Thursday, August 8, 2013

CALIFORNIA SUN-- Leave Home 11

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.


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