Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I WANNA BE WELL-- Rocket to Russia 10

Image via  THIS AINT THE SUMMER OF LOVE.    Thanks!

Perhaps for the first time finding the band flirting with the very edge of self parody, I WANNA BE WELL avoids taking the full plunge by unexpectedly excelling in the overachieving cohesion of its humble attributes. Applying already well-worn changes and lyrical subject matter, the song manages an easy, perfect charm which carries it above what is practically throwaway album filler by design.

A far superior application of the bratty, childish approach appearing on the earlier WHAT'S YOUR GAME, I WANNA BE WELL not only alludes to the familial turmoil which is at the core of ROCKET TO RUSSIA's side 1 closer WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY, but also to the substance abuse detailed in TEENAGE LOBOTOMY. (Interestingly, aside from the CD named ACID EATERS, this is the sole specific reference to the psychedelic LSD on any of the RAMONES' releases.) The aggressively primitive lyric is comically intertwined to purposefully sluggish verse and chorus melodies, both of which are almost identically constructed around 1-4-5 in D-- only an intro buildup of the 5 of A and an unpredictable swoop to C for the punchline ("aint it neat?") breaking up the carefully constructed monotony. This pristine match of sound and substance somehow makes the derivations clearly evident from songs not even three tracks away seem immaterial.

A reliable mainstay in the band's live repertoire up until their very last tours,  I WANNA BE WELL displays the beguiling strengths of the RAMONES at their peak, confidently transcending the obviousness of the composition's ingredients, and concocting a nugget of surprising durability and appeal.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

DO YOU WANNA DANCE?-- Rocket to Russia 9

Image via  THIS AINT THE SUMMER OF LOVE.    Thanks!

ROCKET TO RUSSIA featured an unprecedented pair of cover versions, one of only a handful of career instances in which the band leaned on more than one oldie per album. Interestingly, their selection of DO YOU WANNA DANCE, a top ten hit for BOBBY FREEMAN in 1958, represents their first experimentation with outside material recorded beyond the borders of their usual comfort zone: roughly, the pre-British Invasion early sixties. This would mark the furthest the band would reach back in time to commandeer tribute material. In the future, as band abilities and confidence increased, genre dabbling would tend more towards the opposite direction's late sixties garage and psychedelic eras, and then beyond.

Similarly to the debut album's LET'S DANCE, the band jettisons virtually all of the source material's groove and feel-- opting instead to strip the composition's core down to its simplest essence, then retooling the arrangement to better fit the RAMONES' driving aesthetic. TOMMY 3-counts (!) a snare intro, then JOHNNY and DEEDEE blast into one of the more strikingly definitive permutations of their beloved 1-4-5-in-A. (Predictably, DEEDEE starts high, then swoops down as JOHNNY bounces up, reaching sublime release each time they converge on E.) JOEY delivers an impassioned vocal, although it could be argued he doesn't quite 'nail' the rhythm of the chorus phrasing with quite the rushed perfection he achieves later in the performance captured for IT'S ALIVE. The deconstructive conceptual primitivsm is subverted by several commercially-eyed production flourishes: winningly mixed backup vocals, and hypnotizing high hat fade-ins with each chorus-ending build up in E. Overall, the crisp, new re-imagining does not compare unfavorably with previous versions by DEL SHANNON or THE BEACH BOYS, both of whom scored minor hits for their respective efforts. (There can be little doubt that the RAMONES were at least somewhat familiar with the latter.)

Achieving an ideal balance between their relentless, bashing approach and their keen ambitions towards mass popularity, DO YOU WANNA DANCE's selection as a 45 ranks indisputably as one of their sharper market decisions. That it failed to score a big hit, like SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER and ROCKAWAY BEACH before it, does not diminish what has become clearer with several decades' retrospection: although detractors might dismiss the band as an abominable, aberrational mutation from the path of Rock 'n' Roll's ongoing development, tracks such as this only prove the depth of the RAMONES' connection to the roots of the music's true spirit.