Sunday, December 22, 2013
Image via THIS AINT THE SUMMER OF LOVE. Thanks!
While the first two RAMONES lps each featured one stab at pure, energetic pop (see LISTEN TO MY HEART and SWALLOW MY PRIDE), ROCKET TO RUSSIA upped the ante with a duo of melodic, catchy confections: I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING and LOCKET LOVE. Over clean-- even acoustic-- guitars, these British Invasion-influenced attempts at hitmaking (or at least, album filling) exhibited sly lyrical maneuvers designed to subvert the standard romantic storylines. I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING would draw its strength by way of outright denouncement of typical pathos. LOCKET LOVE, on the other hand, would undermine genre cliches with subtler undercurrents of morbid sexual deviance and threats of physical harm.
Musically, the pair are strikingly similar. Both are built upon riffs which, though constructed within 1-4-5 frameworks, playfully resist being restrictively rooted to their '1' base. If I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING is slightly more adventurous, and has an overall harder edge, LOCKET LOVE has superior tunefulness, and a more distinctly memorable middle eight. (The lighter arrangement effectively disguises the considerable resemblance to BLITZKRIEG BOP's corresponding section.) The impressively crisp production heightens the appeal of potent performances, and the capable arrangements puts the pigeonholing of the group as mere primitive savants into serious jeopardy. Particular note must be made of the outstanding background vocals, which here reach a pre-SPECTOR era peak.
The final common attribute of the twin tracks is the creation of unlikely rhymes via the ungrammatical omission of key words at the end of familiar phrases, and if this amplifies the later tough guy stance of I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING, the sum coherence of the present composition suffers somewhat as a result. Still, LOCKET LOVE represents one of the last gasps in the band's efforts to cohere their driving energy into charmingly developed (and perhaps, commercially motivated), unpunk product. In the future, the cut and dried lines dividing 'pop' and 'rock' material in the RAMONES' landscape would rarely allow for the overlapping coexistence evident here, but the upcoming machinations of both the New Wave and 60's Revivalist sub-genres would find precedent in the group's nostalgic adherence to a previous musical era's commitment to album filler exuberance.
RAMONES LOCKET LOVE
Friday, December 13, 2013
Wintertime in NYC is a confounding cauldron of clashing extremes, and this is reflected in the music of the RAMONES. On one hand, a dazzling postcard of ice capades noir where Breugel meets Gotham amongst skyscapers surrounded by gently swirling snowflakes; on the other, a brutal, unforgiving storm terrain of sub-freezing suffering-- where the menace to the insufficiently sheltered is potentially lethal. (Perhaps even JOEY must be counted amongst those who have fallen prey to the season's --sometimes, subtle-- dangers.) The RAMONES felt it all, and their depictions of Yuletide, year-end flavors transformed into a discernible arc over time, as the culminating decades brought even their sick, outsider humor to a gradual acceptance of shivering sentimentality. In sequential order, here's the band's snowiest ruminations...
1. SWALLOW MY PRIDE
Early on, the late season is used primarily only as a marker of time, but the tinge of chilly disillusionment is already tangible-- and will only become more prominent as the years pile up.
SWALLOW MY PRIDE
2. WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY
The initial extreme of the RAMONES' abberant seasonal ambivalence, this track underlines the deviantly criminal familial disintegration with the obvious unlikelihood of December correspondence.
WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY
3. I WANTED EVERYTHING
The embittered childhood verse lumps Xmas morning disappointment with other religious holiday derision, sideswiping Easter as well.
I WANTED EVERYTHING
4. DANNY SAYS
This unforgettable snapshot of touring downtime finds our protagonist thwarted from a surfboard excursion by ludicrously low seaside temperatures. But even at minus 20, the absence of snowfall only triggers longing for the wintry tableaux of their familiar New York turf.
5. THE KKK TOOK MY BABY AWAY
JOEY's winter of discontent kicks off as his sweetheart's extended west coast trip for the holidays is tragically interrupted. If one is willing to accept the behind the scenes love triangle subtext, this track makes an interestingly angry bookmark to the later, matured detente of MERRY XMAS (I DON'T WANNA FIGHT TONIGHT) (see below).
THE KKK TOOK MY BABY AWAY
6. MY MY KIND OF A GIRL
In the Wonderland of his romantic reminiscence, an older JOEY completes the swing to correlating the colder climates to his yearning nostalgia.
MY MY KIND OF A GIRL
7. HOWLING AT THE MOON
Outside of rose coloured recollection, the present reality is delineated plainly in this track's middle eight, as wintertime's despair finds an antidote only in the joyous triumph of summer's celebration.
HOWLING AT THE MOON (SHA LA LA)
8. I'M NOT AFRAID OF LIFE/ PLANET EARTH 1988
TOO TOUGH TO DIE's pair of apocalyptic downers both bear biting, world weary wintry realism. And if a lack of childhood holiday celebrations seems a bit pat compared to PLANET EARTH 1988's other enumerated dystopian anxieties, I'M NOT AFRAID OF LIFE features an unforgettable image of a mentally ill transient shaking against the freezing elements. The lyric then questions how the aged are ostracized, and with the only marginally successful RAMONES looking back at an ever growing number of winters, it's impossible to not imagine them singing this line self-reflectively.
I'M NOT AFRAID OF LIFE
PLANET EARTH 1988
9. MERRY XMAS (I DON'T WANT TO FIGHT TONIGHT)
The christmastime contempt of WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY comes full circle as the RAMONES deliver a unapologetic, straightfaced seasonal singalong. If its poorly timed appearance was not quite as clumsy as ROCKAWAY BEACH's odd November release, it certainly did not help its fortunes. The irony-free detail of the verses' Santa clauses is perhaps less interesting than the ceasefire between JOEY & JOHNNY it sideways suggests, and with the departure of DEEDEE, the reappearance of MARKY, and the recruitment of CJ, this song establishes an uneasy truce which the band would adhere to until the end.
MERRY XMAS (I DON'T WANNA FIGHT TONIGHT)
10. CHRISTMAS (BABY PLEASE COME HOME)
No longer held in check by the RAMONES format once they disbanded, JOEY released a solo single unabashedly covering the DARLENE LOVE classic CHRISTMAS (BABY PLEASE COME HOME), which originally appeared on PHIL SPECTOR's 1963 various artists production A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR YOU. (A decade and a half later he would commence work on THE RAMONES' END OF THE CENTURY lp.) JOEY's performance is predictably heartfelt and charming.
CHRISTMAS (BABY PLEASE COME HOME)
JOEY's solo CHRISTMAS SPIRIT IN MY HOUSE ep also featured a considerably altered version of MERRY XMAS (I DON'T WANNA FIGHT TONIGHT). Definitely less rockin' than the original, but an entertaining performance over a unique arrangement.
JOEY RAMONE-- MERRY XMAS (I DON'T WANNA FIGHT TONIGHT)
Picture: JOEY & MICKEY LEIGH & Santa Claus
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Image via THIS AINT THE SUMMER OF LOVE. Thanks!
Little that the RAMONES had recorded up to this point could have prepared their audience for the stunning terrain which would be embarked upon with ROCKET TO RUSSIA's next track, HERE TODAY GONE TOMORROW. Perhaps somewhat anticipated by the forthright honesty of LISTEN TO MY HEART, or the detailed realism of BABYSITTER, or the pained remorse of I REMEMBER YOU, this unprecedentedly serious portrait of doomed romantic failure represented the starkest departure from their predominant approach thus far.
An early composition by JOEY, the tune shows him working around his favorite melodic pattern, a stripped down triumvirate of chords adopted from the chorus of ALICE COOPER's I'm Eighteen, and immediately utilized on his inaugural songwriting attempt: I DON'T CARE. He would fall back on this barre chord foundation often over the years (the A-G-F driven I JUST WANT TO HAVE SOMETHING TO DO is a famous application of it), but this recording arguably illustrates his most effective and unique utilization of the template. Rooting the song in D on guitar leaves open the option of swooping down to the other chords of E and Fsharp instead of climbing up in blocks (surely JOEY's original approach). The unsettling drama of the melody rests upon the arresting drone of this change.
Unfolding an unfamiliar aura of abnormal solemnity with the first, sad strokes of a hi-hat (!) countoff, the band maintains startling, restrained gravity throughout the track-- their longest so far. The impressively layered guitars draw a curtain of slowly swelling overtones, and when the presence of this undercurrent becomes more ominous during the second verse, it signals that there will be no letup from the lyric's sober stare. By the time they reach the pause preceding the instrumental break, the foreboding hum has gradually increased its volume into practically a separate instrument, and as this crescendo lurches into the final chorus it is apparent that any expected punchline shall be absent.
TOMMY's exceptional studio professionalism and arrangement expertise (the group inched ever closer to an uneasy comfort with guitar solos with the primitive arpeggio picked out over the instrumental section) prudently match the hypnotic incantation of JOEY's impassioned vocal. Wrenching maximum heartbreak out of the contradictory resignation present in the lyrics, JOEY wields effective touches with consistent flair. He imbues the repetitive, monosyllabic cliche of the verses with strikingly dextrous melodrama (choruses too: 'for-EVer'), and he knowingly holds back the key catchphrase for the startling musical pauses which end each stanza. The poetic economy of JOEY's phrases-- effectively painting broad strokes of evocative remembrance with just over 40 words-- embodies one of his most underappreciated triumphs.
JOHN HOLMSTROM's accompanying illustration attempts to inject some levity into the proceedings, but the imagery of dismissive graveyard laughter-- 'Here Lies Someone's Dead Body' reads an epitaph-- unexpectedly underlines the only hinted-at morbidity of the song's mood. (Perhaps it should be noted that the 'Ritchie Ramone' headstone refers to an early, brief bandmate-- not the future drummer.) It would rank as the least effectively matched of his ROCKET TO RUSSIA insert designs with little probable debate.
But surely, that is far from surprising- for this was a sharp detour from the RAMONES' traditional comic book landscapes. Here, suddenly, the blunt realities of everyday pain were sized up and confronted-- without the usual aid of accelerated tempos, or cartoonish caricatures, or distracting distortions of personality flaws (or guitar tones). In retrospect, the unflinching realism of HERE TODAY GONE TOMORROW demonstrated a clear turning point. The following decades would find the band struggling to preserve an ideal balance between their trademark twisted humour, and the expulsion of hard truths absorbed as the ensuing years unleashed their unforeseen struggles (and resultant acrimony). For the moment, however, the RAMONES bravely widened their emotional palette-- and broadened their followers' palates. Humbly brandishing the fewest chords and words necessary, the RAMONES constructed a monument to the determined, seemingly unlimited, power which could be manifested through minimalism's hidden, stunning strengths. And the atypical HERE TODAY GONE TOMORROW-- as precise as a Japanese Haiku, as stark as the rain dampened streets of Film Noir, and as mesmerizing as a meditative mantra-- would tower through the coming tomorrows as one of the band's outstanding achievements.
RAMONES HERE TODAY GONE TOMORROW
Monday, November 18, 2013
Image via THIS AINT THE SUMMER OF LOVE. Thanks!
Diminished in stature only by the later appearance of a superior derivative (ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL), ROCKAWAY BEACH is another top notch early classic-- confidently constructed upon its simplistic foundation and full of evocative summertime imagery. Although minor weaknesses become apparent upon closer clinical examination, it is easy to agree with the selection of this track for the LP's leadoff single. (However, the ludicrous appearance of this 45 during the dead of winter was a typical RAMONES career timing misfire.)
Another effective retooling of the 1-4-5 progression in A, the song throws the listener off balance by starting with a few measures of 4 in D. (Note how ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL cunningly improves on this tactic, strumming introductory measures on the 5 of that track's root key instead.) The RAMONES' re-appropriation of the BEACH BOYS' favorite CHUCK BERRY-style derivations is sidelined only twice for brief, bridging blasts of slightly off rhythm punk riffing-- probably the least commercial trait of this proposed 'hit.' The first appearance of this powerful change-- G to D, then F to C-- is followed by an abrupt swing down to Fsharp. The subsequent, doo-wop-driven middle eight makes clear genre sense, but in the context of where the preceding 'punk' section is rooted, it represents surprising movement between keys. The growing dexterity of the band's barre-chord-patterned approach occasionally brought them to unpredictable melodic inventions; some unlikely to be matched by even the more studied competition. The simultaneous slide by DEEDEE and JOHNNY to the lower register as JOEY delivers a repeated line of lyric in the new pitch (which ironically punctuates that it's neither 'hard' nor 'far' to 'reach'--despite the accomplished octave-wide distance the melody has just bounded) leaves the listener with an impression of effortlessness-- a considerable deception.
The persuasively concise performances come into play again as the instrumental 'punk' section reappears towards the finale. This time the G-D to F-C is followed by a matching D to A, stunningly returning the song to the home key--where the band then halts so that TOMMY can count off the coda of final choruses. Once again, the dynamic execution succeeds in making the atypical arrangement seem natural, almost inevitable. ROCKET TO RUSSIA's sharper mix also proves ideal for boosting the overall appeal, as the background vocals impressively augment an already notable amount of hooks, and the crisper tone of the instruments heightens the cartoonier feel of the arrangement- while sacrificing hardly any of the overall strength and drive.
Despite sorely lacking a second stanza, the potency of the RAMONES' street poetry is striking. Driven by unrelentingly rhythmic phrasing and attention to situational detail, the lyrical ambience is arresting from the very first unforgettable line. (Unfortunately, the second line fumbles the flow somewhat, syllabically insufficient at an unwise juncture amidst a verseful of compelling couplets.) Eliciting sweeping familiarity via era-specific and domain-exact minutiae, DEEDEE's lyric transforms the seasonal compulsion towards, in all reality, a rather seedy destination into an inclusive, worldwide anthem of sunburned excitation. The defiance of actuality is reflected in JOHN HOLMSTROM's accompanying illustration, where the protagonists are altered into comical, non-human (but somehow familiar) characters. And similarly, the power of ROCKAWAY BEACH is the metamorphosis of the observational specificity detailed from DEEDEE's sweaty, mid-70s New York environment into a universal, utopian mindset and locale, which resonates personally with each of the group's fans-- no matter how far removed from Disco-era Queens in July they actually are.
RAMONES ROCKAWAY BEACH
Friday, November 8, 2013
Image via THIS AINT THE SUMMER OF LOVE. Thanks!
The RAMONES' trademark LP kicks off with an extremely uncharacteristic barrage of open chord, power strummed, lone guitar. The unsettling absence of '1-2-3-4' is atoned for once the chorus chant kicks in, and it becomes apparent that it's been omitted to prevent unnecessary repetition. The aural adjustment compared to LEAVE HOME is recognizable immediately: the guitars are still layered- but more focused, the bass is drier and less overbearing, and the drums are doctored with fewer effects, leaving them more crisply defined in the mix. The promise of ROCKET TO RUSSIA's fresh approach was so utterly fulfilled-- and the popularity of this track was so instantaneous-- that it is easy to overlook how much CRETIN HOP might have benefited from the previous album's heavier crunch.
One of the most simplistic of all the RAMONES' classics (which IS saying something), the song's melody offers only a three chord verse aside from the opening riff, with an exemplary tribal drummed exaltation for the second part (which again utilizes the repeated intro.) Inspiration for the minimal lyric seems to have sprung from a trip to a St. Paul, Minnesota gig, where the band was amused by road signage referring to the local Cretin-Derham Hall High School, and the adjacent Cretin Avenue. These were all named after a historically prominent area bishop, Joseph Cretin.
For the chorus, the band retools a common playground nursery rhyme, to humorous effect. This couplet had already appeared during the side two 'suite' of the BEATLES' Abbey Road, but as the RAMONES had previously mentioned Charles Manson in a lyric (see RAMONES- GLAD TO SEE YOU GO), it's worth noting that Vincent Bugliosi's definitive 1974 account of the murders, HELTER SKELTER, featured a prominent illustration of an interesting piece of evidence: a door from the Family's home at Spahn Ranch graffiti'd with several phrases, including '1 2 3 4 5 6 7 All good children (go to heaven?)'--another possible source. (At first this may seem like a prime example of Manson's obsession with the BEATLES, but the scrawled slogan seems to predate Abbey Road's release by some time, and indeed Manson was in custody within weeks of that LP's appearance.)
While CRETIN HOP commences the proceedings admirably, the closing of side one with the perfect climax (WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY) and the starting of side two with the ideal opener (TEENAGE LOBOTOMY) leaves it almost feeling as if the LP's sides should have been reversed. (Of course, on LEAVE HOME, PINHEAD seemed to terminate the incorrect side as well.) A personal admission: so often in the LP age did I personally swap the sides that now, years later, well after the rise of the CD format, I am still momentarily taken aback when ROCKET TO RUSSIA begins with its actual opener. Amusing, but true.
Another rousing call to arms for the RAMONES' disaffected fan base (JOHN HOLMSTROM's accompanying illustration appropriately captures an assortment of amusing misfits), CRETIN HOP was quickly embraced as a key live anthem. The explosive performances of the song on IT'S ALIVE and other concert documents may have eventually overshadowed the studio take somewhat, but with the song permanently added to the set virtually as soon as it was debuted, even the relatively restrained, original version's declaration could not be denied-- For CRETIN HOP, there would be NO stoppin'.
RAMONES CRETIN HOP
Friday, November 1, 2013
Image via THIS AINT THE SUMMER OF LOVE. Thanks!
The RAMONES maintained a frenzied work rate through 1977, releasing their third LP ROCKET TO RUSSIA 18 months and change after the appearance of the debut record. The troubled distribution difficulties faced with LEAVE HOME may have somewhat deflated that album's potential, but encouraging signs were otherwise numerous. The band was met with substantial critical notoriety in the press, their initial UK performances had been explosive, and the new single SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER had stirred decent chart action, threatening the Top 20 in England and busting the Hot Hundred in America. (No doubt that they had hoped for even better, but considering their relative stature as something of a fringe act, these were significant inroads.) The notion that the breakthough could be just a few more stepping stones away drove them relentlessly, and perhaps sensing that the window of opportunity would be brief, they heightened their labours with determined focus, commencing work on ROCKET RUSSIA almost immediately after the release of the SHEENA 45.
Another fortuitous development was the acquisition of their label SIRE's distribution from ABC to the considerably more powerful WARNER BROS, and for the moment the conglomerate seemed willing to roll the dice with the budding act. Armed with another jump in production budget, TOMMY and the group once again enlisted the aid of ED STASIUM and TONY BONGIOVI, this time setting up shop at the high quality MEDIA SOUND and POWER STATION facilities. Wanting to optimize commercial appeal for the new songs, the heavy crunch of LEAVE HOME was retracted for a drier, more streamlined and consistent sound. This unexpectedly played to the strengths of the new songs, written, more often than not, amidst the frenzy of touring. Many new, structurally impressive classics bore the stamp of collaborative compositional craft, and a majority of the fresh material exhibited an overall sharper sense of humour and melodic progression.
Hoping to strike impressively on all fronts, the RAMONES refused to neglect the packaging of ROCKET TO RUSSIA. Never again would they pay such close attention to their product's dressing. Clearly wishing to replicate the effectiveness of ROBERTA BAYLEY's debut LP photo, the front cover design features a similarly posed shot by manager DANNY FIELDS. Even more dazzling, the band recruited JOHN HOLMSTROM of PUNK magazine to illustrate impressively hilarious, cartoon style artwork for the back cover and lyric sheet- where his familiarity and understanding of the RAMONES' flavor and attitude suits the songs admirably. The sleeve image clearly reflects the group's yearning for worldwide dominance and success. HOLMSTROM's other pieces so inextricably compliment their respective tracks, they will warrant further comment here as their place in the running order is reached.
Additionally indicative of the predominant mindset is the care apparent in the selection of the LP's singles. ROCKAWAY BEACH and DO YOU WANNA DANCE were not only commercial standouts in the new set, they also met the aesthetic demands of what the RAMONES were likely to amicably excel at promoting in their concert performances. ROCKAWAY BEACH unforgettably evoked the band's NYC hometown atmosphere, and DO YOU WANNA DANCE was another effective, stripped down retooling of a relatively well known oldie (originally a hit for BOBBY FREEMAN in 1958). Perhaps only the wintertime release of the sunny, summer tailored ROCKAWAY BEACH undermined the coherence of this marketplace strategizing.
So many details, all encouragingly congealing all at once- a Xmastime release date, a headlining return to England planned for New Year's Eve (with the possibility of recording some shows for a live album looming), and WARNER's even willing to foot the bill for enormous promotional cutouts of the ROCKET TO RUSSIA cover to be shipped for display in record stores nationwide.
But then: disappointment. ROCKET TO RUSSIA failed to outperform the previous LP in the UK, and though they scored the highest position for any of their albums thus far in the US, they still could not crack the top 40. Both singles placed roughly as well as SHEENA in the US, but met less notoriety overseas. All things considered, hardly disastrous, but far from the breakthrough they had hoped for. One of the reasons is that the reactionary English version of Punk Rock was beginning to steal headlines, and the more outwardly political nihilism of this music seemed to overshadow the RAMONES in a way, sadly making their heightened melodicism and sharpened, zany humor less significant. And instead of attempting to match the upstarts, the bewildered RAMONES turned to an even more polished sound on their next effort ROAD TO RUIN, where they experimented even father outside of their established strengths. An acceptable strategy as long as the music maintained high quality, but doomed to muddle their efforts in the future, as shall be seen.
But that is getting well ahead of the story. At the time it was unleashed, it was heralded then as has been borne out in the decades since: The RAMONES' superlative work. It took some time for everybody to come around, but to simply let the needle fall into the grooves is to verify that riding atop this ROCKET, the RAMONES had reached their apex. And in the perfection of their finest moment, the coincidental failure to achieve immediate mainstream success eventually came to seem utterly inconsequential.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Image by DANCEHALL21! For more of her great work, click here (DANCEHALL21) or links at the end of the blog!
It's been an interesting reversal over time: Originally considered so raw and abrasive that record labels were skeptical whether or not they were even recordable-- but in the present, rightly viewed as so varied, melodic and well produced that the 'punk' label seems too limited a term of description. Ironically, this might have been viewed favorably by the RAMONES, who were initially reluctant to be pigeonholed into the classification. Their eventual dexterity in a variety of approaches beyond their initial two minute blitzkrieg fuzzball barrage aesthetic proved quite surprising, but nothing was so startlingly unexpected as the protopunks' utter mastery of the ballad-- the heartfelt lovesong.
JOEY's vulnerable personality made his inclination towards softer material predictable, but DEEDEE's troubled upbringing left him open to the nakedly confessional composition as well. TOMMY, of course, relished the opportunity to flesh out melodies and arrangements with wider instrumentation, and even JOHNNY seemed to instinctively grasp that for the records and concerts to have better flow, there must be spots where the listener had a chance to breathe. Of course, his decision to become entangled with (and eventually marry) JOEY's girlfriend cemented the central emotional drama inside the band during their later years, and their steely determination to persevere and endure despite such internal turmoil eventually gelled into their raison d'etre.
On one hand, BEAT ON THE BRAT, PSYCHOTHERAPY, COMMANDO and NOW I WANNA SNIFF SOME GLUE. On the other hand, some of the most sincere, attractive and endearing ballads any band has produced since the 60's. They stand as powerful evidence of the RAMONES' often overlooked, ambitious versatility, and spotlighted here, in sequential order, are the 10 that soar highest.
1. I WANNA BE YOUR BOYFRIEND
TOMMY immediately pulls a rabbit out of his hat with the haiku-like precision of this minimalist masterpiece. An advance indicator of what was to regularly follow, this early fan favorite also had a few other interesting early versions, check 'em out HERE --->> RAMONES EARLY DEMOS
I WANNA BE YOUR BOYFRIEND
The RAMONES show impressive development on this followup to I WANNA BE YOUR BOYFRIEND, which knowingly expands on the earlier track's charms in almost every way: melody, lyric, arrangement and production. JOEY's amusing lament on this previously rather difficult to find track is beguiling and compelling.
3. HERE TODAY GONE TOMORROW
From out of nowhere ROCKET TO RUSSIA dropped this unprecedentedly serious track, not just proof of how brilliant this 'joke' band could be, but also a devastating example of how powerful a tool minimalism can be, wielded in ANY artistic endeavor. Impressive in the studio version, but also an extremely stunning show stopper on IT'S ALIVE.
HERE TODAY GONE TOMORROW
4. NEEDLES AND PINS
LET'S DANCE proved how effectively an oldie could be retooled into the RAMONES' formula, but CALIFORNIA SUN, and especially this track, showed that the band could meet the originals and match them on their own turf. Simply, an absolute improvement on a cherished classic-- with another perfect vocal from JOEY, but also featuring deft genre details from DEEDEE and MARKY, and displaying one of their best initial attempts at integrating acoustic guitars.
NEEDLES & PINS
Melodically, one of the band's most uncharacteristically subtle, and lyrically, one of their most romantically hardboiled. The cathode ray whiskey stupor and wailing guitar figures could have come straight out of a Country & Western song, but the incorrect conjugation of the verb 'to know' reassures you that this is, indeed, still the RAMONES.
6. I WANT YOU AROUND
For the ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL soundtrack the RAMONES concocted one of their most perfectly heartfelt pleas, full of acoustic guitar, a hypnotizing minor key middle, one of MARKY's finest contributions, and a winningly dead on mix (no need to bother with the inferior, more electrified demo version). Surely one of the defining vocal performances of JOEY's career, this was wisely chosen as an extraordinary centerpiece sequence in the ALLAN ARKUSH film.
I WANT YOU AROUND
7. DANNY SAYS
With girl group mastermind PHIL SPECTOR at the helm, it was elementary that a gorgeous ballad would spring from the hopeful breakout collaboration which was END OF THE CENTURY. However this bafflingly ended up NOT being the heavily overblown and orchestrated cover of the RONETTES standard BABY I LOVE YOU (an unquestioned 60's SPECTOR triumph) but instead the dreary portrait of touring drudgery DANNY SAYS, which is transformed from the humble demo into one of the towering accomplishments of both the band and producer's careers. Unmatchable verses, full of strange and longing details, propel an ingeniously cumulative dense mix, where not a single note played or sung seems out of place--certainly a rarity for this album.
8. MY-MY KIND OF A GIRL
With the later section of their career underway, the RAMONES once again go back to the I WANNA BE YOUR BOYFRIEND well, with surprisingly dazzling results. Sporting an altered rhythm and evocative lyric, the song absorbs and reapplies the lessons of SPECTOR into a more comfortable realm. MARKY is a bit shaky--right before his temporary 'retirement'-- but this only adds to the appeal as the remainder of the group flaunts impassioned, weathered, primitive perfection.
MY-MY KIND OF A GIRL
9. SHE BELONGS TO ME
I'd have to admit, the other 9 songs on this list were no brainers to me, but for the 10th choice i was met with a frustrating logjam of equally merited options. Finally I elected this track, for despite being written by DEEDEE, it is one of the truest representations of the bitter JOEY/JOHNNY love triangle which exists on their records. (Apparently THE KKK TOOK MY BABY AWAY ranks as well, but that isn't a ballad.) The ambitious production by JEAN BEAUVOIR is marred by some galling synthesizer keyboard embellishment, but lemme tell ya-- the 80's were tough on everybody. P.S.- the other also rans were I REMEMBER YOU, RAMONA, 7-11, OUT OF TIME, SHE TALKS TO RAINBOWS and CAN'T GET YOU OUTTA MY MIND. I don't think they really count, but also under consideration were DON'T COME CLOSE, WHEN I WAS YOUNG, SWALLOW MY PRIDE and WAITING FOR THAT RAILROAD.
SHE BELONGS TO ME
10. I WON'T LET IT HAPPEN
Late in the game, the band unleashes an amazingly pure serving of the soft sell-- arguably this release's most pristine track. Borrowing heavily from a similarly entitled SLADE song (see SAME AS THE FIRST-- LIST #6), JOEY wraps his ethos around the acoustic guitars one more time, with age-proof results.
I WON'T LET IT HAPPEN
As always, one bonus for you-- a moving DANNY SAYS at one of JOEY's last appearances, surrounded by friends (song starts at 2:15).
JOEY RAMONE DANNY SAYS
The extremely cool art headlining this blog was created by DANCEHALL21. You can check out more of her often punk- and RAMONE- related work at the following sites. Thanks again for granting permission to utilize your superb designs!
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Friday, September 27, 2013
Sorry for the lag in posts, I'm in the middle of moving. The next list RAMONES TOP TEN LOVE SONGS is almost finished. Until then, here's a piece i put together that didn't quite fit in over here, a collection of RAMONES videos that reference footage from famous movies. Check 'em out, and you'll hear from me again soon!
CHOP HER UP AND I DON'T CARE: TOP TEN RAMONES MOVIE MASHUPS!
Thanks for reading!
Cool illustration by SAMY THE KAY. Click here for shortcut to his tumblr.
SAMY THE KAY--ILLUSTRATIONS IN SOUND
Monday, September 16, 2013
The remaining LEAVE HOME Expanded CD bonus offerings comprise an entire live performance at the ROXY in Hollywood from August of 1976-- indeed, their first major trip away from 'HOME.' It reveals the band honing their early stage attack, and spotlighting a handful of tracks from their upcoming sophomore LP-- at that point still a half year away from being released. The set displays blooming confidence and an already noticably accelerating drive (two selections from this recording, CALIFORNIA SUN and I DON'T WANNA WALK AROUND WITH YOU eventually found their way on to 45 b-sides.) But although undoubtedly capturing a pivotal point triggering the soon-to-explode L.A. punk scene, this very good (but not exceptional) show is bound to compare unfavorably with IT'S ALIVE and other readily available performances featuring the original lineup. With several notable original demos still uncollected, and the added single track SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER inexplicably nudged off the program for eventual appearance elsewhere, the wisdom of including this complete show remains debatable. (Certainly, for example, on the IT'S ALIVE dvd collection, a tendency towards cherrypicking from key shows as opposed to using all available tracks would dominate.) Sonically only slightly better than bootleg level quality, this material is perhaps best absorbed as a snapshot of the band at exactly the midway point between their inception and initial peak. For our purposes here-- focusing on recording and composition-- a brief assessment shall suffice.
The standard opener of their embryonic era kicks off with JOEY's humorous audience greeting, where a polite introduction is contradictorily followed by an immediate admonishment to shut up. A new, powerful musical assurance is plainly tangible.
17. BEAT ON THE BRAT
One of IT'S ALIVE's most glaring omissions, the live potential of this debut favorite is happily realized and documented, despite a few shaky moments from TOMMY.
BEAT ON THE BRAT
18. BLITZKRIEG BOP
Taken at what now seems like an almost sluggish tempo, the single "on SIRE records!" is met with a disconcerting lack of audience participation.
19. I REMEMBER YOU
Surprisingly early in the set, the band slows it down a notch. JOEY gives it his all in his featured, crooning highlight.
I REMEMBER YOU
20. GLAD TO SEE YOU GO
Ample evidence of the wealth of material the band still had on tap for their second release, this effortless go at the still unrecorded GLAD TO SEE YOU GO flies by flawlessly.
GLAD TO SEE YOU GO
The sturdy first lp "love song" proves dependable.
22. 53RD & 3RD
The pathos of DEEDEE's psychodrama are predictably milked, even at this early stage.
53RD & 3RD
23. I WANNA BE YOUR BOYFRIEND
An astoundingly long pause before the group trots out this pleading favorite to all of the "special girls" out there. From here on out though, it's a Blitzkrieg all the way.
I WANNA BE YOUR BOYFRIEND
24. HAVANA AFFAIR
They punch all the way through their "salsa" number with panache. Lamentably, over the years JOEY's inclination to crack non-sequiturs between songs diminished almost completely.
25. LISTEN TO MY HEART
Precision abounds in these performances, although later--as the live material is grouped into small bursts-- this song will be programmed into a spot which will flaunt the opening guitar figure more impressively.
LISTEN TO MY HEART
26. CALIFORNIA SUN
"Hot doggers, hang ten!", then blastoff into one of the band's most rehearsed covers. Along with I DON'T WANNA WALK AROUND WITH YOU, this appeared as the 45 b-side to I WANNA BE YOUR BOYFRIEND in America and I REMEMBER YOU in the UK.
27. JUDY IS A PUNK
The set starts to hurtle towards the end aboard a barrage of debut album crushers, starting with JUDY IS A PUNK, whose odd key protrudes conspicuously.
JUDY IS A PUNK
28. I DON'T WANNA WALK AROUND WITH YOU
Pauses in between songs fade away, and DEEDEE dominates--thumping relentlessly on bass and grabbing all the glory of the final line of lyric, leaving him almost without breath for the next 1-2-3-4. In German, naturally.
I DON'T WANNA WALK AROUND WITH YOU
29. TODAY YOUR LOVE, TOMORROW THE WORLD
Only a slightly messy coda mars the set closer, which more than fulfills its role as designated explosive climax.
TODAY YOUR LOVE, TOMORROW THE WORLD
30. NOW I WANNA SNIFF SOME GLUE
The suddenly measurably increased tempos carry through to the encore, as unexpectedly TOMMY counts things off. Breathtaking.
NOW I WANNA SNIFF SOME GLUE
31. LET'S DANCE
What sounds like a shabby edit fails to cover up a rare opening error from perfectionist JOHNNY. Nonetheless, as the RAMONES feverishly finish the show, they have obliterated nearly any notion that their brutal minimalism could not be delivered with dazzling, potent cohesion.
Monday, September 9, 2013
BABYSITTER had been set aside as a probable 45 b-side, but after the CARBONA NOT GLUE panic heated up (see CARBONA NOT GLUE--Leave Home 5) this track was chosen to take its place for the new pressing. So sensibly it leads off the extras of this deluxe edition of LEAVE HOME. However, in 1977, it was in turn quickly replaced by the new single SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER, and unwisely that song has been omitted here in favor of less chronological inclusion on the expanded CD of ROCKET TO RUSSIA-- puzzlingly leaving this the only bonus studio recording in the present running order.
After two other decidedly wanting stabs at softer material for the second album, BABYSITTER represents not only a reassuring return to the quality of the debut's I WANNA BE YOUR BOYFRIEND, but also an impressive and cunning expansion of that track's key strengths. An even more melodic utilization of 1-4-5 drives the song, and a strikingly confident middle eight leads to a dazzling one step key change for the final verse and chorus. A bright, dense mix displays the extra layer of guitars and attractive background vocals to strong effect, and the tension maintained throughout the tune's push and pull dynamic shows determined control.
JOEY tackles the descriptively detailed lyric of the protagonist's frustrating scenario with a great sense of drama. But he also infuses the oft repeated title line with an innocence that feels more relative to the possible crush of the kids for their sitter, and this lends the vocal a surprising depth of empathy to all of the song's potential points of view simultaneously. Impatiently watching television, hoping to avoid interruption from eavesdroppers, intertwines with a sneaking longing, capped with a gratitude for the absence of the 'folks.'
Almost immediately replaced on fresh versions of the lp (perhaps wisely, as its presence made for an awkwardly ballad heavy sophomore platter), the song popped up again on the flip side of the DO YOU WANNA DANCE single. For years unavailable elsewhere (and, in fact, not even listed on the sleeve of the LEAVE HOMEs it appeared on) BABYSITTER built up credible steam as a cherished rarity, eventually being included on the Warner Bros compilation ATTACK OF THE KILLER Bs, an assortment of respected but difficult to acquire non-lp tracks by various artists. Of course, in the CD age this ready made bonus track ringer found a home on several releases, and wide audiences could finally assess and ingest this no-longer rare, early indicator of what over time had become obvious: the world's foremost punks were undeniable masters of the ballad form.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Interestingly, the RAMONES opted to wrap up LEAVE HOME with this track instead of PINHEAD-- a song bursting with obvious climactic potential-- which was left to conclude side 1 of the LP. They would execute a similar misstep on the upcoming ROCKET TO RUSSIA, closing the first side with WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY, clearly a ready made closer. The eventual utilization of these two tracks at key payoff points in the band's live sets makes their misuse in the placement of these records' running order even more apparent. For the remainder of their studio career, the RAMONES would conspicuously strive to have albums end dramatically and powerfully, leaving (surprisingly) two of their early classic releases some of the only instances where this effective tactic was ignored.
One of the numbers sampled with the group's first batch of demos (see RAMONES' OTHER DEBUT ALBUM), YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE OPENED THAT DOOR represents one of their lesser efforts in the horror-themed realm. Despite some amusing genre imagery-- unfortunately primarily confined to the rather drab verse melody changes-- the song fails to completely achieve total liftoff. Notably, the new version features a slightly modified chord progression after the chorus, which makes this and SWALLOW MY PRIDE (see SWALLOW MY PRIDE Leave Home 9) two of the only early compositions displaying detectable, significant alteration in their arrangement before official recording. (A catchy background vocal refrain has also been helpfully added to the song's distinctive chorus melody-- perhaps the tune's most memorable hook.) The band has also mastered the oddly timed intro, which amusingly takes them more than one try to nail on the initial recording.
Although outwardly lacking only next to the RAMONES very best early material, the resultant closer still feels a tad under-realized, despite all around energetic performances. The flavor of the recurrent production maladies lingers as YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE OPENED THAT DOOR fades into the grooves. Still, as the 'open that door' chant closes the door on the LEAVE HOME LP, it's easy to look forward to the the next station the Rocket would be stopping at: No less than the RAMONES finest studio moment-- where every single track would indubitably bear the mark of 100%, full blooded construction, consideration and culmination.
RAMONES YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE OPENED THAT DOOR
Sunday, August 25, 2013
One of LEAVE HOME's bigger disappointments, YOU'RE GONNA KILL THAT GIRL had been an early demo (see THE RAMONES' OTHER DEBUT ALBUM ) strong enough to trigger an offer from SIRE records for a single deal-- an offer the RAMONES refused, hoping to hold out for a contract for a complete album. This tactic more or less ended up proving effective, but when time came to finally record the tune for the second long player, the weakly mixed results proved underwhelming enough to have the track nixed as a possible 45.
A strikingly knowing exercise in the doowop genre's dominant changes, the obvious commercial potential of this throwback rocker makes, in retrospect, the piqued interest of their eventual record company unsurprising. Even in demo form, with JOHNNY not quite yet on top of the varying dynamic of the verse/chorus segue, the infectious appeal of the oldie style composition was clearly apparent. The final failure of the LEAVE HOME attempt to fulfill the detectable promise of the original recording remains one of the lp's deepest puzzles.
Commencing with a conceptually sound but somewhat rushed DION & the BELMONTS-style introductory section, the band surges into a chorus and bridge modified to their pulverizing approach, but adhering stringently to the idiom's standard melodies. Once the song proper begins, however, the deficiencies of the production's balance become clear. Perhaps by design (especially if the song was still under consideration as a single), the overall mix seems less brash and heavy than the remainder of the album. The churn of the guitars and bass feels less ferocious, the background singing is insufficiently rousing, and the recurrent problems of the drums being too low in volume and the lead vocals being too high reach an apex of intensity here. Though the performances are primarily more than adequate (and the charms of the number undeniable), the entire effort ends up feeling rather emasculated. (Shortly, an impassioned, dazzling concert performance of the song on IT'S ALIVE would finally allow YOU'RE GONNA KILL THAT GIRL to ascend to its conceived heights.)
Certainly JOEY, who wields the required teen tragedy-style pathos (and seems unfazed by the near-satirical, sick cliche extreme of the lyric) carries through with admirable fervor. But although hardly disastrous, any minimal consideration of this composition's competing versions reveals the sting of wasted opportunity that hangs over this misfire of what shall become one of their most under-regarded early classics. In the end, the best that can be said is how well YOU'RE GONNA KILL THAT GIRL displays the RAMONES' concrete grasp of Rock 'n' Roll's fundamental foundations, and how effortlessly (even unconsciously?) they could be manifested if required-- despite deceptive efforts to affect an 'unschooled' aesthetic.
YOU'RE GONNA KILL THAT GIRL
Monday, August 19, 2013
This deceptively contradictory rocker pitted two already prevalent thematic terrains into an anthem so absurd as to border on dadaist. JOHNNY's patriotic militarisms clash head on with the Germanic obsessions of DEEDEE's youth, resulting in a concoction which finally defies conventional consideration. (The undercurrent of Naziism suggested by, for instance, the line pertaining to culinary orthodoxy, seems at odds with the then still-current reference to the Vietnam conflict, despite the trooper's stated willingness to travel as far as both countries' capitals.) The unimaginative machismo of the verses is turned inside out by a bizarre chorus cataloguing a numbered list of personal 'rules,' one of the band's most memorable lyrical conceptual gimmicks. Nonsensically, adherence to the law of 'der Vaterland' is equated with the importance of a kosher diet, the appeal of capitalist separatism, and (undercutting the warmongering combativeness of the song most definitively) an infantile, reverential respect for 'mommy.' Fortunately, the vocals are so hilariously powerful, and the melody's blistering arrangement so irresistibly performed that the ludicrous turns taken end up seeming completely moot. In fact, the relentless force of the song feels totally fitting to the paramiltary singlemindedness of the dubious narrative's improbable mercenary protagonist.
Musically, the stunningly primitive creation is simplistic (yet, versatile) even by the RAMONES' early standards. (Years later, as the band became grew determined to nostalgically recapture their primal strengths, they would often to revert to raw, two part verse/chorus bashers such as this.) Indeed, the heavy verse riff, which alternates between two keys, would soon be retooled for GO MENTAL on ROAD TO RUIN. As well, the four chord chorus melody would be unapologetically recycled in the next decade on ANIMAL BOY as the primary core of APEMAN HOP.
TOMMY achieves a dense, dark mix which perfectly matches the band's merciless pulse. An impatient DEEDEE starts thumping his bass even before the introductory count is completed, a pulverizing performance by JOHNNY sounds more like an army of guitars instead of just one, and TOMMY's switch to a half time cymbal count for the verses (quickly becoming a common tactic as the RAMONES' music grew steadily faster overall) is confidently seamless. But despite the personal resonance probable throughout the lyrics for DEEDEE (whose father, after all, was a career military man that stationed his family in battered Berlin, and was certainly not above dominating his family with cruelly martial doctrines), the major triumph finally belongs to JOEY, who remarkably wraps his pipes around a guerilla goon persona, charging through the chorus' imperious proclamations, and flinching not an inch at the jibes towards the jewish which permeate the track. (At least there can be little doubt that his mother Charlotte Lesher received the 'nicest' treatment, as she initially allowed the embryonic group to have their first practices in the back storeroom of her art gallery.) Whatever the debatable political correctness of the thematically wobbly compositional end result, the transformation of the gangly lead singer into a fearsome soldier of fortune (even for humour's sake) is emblematic of the culture of reinvention so firmly at the heart of the burgeoning punk movement's individualism-- as it had existed, truthfully, throughout the story of Rock 'n' Roll.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
The RAMONES often insisted that they almost immediately resorted to a shouted 1-2-3-4 start to their songs due to an inability to master the 'silent count.' Soon, however, the novelty of the oft repeated intro struck their fancy, and they began to relish the relentless recurrence of the gimmick. Quickly, the retooled weakness morphed into one of their most beloved, identifiable eccentricities.
In a long career where this device would be wielded endlessly (but perhaps less often on their albums than one might think--see Postscript), there would be presented inevitable opportunity to pick a few favorites. And indeed inevitability is the keyword, for as surely as a RAMONES classic became as likely to follow 1-2-3-4 as the number five, the band themselves represented what in retrospect seems an unavoidable step in the progression of Rock 'n' Roll's history. So without further ado, a tribute to the numerological quartet that is the mathematical key to the heart of the RAMONES' sound.
In chronological order. Naturally.
1. I DON'T WANNA BE LEARNED/I DON'T WANNA BE TAMED
Straight out of the gate the RAMONES unapologetically and unaffectedly kick off one of their earliest efforts with their soon to be trademark. Even at this embryonic stage, DEEDEE sounds unashamed and ultra-confident. Also noted for the (non-) record: I CAN'T BE, a similarly obscure pre-debut demo, which catalogues an amusing 1-2-3 (cohabitation, procreation and housecleaning.) This denotes a deadly triumvirate of domesticity which should be avoided at all costs.
I DON'T WANNA BE LEARNED/ I DON'T WANNA BE TAMED
I CAN'T BE
2. NOW I WANNA SNIFF SOME GLUE
The early appearance of a 1-2-3-4 triggering the title chant is trumped shortly thereafter by a unique count all the way up to 8, building extra expectation before the heavy middle section riff commences.
NOW I WANNA SNIFF SOME GLUE
3. TODAY YOUR LOVE, TOMORROW THE WORLD
A normal 1-2-3-4 opens the debut's classic closer, but in fitting with the Germanic theme DEEDEE sparks the unforgettable coda with a countoff 'auf Deutsch.'
TODAY YOUR LOVE, TOMORROW THE WORLD
DEEDEE amusingly begins playing his bass even before he completes the opening kickoff, but of course this track's most notable 1-2-3-4 remains the 'rules' militarily mandated by the group. Strict adherence to Der Vaterland, Capitalism, culinary Orthodoxy and maternal reverence all get equal time.
5. SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER
One of the less noted details which helps make this track such an exhilarating thrill is that we enter only upon the last 4 of DEEDEE's opening count, causing a tangible, nervous anticipation for what is to follow.
SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER
6. CRETIN HOP
This track brandishes a childhood nursery rhyme towards its nefariously celebratory devices, utilizing the (literally) odd count of 4-5-6-7 to better accomodate the subnormals' likelihood of rapturous ascendance.
7. ALL THE WAY
Amidst the bloated production techniques piled upon the END OF THE CENTURY LP by PHIL SPECTOR, the band reassuringly (albeit after a heavy introductory section) blasts into the meat of this track with the standard countoff. Perhaps the album's least galling display of studio muckery, this is the sole appearance of 1-2-3-4 on this release.
ALL THE WAY
8. DANGER ZONE
This TOO TOUGH TO DIE cornerstone features a hilarious, 'studio verite' exchange between DEEDEE and JOHNNY even before they can get to the countoff.
9. I LOST MY MIND
This rather calculated throwback to the classic early approach from HALFWAY TO SANITY begins with certainly DEEDEE's most confused sounding instigation. Did he begin the 1-2-3-4 backwards?
I LOST MY MIND
10. I DON'T WANNA GROW UP
For their farewell abum, the RAMONES opt to start things off in style, coming full circle with a perfectly mimicked 1-2-3-4 from CJ opening the proceedings.
I DON'T WANNA GROW UP
A good friend of mine in high school once put forth the theory that the quality of any RAMONES album was in exact accordance and proportion to the number of times 1-2-3-4 was uttered. This worked fine for me- my favorite album was (and is) IT'S ALIVE, where the count in some form or another appears 28 times. The theory seemed to fall apart considerably, however, with the decidedly inferior LOCO LIVE, which featured virtually the same tally. (Years later, as their final concert drew nearer, a troubling, insidious detail began to take hold: a gradually growing pause between 4 and the songs' commencement, until there existed almost space enough to utter 5. A sobering indicator of time's passage.)
But what of the studio albums? A surprising amount displayed not even a single 1-2-3-4: PLEASANT DREAMS, BRAIN DRAIN, MONDO BIZARRO, ACID EATERS, plus the undeniably strong ROAD TO RUIN and SUBTERRANEAN JUNGLE. The theory felt firmer with the records where it occurred only once: END OF THE CENTURY, ANIMAL BOY and ADIOS AMIGOS. It gets wobbly with the inconsistent HALFWAY TO SANITY, which piles up a much higher count of four. From here though, the rule bears out quite effectively: pretty much five total for each of their first three classic LPs (allowing for oddities such as COMMANDO and CRETIN HOP). And with an undebatable sum of six 1-2-3-4s, the grand nod goes to TOO TOUGH TO DIE, their superlative midperiod comeback.
Maybe Dax was on to something.
Photo by DANNY FIELDS. Information on the upcoming documentary about him DANNY SAYS this way:
Collage by JOHN HOLMSTROM. Buy his new book the BEST OF PUNK MAGAZINE this way:
Best of Punk Magazine-John-Holmstrom
Thursday, August 8, 2013
The RAMONES had a problem. Although they had performed the oldie CALIFORNIA SUN in their sets from the very beginning, the friendly neighborhood competition (and aesthetic cousins) THE DICTATORS had stolen their thunder by including a version on their 1975 debut album Go Girl Crazy. Not willing to let go of a good thing, they stubbornly trudged ahead with their own reading for LEAVE HOME. This revealed that even if the band might stoop to recording material already notably covered elsewhere (even by their friends), they would at least take care to allow a passage of time long enough so that any possible clash could be nullified- or at least sidestepped. (Their later re-assimilation of CHINESE ROCK would be postponed somewhat more artfully.) If the RAMONES version of CALIFORNIA SUN came a bit too soon after their rivals, they could still arguably lay claim to having arrived at the song first. More importantly, the band undercut a substantial portion of potential controversy by simply producing the superior interpretation.
Originally recorded by R'n'B singer Joe Jones in 1961-- but made famous shortly thereafter in a surf version by the Rivieras-- CALIFORNIA SUN is a song seemingly tailor made to follow-up the RAMONES' debut album cut of LET'S DANCE. Sub-BEACH BOYS, pre-British Invasion cheese, the tune appeared prime for appropriation by the band-- only the anchor guitar figure proved a possible obstacle. Though uncomplicated, the lick can be deceptively difficult to nail (especially if one guitar alone must shoulder the rhythm burden seamlessly as well). Surprisingly, JOHNNY remained willing to buckle down, and for years the sly riff continued to represent his most challenging tidbit in their live performances.
Basically disregarding the DICTATORS' cover, the RAMONES ignore their lyrical adlibs and simply focus on the Rivieras' verses (which, ironically, are altered somewhat from Joe Jones' original) and bare instrumentation. The RAMONES add a unique touch to their arrangement by foregoing the introductory unsung verse (present on all other versions), instead allowing DEEDEE to count off straight into a chorus. This shortens the time elapsed before the vocals begin, and also makes the tribal drum/riff-accompanied verse more intriguing when it finally does arrive.
One of LEAVE HOME's most powerful mixes supports a perfect performance. The drums' toms exhibit fat echo and presence, and the guitars have delicious tone (especially the overdubbed primary riff). JOEY's performance is dead on, and their decision to not mimic the DICTATORS call and response background vocals was a wise one. (They naturally also eschew their numerous lead guitar overdubs, one of the other augmentations which ultimately make the Go Girl Crazy version sound rather bloated in comparison to the RAMONES' minimalist take.)
That the band's aesthetic could retool such an ancient, rinkydink 45 into such a striking, fierce blast of modern rock laid bare something which was not always apparent at the time: The RAMONES represented less of a reactionary recoil to rock and roll progressiveness and more of a natural (even unconscious) inheritance and perpetration of its its true ideals.
RAMONES CALIFORNIA SUN
Monday, August 5, 2013
An extremely early effort from JOEY which had already been demoed in practically identical form (see RAMONES: THE EARLY DEMOS), this sludgy ballad was held off of the debut for later inclusion here. But besides the predictable root key adjustment- a step up from the first attempt- little tangible effort has gone towards its improvement. The undeveloped melody gets some window dressing via some sonically attractive guitar strum overdubs, and the lush background vocals do display some amount of care (the response to the second syllable of 'insane' is undeniably memorable), but the minimal consideration afforded this benchwarmer finally results in perhaps the dreariest track created by the RAMONES' original lineup.
The lyric pertains to a girl's struggles with mental illness, one of their least compelling explorations of this subject. The allusions to 'sweet' Mary Jane already sounded out of date at the time of LEAVE HOME's release, and the subsequent Punk movement's backlash against hippies only amplified this anachronism. (Indeed, although at least two members continued to toke up, the future would hold few, if any, references to marijuana in the group's lyrics-- despite regular mentions of other harder drugs and pharmaceuticals.) Similarly, the protagonist's desire to conform her appearance to those who surround her seemed at odds with the burst of individualism that the New Wave's culture explosion would soon embrace. Also, JOEY's repetitions of 'yeah' at the second chorus' emotional apex ring slightly overwrought and old fashioned, though otherwise he strives to be sincere and convincing with verses which, though underwhelming, in all probability represent a thinly veiled self portrait.
The cannabis code words and reverb drenched vocals do mark this track notably as the RAMONES' first dabbling in psychedelia. Not wielded again until the MARKY era, the middle section of IT'S NOT MY PLACE (IN THE 9 TO 5 WORLD) from PLEASANT DREAMS prefaced the first full fledged plunge into the tripped out realm with TIME HAS COME TODAY on SUBTERRANEAN JUNGLE. This would finally culminate on ACID EATERS, a concept record of predominantly LSD era cover versions, and for their final album they would go down to the rabbit hole well one more time with SHE TALKS TO RAINBOWS, a measurably more effective (and weathered) reiteration of WHAT'S YOUR GAME's musical and lyrical ideas.
RAMONES WHAT'S YOUR GAME
Thursday, August 1, 2013
Although superficially displaying the trappings of typical romantic lyrical longing (especially encased in LEAVE HOME's obligatory stab at pure pop), upon closer inspection SWALLOW MY PRIDE is a revelatory self portrait review of the band's (mis)fortunes at the sophomore LP point. There is hardly a single line of lyric which doesn't seem to directly reflect situational resonance for at least one band member. JOEY's unconquerable optimism, TOMMY's displeasure at being taken for granted, JOHNNY's desire for militaristic control, DEEDEE's downbeat impatience-- all manage to get touched upon in the very few lines of lyric, and each mentioned personalty trait was a very short time away from finding full flower.
'Two years' in-- the specific passage of time has relevance-- the RAMONES' career seemed already stalled in a purgatory perched between obscurity and substantial success. The spiritual sons of the STOOGES and NEW YORK DOLLS should have known better than to expect too much too soon, but clearly the tantalizingly tangible next level, within reasonable proximity but insurmountably ungraspable, was beginning to solidify frustrations.
Commercial enough to be released as a 45 after the bizarre, out of nowhere appearance (and subsequent addition) of SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER, but undistinguished enough to remain a likely component of the group's live set, SWALLOW MY PRIDE is an appealing exercise around the 1-4-5 in the key of B. (The bridge predictably drops down to Gsharp/Aflat, but a stricter adherence to genre rules probably would have dictated that this should have been a minor chord.) Opening aggressively-- perhaps too aggressively for a potential single?-- then switching to a now-familiar muted 'clicking' guitar verse, the track is potently melodic; especially the soaring choruses. However, problematic minor details detract from the overall knockout. Some lines of verse have a few too many words, forcing odd phrasing from JOEY, and although the background vocals are impressive for the choruses, they are distractedly and less effectively tagged on in other places. The middle section repetition of 'oh yeah's isn't a bad idea, but the heavy echo and reverb only accentuate the thematic inappropriateness of JOEY's bratty delivery. (This section has been almost completely overhauled from the original version appearing on early bootlegs, where British Invasion-style 'come on's are repeated over a standard punk lick.)
Proof of tunesmithing aptitude assumed to be outside their ability, but likely to be underrated next to their early undeniable classics, SWALLOW MY PRIDE remains an effort apt for confused appraisal in the RAMONES' ouvre. It certainly does not match up to either LISTEN TO MY HEART, the debut's grade A pop confection, or the forthcoming LOCKET LOVE, an improvement of similar musical ideas destined to appear on ROCKET TO RUSSIA. Still, it was years before TOMMY would decide against facing another 'winter' with the band, before JOEY's persistent invocations of 'real cool times' would be touched with desperation's tinge, before DEEDEE would be overtaken by the muddle of grimmer looking days, and before JOHNNY's amorous actions would threaten to undermine the 'ship's stability, necessitating a uniform tight-lipped-ness. The song endures as a reassuring snapshot of group solidarity in the face of problems that, for the moment, loomed primarily only as foreshadowing.
RAMONES SWALLOW MY PRIDE
Monday, July 29, 2013
Tribal drums. Multiple bridges. 1-4-1 accented riffs. Muted 'clicking' guitar sections. A few sentences of sparse lyric punctuated by multiple 'wanna' repetitions. At this point, a record and a half in, the formula's attributes for the RAMONES' songwriting must have started to feel durably dependable. That makes the manner in which this kitchen sinkful of stock moves & motifs just misses the mark all the more puzzling.
Things begin promisingly, with a unique (and unrepeated) intro: muscular and heavy, with a powerful floor tom sound. This immediately jumps into the vocal section, and it is here where the recurring oversoft snare/overloud vocals problem rears its head once again, deflating the momentum considerably from the potent opening. (A debut-album-style swing up to a higher octave from DEEDEE doesn't improve matters either.) The two verse repetitions are followed by two different (but similar) chord progressions. The second, ending in a higher pitch, builds anticipation to an awesome, pflanged, tribal stomp. The absence of lyrics in these sections seems odd, however overall JOEY's non-appearance helps to cancel out the balance problems of the mix (as does the more forceful playing on these bridges). A tightly wound guitar section with BEAT ON THE BRAT-derived accents on the four brings us back to the verses for another go around each section.
It is the deft dexterity with which the band moves around these numerous changes which finally proves to be the track's greatest strength. But something about the tune feels thrown together, and in the end the simple reiteration for the second half seems unadventurous compared to the dizzying arrangement of NOW I WANNA SNIFF SOME GLUE, this piece's obvious antecedent.
As for the words, the attempt to forge another simplistic 'wanna' meditation also seems poorly thought out, lacking charm and even, truthfully, several expected internal rhymes. (It doesn't help that the sole appearance of vocals is on top of the song's least interesting melody, a dreary A-F-G which pales alongside the composition's other, more explosive passages.) Although the verses somewhat adequately manifest the contradictory poignancy of teenaged yearnings-- contrasting the drive to avoid judgement, yet longing for autonomy (even if is serves no purpose other than to battle ennui on one's own individual terms)-- they lack the haiku precision and good punchline which usually punctuate the RAMONES' lyrical efforts in this form.
So chalk up a couple of good riffs, some energetic playing, and a typically impassioned performance from a disappointingly underutilized JOEY. The assembly line of perfect punk masterpieces had to pause at some point, and this (still fun) offering truthfully revealed only minor chinks in the armor. The struggles with the persistence of quality material were still many years away, and for now the boys' desire to be 'good' was being met, and then some, with impressive regularity.
RAMONES NOW I WANNA BE A GOOD BOY