Sunday, December 22, 2013
Image via THIS AINT THE SUMMER OF LOVE. Thanks!
While the first two RAMONES lps each featured one stab at pure, energetic pop (see LISTEN TO MY HEART and SWALLOW MY PRIDE), ROCKET TO RUSSIA upped the ante with a duo of melodic, catchy confections: I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING and LOCKET LOVE. Over clean-- even acoustic-- guitars, these British Invasion-influenced attempts at hitmaking (or at least, album filling) exhibited sly lyrical maneuvers designed to subvert the standard romantic storylines. I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING would draw its strength by way of outright denouncement of typical pathos. LOCKET LOVE, on the other hand, would undermine genre cliches with subtler undercurrents of morbid sexual deviance and threats of physical harm.
Musically, the pair are strikingly similar. Both are built upon riffs which, though constructed within 1-4-5 frameworks, playfully resist being restrictively rooted to their '1' base. If I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING is slightly more adventurous, and has an overall harder edge, LOCKET LOVE has superior tunefulness, and a more distinctly memorable middle eight. (The lighter arrangement effectively disguises the considerable resemblance to BLITZKRIEG BOP's corresponding section.) The impressively crisp production heightens the appeal of potent performances, and the capable arrangements puts the pigeonholing of the group as mere primitive savants into serious jeopardy. Particular note must be made of the outstanding background vocals, which here reach a pre-SPECTOR era peak.
The final common attribute of the twin tracks is the creation of unlikely rhymes via the ungrammatical omission of key words at the end of familiar phrases, and if this amplifies the later tough guy stance of I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING, the sum coherence of the present composition suffers somewhat as a result. Still, LOCKET LOVE represents one of the last gasps in the band's efforts to cohere their driving energy into charmingly developed (and perhaps, commercially motivated), unpunk product. In the future, the cut and dried lines dividing 'pop' and 'rock' material in the RAMONES' landscape would rarely allow for the overlapping coexistence evident here, but the upcoming machinations of both the New Wave and 60's Revivalist sub-genres would find precedent in the group's nostalgic adherence to a previous musical era's commitment to album filler exuberance.
RAMONES LOCKET LOVE
Friday, December 13, 2013
Wintertime in NYC is a confounding cauldron of clashing extremes, and this is reflected in the music of the RAMONES. On one hand, a dazzling postcard of ice capades noir where Breugel meets Gotham amongst skyscapers surrounded by gently swirling snowflakes; on the other, a brutal, unforgiving storm terrain of sub-freezing suffering-- where the menace to the insufficiently sheltered is potentially lethal. (Perhaps even JOEY must be counted amongst those who have fallen prey to the season's --sometimes, subtle-- dangers.) The RAMONES felt it all, and their depictions of Yuletide, year-end flavors transformed into a discernible arc over time, as the culminating decades brought even their sick, outsider humor to a gradual acceptance of shivering sentimentality. In sequential order, here's the band's snowiest ruminations...
1. SWALLOW MY PRIDE
Early on, the late season is used primarily only as a marker of time, but the tinge of chilly disillusionment is already tangible-- and will only become more prominent as the years pile up.
SWALLOW MY PRIDE
2. WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY
The initial extreme of the RAMONES' abberant seasonal ambivalence, this track underlines the deviantly criminal familial disintegration with the obvious unlikelihood of December correspondence.
WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY
3. I WANTED EVERYTHING
The embittered childhood verse lumps Xmas morning disappointment with other religious holiday derision, sideswiping Easter as well.
I WANTED EVERYTHING
4. DANNY SAYS
This unforgettable snapshot of touring downtime finds our protagonist thwarted from a surfboard excursion by ludicrously low seaside temperatures. But even at minus 20, the absence of snowfall only triggers longing for the wintry tableaux of their familiar New York turf.
5. THE KKK TOOK MY BABY AWAY
JOEY's winter of discontent kicks off as his sweetheart's extended west coast trip for the holidays is tragically interrupted. If one is willing to accept the behind the scenes love triangle subtext, this track makes an interestingly angry bookmark to the later, matured detente of MERRY XMAS (I DON'T WANNA FIGHT TONIGHT) (see below).
THE KKK TOOK MY BABY AWAY
6. MY MY KIND OF A GIRL
In the Wonderland of his romantic reminiscence, an older JOEY completes the swing to correlating the colder climates to his yearning nostalgia.
MY MY KIND OF A GIRL
7. HOWLING AT THE MOON
Outside of rose coloured recollection, the present reality is delineated plainly in this track's middle eight, as wintertime's despair finds an antidote only in the joyous triumph of summer's celebration.
HOWLING AT THE MOON (SHA LA LA)
8. I'M NOT AFRAID OF LIFE/ PLANET EARTH 1988
TOO TOUGH TO DIE's pair of apocalyptic downers both bear biting, world weary wintry realism. And if a lack of childhood holiday celebrations seems a bit pat compared to PLANET EARTH 1988's other enumerated dystopian anxieties, I'M NOT AFRAID OF LIFE features an unforgettable image of a mentally ill transient shaking against the freezing elements. The lyric then questions how the aged are ostracized, and with the only marginally successful RAMONES looking back at an ever growing number of winters, it's impossible to not imagine them singing this line self-reflectively.
I'M NOT AFRAID OF LIFE
PLANET EARTH 1988
9. MERRY XMAS (I DON'T WANT TO FIGHT TONIGHT)
The christmastime contempt of WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY comes full circle as the RAMONES deliver a unapologetic, straightfaced seasonal singalong. If its poorly timed appearance was not quite as clumsy as ROCKAWAY BEACH's odd November release, it certainly did not help its fortunes. The irony-free detail of the verses' Santa clauses is perhaps less interesting than the ceasefire between JOEY & JOHNNY it sideways suggests, and with the departure of DEEDEE, the reappearance of MARKY, and the recruitment of CJ, this song establishes an uneasy truce which the band would adhere to until the end.
MERRY XMAS (I DON'T WANNA FIGHT TONIGHT)
10. CHRISTMAS (BABY PLEASE COME HOME)
No longer held in check by the RAMONES format once they disbanded, JOEY released a solo single unabashedly covering the DARLENE LOVE classic CHRISTMAS (BABY PLEASE COME HOME), which originally appeared on PHIL SPECTOR's 1963 various artists production A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR YOU. (A decade and a half later he would commence work on THE RAMONES' END OF THE CENTURY lp.) JOEY's performance is predictably heartfelt and charming.
CHRISTMAS (BABY PLEASE COME HOME)
JOEY's solo CHRISTMAS SPIRIT IN MY HOUSE ep also featured a considerably altered version of MERRY XMAS (I DON'T WANNA FIGHT TONIGHT). Definitely less rockin' than the original, but an entertaining performance over a unique arrangement.
JOEY RAMONE-- MERRY XMAS (I DON'T WANNA FIGHT TONIGHT)
Picture: JOEY & MICKEY LEIGH & Santa Claus
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Image via THIS AINT THE SUMMER OF LOVE. Thanks!
Little that the RAMONES had recorded up to this point could have prepared their audience for the stunning terrain which would be embarked upon with ROCKET TO RUSSIA's next track, HERE TODAY GONE TOMORROW. Perhaps somewhat anticipated by the forthright honesty of LISTEN TO MY HEART, or the detailed realism of BABYSITTER, or the pained remorse of I REMEMBER YOU, this unprecedentedly serious portrait of doomed romantic failure represented the starkest departure from their predominant approach thus far.
An early composition by JOEY, the tune shows him working around his favorite melodic pattern, a stripped down triumvirate of chords adopted from the chorus of ALICE COOPER's I'm Eighteen, and immediately utilized on his inaugural songwriting attempt: I DON'T CARE. He would fall back on this barre chord foundation often over the years (the A-G-F driven I JUST WANT TO HAVE SOMETHING TO DO is a famous application of it), but this recording arguably illustrates his most effective and unique utilization of the template. Rooting the song in D on guitar leaves open the option of swooping down to the other chords of E and Fsharp instead of climbing up in blocks (surely JOEY's original approach). The unsettling drama of the melody rests upon the arresting drone of this change.
Unfolding an unfamiliar aura of abnormal solemnity with the first, sad strokes of a hi-hat (!) countoff, the band maintains startling, restrained gravity throughout the track-- their longest so far. The impressively layered guitars draw a curtain of slowly swelling overtones, and when the presence of this undercurrent becomes more ominous during the second verse, it signals that there will be no letup from the lyric's sober stare. By the time they reach the pause preceding the instrumental break, the foreboding hum has gradually increased its volume into practically a separate instrument, and as this crescendo lurches into the final chorus it is apparent that any expected punchline shall be absent.
TOMMY's exceptional studio professionalism and arrangement expertise (the group inched ever closer to an uneasy comfort with guitar solos with the primitive arpeggio picked out over the instrumental section) prudently match the hypnotic incantation of JOEY's impassioned vocal. Wrenching maximum heartbreak out of the contradictory resignation present in the lyrics, JOEY wields effective touches with consistent flair. He imbues the repetitive, monosyllabic cliche of the verses with strikingly dextrous melodrama (choruses too: 'for-EVer'), and he knowingly holds back the key catchphrase for the startling musical pauses which end each stanza. The poetic economy of JOEY's phrases-- effectively painting broad strokes of evocative remembrance with just over 40 words-- embodies one of his most underappreciated triumphs.
JOHN HOLMSTROM's accompanying illustration attempts to inject some levity into the proceedings, but the imagery of dismissive graveyard laughter-- 'Here Lies Someone's Dead Body' reads an epitaph-- unexpectedly underlines the only hinted-at morbidity of the song's mood. (Perhaps it should be noted that the 'Ritchie Ramone' headstone refers to an early, brief bandmate-- not the future drummer.) It would rank as the least effectively matched of his ROCKET TO RUSSIA insert designs with little probable debate.
But surely, that is far from surprising- for this was a sharp detour from the RAMONES' traditional comic book landscapes. Here, suddenly, the blunt realities of everyday pain were sized up and confronted-- without the usual aid of accelerated tempos, or cartoonish caricatures, or distracting distortions of personality flaws (or guitar tones). In retrospect, the unflinching realism of HERE TODAY GONE TOMORROW demonstrated a clear turning point. The following decades would find the band struggling to preserve an ideal balance between their trademark twisted humour, and the expulsion of hard truths absorbed as the ensuing years unleashed their unforeseen struggles (and resultant acrimony). For the moment, however, the RAMONES bravely widened their emotional palette-- and broadened their followers' palates. Humbly brandishing the fewest chords and words necessary, the RAMONES constructed a monument to the determined, seemingly unlimited, power which could be manifested through minimalism's hidden, stunning strengths. And the atypical HERE TODAY GONE TOMORROW-- as precise as a Japanese Haiku, as stark as the rain dampened streets of Film Noir, and as mesmerizing as a meditative mantra-- would tower through the coming tomorrows as one of the band's outstanding achievements.
RAMONES HERE TODAY GONE TOMORROW