Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I WANNA BE WELL-- Rocket to Russia 10

Image via  THIS AINT THE SUMMER OF LOVE.    Thanks!

Perhaps for the first time finding the band flirting with the very edge of self parody, I WANNA BE WELL avoids taking the full plunge by unexpectedly excelling in the overachieving cohesion of its humble attributes. Applying already well-worn changes and lyrical subject matter, the song manages an easy, perfect charm which carries it above what is practically throwaway album filler by design.

A far superior application of the bratty, childish approach appearing on the earlier WHAT'S YOUR GAME, I WANNA BE WELL not only alludes to the familial turmoil which is at the core of ROCKET TO RUSSIA's side 1 closer WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY, but also to the substance abuse detailed in TEENAGE LOBOTOMY. (Interestingly, aside from the CD named ACID EATERS, this is the sole specific reference to the psychedelic LSD on any of the RAMONES' releases.) The aggressively primitive lyric is comically intertwined to purposefully sluggish verse and chorus melodies, both of which are almost identically constructed around 1-4-5 in D-- only an intro buildup of the 5 of A and an unpredictable swoop to C for the punchline ("aint it neat?") breaking up the carefully constructed monotony. This pristine match of sound and substance somehow makes the derivations clearly evident from songs not even three tracks away seem immaterial.

A reliable mainstay in the band's live repertoire up until their very last tours,  I WANNA BE WELL displays the beguiling strengths of the RAMONES at their peak, confidently transcending the obviousness of the composition's ingredients, and concocting a nugget of surprising durability and appeal.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

DO YOU WANNA DANCE?-- Rocket to Russia 9

Image via  THIS AINT THE SUMMER OF LOVE.    Thanks!

ROCKET TO RUSSIA featured an unprecedented pair of cover versions, one of only a handful of career instances in which the band leaned on more than one oldie per album. Interestingly, their selection of DO YOU WANNA DANCE, a top ten hit for BOBBY FREEMAN in 1958, represents their first experimentation with outside material recorded beyond the borders of their usual comfort zone: roughly, the pre-British Invasion early sixties. This would mark the furthest the band would reach back in time to commandeer tribute material. In the future, as band abilities and confidence increased, genre dabbling would tend more towards the opposite direction's late sixties garage and psychedelic eras, and then beyond.

Similarly to the debut album's LET'S DANCE, the band jettisons virtually all of the source material's groove and feel-- opting instead to strip the composition's core down to its simplest essence, then retooling the arrangement to better fit the RAMONES' driving aesthetic. TOMMY 3-counts (!) a snare intro, then JOHNNY and DEEDEE blast into one of the more strikingly definitive permutations of their beloved 1-4-5-in-A. (Predictably, DEEDEE starts high, then swoops down as JOHNNY bounces up, reaching sublime release each time they converge on E.) JOEY delivers an impassioned vocal, although it could be argued he doesn't quite 'nail' the rhythm of the chorus phrasing with quite the rushed perfection he achieves later in the performance captured for IT'S ALIVE. The deconstructive conceptual primitivsm is subverted by several commercially-eyed production flourishes: winningly mixed backup vocals, and hypnotizing high hat fade-ins with each chorus-ending build up in E. Overall, the crisp, new re-imagining does not compare unfavorably with previous versions by DEL SHANNON or THE BEACH BOYS, both of whom scored minor hits for their respective efforts. (There can be little doubt that the RAMONES were at least somewhat familiar with the latter.)

Achieving an ideal balance between their relentless, bashing approach and their keen ambitions towards mass popularity, DO YOU WANNA DANCE's selection as a 45 ranks indisputably as one of their sharper market decisions. That it failed to score a big hit, like SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER and ROCKAWAY BEACH before it, does not diminish what has become clearer with several decades' retrospection: although detractors might dismiss the band as an abominable, aberrational mutation from the path of Rock 'n' Roll's ongoing development, tracks such as this only prove the depth of the RAMONES' connection to the roots of the music's true spirit.


Sunday, November 30, 2014


It's December, good time to reblog:


Hope you have a good end of the year!



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

TEENAGE LOBOTOMY-- Rocket to Russia 8

Image via  THIS AINT THE SUMMER OF LOVE.    Thanks!

Side 2 of ROCKET TO RUSSIA bursts forth with a track which draws inspiration from the sub genre of 50s exploitation films whose plots correlated adolescent rites of passage with horrific monstrosity-- such as I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, TEENAGE ZOMBIE, and  I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN. Having previously already covered shock treatments, this offering also sets out to explore & lampoon the only remaining institutional procedure with potentially more devastating effects to the mentally struggling patients being treated: the Lobotomy.

Kicking off with perhaps the most tribal & unusual of any of the RAMONES' classic drum intros, JOEY then follows, intoning a bizarre chant-- ludicrously blase, and dripping with studio effects. This triggers a dizzying trio of three chord blasts from DEEDEE & JOHNNY: the first is rooted in B, the second in A, the third in D. Though distinctively dissimilar, all three are 1-4-5 distortions, and the guitar and bass play in uncharacteristically non-divergent unison. It's another sharp, overachieving sequence, and only through the band's ever increasing dexterity does the illusion of effortlessness again appear to be cast.

The verses then commence on top of a surprisingly simple progression, which serves to accentuate the rushed complexity of the other sections once they return (note how the nearly identical verse of CRETIN HOP serves a similar, but less strikingly apparent function.) JOEY's execution of one of the bands most indisputably hilarious lyrics hits the perfect note of in-character humor, as he swings from slow-wittedly simplistic recitations of unmelodic phrasing to unexpectedly jubilant exhortations at the conclusion of each stanza. And although perhaps 'sophistication' wouldn't be quite the correct term to describe the flowering comedic touch on display here, knowing familiarity with stages of collegiate achievement, an above average grasp of anatomical terminology, and an awareness of ecologically dangerous chemical repercussions would all seem to undercut the group's affectations of unlearned idiocy. JOHN HOLMSTROM's grinningly demented rubber room caricature perfectly compliments the inspired lunacy of the proceedings.

One of ROCKET TO RUSSIA's superior mixes captures an electric, streamlined charge of sound-- certainly this song would have benefited little from LEAVE HOME's denser mix (perhaps only the overly dry percussion is a singular detriment). Add this to a group performance of exceptional exuberance, a composition full of impressively unique twists, and a lyric once again amusingly inverting and championing what previously might only have appeared nightmarishly depressing, and one relishes yet another unforgettable benchmark exemplifying the RAMONES' unmatchable allure.



RAMONES: HUMMING A SICKENING TUNE (and my related piece THE RAMONES' OTHER DEBUT ALBUM from BUNCOMBE SHINOLA) were recently featured in a article written by JOSH JONES about the the RAMONES' early demos for the online site OPEN CULTURE. The support and proper credit are SUPER appreciated!


Here's a link to the OPEN CULTURE piece:


And here is a quick link to the original blog:


Talk to you all again soon!

Sunday, March 23, 2014


RAMONES: HUMMING A SICKENING TUNE has been on hiatus as I have moved again. While I tie up a few last details, here is a re-edit of CHOP HER UP AND I DON'T CARE from my other blog BUNCOMBE SHINOLA, which explores video mashups of classic RAMONES songs with famous films.

A few deleted clips have been replaced, some new finds added, and the full movie TOMORROW THE WORLD, which may have influenced DEEDEE's similarly named tune, is now included.

Up next: TEENAGE LOBOTOMY!  Talk to you soon.


Quick shortcut to RAMONES: HUMMING A SICKENING TUNE homepage




Sunday, February 16, 2014

WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY-- Rocket to Russia 7

Image via  THIS AINT THE SUMMER OF LOVE.    Thanks!

There can be little doubt that WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY was intended to be a sequel of sorts to the previous album's PINHEAD: another bizarre lyrical tableau of shattered normalcy, another maddening melody of mercilessly zigzagging chord patterns, another outsider chantalong fadeout featuring demented sound effects. Even the placement in LEAVE HOME's playlist is mirrored-- although, as previously noted, that such apparently natural closers would wind down the first sides of their respective LPs, instead of appearing as satisfying second side finales, remains baffling.

The three part composition flaunts the band's twisted ambitions, striving to concoct outlandish barre chord constructions, all performed with unrelenting locomotion and exactitude. Opening with a not untypical three chord thrust, the introduction moves quickly to a second instrumental section-- a tongue twister alternating between Fsharp and E with matching A-B and G-A connections. Now, on a guitar Fsharp and G are only one fret apart, but since JOHNNY has rooted the next song segments in his higher register, this means he swings almost an entire octave, absolutely unnecessarily, every time they charge through this change. Were it not so exhilarating, it would border on the nonsensical, this odd determination of the RAMONES to wrench the wildest melodies possible from within the confines of their limited (but always sharpening) abilities. Make no mistake, after all of the criticisms of description, all the bemoaning of three chords, of unshakable primitivism, of artless amateurishness, we arrive here at guitar work so confounding that their movements are bound to be unmatchable for any guitarist initially attempting them- other than those who have accustomed themselves to working inside the RAMONES' sound realm.

Without pause the verse suddenly commences. Coming off of the previous section's last G-A, the transition to the dizzying E-G-E-A-E-G-D sequence could be tricky, but the band conquer it into a seamless, seeming effortlessness. As on the previous section, DEEDEE wields his trademark secret weapon, swooping up to higher octaves each time JOHNNY swings down, creating a subliminal, uneasy lack of center, where only the performance's precision maintains an exact point of focus.

Then finally, the lyric begins, a tragicomic cataloguing of failing familial dysfunction. As usual, the humor is sufficiently farfetched enough that the band could reasonably deflect the probability that many of the grim details might actually have personal resonance. Of course, while associations with the leaders of the free world and the catholic church were patently unlikely, the desperate hunger of a chilly Queens, or the distance of an untrustworthy father, or the loneliness of self-medicating while dealing on the side, all ring uneasily true in RAMONES circles. (JOHN HOLSTROM's memorable accompanying illustration ironically portrays a grinning, hyper-mundane clan.) At least a couple of in-jokes optimistically refer to their supposedly soon to be improving fortunes and notoriety, as once again the band mystifyingly transforms the disastrous into the celebratory.

Blasting full on at the quickest tempo found amongst their trio of classic initial releases (only GIMME GIMME SHOCK TREATMENT barrels by in a higher gear), WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY finds the the RAMONES at an early apex of studio confidence. JOHNNY, DEEDEE and TOMMY perform at a practiced peak of impassioned perfection, while JOEY wrests great humor-- and briefly, even surprising pathos-- from recitation of the litany of troubles which have befallen his kinfolk. One of the most potent and effective mixes on ROCKET TO RUSSIA captures the lightning of the track's crisp drive. As repetitions of the chorus catchphrase swell into the coda, the track takes one more nod to the previous PINHEAD, and psychedelic studio production touches swirl into another logjam of babbling, group dialogue non sequitirs, and cinema verite sound effects of household clamor ('Where's my underwear??'). Interestingly, the CD reveals a longer fadeout than the original LP, and the aural clutter which outlasts even the band's concluding chord are now audible.

Noted by TOMMY as a convincing example of the RAMONES' collaborative songwriting strengths, WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY outshines its calculating conception, and stands as one of the band's definitive compositions and recordings. Swinging for the fences and connecting in virtually every way, the song exemplifies the beguiling combination of ludicrous hilarity and musical ferocity which defines the group's essence. With PINHEAD delegated to the closer of the live set proper, WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY almost immediately found a permanent home as the climax of the last encore, joyfully sending the audience of disaffected outsiders home with a final affirmation of communal acceptance. As well, it also served to deliver the band a self aware declaration of reasserted solidarity. The necessity of both gestures would become more and more meaningful in the hard years which lie ahead.