Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Along with I DON'T WANNA BE LEARNED/I DON'T WANNA BE TAMED, this track was one of two songs attempted at the first RAMONES demo session in 1975 that remained unreleased until the ALL THE STUFF (AND MORE) Vol. 1 CD compilation came out in 1990. The compositions reveal a fascinating insight into what the band considered unworthy of pursuing for full fledged recording later. Though obviously less developed than some of the material which ended up making the cut, both primitive compositions pack some power, and both are well served by the crunchy sound achieved by TOMMY at their first studio visit (see RAMONES: THE EARLY DEMOS).
An amusing dismissal of domesticity, I CAN'T BE finds JOEY tailoring his odd style to the minimalist lyric with surprising early ease. The two main sections are near identical chord progressions simply moved a step up whenever the vocals occur, and the relatively relaxed arrangement finds the band in engagingly confident form (with especially rubbery bass playing from DEEDEE standing out.)
There's a big surprise waiting for the middle section, however. Although as a whole unceremoniously abandoned for future usage, the instrumental break would eventually be retooled as the primary riff of CHINESE ROCK-- hopefully settling once and for all DEEDEE's sole authorship of that multi-band classic. This sort of cannibalizing existent melodies for recycling into new material would become more prevalent as the RAMONES entered the latter part of their career. Here the riff makes a one string jump up from the key of A to D (a move which will be mimicked on the later track), but then makes another extra step an equal interval up to G. The exciting result is that the jump up to the unrelated realm of E for the last chorus has nearly the impact of a key change.
In the style of the debut LP's HAVANA AFFAIR, this section is notably augmented by an extra overdubbed rhythm guitar for heavier punch (see HAVANA AFFAIR--Ramones 9). This is an interesting adornment for a mere demo session, perhaps reflecting that at least initially the band considered the song deserving of some attention. That the digital age has transformed this forgotten obscurity into a relatively common CD bonus track has been a turn of events most welcome.
RAMONES I CAN'T BE (demo)
Photo by Roberta Bayley
Monday, April 29, 2013
Culled from the earlier, album length batch of pre-SIRE demos, this raw recording features the only song attempted which was held back for inclusion until their third LP, ROCKET TO RUSSIA. Two other tracks (I CAN'T BE, I DON'T WANNA BE LEARNED/I DON'T WANNA BE TAMED) remained untried on any of the group's albums, and they also appear as extra tracks on the CD version of the debut.
One of the first--if not the very first-- songwriting attempts by a pre-RAMONES JOEY, the tune was a mutation of the chords to 'I'm Eighteen' by ALICE COOPER. MICKEY LEIGH, after altering his guitar to be better utilized by the novice JOEY, apparently taught the rudiments of one of his brother's favorite song's melodies to him. He was soon surprised to find that he had constructed a new composition out of a primitive revamping of the hit's chorus. The nihilistic lyric was potently crystallized with what would soon be characteristic simplicity and directness.
As with most of the rest of what is available from their inaugural studio efforts (see RAMONES; THE EARLY DEMOS), the song has been brought a step down slower, from its eventual official key of A down to G. ('I'm Eighteen,' interestingly enough, is pitched some distance away in E.) The stretched tempo does much to make the guitars and drums sound heavier and thicker. Also in common with this group of demos is how much more relaxed JOEY's singing seems when contrasted with the later LP takes, and the probable varispeeding has shaded his vocal with an unfamiliar depth of tone. Eventually the final version of this track will become one of their strongest album's most identifiable classics (even at this early stage of their sound's development they somehow verge near self parody)-- but the tough, chunky, loopiness of this initial blueprint will remain unmatched.
RAMONES I DON'T CARE (demo)
Photo by Roberta Bayley
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Gettin' fucked up. Though personal use was often denied or dodged—earlier more as a matter of careerism, and later more as a matter of aging as public figures responsibly (especially as health concerns became worrisome)—there can be no mistake: in the music of the RAMONES the topic of non-sobriety pops up as subject matter with some frequency. Admittedly, the band's lyrical landscape was often a somewhat cartoonish semi-reality, but through sheer specificity and repetition they cemented a certain familiarity. This ironically exacerbated situations in which they attempted to joke about it, and the already blurry lines were muddied further as members later wrestled with sobriety and its related regrets. (Incidentally, absolutely NO disrespect is meant anywhere here towards DEEDEE, whose premature end surely looms as a meaningful lesson to every fan.)
All judgements and/or endorsements aside, here's a handy guide to the Methodology of Getting Messed Up in the music of the RAMONES.
1. HUFFING/INHALANTS--When a band does a song entitled NOW I WANNA SNIFF SOME GLUE, it must be expected that this will lead off the list. CARBONA NOT GLUE upped the ante with an expanded list of alternatives, including paint and roach spray. See also: SITTING IN MY ROOM, SOMEBODY LIKE ME
2. BOOZE--For a band somewhat identified with the use of illicit substances, there is a surprising amount of just plain old drinking going on around here. The whole spectrum from hard whiskey (QUESTIONINGLY) all the way down to basic beer (IT'S GONNA BE ALRIGHT) gets the nod. Gin not only gets mentioned (I LOST MY MIND) but a favorite brand is detailed (SOMEBODY PUT SOMETHING IN MY DRINK). Vino gets a lot of exposure over the course of their career, and BAD BRAIN even tips the champagne. The wide realm of responses is covered as well, from the miraculous joy of discovering beer in a soda machine (YOU DIDN'T MEAN ANYTHING TO ME) to the cloudy remorse of HAIR OF THE DOG. See also: TOO TOUGH TO DIE, SOMEBODY LIKE ME, DANGER ZONE, I'M NOT JESUS, BONZO GOES TO BITBURG, TOMORROW SHE GOES AWAY, THE RETURN OF JACKIE & JUDY
3. MEDICATION--Whether taken as pills, or administered via IV or hypodermic, the wide array of pharmaceuticals catalogued seems somehow inevitable for a band exhibiting such a deeply entrenched phantasmagoria of pychopathia. Thorazine. (WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY, EVERY TIME I EAT VEGETABLES IT MAKES ME THINK OF YOU) Tuinal. (PSYCHOTHERAPY) Phenobarbital. (GO MENTAL) However, the last (listed) song on their last album seems to make a point where all this leads: When the going gets tough, the tough end up on morphine (BORN TO DIE IN BERLIN). See also: I WANNA BE SEDATED, SMASH YOU
4. HEROIN--Clearly, composing one of the definitive songs on the subject (CHINESE ROCK) was insufficient, for a seeming floodgate opened. From the brazen admission of WARTHOG and PSYCHOTHERAPY to numerous later cautionary admonishments (with perhaps an unavoidable pit stop with Sid & Nancy along the way in LOVE KILLS), the band wields the imagery of the user time and again--sometimes brutally realistic, sometimes a reflective metaphor for societal ill (EAT THAT RAT). See also: LEARN TO LISTEN, MAIN MAN
5. L.S.D.--Of course the RAMONES devoted an entire album to tripping musicians of the 60s (ACID EATERS), but besides the persistent rumour that LSD was the 'Something' put in RICHIE RAMONE's drink which led to a meltdown he ended up writing a great song about, the substance makes its lone appearance in the suitably demented I WANNA BE WELL.
6. COCAINE--BORN TO DIE IN BERLIN features a revealing vignette of DEEDEE sprinkling some blow on the floor, perhaps more likely to partake than to dispose (there's a scene oddly similar to this incident in the concert sequence of ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL). However, besides the drug's appearance in one of my favorite RAMONES legends (see RAMONES-IT'S ALIVE: FUELED BY ELTON JOHN??!) it primarily functions in the band's lyrics as a prop of the detestable. See also: DON'T BUST MY CHOPS, CABBIES ON CRACK
7. MARIJUANA--The standby gateway is surprisingly scarce, perhaps due to its hippie connotations. A few tracks feature some eyebrow raising 'smoking' suggestions, but the closest they get to a genuine allusion is the name of the insane girl from WHAT'S YOUR GAME. That is, unless you think the 'dope' daddy's pushing in WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY is this kind. See also: CHASING THE NIGHT, HOWLING AT THE MOON
8. SPEED--Considering how much of the band's reputation is built upon velocity, amphetamines surprisingly only make one appearance: ingested by the primary subject of HEIDI IS A HEADCASE.
9. DDT--No matter HOW fun I WANNA BE WELL makes the semi-outlawed pesticide sound, it is no doubt best to heed the lessons of TEENAGE LOBOTOMY. After all, you don't want to turn out a 'sickie.' Do you.
10. FEEDBACK--Perhaps it's best to wrap this up by considering the path of the surprisingly anti-drug I'M AGAINST IT and partake in ALL THE WAY's recommended high: feedback blasting in your ears. There is surely not a single RAMONES fan who could not relate.
Pssst... heard this one??
RAMONES TOMORROW NEVER COMES
Photo by Danny Fields
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
With a piano, tambourine, and extra background vocals, the second Marty Thau demo of the previously attempted JUDY IS A PUNK (see RAMONES: THE EARLY DEMOS) bends over backwards to display the popular potential of the band's material. For the recording that finally ended up on the debut LP, much of this was discarded, leaving only added handclaps as sole remnant of the commercial aspiration present in this version. It stands as one of those rarest of birds: The Overproduced Demo.
That aside, the group alters the song surprisingly little over the course of three tries. The first recording's key of D has already been abandoned for the nearby Eflat, which presents a twofold mystery: A) If varispeeding was used originally, what exactly was to be gained by slowing down to merely one fret away- a minimally detectable adjustment- and B) What exactly would motivate the minimalist RAMONES towards the final key of Eflat, an extremely uncommon starting point in guitar driven music?
The only other non-constant is DEEDEE's background vocals. He's wobbily but energetic on the first demo, and on the LP version (no doubt supported by MICKEY LEIGH) he is assured but less adventurous. On this take he's a bit listless, although for the first time here he adorns the instrumental break with the now-familiar arrangement of 'oohs.'
In the final tally, this second demo simply lacks the heavy, gooey punk of the first attempt, but also falls short of the raw, focused snap of the LP version. For all the window dressing, the Marty Thau demos succeeded at little other than making the RAMONES appear less dangerous and crazed than they actually were. Which, admittedly, might have been the point.
RAMONES JUDY IS A PUNK (DEMO)
Photo by Roberta Bayley
Monday, April 22, 2013
The first two bonus tracks on the RAMONES cd are demos made in September 1975 after MARTY THAU had been secured as their manager. Earlier in the year the group had recorded an album's worth of songs with TOMMY at the helm (including another earlier version of this track.) These blistering, raw attempts (see RAMONES: THE EARLY DEMOS) succeeded in securing a single offer from SIRE for YOU'RE GONNA KILL THAT GIRL, but the band wanted to hold out for an album contract. Towards this end they re-recorded two of what were apparently felt to be their most commercial compositions, this and JUDY IS A PUNK. They shopped this new, more polished demo around to other labels with little success, and were no doubt relieved when SIRE finally came back with an offer to do a entire LP.
Perhaps due to varispeeding, almost none of the early demos are in the eventual keys which they were officially recorded. All of the altered are in a lower key, and in some cases there is little doubt they have been slowed down. Whether this was done to accommodate easier vocal overdubs, or to simply minimize what were once considered the RAMONES' relentless tempos is unclear. I WANNA BE YOUR BOYFRIEND, however, is the track which reflects the greatest amount of tampering.
The initial version was attempted in C. This attempt is a step up in D, and on the album the key is yet another step higher in E. While there is an attractive plea in JOEY's voice as he struggles in each higher register, what motivated these changes is a mystery. Both JOEY and DEEDEE are clearly more comfortable in the lower keys. (Note how early the background vocals commence on the demos--for the LP DEEDEE is minimized until later in the song.)
No doubt wanting to accentuate the pop viability of this tune, the BYRDS-style guitar overdub is mixed higher here than in the other takes (and if nothing else, is certainly more comfortably played in the position of D.) The extended coda of this version (the longest of the three) also displays some extremely out of place folk fingerpicking, one of the most incongruous overdubs in any of the original lineup's recordings--save, perhaps, the pipe organ of LET'S DANCE or the closing chimes of this song's final version. The shambolic ending which the band arrives at indicates that a fadeout was clearly part of the design.
RAMONES I WANNA BE YOUR BOYFRIEND (DEMO)
Photo by Roberta Bayley
Thursday, April 18, 2013
With the RAMONES' debut album wrapped up here, a quick review of the band's early demos might be in order for any of the late arrivals before we press on to the CD bonus tracks and LEAVE HOME. The first entry on this project covered the recordings the band made before they had been signed:
RAMONES: THE EARLY DEMOS
This piece concludes with a link to a blog I wrote previously elsewhere where all of these tracks could be sampled. Here's a shortcut if you'd like a quick jump to there:
THE RAMONES' OTHER DEBUT ALBUM
Thank you to all of the readers of my efforts thus far, I appreciate your support. Gabba Gabba Hey, kids!
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
With the final chords of I DON'T WANNA WALK AROUND WITH YOU still lingering, DEEDEE counts off the closing track of the blistering three song set which concludes their debut album. Opting for maximum impact, the boys select the last spotlight for one of their most diabolical creations-- another uneasy marriage of the outrageously unacceptable with the biographically resonant, of the profanely contrary with the strangely celebratory, & of the stunningly minimalist with the dizzyingly powerful.
The subject of a heated censorial debate between the band and SIRE Records head SEYMOUR STEIN, the WWII-themed TODAY YOUR LOVE, TOMORROW THE WORLD featured one of the most aggressively shocking instances of the band's brutal humour- once again scarcely assisted by any supporting detail in the 'setup' nor a clear 'punchline.' (See RAMONES: THE EARLY DEMOS.) Grudgingly convinced that the plain assertion of the protagonist's National Socialist leanings in the verses could not stand, the RAMONES conceded to liven up the gag by making the German soldier stuporous and altering the term of affection for the secondary character from 'baby' to the more unclear (but accurately translated) 'schatze.' The overall reduction in offensiveness is dubious, and that DEEDEE's Berlin upbringing made the choruses ring with a truthful familiarity made the improvement in palatability debatable.
The keen wordplay of the title is a distortion of 'Today Europe, Tomorrow the World,' a phrase widely but inaccurately attributed to a power hungry Adolph Hitler. Despite usage in U.S. propaganda, he seems to never have uttered it, and the closest appearance of the content of the motto seems to be a verse in a Hitler Youth song booklet- but it is far from exact. Interestingly enough, there is a 1944 Fredric March film named TOMORROW THE WORLD, which details the struggles of an American family to take in their care a German friend's son- who turns out to be a Hitler Youth. A possible late night viewing by DEEDEE of this oddity would go a long way in explaining the lyric's powerful, but vague imagery.
The group notches up their now familiar collective approach for the record's climax. JOHNNY and DEEDEE drive unfalteringly (though, as usual, divergently) throughout, Jewish JOEY asserts a unexpectedly impassioned reading of the objectionable words, and TOMMY takes a fearsome bashing to his cymbals for the chorus. All of this leads up to the majestic, surprise coda- this time counted off 'auf Deutsch' for contextual flavor. In a career that will be full of stunt song endings, this drum heavy, medium tempo refrain shall remain one of the most memorable. The cunning placement in the running order's final spot brings full circle this section's 1-4-5 (in A) with the identical progression which dominates the opening BLITZKRIEG BOP. As the doctored lines now obscure the role of the Nazi's 'baby' (and also the age of the 'little German boy') the 'your' of the title seems to take on a wider, more inclusive meaning-- perhaps an unconscious allusion to the audiences the RAMONES have faced onstage and would face in the career future ahead. And before the fadeout feedback oozes out a final farewell, their exhortations to be accepted on their own, twisted terms chime jubilantly.
RAMONES TODAY YOUR LOVE, TOMORROW THE WORLD
Photo by Roberta Bayley
Monday, April 15, 2013
It would be tough to slide a sheet of paper between LET'S DANCE ending and I DON'T WANNA WALK AROUND WITH YOU beginning, to cop a phrase from JOE STRUMMER. A quick, tight edit accurately mimics the nonstop barrage the band will soon be perfecting in their live sets.
One of the RAMONES' earliest compositions, this track finds the band flaunting the power of raw simplicity with surprising assurance. It's easy to imagine their initial struggle to come up with material in spite of their limitations (and perhaps more importantly, their self-awareness of said limitations.) However, utilizing only four chords over three parts (E-G-A-D) and less than 15 words over three lines, the group alchemy, even early on, inverts amateurishness' drawbacks into assertive, driving strengths.
With their template perhaps not yet so rigidly mapped out, a few uncharacteristic details are conspicuous. JOHNNY kicks off in open E, and plays other chords open whenever it will add to the tune's watery heaviness. He also takes a brief 'solo,' although it--like the one note lead which will later appear on I WANNA BE SEDATED-- is so primitive as to almost represent an anti-solo. The single, 'choked' bent note on E isn't even followed by the expected A release, such is the baffling purity of their odd approach. DEEDEE, on the other hand, is unprecedentedly busy, embellishing snaky riffs around the wide changes. His flourishes throughout the verses' vocals, swinging up to the bass' high end (even further than he normally prefers!) surely represent the lp's most adventurous playing.
JOEY is in fine form throughout (he even throws in a RINGO STARR-ish 'Alright!' before the break), and the background vocals are particularly strong. A second rhythm guitar is wisely added to the mix, accentuating the menace of the feedback drenched drone (although the heaviness of the demo remains unmatched--see RAMONES: THE EARLY DEMOS.) This also comes to play at the song's conclusion, as the guitars ring until DEEDEE's countoff for the next track, another thrilling approximation of their stage segues. The marriage to the debut's closer, TODAY YOUR LOVE, TOMORROW THE WORLD is cunning: the exciting jump 'up' to the key of C bursts into that track's principle progression, a downward C-G-E which seems to knowingly reflect the previous song's upward E-G-A foundation- and also applies the coziness of the now familiar open E.
RAMONES I DON'T WANNA WALK AROUND WITH YOU
Photo by Roberta Bayley
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Kicking off something like a closing suite--a high velocity three song blast clearly designed to wrap up the debut powerfully-- LET'S DANCE finds the group for the first time dabbling in outside material. The first in a series of intriguingly chosen oldie covers, this tune--like many up until ACID EATERS--originates from the AM radio regions of the pre-British Invasion Top 40. The 1962 hit was performed by Chris Montez, a Ritchie Valens influenced chicano from southern California.
Although the RAMONES often claimed they began writing their early material due to an utter inability to learn other groups' songs, this recording finds them altering the arrangement to fit their approach with striking confidence. (At this point they were also including the marginally more difficult CALIFORNIA SUN in their sets.) Unlikely to duplicate the dominant swivel of the Mexican-flavoured keyboard vamping, the band modifies the melody to fit the restrictions of their pulverizing format. JOHNNY & DEEDEE downstroke unfazed throughout- most notably through a middle break, transformed from a subdued passage of organ flourishes into a fevered rush of ascending chords. TOMMY distills the tug of war between the pushing tom verse and the snappy swing of the chorus into his codified drives. (After this, the device of drummer spotlighted tribal intros will become commonplace on their records, utilized on many of their best known songs, such as TEENAGE LOBOTOMY and ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL.) JOEY seems to struggle somewhat with the accelerated pace of the wordy phrases ('Bristol Stomp and Mashed Potato too' is all but unintelligible) and the dry prominence of the vocal mix, as usual, offers little 'protection.' DEEDEE attempts to lend some support, but finally JOEY's plight is made comically plain as he misreads Montez' ad lib 'OK, Wail now!' into 'OK, Wait a minute.' In a final, backward looking nod of a touch the studio's Wurlitzer style organ is added on, fattening up the final measures and the big chorus coming out of the break.
There is a touch of jingoism in the RAMONES' determined unwillingness to pay recorded tribute to any music other than the prominent pop which predated the Beatles' ascendance, perhaps a patriotic desire to reiterate this country's place as key purveyors of the form. (They were still years from finally tackling the Searchers' NEEDLES AND PINS, and that was actually written by Sonny Bono.) Perhaps more importantly they unconsciously sought evidentiary validation of their aesthetic, proof that fun primitivism wasn't a concept concocted out of thin air. Years later on ACID EATERS, with many more miles behind them, a world weary assessment of Psychedelia and English rock would be conceptualized. For now, however, as the band roars through the careening 1-4-5 romp of LET'S DANCE, the accomplished singular goal is to remind all of the celebratory power of simple, if not outright dumb, rock 'n' roll.
RAMONES LET'S DANCE
Photo by Roberta Bayley
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Doubtlessly one of the RAMONES most powerfully defiant statements, 53RD & 3RD displays the band's willingness to intermingle a warped, fantasy based world view with their own troublesome personal realities to the furthest possible extreme. The romanticized portraits of prostitution present in previous recordings such as THE BEATLES' Lady Madonna or KISS' Black Diamond are left far behind as the ante is upped via a male homosexual protagonist, a blunt first person narrative, and a remorseless razorblade climax. In the name of sick humor the group has already stretched the album startlingly beyond accepted thematic boundaries, and while the Vietnam vet detail (likely a red herring adherence to the still flowering militaristic bent) and exaggeration of the concluding crime's intensity point to the probability of artistic license, the brazen sizing up of a potential john--and the queasy uneasiness of potential rejection--and the desire for retaliatory violence--all ring disturbingly true. The possibility that lyricist DEEDEE may be maneuvering in unfamiliar territory (participatory or not) is all but quashed by the revelatory specificity of the song title's locale: a well known NYC boy hustler pickup area.
To this brutal tale is attached the debut lp's heaviest melody- a pummeling, medium tempo E-D-A progression uncharacteristically strummed with open chords to maximize the lingering drone, although DEEDEE diminishes the effect by predictably moving 'up' towards his preferred higher strings. (TOMMY has his back with some great tom work, though.) JOEY fearlessly manifests the threatening come on of the verses before retreating into the dejected weariness of the chorus' brief 1-4-5 tunefulness. Then, after two go arounds DEEDEE meaningfully opts to take his first (and on this album, only) stab into the lead vocal spotlight for the bleak middle eight, throwing himself headlong into the song's most intense phrases. Casting virtually all remaining doubt aside, he audibly stakes personal claim in a realm where blood must be spilled in order to reassert compromised manhood, no matter what consequences may be brought- even Retribution.
Somehow the intensity is ratcheted up further with a return to the chorus, this time modulated a step up from D to E. (This unfamiliar tactic is triggered by another rarity: a demonstrative drum fill from TOMMY.) Finally, the release of the repetitive closing coda commences, but not before they reveal one more trick up their sleeve- a surprising halt before the vocals once again re-enter.
This is perhaps, sonically speaking, one of the tracks which compares least favorably with the earlier demo version- although the deep aural qualities of that take may be the fallout of varispeeding down to a slower tempo (see RAMONES: THE EARLY DEMOS.) Still, the RAMONES' relentless extremism has resulted in a stunning detour of unexpected seriousness and potency. Drenched in merciless menace, the unflinching poetry of the unfamiliar angle remains as unique as it is unpleasant, and the oft repeated assessment 'one joke band' will henceforth only be uttered by the determinedly unobservant.
RAMONES 53RD & 3RD
Photo by Roberta Bayley
Monday, April 8, 2013
Although conceptually the alchemical combination of bubblegum and outsider hard rock, in practice the RAMONES' material was typically divided rather clearly into either frenetic bashers or mellow ballads. However, with some regularity (usually once an album) there would be tracks where the marriage of heavily driven commercial pop reached exceptional crystallization. The British Invasion-influenced LISTEN TO MY HEART definitively stands as this release's token blast of unexpectedly melodic, catchy energy.
Introduced by an assertive slide down an octave of E on guitar, DEEDEE counts the song off '1-2-3-4' (notably, deep into side 2, the first time they have begun a song in this trademark manner.) Basically verseless, the song is focused around a simple D to A chorus, and on this figure once again JOHNNY hypnotically moves 'down' while simultaneously DEEDEE moves 'up' on his bass' higher register. This change which will be recycled shortly into the verse of the next record's opener GLAD TO SEE YOU GO. Next, a strong bridge of E-G-E-A wraps up with a handclap driven display of what shall become one of punk music's dominant guitar figures: a half-step, one-fret slide down on the 'one' of each bar.
After revisiting the chorus/verse the RAMONES unveil one of the debut album's niftiest surprises: returning to a misleading measure of the expected E, there is a startling jump to Dflat to begin a recitation of the lp's most forthrightly vulnerable lyric. This is stated over an E to A change which concludes in B- far from the most obvious choice to return to the dominant section's key (D), but somehow it smoothly works. All in all, it is sharp, smart middle eight--seemingly well outside the RAMONES' grasp--but of which any pop band could be justifiably proud.
JOEY easily acclimates himself to the unironic resignation of the words' heartbreak, and the rest of the group similarly wield a lifetime of AM radio absorption into a bracingly winning performance. Not that this is reflected in consideration of the production-- an instrumental chorus halfway through sports an extra overdubbed guitar arpeggio which is mixed so low as to be barely detectable (although note must be made of how well TOMMY adopts to dynamic 'jumps' in sections such as these.) As well, DEEDEE adds a background vocal line at the end of each middle eight which must finally be described as unintelligible.
Sometimes, to avoid pondering alternate universe's shouldabeen scenarios can be gnawingly difficult. In the mid sixties a composition this potent simply would have been bookmarked as a probable single for some lucky combo. In the contexts of this recording's eras & tastes however, an overachieving band chalks up another ace concoction for a scarcely existent (albeit rabidly clued in) audience-- and the yawning void of dull reality unworthily swallows up another barely detected, underappreciated classic.
RAMONES LISTEN TO MY HEART
Photo by Roberta Bayley
Friday, April 5, 2013
Debatably the debut album's only track with significant depth of descriptive detail, with HAVANA AFFAIR the band unveiled a duo of what would soon be apparent lyrical obsessions. First, perhaps more the result of DEEDEE's upbringing in bombed out Germany, a dark attraction to War (although in this case, the theme might be more accurately tagged as Espionage.) Second, perhaps more the result of JOHNNY's brief stint in military school, a unexpectedly intense streak of Patriotism (though this lyric finally hints that the protagonist may have jumped sides.) Like ROKY ERICKSON's Two Headed Dog, however clearly the thematic result of cold war paranoia, the words' specific meaning defy concrete explanation.
Kicking off with a riff afterwards unrepeated (though hinted at at the end of each chorus) JOEY weaves the vague but amusing narrative over a now familiar four chord verse construction. For the enticing 'loco/mambo' chorus the music hovers over a G to F# change, a one fret maneuver surprisingly appropriate for such a non-gringo related piece (an unintended, unconscious choice, surely.) Then arrives a startlingly powerful middle eight, built around chords which will soon be expanded into the main melody of PINHEAD. JOHNNY doubles up the crunch with an extra guitar overdub, DEEDEE wisely dives down to his bass' lower register, and TOMMY instinctively nails it, cutting to half time on the bell of his ride and cementing the wallop with an added, nagging cowbell. For two glorious blasts, how heavy the entire first lp MIGHT have sounded is finally, teasingly realised.
TOMMY also adds a rumbling, machine gun tom roll to the start of each chorus (yet another interesting flourish from a group not exactly known for arrangement ornamentation.) However, the still dominant limitations of the mix render it nearly subliminal. As well, the unnecessary double tracking of JOEY's vocal cramps the amount he can enjoy exaggerating the song's bizarre affectations (although without doubt the line concerning banana picking remains one of the album's most humorously incongruous moments.) Nonetheless, the tight arrangement and driving rhythm of the incomprehensible storyline's phrasing mark HAVANA AFFAIR as one of the most underrated tracks on their first three releases.
RAMONES HAVANA AFFAIR
Photo by Roberta Bayley
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
With the opening track of the debut record's second half, the RAMONES piece together a four-part basher out of what are already (or soon will be) trademark, stock moves. The song kicks off with a more downbeat variant on the principle BLITZKRIEG BOP riff. Second, there comes a progression which will later find a more confident and powerful place among WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY's ingenious construction. Third, a zigzag four chord verse which echoes the intro to CHAINSAW with an altered, longer meter (the next track, HAVANA AFFAIR, will also feature a similar main section.)
Finally, the song ends with a unique, closing coda whose chords are lifted from the beginning of I DON'T WANNA GO DOWN TO THE BASEMENT. The relatively inexperienced TOMMY drives with plenty of dramatic punch as the repetitive outro fades. With TODAY YOUR LOVE, TOMORROW THE WORLD utilizing a similar tactic, the LP's second side is bookended by tracks with powerful, surprise climaxes.
Lyrically, LOUDMOUTH stakes one of the album's most defiant stands against rock music's conventional norms. More or less three sentences long and featuring just over a dozen words, the sure-to-offend-some undercurrent of violence is impressively potent given the meager materials. JOEY squeezes his skinny frame into character as far as he can, clearly savoring the somewhat absurd pose. Trouser Press' IRA ROBBINS once referred to the 'anti-art' apparent in tracks such as these, but with the passing of merely a few decades the critical appraisal of their primitivism has come to the other end of the pendulum's swing. Treading the line between forcing blunt, non-metaphorical realism and relishing yet another poke in the eye sick joke, the minimalist contrariness of the RAMONES' early statements have come to be considered purely, and inarguably: Art.
Photo by Roberta Bayley