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