut album, “You Can’t Polish a Turd” was released in 2011, and the new album “Quorn is Murder” is out now: https://monkish.bandcamp.com/