Thursday, March 7, 2013

JUDY IS A PUNK--Ramones 3

One of the most persistent terms of derision shackled to the RAMONES is the mysterious myth that they write and play songs with 'only three chords.' Qualitatively this ignores countless examples, from CHUCK BERRY's Brown Eyed Handsome Man to the BEATLES' Hey Jude, which have proven time and time again that in creating music of stunning depth and style using 'merely' three chords is far from insufficient. Materially, it might be more accurate to state that the RAMONES primarily use two barre chords (the movable E and A positions), so rarely utilizing open chords that songs where they do (such as 53RD & 3RD) are given extra demonstrative distinction. However, since they group the movable chords into multitudes of block patterns all over the neck, the songs almost always use more than 5 or 6 chords. All of this sidesteps the obvious- there are great, truly three chord classic songs (such as the TROGGS' Wild Thing) that could be mastered easily by any novice. However, the maddening patterns of waves of chords on display in RAMONES tracks such as WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY or I WANTED EVERYTHING would prove a considerable challenge to any guitarist unaccustomed to playing in the punk idiom.

All of that said, the 90 second JUDY IS A PUNK is one of only a handful of compositions by the band that actually are built on just three chords. The 1-4-5 track is rooted in Eflat, an extremely unlikely key in guitar driven music (though, once again, somewhat less oddball when configuring patterns of barre chords in random positions.) Two demos had been previously recorded of this track, and this end result sits somewhere in sound between the dense punk of the first attempt and the surprisingly piano-driven pop of the second (see RAMONES: THE EARLY DEMOS .)

With the words the RAMONES hit an early peak in mockingly deconstructing lyrical form and function. No sooner does the song start than the title is contradicted (JACKIE is the punk.) Then immediately after a few scant, tantalizing details are sketched (apparently primarily constructed to connect the startlingly nifty rhyme 'ice capades/S.L.A.') the characters are offhandedly dismissed with a callous, but cheerfully sung, 'perhaps they'll die.' (Equating the importance of a west coast trip, or appearing in a winter skating show, suggests that any attempt to dredge political meaning from mention of a German locale or the half baked Patti Hearst kidnapping Symbionese Liberation Army would be fruitless.) JOEY & DEEDEE then deliver the coup de grace by framing the verses in the fourth-wall smashing device appropriated from the ridiculous HERMAN'S HERMITS smash 'I'm Henry VIII, I Am' (where it surprisingly serves a similar function.)

As well, the BEACH BOYS influence of the backing vocals finds the band reaching even further back in time for sturdiness in pop form. Disregarding the improbability of practical application of these unlikely foundations, the RAMONES forged hit after hit for an unknowable future, top ten smashes in some alternate universe, chart toppers in a demented, close knit, secret present.


Photo by Roberta Bayley

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