Thursday, June 27, 2013
Ripping yourself off. All the great musicians do it. A career can be a long time, and occasionally when fresh ideas run a bit short, you fall back onto what you know best. Certainly, working inside a form as restrictive as primitive rock and roll, a certain amount of repetitive recognition is expected--even respected. Other times, the germ of a good idea is underutilized and it gets retooled for a more useful prominence at a later juncture. Either way, here's the Top Ten cases of the RAMONES getting caught at the Xerox machine in the Kinko's copy shop of Rock.
1. ROCKAWAY BEACH/ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL/TOURING
Of course the 'Rock Rock' chants of the first couple are a dead giveaway to even the most passive listener, but otherwise the two pieces present a good example of how small differences in stylistically similar material can count for quite a lot, and each stands uniquely on its own. Not the case necessarily with Touring, which was originally planned to appear on PLEASANT DREAMS, just one album away from Rock 'n' Roll High School's END OF THE CENTURY. Eventually the band thought better of it and held back until the much later MONDO BIZARRO. Always a good idea to put some space between the related tracks when recycling this flagrantly.
2. I CAN'T BE/CHINESE ROCK
The crunchy middle eight of I Can't Be was just too good to be left resigned to a basically unused track, so DEEDEE consequently expanded it into one of his greatest trademark compositions. (For the record, RICHARD HELL only claimed ownership of one verse, which was later discarded by both the RAMONES and the HEARTBREAKERS.)
3. I WANNA BE YOUR BOYFRIEND/MY-MY KIND OF A GIRL
I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend's strengths mostly reside in its simplicities, but when JOEY opted to bring the song's concepts to full flower for SUBTERRANEAN JUNGLE the results were surprisingly successful, with a lyric full of evocative details and an arrangement full of knowing PHIL SPECTORisms.
This is probably the entry on this list where THE RAMONES put the least amount of effort in disguising the source material. It's still difficult to imagine the balls it required to ask ANIMAL BOY'S producer JEAN BEAUVOIR if he wanted to participate in the opening 'spoken' section of Apeman Hop. (He declined. Naturally.)
5. I DON'T WANT YOU/WHAT'D YOU DO
No sooner had JOEY's younger brother MICKEY taught the elder teenager the rudiments of ALICE COOPER's I'm Eighteen on guitar than he began revamping the progression for original material. Time and again over the years he would alter the three chord change for new melodies, but this pair is probably the two too closest for comfort.
6. BLITZKRIEG BOP/SOMEBODY LIKE ME
The 1-4-5 in A is one of the group's most durable terrains. At least one variant of it appears on virtually every record--even one side away from Somebody Like Me DEEDEE's Time Bomb exploits it again (transposed to C though). However, in this case there can be no mincing words. Aside from a chugging WALTER LURE overdub and slower tempo, this SUBTERRANEAN JUNGLE favorite kicks off IDENTICALLY to BLITZKRIEG BOP.
7. HAVANA AFFAIR/PINHEAD
Another early middle 8 customized and fleshed out into another classic. In a hurry this time too, on the very next LP.
8. IT'S A LONG WAY BACK TO GERMANY/LIFE'S A GAS
The KINKS-style downward scale was appropriated for ADIOS AMIGOS in the closing album's most existence affirming track. Still less blatant a copy than the MUFFS' Lucky Guy.
9. FREAK OF NATURE/DON'T BUST MY CHOPS
Both of these late era underraters feature an extremely similar signature riff on their title line choruses. The lessons of Touring have been forgotten apparently as this duo appeared on subsequent releases to each other. GREAT lyrics on the verses of both of these mid tempo thumpers from DEEDEE!!
10. GO MENTAL & YOU SOUND LIKE YOU'RE SICK/PSYCHOTHERAPY
Any observer who might consider the practice of this sort of reprocessing disdainfully would do well to chart the development mapped out over the course of this triumvirate. The earlier track Go Mental is a strong effort, with more institutionally lyrical details. A few years later You Sound Like You're Sick is more powerfully melodic (though also a tad more lighthearted). One album later Psychotherapy cannibalizes the strengths of both, streamlining into one of their most frenzied and celebrated cornerstones. Sometimes, you gotta just WORK it, kiddos.
Of course, in the end maybe everything is just one long identical song. We'll wrap things up with the closing credits music from the video LIFESTYLES OF THE RAMONES.
Photo by George DuBose
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
The expanded CD release of LEAVE HOME continues with a segue that few listeners were now accustomed to. Instead of the ballad b-side BABYSITTER or the single mix of the new single SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER, this running order duplicates the original sequence into this sequel of NOW I WANNA SNIFF SOME GLUE. Undoubtedly the RAMONES track with the single most checkered and confused history on their recordings, CARBONA NOT GLUE opened up a can of worms far out of proportion with the one minute and fifty one second song's actual attributes. Retrospectively, it seems like much ado about very little. Whether or not the manufacturers of the (debatably) abusable cleaning fluid actually instigated legal action against SIRE records--or merely threatened such action-- their panicked response seems cowardly, and more importantly potentially ineffectual. (With a number of albums already sold, could not lawyers representing CARBONA still sue for damages to their reputation even if different editions of LEAVE HOME were produced?) In hindsight, it seems almost comical that this concern had met no consideration until recording was over and copies of the lp were being shipped to stores. The controversy--whatever there really was to it--coincided with SIRE records being sold from ABC to the larger Warner Brothers label, and with some bad press still lingering over inhalant related deaths in England linked to SNIFFIN' GLUE (a fanzine named after the earlier song), perhaps it seemed that the most prudent move would be the removal of the possibly burdensome tune from future pressings.
The resultant confusion surely diluted LEAVE HOME's chances in the marketplace- first doctored with the replacement BABYSITTER in England (though not retitled on the sleeve, further begging the question of tactical effectiveness against litigation), then altered to include their latest single SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER for the initial Warners repackaging in America. A new cover design trumpeted this substitution, but by that time the sophomore effort was running out of steam. Even worse, a strong selling point had been robbed of the future release ROCKET TO RUSSIA, and although their third record outperformed the first two by some margin, speculation how well it may have done with SHEENA as its centerpiece instead is quite valid.
The song itself is a frenetic basher, full of the signature one-fret 'punk' downstroke upswings on the '1' beat (and elsewhere). An early experiment in frantic blocks of riffs moving over a shifting root key, CARBONA NOT GLUE's strengths will later be expanded into the relatively complicated structures of TEENAGE LOBOTOMY, WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY, and ROAD TO RUIN's faster numbers. Perhaps somewhat cluttered by unnecessary measures of E before the middle and last chorus (if such a thing is possible within such a brief composition), the track hurtles through its paces- arriving quickly at a premature seeming fadeout. (Indeed, upon initial listens, not until the conclusion is it apparent that what seems like a bridge to the chorus is actually the middle 8.) The RAMONES themselves seemed very fond of the piece, tightening up an impressive arrangement of background vocals to embellish an already charged performance.
The lyrics themselves, eye of this supposed censorship storm, actually go to some lengths to make plain the misunderstood humour of NOW I WANNA SNIFF SOME GLUE. The zombified protagonist catalogues an array of exhausted huffable household chemicals before comically turning the blame to television's cathodes. He then ludicrously diagnoses a remorseless, hopleless, final condition brought on by 'shooting glue.' Clearly, the group seems determined to not have the joke missed a second time.
Stubbornly keeping the song in the live set well beyond any exploitable point, the band remained skittish regarding CARBONA years past any truly deserving need, even omitting it from the first archival release of LEAVE HOME as part of the ALL THE STUFF (AND MORE) series in 1990. Still, the RAMONES' affection for their troublesome problem child remained steadfast, and in 1991 the group finally maneuvered to bury a 'hidden' performance of the song deep in the LOCO LIVE cd. The same year they also permitted a 'bootleg' vinyl 45 release on SUB POP records, the only other way to obtain the studio version of this beloved, beleaguered orphan until its belated re-appearance here.
RAMONES CARBONA NOT GLUE
Friday, June 21, 2013
The RAMONES' growing experimentation with the common 'doo-wop' chord sequence (second only to the magical 1-4-5 in terms of dominant prominence in pop music since the fifties) is charted throughout their second album. The earliest cover song fixture in their live set CALIFORNIA SUN features it, and given that the band eventually also covered PALISADES PARK (a classic example of the form, which resembles OH OH I LOVE HER SO considerably) it seems likely that they were already familiar with the Freddy Cannon oldie at this point as well. YOU'RE GONNA KILL THAT GIRL, also appearing with CALIFORNIA SUN on side 2, is a breathtaking, sinister parody of its cliched attributes. OH OH I LOVE HER SO displays a more confident willingness to tinker with the formula, and represents the stepping stone which will later culminate into SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER and, in the more distant future, ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL.
The progression, starting in this track's key of A, moves around A-Fsharp minor-D-E. (True to form, JOHNNY eschews the minor touch and plays all 4 major. The changes are also commonly transposed onto the keys of G and C, especially on guitar, where the novice's most familiar open positions are utilized. Not that this matters to JOHNNY, who is barre chording all the way.) It's worth noting that in a sense the 'doo-wop' change is basically 1-4-5 with one more chord thrown in, and unsurprisingly the chorus of this song simplifies into a blast of A-D-E. This not only recalls BLITZKRIEG BOP, but also prefigures SHEENA, which shall adopt an extremely similar chorus, but in the key of C.
Mostly opting for Girl Group/BEACH BOYS-style romanticisms, the lyric continues the development of their trash aesthetic, noting with specificity the fast food joint where the lovers' eyes first meet. It also commences a habit of mythologizing the RAMONES' NYC home turf, mentioning an excursion to Coney Island, where they thrill to multiple rides on the Cyclone (although surprisingly the world's most famous roller coaster is not mentioned by name). Developing an idea first tried on GIMME GIMME SHOCK TREATMENT, the lyric also exhibits another soon to be trademark affectation: Titles and phrases which begin with a repeated word.
All in all, the components should add up to an ideal vehicle of accelerated throwback nostalgia, but somehow the resultant track just misses the mark-- despite jubilant, energetic performances all around. This is certainly one of the LP's most glaring instances of a flawed, vocal heavy/drum soft mix. A clearer extra guitar overdub (distractingly noodling an out of place sounding figure on the first two lines of the middle 8) and high pitched background vocal 'oohs' make an already somewhat trebly track seem even more so. Also exacerbated by the CARBONA NOT GLUE fiasco (though not a factor on this CD edition) was the substitute running order placement of SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER immediately after OH OH I LOVE HER SO, which tended to highlight its slight inferiority by following it with the later, similar song which marks improvement in virtually every area- better performance, better lyrics, better mix, more adventurous melody. As the final correct-for-the-genre-but-totally-inappropriate-for-the-RAMONES chord A Dom7/6 sets in the west, fans will have to look forward to IT'S ALIVE for the authoritatively realized performance of one of the group's most perfect pieces of pure pop.
RAMONES OH OH I LOVE HER SO
Monday, June 17, 2013
One of the sweetest of the RAMONES career ironies is that the hard rocking combo's ballads are, with startling consistency, amongst their releases' strongest compositions. That said, LEAVE HOME is something of an anomaly, featuring a duo of ballads ranking not only amongst this LP's weakest tracks, but amongst their least effective overall attempts to produce slower material. (The afterthought appearance of BABYSITTER quickly reverts to top notch quality.)
Clearly superior to side two's WHAT'S YOUR GAME, I REMEMBER YOU enjoys a durable popularity somewhat out of proportion with the recording's actual noteworthiness. Sluggishly and stubbornly hovering around E-B-A, only occasionally swinging up to nearby C on the verse's highest notes, the primitive melody leans more to the underdeveloped than the elemental. Ditto the bare lyric, which strives for but fails to match the transcendental haiku precision of I WANNA BE YOUR BOYFRIEND and the already written but later recorded HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW (one of their finest achievements). Clearly holding the song in some esteem nonetheless, the band kept the tune in the live set for a surprisingly long stretch-- and even nonsensically opted to make the track the leadoff single preceding LEAVE HOME's release in the UK, a questionable strategy which fell flat on its face.
What then accounts for this ballad's deep endearment amongst such a large contingent of the group's followers? The evocative image of nighttime recollection is well served by its vagueness, and the regretful lament does touch upon a universally familiar mindset. The pessimism of 'somehow they never really do' does ring true with hard earned experience, although the logic of this clinching line remains elusive (it's not as if the preceding phrase left any room for debate). Perhaps any such shortcomings are trumped by a compellingly attractive performance from JOEY, clearly struck by the song's starting points in his own life and striving therefore for a heartfelt perfection. And whatever the melody's weaknesses, the band is dead on-- especially effective during the tightened two chord middle sections, augmented with extra overdubbed muted guitar 'clicking.' The dense mix also does well to accentuate the RAMONES' peculiar strengths.
With the passage of time, of course, I REMEMBER YOU's themes of romantic loss and hindsight became more loaded as more fans encountered mortality in their own lives. Then, as tragedy finally felled actual band members, the mysterious ghosts of the song's retrospection gelled more widely into the mourning felt for the RAMONES themselves. (I myself witnessed a stunning performance covering this song in the days following JOEY's death.) And as the cruelty of each year's bereavement accumulates, it seems only more likely that the potent devotion elicited by this humbly virtued also-ran will continue to increase in power.
RAMONES I REMEMBER YOU
Monday, June 10, 2013
The RAMONES forged one of the strongest bonds with a segment of their audience in their unflinching, yet hilarious explorations of the lyrical topic Mental Illness. Peppered with knowing details regarding confinement procedures and specifically namedropping applicable pharmaceuticals, the band laid bare their first hand experiences and personality imperfections. But, as is the case here, the group's diabolically twisted sense of humor and relentless drive to distort dreaded negatives into celebratory strengths often turned reality on its head, and the most troubled of their fans found brazen new champions--willing to bring to light (then, taking the offensive, making light of) the darkest treatments for the most feared symptoms of the deeply devastating struggles that almost all strive to keep secret.
Of course they were far from the first. After all, the earliest of rock and roll was, by popular definition of the day, "crazy, man, crazy!" and some of the braver souls of the bedrock blues and country & western idioms wove the grim tales of their unsteady conditions. But true derangement as a subject did not find full flower in raw rock until the mid sixties on (kicking into high gear after LSD usage became prevalent). From the SONICS' Psycho to BLACK SABBATH'S Paranoid, however, a certain distance was maintained-- sometimes, as with the former, a matter of frenzied humor, and sometimes, as with the latter, a matter of self deluded misdiagnosis. Perhaps not until LOU REED's Kill Your Sons was a completely, grimly accurate directive reported from the front lines of what Blue Oyster Cult would much later term 'the Psychic Wars.' As LESTER BANGS once pointed out, the post-VELVET UNDERGROUND track was a big hit with everybody on the 'inside.' Then the sagas of SYD BARRETT and ROKY ERICKSON predicated the new genre of 'Acid Casualty Rock.' And eventually IGGY POP might record Kill City on weekend furloughs from rehab, but the void presented itself for somebody to seize the inevitable next step forward.
Enter the RAMONES, their antisocial mental struggles so inextricably woven into their group alchemy that finally they were painted into a corner where there was nothing left to do but humorously mock its hold over them. Kicking off a series of like-themed compositions, GIMME GIMME SHOCK TREATMENT also takes some time for the reactionary lampooning of early 70's hippiedom, which would later become far more prevalent as the British Wave of punk commenced. (Along this tack, the tune also sneeringly references the 1968 bubblegum hit Gimme Gimme Good Lovin' by Crazy Elephant.)
Strapped to one of their most explosively charged musical concoctions thus far, the band barrels ahead at its most delirious tempo yet. The relentless chunks of tight chord changes careens through a breathtaking 98 seconds, and one of this LP's most effective mixes ups the ante considerably--with nifty guitar scraping overdubs on the title line and swirling echo on JOEY's vocals (whose impassioned performance leaves little doubt his personal stake in this 'comedic' song.)
It's a long way from NAPOLEON XIV's They're Coming to Take Me Away Ha-Haaa! to GIMME GIMME SHOCK TREATMENT, and unwittingly the RAMONES had staked out turf that would remain distinctly and identifiably theirs over the long haul. Time after time over their career they would return to this potent, familiar realm--always forthright, always absurdly exaggerated, yet always tinged with the unsettling ring of truth. Through wielding the blackest of humour the group exorcised their faults in public, and an appreciative contingent of the crowd shared the visceral catharsis of their wicked, snickering laughter.
RAMONES GIMME GIMME SHOCK TREATMENT
Thursday, June 6, 2013
GLAD TO SEE YOU GO is primarily constructed around the same D-A change which propelled the previous album's LISTEN TO MY HEART (see RAMONES--LISTEN TO MY HEART). This affords a prime opportunity for comparison, and there can no question of the qualitative leap displayed on the new release in terms of sonic power. Also apparent from the onset is that the aggressive tempos have been ratcheted up a notch, and the second LP bursts forth with surprisingly accelerated exhilaration.
Although the lyrics may have been born out of DEEDEE's destructive relationship with his then girlfriend Connie Gripp, the song finally comes off as an ode to the sleazy celebrity acquired by mass murderers. Accepted lore regarding this track states that the song was withheld from radio play in New York due to the empathetic mention of world famous criminal Charles Manson, but as with much of the RAMONES mythology details are sketchy. Did they plan to make this the leadoff single? Did more than one station object? Did the censure of this track later hurt the chances of the 45 that was eventually chosen? (SWALLOW MY PRIDE in the U.S, I REMEMBER YOU in the U.K.) And perhaps most importantly, even if Manson's name was omitted, wouldn't most stations balk at a lyric which featured purposefully loaded firearms, bath tubs full of blood and girlfriends who've gone gone goodbye?
The simplicity of the verse and chorus show the band's growing, tightening chops to good effect. Through sheer muscle the group makes the primitive melody through 1-4-5 compelling, and the improved mix adds an unexpected sheen to the song's pulverizing pulse. JOEY's vocal prominence and production consideration are revelatory-- a little volume, echo and doubletracking really do go a long way. This does have one minor drawback: JOEY seems not quite 100% comfortable with the rhythm of the title line, a problem he had solved by the time IT'S ALIVE was recorded, where he tends towards rushing the anticipated phrasing with greater confidence.
Although marred by their drabbest lyric thus far, the well thought out middle section is an enjoyable bash of a detour, and it unexpectedly careens into a key jump (up a step to E) for the final verse and chorus. Extremely thrilling arrangement touches for a group whose abilities are downplayed as a matter of course-- wherever those boys went when they left home, they have certainly learned a trick or two.
RAMONES GLAD TO SEE YOU GO