Tuesday, February 24, 2015
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.
DO YOU WANNA DANCE