Monday, November 18, 2013

ROCKAWAY BEACH-- Rocket to Russia 2

Image via  THIS AINT THE SUMMER OF LOVE.    Thanks!

Diminished in stature only by the later appearance of a superior derivative (ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL), ROCKAWAY BEACH is another top notch early classic-- confidently constructed upon its simplistic foundation and full of evocative summertime imagery. Although minor weaknesses become apparent upon closer clinical examination, it is easy to agree with the selection of this track for the LP's leadoff single. (However, the ludicrous appearance of this 45 during the dead of winter was a typical RAMONES career timing misfire.)

Another effective retooling of the 1-4-5 progression in A, the song throws the listener off balance by starting with a few measures of 4 in D. (Note how ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL cunningly improves on this tactic, strumming introductory measures on the 5 of that track's root key instead.) The RAMONES' re-appropriation of the BEACH BOYS' favorite CHUCK BERRY-style derivations is sidelined only twice for brief, bridging blasts of slightly off rhythm punk riffing-- probably the least commercial trait of this proposed 'hit.' The first appearance of this powerful change-- G to D, then F to C-- is followed by an abrupt swing down to Fsharp. The subsequent, doo-wop-driven middle eight makes clear genre sense, but in the context of where the preceding 'punk' section is rooted, it represents surprising movement between keys. The growing dexterity of the band's barre-chord-patterned approach occasionally brought them to unpredictable melodic inventions; some unlikely to be matched by even the more studied competition. The simultaneous slide by DEEDEE and JOHNNY to the lower register as JOEY delivers a repeated line of lyric in the new pitch (which ironically punctuates that it's neither 'hard' nor 'far' to 'reach'--despite the accomplished octave-wide distance the melody has just bounded) leaves the listener with an impression of effortlessness-- a considerable deception.

The persuasively concise performances come into play again as the instrumental 'punk' section reappears towards the finale. This time the G-D to F-C is followed by a matching D to A, stunningly returning the song to the home key--where the band then halts so that TOMMY can count off the coda of final choruses. Once again, the dynamic execution succeeds in making the atypical arrangement seem natural, almost inevitable. ROCKET TO RUSSIA's sharper mix also proves ideal for boosting the overall appeal, as the background vocals impressively augment an already notable amount of hooks, and the crisper tone of the instruments heightens the cartoonier feel of the arrangement- while sacrificing hardly any of the overall strength and drive.

Despite sorely lacking a second stanza, the potency of the RAMONES' street poetry is striking. Driven by unrelentingly rhythmic phrasing and attention to situational detail, the lyrical ambience is arresting from the very first unforgettable line. (Unfortunately, the second line fumbles the flow somewhat, syllabically insufficient at an unwise juncture amidst a verseful of compelling couplets.) Eliciting sweeping familiarity via era-specific and domain-exact minutiae, DEEDEE's lyric transforms the seasonal compulsion towards, in all reality, a rather seedy destination into an inclusive, worldwide anthem of sunburned excitation. The defiance of actuality is reflected in JOHN HOLMSTROM's accompanying illustration, where the protagonists are altered into comical, non-human (but somehow familiar) characters. And similarly, the power of ROCKAWAY BEACH is the metamorphosis of the observational specificity detailed from DEEDEE's sweaty, mid-70s New York environment into a universal, utopian mindset and locale, which resonates personally with each of the group's fans-- no matter how far removed from Disco-era Queens in July they actually are.


1 comment:

  1. This is probably the Ramones song that runs through my head most often. There are two places where I find the word order awkward: It has always seemed to me that "It's not hard not far to reach" should be "It's not far, not hard to reach," and "Up on the roof, out on the street, down in the playground..." would make more sense to me as, "Up on the roof, down on the street, out in the playground...." Of course, quirky syllabic timing and odd word order are Ramones hallmarks. For example, "I saw her lying on the street. He jumped down he knocked her off her feet" seems out of sequence....