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"They're generation steam heat, pulsating to the back beat"

Class B

Main Category: Punk/Grunge
Also applicable: Pop Rock
Starting Period: The Punk/New Wave Years
Also active in: The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Ramones fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Ramones fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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The Ramones are special. Not only is there no middle ground when it comes to the Ramones, there can be no middle ground on that band. You're supposed to either love them or hate their guts, but merely liking the Ramones or saying "well, they're sort of OK" just doesn't seem like a possible perspective. At their best, the Ramones were so extreme, uncompromised, and fervently dedicated to pushing music to its absolute "limits of existence", that calling them mediocre or passable seems like an insult. They're either great, or they suck donkey's balls: each of these perspectives has a right to exist, and music fans all around the world are divided in two approximatel equal halves based on this criterion.

The Ramones are also a social paradox. On one hand, they put simplicity and "braindead-ness" on such a sky-high pedestal as nobody before or after them has ever really dared, or been able to. On the other hand, what with all that supposed pandering to the most common audience, the Ramones never really found mainstream acceptance. Critical darlings in the US alternative musical press for decades, inspiration sources for zillions of punk and post-punk bands all over the world, they never found true commercial success, definitely not on the same level with their musical brethren from the UK, such as the Sex Pistols or the Clash.

This may, of course, be partially explained by the traditional American fear of true innovation, the same fear that would only allow Jimi Hendrix to become a true star when he was "reimported" to the country from England, and the same fear that caused the Mael brothers to relocate to the UK where their mid-Seventies records actually charted, unlike their homeland. Moreover, the Ramones never underwent the same intent marketing as the Sex Pistols. They were simply a bunch of kids who chanced to grow up in Queens, chanced to get together in Manhattan's musical heart of the late Seventies (CBGB), chanced to get a record contract, and chanced to hit upon a radically new playing style. That's all there was to it. No Malcolm McLaren to take care of these guys. And maybe it was all for the better.

But there might have been another reason for the general public not approving of these lads. As one reviewer at stated (I'm sure he pilfered the phrase from somewhere, the scum, but I don't have any evidence, besides, I'll probably quote it wrong myself), "it takes sophistication to understand the Ramones' simplicity". When Britpunks appeared on the scene in 1977, they were carrying a social/political message in their luggage. Their melodies were crude and unsophisticated, but they were melodies, with a guitar solo here and there; they could occasionally give out a long, sort-of-epic composition (the days of true hardcore punk were still ahead); and their lyrics pretended at heralding a new social revolution. You could listen to the Pistols and the Clash without losing your "intellectual credibility" - yes, the music was simple, but it was meaningful.

The Ramones fucked all that way before 1977 even came along in the first place. Melodies? Yes, there are melodies in Ramones' songs, based on three to four chords, never evolving, never getting you by their second minute to any place where you haven't been to in the first minute. Since that might have made the songs boring, they made sure that the songs rarely went beyond two minutes; for their debut album, two-and-a-half minutes approaches opera standards. Guitar solos? Nowhere in sight, partially because they didn't like them, partially because they couldn't play them. Lyrics? The songs on their debut album give a whole new meaning to "idiotic"; if you thought 'Louie Louie' sucked, take a look at 'Beat On The Brat'. Message? In your dreams. The closest they ever came to a message on these early records was in the immortal "all the kids wanna sniff some glue, all the kids wan' have something to do". Other than that, the lyrics betray a love for hangin' out, makin' out, watching B-movies, and reading trashy comics.

No wonder so many people have always treated the Ramones "questioningly", to quote a Ramones' song. A band with no playing potential at all, whose songs all sound the same - three chord rockers played at frantic speed - and whose lyrics could have been written by a three-year-old. How could such a band be raised high up in the charts? No friggin' way, ladies and gentlemen. Instead, people flocked to Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills & Nash; and even when the punk movement in general started to gain commercial success, the Ramones were somehow forgotten by the golden wave.

What's the trick with the Ramones then? Why do they deserve any attention at all, let alone such an insanely high rating? Their influence? Not really, although their influence has been enormous on successive generations of bands all over the world. Their haircuts? Certainly not; I'm not a big fan of the Ramones' public image, although I've always found Joey Ramone, the long bespectacled bubblegum boy, pretty cool as far as punk heroes go. What matters is their music indeed. Or, in a way, their "anti-music". The Ramones were minimalists. Consciously or unconsciously, they found the core of rock music, its barebones essence - they stripped it to the bone and showed the world its beating heart, concealed in their chainsaw buzz barre chords, their one-note basslines, their boom-thwack four-four drum pounding, and their lead vocalist's simplistic, yet melodic, vocal grumbling. Because the Ramones are melodic, easily the most melodic punk band that ever put foot on this planet. At heart, these guys were the Beach Boys, naive little kids for whom surf music represented the bestest escape from the horrors of their everyday teenage life. Yet in mind, these guys were tough rockers, and they merged the two extremities in a way that I've honestly never encountered in any other band, even if there might be plenty of Ramones lookalikes following in their footsteps.

Their early music, especially the debut album, once you get used to the sonic blasts and the monotonousness of the sound, contains some of the catchiest melodies ever written - don't mind if they're all stolen, because that's not the point. The point is the sound, that raging, provocative, uncompromised attack on the senses that manages at the same time to form a sequence of melodic lines and entertain you. It is, at the same time, extreme avantgarde (for its time, at least) and a perfectly sincere, emotional, involving performance, perfectly accessible to anyone as long as that "anyone" bothers to approach it with an open mind and, what's more important, an open heart. Speaking for myself, I managed to do this, and got myself a great band. No, my love for early Ramones won't change my attitude towards punk in general, and The Clash is still an overrated album in my mind, but once again, it proves that you can't write off entire genres.

The Ramones eventually fell into their own trap, of course - with this kind of formula, even more limited than the AC/DC one, it was pretty hard to continue for decades without tumbling down. Even so, they managed four classy albums and one almost-classy one (End Of The Century) before wallowing in mildly pleasant mediocrity and vainly trying to recapture their former glory for almost two decades more; all of their Eighties/Nineties output is only recommendable for diehard fans, although I must add that almost every Ramones record has its share of excellent moments, and a well-constructed compilation of the later material might actually rank up there with their 1976-78 albums, at least in terms of enjoyability, if not historical value and originality.

Lineup: Joey Ramone (Jeff Hyman) - vocals; Johnny Ramone (John Cummings) - guitar; Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Colvin) - bass; Tommy Ramone (Tommy Erdelyi) - drums. Tommy quit, 1978, replaced by Marky Ramone (Marc Bell). Marky got kicked out for misbehaviour in 1983, replaced by Richie Ramone (Richie Reinhardt). Richie quit, 1987, replaced by a cleaned-up Marky again. Dee Dee quit, 1989, replaced by C.J. Ramone (Christopher Joseph Ward). Band finally called it quits, 1996. At the moment of this writing, Joey and Dee Dee are both in heaven, bless their souls. Or in Hell, whichever they would prefer. I think Joey would definitely prefer Heaven, but I'm not so sure 'bout Dee Dee.



Year Of Release: 1976

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 14

Some take the soul out of rock'n'roll. Some put the soul back into rock'n'roll. This album IS the soul of rock'n'roll.

Best song: anything on the first side qualifies.

Track listing: 1) Blitzkrieg Bop; 2) Beat On The Brat; 3) Judy Is A Punk; 4) I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend; 5) Chain Saw; 6) Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue; 7) I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement; 8) Loudmouth; 9) Havana Affair; 10) Listen To My Heart; 11) 53rd & 3rd; 12) Let's Dance; 13) I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You; 14) Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World.

To show you just how much in awe I am, let it be known I've entirely wiped out my previous review because it didn't look convincing enough. Nor did it help to understand exactly why I consider the Ramones' debut one of the greatest pieces of music recorded in the XXth century. Yup, you heard.

Let's get this straight: I'm not hailing this because it is "punk rock". I'm not hailing this because it's the album that revolutionized rock music or the album that swept away all the pompous pretentious prog rock dinosaurs or because it's fast and furious or because it's funny or... well, for all of that too, sure, but in my mind these are not major points. The major point which this album makes is capturing the magical essence of rock music in a manner so pure, so primal, so refined, so amazingly direct, that no-one managed to do neither before nor after that. This is the ultimate exercise in deconstruction: take away everything that doesn't matter, or doesn't seem to matter, but leave exactly the amount that is necessary to make the listener realize this is rock'n'roll, this is The Power! This is The Force!

And it's not an "artsy-fartsy" deconstruction either. No, the mystery of the Ramones is that they manage to produce a perfectly 'academic' exercise in deconstruction without being the least bit 'academic' in style. Bands like Wire took punk rock and filtered it through their avantgardist aesthetic conceptions, joining it with bizarre lyrics, unexpected tempo changes, and supercrazy song lengths: let's face it, when a song goes on for two minutes, it's a song, but when a song goes on for forty seconds, it's a pretentious artistic statement. The Ramones, meanwhile, were pretentious without being pretentious, probably not even realizing they were pretentious. As a result, Ramones works on at least several different levels - it's an album that the lowest, scummiest kind of fan can happily headbang to, and it's also an album that would make a wonderful subject for a PhD thesis on aesthetics.

So what does it take to capture the quintessence of rock'n'roll, akin to the way an alchemist captures the quintessence of life in his test-tube? Not much. A super-fast chainsaw buzz of the guitar in one channel, never alternating between more than the proverbial three chords (well, mayhaps there can be one more in extreme cases, but there can also be one less, I guess). A minimalistic, but equally fast, bassline in the other channel. Metronomic, not too cymbal-heavy drumming. And a snotty guy nasally enunciating a set of primitive, repetitive lyrics, swallowing about half of every word so you can only properly 'enjoy' them with the lyrics sheet in front of you. That's it. For fourteen songs in a row, the longest of them clocking in at 2:38 and the shortest being one minute shorter than that.

Needless to say, all of the songs are catchy and fun; that's the point. Not many of these melodies have probably been invented by the Ramones themselves, but that doesn't matter much; what matters is how they play 'em. When the opening chords of 'Blitzkrieg Bop' hit your speakers, it actually takes some time before you understand Johnny Ramone is actually playing more than one chord - but he is, he is playing a basic rock'n'roll phrase that assaults you like a ton o' bricks once you get that. And it's a simple, unassuming rock'n'roll phrase, and you could probably meet it on some 50s Eddie Cochran record or something, but the trick is, when you met it on an Eddie Cochran record, it probably made use of pauses; it made use of some accessible, understandable guitar tone; it wasn't too "ear-destructive" or something; in short, it was excessive. You could add to it or take away from it - and in the Sixties, rock music evolved mostly in the former direction, with people adding and adding and adding until there was really nothing left to add. 'Blitzkrieg Bop' does not add, it subtracts. It takes away the pauses, the different intonations of the notes, any attempts at subtlety or 'intelligence' in the lyrics, any attempts at a guitar solo... and it still rips!

Perhaps an even better example of the Ramones' inimitable charm is the only "ballad" on here, 'I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend'. When you listen to it, echoes of both the Beatles and the Beach Boys come to mind, but neither of the two have ever recorded anything so primal. Why bother 'adorning' these lyrics with generic epithets and metaphors when they are all old, dusty, and cliched anyway? Why not get straight to the point: 'Hey little girl/I wanna be your boyfriend/Sweet little girl/I wanna be your boyfriend/Do you love me babe/Tell me what'd you say/Do you love me babe/What can I say/Because I wanna be your boyfriend'. Which would at once be honest, stupid to the point of being hilarious, and - oh gosh! - innovative as hell, because it had to take the Ramones to come up with the idea that lyrics could look like that. It is also one of the few songs on here that uses vocal harmonies (and a ridiculous church bell at the end!), but rudimentary ones, harmonies that are only used as a message: 'No need to make complex harmonies, just a simple oooh-wooo-hooo will suffice to carry our point across'. That's the genius of the Ramones.

The first side of this album is simply flawless. There's this story of a high ranking ancient Chinese official who once hung a copy of his famous compilation of stories and philosophical ruminations (Lu-shi Chunqiu, if you're in on the matter by some slim chance) on the gates of the capital with a notice that a large sum of money would be paid to anybody who'd be able to add or subtract one hieroglyph without doing any harm to the finished work. The first side of Ramones qualifies, I'd say: I can't for the life of me imagine how I'd change a single note, a single word, a single intonation on it. I used to think 'I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement' was overlong, with no need to repeat the verse three times in a row; I don't think so anymore, because it's not the verse that matters, really, it's the instrumental section, which kicks so much ass I don't mind it being repeated several times. 'Beat On The Brat' roars along like mad (gotta dig the choo-choo-train-like bassline) and the 'beat on the brat with a baseball bat' parody on "violent lyrics" has long since become classic. 'Judy Is A Punk' expresses the entire Ramones philosophy in a matter of two short lines: "second verse, same as the first... third verse, different from the first!". 'Chain Saw' is introduced with a real chainsaw sound, and you don't even notice when the real buzzsaw turns into the guitar buzzsaw. 'Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue' borrows a guitar line from Pete Townshend's soloing on the live 'My Generation' and turns it into a terrific "deconstruction" of the guitar solo. And 'I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement' is just downright scary in places!

Much emphasis has been placed on the Ramones tackling those eternal teenager-relevant lyrical topics - getting together to hang around, basic unformulated love/sex drive, fascination with cheap horror flicks, etc., etc., but I reiterate that the important thing is not the topics themselves, but the way they're handled: something that most Ramones-bashers simply can't get through their thick skulls. Everybody and their grandmother sings about hanging out and about unrealised sexuality, but nobody strips these sentiments down to their bare essence. It takes brains AND guts to do this.

The second side still seems like a very very very slight letdown to me, but only when compared to the sheer perfection of the first. In particular, I could do without 'Loudmouth' placed right next to 'I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement' because it seems to borrow the main hook right out of the previous song without improving on it; arguably this was less of a problem on vinyl where you had to make a pause in between the two songs, but it doesn't sound quite right on CD. I'm also not in love with 'Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World' - in my opinion, changing the melody and slowing down the tempo in the end doesn't really work. That doesn't make stuff like 'Havana Affair', 'Listen To My Heart', or 'Let's Dance' any less of the classics they rightly are. And for some reason 'I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You' strikes me as being heavier and gruffer than everything else... is the bass a little louder on that song or what? Not to mention that 'I don't wanna walk around with you/I don't wanna walk around with you/I don't wanna walk around with you/So why d'you wanna walk around with me?' are the greatest lyrics ever written - it takes the Ramones two sentences to perfectly express the same thing that took all these Nuggets bands loads and loads and loads of poetic tears and torment to convey.

So there you are. I realize that an overall rating of 14 may paralyze some of my art-rock-fetish-based readers (not any more than an overall rating of 14 for Selling England By The Pound could paralyze my pop/punk-rock-fetish-based readers, though), but there has to be an extra bonus for sheer audacity here. If I had to list all the shitty punk (and non-punk) albums that Ramones inspired, I would be here all day and all of the night; but that's not the point. The point of the Ramones has never really been repeated, and for one single reason: it is impossible to repeat. There could only be one band like the Ramones in all the world; any band that tries to sound like the Ramones will be shitty by definition. In fact, there could only be one album like Ramones in all the world - and if the band never recorded anything else, I would still be happy to grant it an overall 14 and an extremely high rating to the band. And get this: if you don't like Ramones, this can only mean that you don't get Ramones, much as I hate the expression. Simply put, I cannot imagine anybody acknowledging the Ramones' contribution to the world of music and not liking it at the same time - in this particular case, the two things are inseparable one from the other.



Year Of Release: 1977

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13

The joke is loosened up a bit, but the energy blast is still fresh and more powerful than the H-bomb. Well, in the microcosmic sense of the word, that is.


Track listing: 1) Glad To See You Go; 2) Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment; 3) I Remember You; 4) Oh Oh I Love Her So; 5) Sheena Is A Punk Rocker; 6) Suzy Is A Headbanger; 7) Pinhead; 8) Now I Wanna Be A Good Boy; 9) Swallow My Pride; 10) What's Your Game; 11) California Sun; 12) Commando; 13) You're Gonna Kill That Girl; 14) You Should Have Never Opened That Door.

This is where I quit the general "Ramones Loveboat"... meaning I don't think the Ramones ever did anything better than their debut album, hah hah! That doesn't mean Leave Home doesn't rule my world almost as much as their debut does! Let's face it, though: as I already stated in the previous review, my deep persuasion is that the Ramones in their better stage were essentially a 'one-album' band: everything that's worth loving and respecting about the Ramones' sound can be found on the debut album, and in no way can their later output be considered an 'improvement' of that sound, and more than that, it can only be considered 'detrimental'. It's like taking the same anecdote and telling it for the second time and still getting a laugh out of it, but that laugh is nowhere near as fresh as it was before. And then telling it for the third time. And then...

Not that there aren't any changes at all, but, for my money, all of them are either insignificant or just plain worthless. The production has become a wee bit more sophisticated; for one, Johnny's chainsaw buzz now comes from both speakers as opposed to the guitar/bass separation on the debut album. Of course, if you listen to the Ramones in headphones, that's a plus, but the Ramones weren't made for headphones for Chrissake. I loved that guitar/bass separation, for one thing - so Beatlesque, so boldly 'retroish' in a sense, and so darn minimalistic. Placing the guitar in both speakers makes the sound a bit fuller, louder and heavier, but takes away from the fun quotient.

Another change is that the band improves its singing, placing more emhasis on the harmonies, etc., as before. Fuck it. The closer they move to the real Beach Boys, the more inept and ridiculous the whole situation can get. Hey, one day they might even want to add some friggin' Phil Spector to boost their sound! Can you imagine that? Criminy! Finally, I don't like too many of the lyrics. I just don't like 'em. Too much of those minimalistic sentimental stanzas without any real humour.

Another thing is, what's with all that riff recycling? Contrary to rumours, the songs on Ramones were different from each other. Yes, it was the same three chords, but they were different chords, and they were used to constitute different melodies (with the arguable exception of 'I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement' and 'Loudmouth' which are the exact same song for the most part) . So what's the deal with a song like 'Gimme Shock Treatment' that borrows elements from 'Beat On The Brat' and 'I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement', while the chorus sounds lifted directly from 'Havana Affair'? What's the deal with that, I ask you? If I wanna listen to 'Beat On The Brat', I'll go straight to the source, thank you. Cut the crap about how all punk rock is meant to sound the same - it's certainly meant to be the same style, but it's not meant to be just two or three melodies combined in different ways. On the other hand, it takes brains to mold the same three chords in seventy-three different ways, so that's a retarded complaint, I'll grant you that.

That said, Leave Home is still a great album, because, well, it's the Ramones in their prime, and they're still loud, fast and funny. And they're just as consistent, too: next to no filler among these fourteen tracks. You just have to overlook the "jigsaw puzzle" factor and get used to the fact that you're never gonna hear a chord from the Ramones you ain't heard on the debut album. But you'll sure hear different vocal hooks, and you'll sure be entertained like... like... well, like somebody who gets the chance to be entertained by the greatest pseudo punk rock band of all time.

Since this time around the highlights and the "merely very good" songs are scattered more or less equally throughout the album, let me just concentrate on the "ohmyGod where did THIS come from?" stuff and leave the rest to aficionados. The cover of 'California Sun' is GODLIKE. It's MAJESTIC. It's Mozart in torn jeans and a leather jacket. Hell, why not? It's easily the best ever combination of shiny happy bubblegummy music and punkish energy I've heard in my life. Punk rock? Bollocks. This is optimistic, inspiring, humanity-loving music, one hundred percent sincere and heartfelt and carrying an emotional load the equivalent of at least a few tons of TNT. Who cares if it's one or two chords, as long as the vibe is properly captured? And why oh why has no-one ever made anything even remotely resembling this thing ever since? As we all know, it doesn't take a genius to create this stuff, it takes a genius to show the world this stuff can be and should be created, and once it has, I really don't see the need to flood the airwaves with boring Pearl Jam clones. If you do need clones, gimme more Ramones clones with shiny bouncy (and yet sarcastic) music.

More beautiful pop music: 'Swallow My Pride'. The main chuggin' riff will later be put to better use on 'I Wanna Be Sedated', but this one is faster, somewhat less ironic (subject matter related to the Ramones' lack of commercial success?), and again shows the incredible mastership of the band as they turn the phrase 'swallow my pride oh yeah' into a unique, inimitable vocal hook. More beautiful pop music: 'Oh Oh I Love Her So', nothing more than a classic 1961-era surf ballad turned into a speedy rocker with an inspiring refrain and, of course, the 'I met her at The Burger King, we fell in love by the soda machine' line that will always appeal to the blessed low class!

Not that this is all happy and shiny. Certainly not on 'Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment' (somebody in the Ramones' camp a big Milos Forman fan or just a reasonable coincidence?), the Ramones at their angriest and most sarcastic so far, and not on the gang anthem 'Pinhead' with the greatest lyrics ever: 'I don't wanna be a pinhead no more/I just met a nurse that I could go for' (lyrics end. Now three guesses where Wire took their inspiration from). And the horror flick fascination returns on the - ohmygosh - multi-sectioned 'You're Gonna Kill That Girl', with a 'dramatic', almost Broadwayish, introduction that later returns one more time.

The trivia tidbit you probably all know is that 'Sheena Is A Punk Rocker' (a nice enough song, but I think they later explored the same melody better on 'Rock'n'Roll High School') was not present on the original issue; it replaced the "great lost Ramones jewel" 'Carbona Not Glue' which had to be taken off due to copyright infringement because some of the laws of the world are friggin' stupid, and nowadays you have to enjoy/tolerate it on both this album and Rocket To Russia. Well, given that there are fourteen songs on here in all, that's not too much of a problem, is it?



Year Of Release: 1977

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

Decline starts setting in... but only on one or two songs, mind you. Nothing that can't be undone with a little PAPAPAPAPAOOOM-MOW-MOW!

Best song: SURFIN' BIRD

Track listing: 1) Cretin Hop; 2) Rockaway Beach; 3) Here Today Gone Tomorrow; 4) Locket Love; 5) I Don't Care; 6) Sheena Is A Punk Rocker; 7) We're A Happy Family; 8) Teenage Lobotomy; 9) Do You Wanna Dance; 10) I Wanna Be Well; 11) I Can't Give You Anything; 12) Ramona; 13) Surfin' Bird; 14) Why Is It Always This Way.

The All-Music Guide called this the best Ramones album ever. But that's because most of the writers within the All-Music Guide just can't believe - and never will - that a band can, you know, like, have its first album as its best. How come? They're still so raw! And unexperienced! And shy! And insecure! No, let all these youngsters suck in a few years of studio experience before they can release their best. After all, it can't be that different from a successful business career, now can it? Do you start at the very top if you're in business? No, of course you don't... So unless a band just releases one good album in its entire career as its first one and all the rest turns out to be prime unpraisable shit, the first album is always 'flawed' and 'raw' and 'immature'. Besides, it makes for a great start when you're still gnawing your pencil and can't decide upon the first sentence. Which is why general critical opinion will NEVER concede to the fact that Led Zeppelin I displayed the Zepsters at their most full, or that Procol Harum didn't have such a lot of new things to say after A Whiter Shade Of Pale... you get my drift. That's why you need me, your patented and glossy shiny guru, to show you the light. So get out your praying mats and off we go.

My drift is that Rocket To Russia can in no way live up to the expectations. This is the third time in a row that the Ramones redo their 'joke' album (and it was a joke - what else do you call blatant minimalism?), and the joke sort of starts getting stale a wee bit. At least three or four of these songs do not really affect me in any way - even the riffage is getting excruciatingly generic and tired, and while the nasty sense of political humour seems to be back (the saving grace of the album), the godly melodies are on their way out. It doesn't help that they're going for cleaner and more refined production either; just like the stereo production on Leave Home, it only takes away from the fun.

Take a song like 'Locket Love', for instance. Stylistically, it's pure Ramones. But what's up with the guitar? It really plays, like, two chords without any interesting twists whatsoever. There's no BIG RIFF here, like there was on 'Basement' or 'Blitzkrieg Bop' or, well, lmost anywhere on the first album. And what's up with the vocal melody? Is it catchy? Never in my life. 'Lovely lovely locket love?' Mmm... I don't get it. In the past, they used to have all kinds of shimmering refrains sung out loudly and brashly - here, Joey just wallows through the lyrics as if he didn't care. This is a filler piece if there ever was one.

Never mind, though, here are the highlights for you. 'Cretin Hop' is, of course, just an epochal update of 'Blitzkrieg Bop', but is hilarious anyway (and what's up with the 'You Never Give Me Your Money' reference?). 'Rockaway Beach' is another in a line of excellent Beach Boys sendups, and, of course, the happy-day lyrics have ensured its position as a perennial favourite in the band's repertoire. 'I Don't Care' rips off Black Sabbath's 'N.I.B.' for the riff melody and is surprisingly metallic for the general 'lightweight' style of the Ramones, not to mention this particular record which is generally even 'lighter' than the two previous ones.

'We're A Happy Family', of course, is a classic, but mostly because of the lyrics ('I'm friends with the president, I'm friends with the pope, we're all making a fortune selling daddy's dope') and the super-solemn way in which they're sung; the only riff actually used in the song dates back to as early as.. errr... 'Beat On The Brat', I suppose. And remember - on the CD, it is immediately followed by the immortal 'Teenage Lobotomy'! The only complaint I could voice here is that Joey and Co. start going a bit overboard with references to mental problems. Yeah yeah, we know the music is supposed to be idiotic, you don't need to provide us with further pointers.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the most immediately pleasing numbers on the album are the two covers this time. 'Do You Wanna Dance' updates the early Sixties' original with jarring Ramones guitars, chucks complex harmonies out of the window, and comes out as a total winner nevertheless - with a vocal melody that beats out everything else. But the focal point is still 'Surfin' Bird'. Sure the Trashmen conceived this goofy fusion of 'Bird Is The Word' and 'Papa Oom Mow Mow', but it's the Ramones version that will be remembered - Johnny beating out the incessant power chord like a jackhammer and Joey going nuts over the endless 'bird is the word' refrain... I had this theory once that 'Surfin' Bird' is the greatest song ever recorded, and in a way I still cling to it. Had it made it onto the Ramones debut instead of, say, 'Loudmouth', that record would be seriously in the 15 star range. God that song rules. The greatest, most amazing statement of "musical idiocy" ever put on tape. Although, to be sure, their own 'I Wanna Be Well' comes close: 'Yeaaaaah... I wanna be weeeell... I wanna be weeell... I wanna be wann-I-wann-I-wann-I-wann-I-wann-I-wann-I-wann-I-wanna Yeaaaaah... I wanna be weeeeeell....'. For some reason, I can't get the song out of my head all morning even if I'm perfectly well myself. Weird, isn't it?

In this way, I can even overlook the two relatively unsuccessful ballads. 'Here Today, Gone Tomorrow' is the first song in the Ramones catalog that I truly consider overlong. If you're gonna make a ballad, gentlemen, don't try to make it sound real sentimental - what happened to the genius of 'I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend', for God's sake? More or less the same goes about 'Ramona'. Who needs it? Even Mark Prindle doesn't, and he's the biggest Ramones fan in existence. So you can really understand my amazement at people actually calling this the Ramones' best. It is not. It's terrific, but a clear retread compared to what came before, and - running ahead - a real stagnation point compared to what would immediately follow. The Ramones are at their best when they're at their worst, metaphorically speaking. Not to mention they were intentionally 'slipping it' a bit on the album, vainly hoping it would eventually sell. It didn't.



Year Of Release: 1978

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13

The rare case when "developing" means "following the one right way out of nine hundred and ninety nine wrong ones".


Track listing: 1) I Just Want To Have Something To Do; 2) I Wanted Everything; 3) Don't Come Close; 4) I Don't Want You; 5) Needles And Pins; 6) I'm Against It; 7) I Wanna Be Sedated; 8) Go Mental; 9) Questioningly; 10) She's The One; 11) Bad Brain; 12) It's A Long Way Back.

YES! YES! This is it! THIS is the album that I've been secretly hoping from these guys! Undoubtedly, while Ramones should earn its maximum rating for the breaking of new ground and the unique rawness, it is without a doubt Road To Ruin that is the most melodically consistent record these guys ever produced. True, I can understand some fans who complain about the record being 'too slow'... but god be praised for this slowness, because I'm not the kind of guy who prays every day that his favourite band's new album be a carbon copy of the preceding one.

See, speed was a very essential element in the Ramones' logbook, but if you're gonna keep on churning out records that contain speedy rockers and nothing else, speed will soon become a value in itself, as it has indeed become in the case of so many generic hardcore bands. Sometimes it can be wiser to slow down for a moment and contemplate... and write some ballads and diversify the experience, for a change. Let's reiterate: what people forget so often is that at the heart of the Ramones lies a solid light pop band, a sort of "Beach Boys meet the Hollies" crossover that actually made so many of their songs so dang memorable. And Road To Ruin, despite the strange title that undoubtedly gave the critics a good opportunity to make some sleazy predictions, pushes that pop side of theirs to the forefront. The band expands its horizons - no, it doesn't expand them too much, because this is unpretentious punk music, after all, but they expand them enough for even the most demanding listener never to get bored.

There ain't a single track on here that I dislike, heck, I'd boldly say there are no dislikable tracks on here at all: once you've coped with the fact that these aren't exactly the same Ramones that did Rocket To Russia, you'll be glad like a young hamster. And My God! Only twelve tracks on the entire record? And some go over three minutes? Fuck those sellouts! (Which was, by the way, the main idea behind quite a few disappointed critical reviews at the time).

Now to business. Changes are obvious from the very beginning - 'I Just Want To Have Something To Do' begins the record as a steady mid-tempo number, the slowest rocker in their repertoire so far, but you're soon reassured as it becomes obvious that the catchiness is still there; Joey's frantic chanting of 'I just wanna have something to do, to-niiiight-s, to-niiiiight-s, well all riiiight-s' has something tremendously desperate about it, I just don't know why. And then it all begins - the guitars suddenly begin wailing, giving out all kinds of feedback and scary spooky noises, culminating in a true hell of a nightmarish noise. Cool, isn't it? What a great album opener. And with this little bit of brakes on the tempo the Ramones have added some real threat to the atmosphere, a threat that could never be guessed from the lyrics, but all the more great because it could never be guessed from the lyrics.

Now don't you worry - there's plenty of loud, abrasive rockers on here to satisfy your tastes. There's the classic, hyper-catchy 'I Wanna Be Sedated', and I don't even care that the rhythm is taken directly from 'Beat On The Brat' again, as long as Joey sings that great vocal melody and Johnny does that exciting one note solo. (To be precise, I only know of one great one-note solo - the one that John Fogerty does on 'Tombstone Shadow', but this is obviously candidate # 2). So it's repetitive, so all Ramones songs are, so it's only necessary to pound that 'twenty twenty twenty four hours to go' message of boring tour routine into your head.

The faster songs kick the usual amount of ass, particularly the irresistable 'Bad Brain', but 'I Wanted Everything' isn't bad either. My particular favourite, though, is the album closing number 'It's A Long Way Back', which takes its cue directly from the Beatles, I'd say. Don't you hear Paul McCartney's influences in Joey's happy whistling of the lyrics? 'You by the phone, you all alone, it's a long way back to Germany, it's a long way back to Germany'... A classic, triumphant in its nonsense, glorious in its absurdity, an excellent choice for an album closing number.

Special attention should be paid to 'I'm Against It'. Fans of the Ramones should not be tempted to take the song as the Ramones' acceptance of the nihilistic values brought along by the new wave of British punks like the Sex Pistols. 'I don't like politics, I don't like communists, I don't like games and fun, I don't like anyone...' What the song does is ridicule the mix of punk and politics, and in a very straightforward and sincere form, too. Da Ramones jes' wanna have fun, git it? Don' wan' no fuckin' politics, man. Don' gimme none o' that jive. 'I'm against it' (the refrain, I mean) should be understood that the Ramones are against this attitude, not really upholding it or anything. It's their reaction to the "punk revolution" that followed in the wake of their glorious appearance - yes, brothers and sisters, let us not forget that British punk followed the Ramones, but never really adopted the band's message: the Ramones weren't pissed off at anybody in particular, they were more like pissed off at themselves, and they weren't nihilists or anarchists or whatever. They were... cool.

Oh, and then there's the ballads. Ballads! Acoustic and slide guitars and a countryish sound and ohmygod! Am I a sissy? In brief, I consider all of the ballads here to be very, very, very good. 'Don't Come Close' is great simplistic country rock (sic!) with shining vocal hooks. The cover of 'Needles And Pins', lifted straight from the famous Searchers version, just makes me wax nostalgic about the early Sixties the way only these hairy guys can inspire... And 'Questioningly'? Boy, I never thought the Ramones could have pulled off such an exciting guitar arrangement. Oh sure, all of those three ballads sound a wee bit similar, but not any more similar than their rockers. Different melodies, similar moods, different vocal hooks, similar emotional effects. Unbelievably cool.

But if that's still not enough to throw on the last half-star and complete the perfection that this record is, then 'She's The One' is the song to do it, an ideal power pop masterpiece if there ever was one. Not many bands could hook you in just by chanting 'yeah yeah she's the one, she's the one, she's the one, she's the one', but the Ramones sure do that.

Yes, this record is hardly essential for those who only want their Ramones tearin' up the roof; but if your roof is already torn up, wouldn't you want to have a few numbers to relax to? If I ever wanted to count all the hooks within these twelve songs, I'd have to spend a sleepless night. But that's not even the major point.

The major point is: what would you want the band to do, anyway? Rocket To Russia was plainly showing that the original formula was wearing thin, and that another album like that could chuck the Ramones into... well, not self parody, I guess, because they were a self parody from the beginning, but into the world of predictable boredom. Yet, on the other hand, there was no way there could be any "creative growth" for the band, not in the common sense of the expression, at least. The only way they could 'grow' was to extend the "nothing is sacred" deconstructivist approach to things outside basic bubblegum pop and fast garage rock - and to try their hands at power pop, "midtempo rock", balladry, etc., etc., in short, try the same minimalistic way with other genres and styles. Which is what Road To Ruin is doing, exactly, even if they themselves probably weren't sure of the chosen direction - heck, what else would explain the title?

Note, also, that Road To Ruin was the first Ramones album that was for the most part made up of songs not composed before 1976, i.e. for the first time the Ramones did not rely on their backlog and had actually to go into the studio and think of something new right on the spot. And the fact that they were able to think of so many new good songs could mean only one thing - that there was real talent out there, not just a one-moment-long zeitgeist.

So don't believe the All-Music Guide when it complains about the album's numerous flaws; even the most simplistic objective assessment would easily crush all those complaints. Ah, if only they'd go the other way round and combine Ramones and Road To Ruin on one record instead of following the chronological order, this would be easily the most glorious experience to come out of the entire pop/rock world after 1975. But hey, you can do that yourself, after all! And me? I have ALL FOUR albums, and so much more, on one CD-ROM!

I also have flu. I don't know how these two things are related to each other, but everything in this goddamn fuckin' world is related. Oh well, just leave it at that.



Year Of Release: 1979

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

"IT" is definitely alive. The "It" out of the movie could only envy the monstruosity of this particular "It".

Best song: who really cares? There's, like, no pauses between tracks!

Track listing: 1) Rockaway Beach; 2) Teenage Lobotomy; 3) Blitzkrieg Bop; 4) I Wanna Be Well; 5) Glad To See You Go; 6) Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment; 7) You're Gonna Kill That Girl; 8) I Don't Care; 9) Sheena Is A Punk Rocker; 10) Havana Affair; 11) Commando; 12) Here Today, Gone Tomorrow; 13) Surfin' Bird; 14) Cretin Hop; 15) Listen To My Heart; 16) California Sun; 17) I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You; 18) Pinhead; 19) Do You Wanna Dance; 20) Chainsaw; 21) Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World; 22) I Wanna Be A Good Boy; 23) Judy Is A Punk; 24) Suzy Is A Headbanger; 25) Let's Dance; 26) Oh Oh I Love Her So; 27) Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue; 28) We're A Happy Family.

More than quite a worthwhile live document from the Ramones' first and best era, and it gives you, the listener, ample proof that not only could the guys bash out their three chord riffs in the studio, they could kick ass live as well (as if anybody doubted that - they spent their early days in the "training camp" of the CBGB scene). And when I say "three chord riffs", I mean it even more seriously than when speaking of the studio records: some of the more 'complex' melodies, when taken out of the calmness of the studio, become even more primitive than you could ever think they could be.

But approaching this from a theoretical angle, there are problems. First of all, what's up with the length? Isn't a double live album a bit of an overkill? Sure the songs on it rarely go over two minutes in stark Ramones' style, but a double live album still... that's something up to prog bands to do. Hardcore fans will be falling all over themselves, me I just go ehh. When the songs are that similar, 28 of them in a row can be trouble. What about the minimalist attitude? The economical approach? Then again, come to think of it, a live album from a supposedly punk band is itself some kind of a rules violation, which would probably be a further argument for the Ramones not being so true to the spirit of punk... aw hell. It was 1979 anyway, they were already violating the rules by releasing country ballads.

Which also brings me to the second problem. The material here was actually recorded before the release of Road To Ruin, but long after the release of the self titled album, and essentially it can be said to 'promote' Leave Home and Rocket To Russia, with a significant bunch of numbers from the debut thrown in but many of the highlights missed - c'mon now, a live album without 'Beat On The Brat'? No 'I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement'? No 'I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend'? Aw shucks, now surely they could have included these three songs at the expense of some later filler? As a result, the two "inferior" Ramones albums are overrepresented, while one of the "superior" albums isn't represented at all and the other one is underrepresented. That sucks. Who needs 'Blitzkrieg Bop' and 'Cretin Hop' on the same record if the second one is a weaker re-write of the former?

So, it could have been better. But that doesn't mean it deserves anything less than the actual rating given out on here. In true live fashion, when on stage, the songs are even grittier, rawer, and, essentially, faster than in the studio - the boys really go out of themselves to speed up the mind-blowing fast tempos even further (except for the few "ballads", of course), so it all flows by in a thunderstormy rattle, with the songs flashing by quicker'n you can draw a deep breath. A half-drunk "one two three FAAW!", and the next one starts, and there are almost no breaks, except for the few points when Joey feels like spelling the title of the song in an equally half-drunk manner. Twenty eight songs in fifty five minutes, that's gotta be some kind of personal record for you, hasn't it? It almost seems like they're occasionally doing this slower stuff like 'I Wanna Be Well' only to give Johnny's right hand a short rest - the muscles on that hand just gotta be the most overworked muscles in the world by now.

If you expect me to start discussing the songs one by one, well maybe I'd do a better job writing a 400-page dissertation on one of Klaus Schulze's two composition electronic opera. Oh, okay, so one of the highlights is 'Surfin' Bird'. You happy with that? It even has an "accappella" section in the middle! And some really precise 'mock-scat' singing from Joey, for a live rendition, I mean! That's about it.

The sound quality is excellent, too - dub out the audience and you get yourself near-studio quality, which is really a compliment, because I doubt sound engineers had a lot of experience recording those kind of shows in the late Seventies. (And I might be wrong, but I don't think the early punks were all that hot on live albums - why the hell should they be, when the point was to get all the raw excitement, fury, and anger on the studio album?). And the playing, too, is really precise - the rhythm section bashes away without any obvious gaffes or mistakes (well then again, a single mistake at this kind of insane tempo could lead to the complete and utter ruination of the song, so they probably knew better), while Johnny's guitar gets the shit kicked out of it in the usual manner. Occasionally, you even get some laconic banter, like 'well, we got a little tear-jerker for you lonely hearts out there, and this one's called "Here Today Gone Tomorrow"', but normally the Ramones aren't the ones to go blabbing around with acute social commentary like Pete Townshend or silly jokes like Ian Anderson - only too well, because Joey's singing voice is definitely far less ugly than the intentionally cretinous barking he produces in song intros (which would, unfortunately, influence the singing as well in years to come).

Oh! And, just so as to be aware of the priorities, remember that the proper introduction to a Ramones concert is 'Rockaway Beach' (occasionally alternating with 'Blitzkrieg Bop', which is track 3 on here), and the proper "outro" is 'We're A Happy Family' or something like that. Or just don't remember anything at all - get this album and enjoy a 55-minute rock'n'roll rave-up without exercising your brains too much, but without forgetting the great irony of all this shenanigan either.



Year Of Release: 1980

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

Ramones Minimalism + Phil Spector Wall Of Sound = Bizarrest Combination Ever.


Track listing: 1) Do You Remember Rock'n'Roll Radio; 2) I'm Affected; 3) Danny Says; 4) Chinese Rock; 5) The Return Of Jackie And Judy; 6) Let's Go; 7) Baby I Love You; 8) I Can't Make It On Time; 9) This Ain't Havana; 10) Rock'n'Roll High School; 11) All The Way; 12) High Risk Insurance.

The Ramones' work with Phil Spector is legendary, no doubt, but unfortunately, not always given its due. There's a lot of confusion when it comes to evaluating this fact - Ramones? America's punk band number one? Working with Phil "The Wall Of Sound" Spector? Booming drums, zillions of guitar overdubs, orchestras, brass sections? Production more complex and more tricky than any prog-rock band could allow itself? What the fuck? But then there's the other side of the business, the one that tells us not to forget how the Ramones were actually the Beach Boys of punk and how much they dug that late Fifties/early Sixties pop scene in general, and Phil was one of that scene's main heroes, now wasn't he. When you put it this way, the mystery becomes unveiled, although the results still cannot be predicted.

There is some sort of "conflict of interests" here, and that makes End Of The Century all the more intriguing. Based on hooks and melodies alone, I'd only give this thang an 11, but there's gotta be one extra point added for the sheer intrigue; the songs really aren't tremendously hot when compared to the previous album, but most of them still rank pretty high in my book. The important question was: with Spector-esque production (and Phil sure wasn't gonna settle for the guitar-bass-drums pattern), would the Ramones still be able to sound like they used to? Fast, raunchy, loud, with the chainsaw buzz and all? And the answer is: partially. Partially. There's a couple sissy ballads here like 'Danny Says', which are anything but fast and loud, and Johnny's occasionally playing these guitar parts twice and maybe even thrice, not to mention all the gazillions of acoustic guitars that are probably stuffed in the bottom for no-one to hear but everyone to feel, heh, well, I guess Johnny himself was pretty pissed off about that, what with the story about Phil making him spend several hours recording the introductory power chord to 'Rock'n'Roll High School' and all. But a large part of the songs still kick enough ass.

There are some alarming signs that the Ramones are pretty much at the end of the rope, which, however, can be interpreted differently under different circumstances. When I first heard 'The Return Of Jackie And Judy', I only saw it as a song formally written in the tradition of stuff like 'Peggy Sue Got Married' or all those 'Schoolday' clones of Chuck Berry (if your song was a hit, why not do it again? Sequels are cool!), but too much of a dumb, uninventive mix of 'Judy Is A Punk' and 'Beat On The Brat' to be of any importance. Tradition is fine, but not when it reeks of stagnation. Today, though, I'm more inclined to treat it as a hilarious reinvention of the old motive and admire the way the boys take snippets of the old melodies and make them develop differently - like the 'and oh I don't know why...' thing that segues into '...she wrote that letter' this time instead of serving as the "chorus". Stagnation? That would be if we were speaking of a mere re-recording of a "Spectorized" version. And considering that every single Ramones song is at least in some minor way reminiscent of every other Ramones song, who really cares anyway?

Things get worse with songs like 'Let's Go' that just do not go anywhere - an inferior rewrite of 'I Don't Wanna Go To The Basement' with half of the chords edited out, essentially, which makes it sound like really bad, really unprofessional proto-thrash metal. That's not to say they're unenjoyable, but they carry that Rocket To Russia effect - the "coasting" oe, I mean, without any real reasons why we should listen to this and not put on our Ramones Leave Home for the hundredth time instead.

But on the positive side, you have almost everything else! 'Do You Remember Rock'n'Roll Radio' gets the fat brass treatment, which brings it close to Lennon's Rock'n'Roll album which I've always loved, and it's a nice slab of sentimental nostalgia showing that the Ramones' heart really lies in the Sixties, not at all in the Seventies. 'I'm Affected' starts out like a slightly faster version of 'I Just Wanna Have Something To Do', but gets different in the pissed-off chorus - Joey's nasty grunts of 'I'm affected, affected' constitute a hook if there ever was one, while Phil takes care that the song gets this mastodontic production with colossal guitars and gigantic drums and all. And 'Baby I Love You' brings us straight back into the era of the Ronettes' hits, with Phil hauling out his orchestra to produce a great backing track for Joey and the guys. Speaking of which, doesn't Joey actually have a nice singing voice? Rumour has it that Phil himself thought it very similar to the voice of Ronnie Spector, ha ha.

The final three tracks probably sound most like the Ramones of old, with the fast tempos and the unabashed hilariousness and all. 'Rock'n'Roll High School' is a Spectorian update of 'Rockaway Beach' - which works (it was also the title track for the teen movie of the same name, starring the Ramones and sporting a quintessentially dorky plot whose main 'charm', so it seems, was in its overall similarity to rock'n'roll teen flicks of the Fifties); 'All The Way' is a Spectorian update of 'Texas Chain Saw Massacre', which works; and 'High Risk Insurance' is, uh, an update of everything else, and it also works. Wait, no, it doesn't work. It sounds very much like 'Let's Go', actually... aren't they the same friggin' song? But never mind, it's just two minutes.

What I wanna say in the end is, this is far from a perfect album, mainly because the songwriting suffers in places, but the move itself, to team up with Phil, I mean, was a great and actually bold move. With Road To Ruin, the Ramones showed they weren't content to keep rehashing the formula (already a bit tired and stale by the time of Rocket To Russia), that they were ready to expand their sound; with End Of The Century, they proved they weren't joking. And in a way, this is an exciting, even unique album - I'm not really sure if any legitimate punk bands in the Seventies ever tried crossing their chainsaws with huge bombastic production, heck, the idea itself would probably look preposterous to most of them. The Ramones dared to do that, and they actually pulled it off, even if that cost a lot of nerves (tension was pretty high in the studio) and they never worked with Phil again afterwards. So extra points go for braveness and the will to experiment. Or, heck, just take it as a humble tribute to some of the band's Sixties idols.



Year Of Release: 1981

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

Maybe they didn't have to leave their photo out of the album cover. Misfortune ahead!


Track listing: 1) We Want The Airwaves; 2) All's Quiet On The Eastern Front; 3) The KKK Took My Baby Away; 4) Don't Go; 5) You Sound Like You're Sick; 6) It's Not My Place (In The 9 To 5 World); 7) She's A Sensation; 8) 7-11; 9) You Din't Mean Anything To Me; 10) Come On Now; 11) This Business Is Killing Me; 12) Sitting In My Room.

Wrong turn, the first serious mistake in the band's history (alas, far from the last). Again, it's really hard to blame them. With End Of The Century, it's like they took the one right chance in a million wrong ones, and nobody could expect them to be so incredibly lucky twice in a row. So this time around they hooked with Graham Gouldman of "For Your Love" and 10CC fame - on the surface, another successful association, as Gouldman was a great early Sixties popmeister in his prime and the band was obviously hoping to benefit from the fact just like they benefited from Spector's wall-of-sound thingie.

But the final results seem flat and boring, and the album simply refuses to leave any lasting impression. Repeated listens bring out the "Ramones-quality" - eventually you start realizing that the songs aren't much worse (or better) than before, and the "match that cool riff with that catchy chorus" tradition hasn't been betrayed. But the production flat-out sucks. Phil Spector knew very well that the Ramones, at heart, are an innocent little pop band, but he also was wise enough to understand that the main value of the band still lies in their energy: take away the crunchy guitar sound and the band is finished on the spot. So he might have made them overdub their parts and pile up tons of instruments and all, but over all of that Johnny's guitar sound was still roaring loud and frantic.

When Gouldman took the reins, though, he apparently thought that the buzzsaw effect was an impediment to the Ramones rather than an improvement - that it took away from Joey's vocal melodies. In a way, he was right: the "buzzsaw" effect and the whole "punk" thing definitely steered the general public away from buying the records. So apparently he thought that by toning down the music and making it concentrate on the "neo-bubblegum" vocal hooks instead of the primal guitar roar he'd make the band into overnight superstars among the lowest common denominator, bring that spark of universal acclaim that had so far evaded the band because of their scary approach. As a result, the entire album sounds like one big fat conspiracy against Johnny's guitar - every once in a while, it still manages to come through because, hey, it's Johnny Ramone, and nobody gets rid of Johnny Ramone as if he were a fifth leg or something, but overall, the album gives a very mild impression.

And the milder the Ramones get, the more they start sounding like nothing but a lame parody on their bubblegum idols, both of the Seventies (like the Bay City Rollers) and of the Sixties. The "pure enjoyability" factor is still there, but when you deal with a band that operates on the three chord mentality, steals their riffs from predecessors, and sings lyrics that are, mildly speaking, "unsophisticated", you need that extra punch to make it work, and Mr Gouldman has robbed them of that punch. The primal energy is gone, and as a result, even though formally most of the songs are memorable, I can't remember how any of the songs go once I'm through with 'em!

Well, one. One song. 'We Want The Airwaves' is a deserved minor classic in the Ramones catalog. It feels strangely out of place on this overall happy-poo record - a bitter, pissed off lament at how fucked up radio programming is (because they don't play the Ramones on the radio, of course!). Of course, the Ramones deserved airplay, and when they weren't given any, they deserved this song - which combines the sneering menacing punch of 'I Just Wanna Have Something To Do' with the cool recycled melody of 'I'm Affected' in one supreme melting pot, yet doesn't give any true indication of how the rest of the songs on here will sound.

Because the very second track is the dippy-happy 'All's Quiet On The Eastern Front', replete with a repetitive, and already irritating, bubblegum chorus ('watch the watch the way I walk, can't you think my movements talk' - the lyrics seriously suck, too, what a far cry from 'now I wanna sniff some glue'! This one's actually sounding as if Dee Dee was trying to pen something sophisticated, and failed miserably). Just a few years ago you had to strain your ears to get the things Joey was belting out because you had to break through the crashing guitar roar to get around to him; nowadays, you have to strain your ear to understand that the guitar is indeed playing the same barre chord barrages as before, you just don't get to hear it because the vocals overshadow everything.

It doesn't help that they're going for more sophisticated melodies occasionally - like the calypso-styled 'It's Not My Place (In The 9 To 5 World)', for instance, which is fun but certainly does not look like it was necessarily tailored for the Ramones to sing it and nobody else. And the straightforward nostalgic stuff like '7-11' will seem cute and friendly to you until you actually decide to compare it with, I dunno, 'Oh Oh I Love Her So' for example.

In short, Pleasant Dreams can't help but disappoint, although the catchy hooks can't be denied anyway. It's not true that any Ramones tribute band could have recorded this: contrary to rumour, writing a perfectly catchy song is not the easiest thing on Earth, and it still takes talent to get away with this stuff. But it's definitely true that any mildly talented Ramones tribute band, especially equipped with a master producer guru like Gouldman, could have done this. All the more ironic is the fact that even if they did want to "sell out" with this album, they still couldn't do it. They only could see the tide turning against them.



Year Of Release: 1983

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

Good guitar eesa back-a. Good drumses gone. More trouble every day-ay!

Best song: OUTSIDER

Track listing: 1) Little Bit O'Soul; 2) I Need Your Love; 3) Outsider; 4) What'd Ya Do; 5) Highest Trails Above; 6) Somebody Like Me; 7) Psycho Therapy; 8) Time Has Come Today; 9) My-My Kind Of A Girl; 10) In The Park; 11) Time Bomb; 12) Everytime I Eat Vegetables It Makes Me Think Of You.

Well, so much with all that retro shit. For their next album, the band went to Joan Jett's co-producer, Ritchie Cordell, and the guy took good care of Johnny's guitars this time around - not only are they audible, they are loud, ferocious, distorted, and... overdubbed several times, as if this could compensate for the mildness of Pleasant Dreams. He was so seriously preoccupied with the guitar sound, though, that he forgot all about the drums. Whether it was a conscious tribute to the spirit of the time or just a case of Marky Ramone flipping out too often (he would be dumped for substance abuse around the time of the album's release), the classic Ramones drum sound has all but disappeared, replaced by lots of electronic echo put on the instruments. Granted, it's not drum machines, but they might as well have swapped guitars for synths, too.

Even with the electronically treated drums making every second song sound stupid, though, there's plenty of fun to be had here - along with duds-a-plenty, of course. Starting the album by covering the Nuggets chestnut (well, the modern-day Nuggets chestnut, to be precise; the boxset was still more than a decade away in 1983) 'Little Bit O' Soul' was definitely a wrong move. I mean, what the heck? It's fun and catchy bubblegum R'n'B which theoretically can't be made to rock the roof off the house - not if you have a million Johnny Ramones strumming these chords. You can't even do the buzzsaw because you need to have pauses between the phrases. And it does convey the wrong impression, namely, that this is going to be yet another clone of Pleasant Dreams, which this album is not.

Really good songs on here would be... let's see, first there's 'Outsider' which would feel right at home on Rocket To Russia, and I've even gotten used to the idea of Dee Dee singing the middle eight: he's sort of like the "honest down-to-earth voiceless guy" of Keith Richards next to the "slick" Mick Jagger of a Joey, or Joey of a Mick Jagger, whichever way you prefer to put it. 'What'd Ya Do' has Johnny employing a friggin' wah-wah pedal - I'm pretty sure at least one of the overdubbed guitars was played through a wah-wah, at least in those few seconds where Johnny didn't actually forget to push it. Hey, this is my hypothesis, don't sue me if it's just my aural problem. Whatever it is I'm a-hearin', I'm a-likin' it anyway. Then there's 'Somebody Like Me', which begins shamelessly like 'Blitzkrieg Bop' (I mean, the number of Ramones songs that recycles the riff of 'Blitzkrieg Bop' probably measures in the dozens, but this here intro is just a carbon copy, and the Ramones didn't have all that many carbon copies really), but then manages to carve its own identity with the 'I'm just a guy who likes to get drunk, I'm just a guy who likes to dress punk' chorus. Nice pretty Ramones! Were they the Stones, you could twirl your nose and say 'Somebody Like Me' is just a miserable self-parody compared to the early classics. But the trick is that the early classics were self-parodies too. And "miserable", of course, is a subjective notion.

'Psycho Therapy' on Side Two gets the usual acclaim as best song, but I must disagree. It rides the same seahorse as 'Teenage Lobotomy', of course, and it's one Ramones seahorse that really gets annoying after a while: I mean, you can sing about getting drunk and getting laid and getting beaten up as much as you want, but do we really need one more reminiscence of the boys' self-proclaimed level of intelligence? "Look at us, we're so goddamn stupid and we're proud of it". Hey, I'm proud of it, too, but I prefer to get it from oblique stuff like 'Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue' rather than hear the boys go 'I am teenage schizoid, I'm a teenage dope fiend' again. Not to mention none of them are teenage anyway, not by 1983 they aren't, nosiree. Plus there's no easily discernible hook unless you count "PSYCHO THERAPY PSYCHO THERAPY" as one.

The biggest, and least understandable, offender is the cover of 'Time Has Come Today' that comes next. First of all, look at the length. Nearly four and a half minutes. I blinked and the band recorded its Tales From Topographic Oceans. Second, look at the melody. One chord? Two chords? Joey barking out the lyrics with no vocal melody at all? A percussion jam in the middle of the proceedings? Is this a fuckin' statement or what?

Luckily they make up for it with the power pop ballad 'My-My Kind Of A Girl', later ripped off by Fountains of Wayne for the slower and more elaborated 'She's Got A Problem' (and definitely ripped off by Joey from some Phil Spector tune that I can't identify because I've never had any luck distinguishing one Phil Spector tune from another. Well, not really, I'm just hinting at how well Phil can hide the melody behind a couple million excessive instruments); the joyful, thoroughly uplifting gang anthem 'In The Park', which is sort of like the ultimate spiritual soundtrack to Brooklyn brotherhood; and Joey's goofy 'Everytime I Eat Vegetables It Reminds Me Of You' - an ode to a long-lost girl taken to East Berlin and successfully brainwashed, no less. Whoah.

Count this a strong 10 as opposed to PD's weak one, anyway. It's less consistent (I'll never forgive them for 'Time Has Come Today', never! Never!), but the high points are higher, and when you get high points from the Ramones as late as 1983, well, that's gotta count for something.



Year Of Release: 1985

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

The braver the name, the darker the future, I'd say.


Track listing: 1) Mama's Boy; 2) I'm Not Afraid Of Life; 3) Too Tough To Die; 4) Durango 95; 5) Wart Hog; 6) Danger Zone; 7) Chasing The Night; 8) Howling At The Moon; 9) Daytime Dilemma; 10) Planet Earth 1988; 11) Human Kind; 12) Endless Vacation; 13) No Go.

Count this as a very weak 11, given out primarily to distinguish the slight superiority of this album to everything that surrounds it on both sides of the ocean. By 1984, the Ramones were drifting somewhere along the line of the Rolling Stones in early 1968. With their last three records (actually, four, if you prefer to rip the "experimental" Road To Ruin out of the Holy Foursome unity), the band was drifting further and further away from the simple, unadorned, basic ideals of their youth, and it just so happened that at one point they must have shaken off the druggy haze and said: 'Hey! The punk thing is happening without us!'. Indeed. Punk as a worldwide phenomenon combining both rebellious and commercial aspects had, of course, been long dead and buried, but the minor punk scenes were anything but dead, and zillions of hardcore bands were now making music louder, meaner, speedier, and simpler than the Ramones. Of course, it was nowhere near as catchy, and, I would say, transcended the genius of the Ramones into the absurdity of Minor Threat (okay, okay, so I'm not the biggest hardcore fan, gimme a break), but the fact is, the world really didn't need the Ramones any more.

That's the difference - the Stones managed to catch up with the times and rule the rock'n'roll scene again, but the Ramones never did. What could they do anyway? You can't reinvent punk rock every few years, especially not with the insane amount of people willing to do it. All you can do is, well, get tough; chances are, they'll hear you kicking ass and they'll at least stop crying about selling out. And the Ramones get together and get tough again - with mixed results.

Musically, this is a period of absolute Dee Dee domination over the band. Marky was gone, so new drummer Ritchie Ramone was only too happy to follow directions; Johnny didn't give a damn as long as he didn't have to change his playing style, not knowing any other; and Joey had been steadily declining, at least quantity-wise, as a songwriter. This leaves the one true PUNK of the band, Mr Dee Dee, to lead them through the second half of the Eighties. And the motto is: back to the past. So they return back to Tommy Ramone and hand him the production reins, and good old Tommy never disappoints. Dee Dee writes the majority of the songs, steering as clear from the happy dappy vibe as the rest of the band and his own sensisbility can allow him. And...?

Well, it's sort of a half-assed success. And a success plagued with disappointments and disillusionment. First of all, I'd like to express my indignation about these lyrics. 'Swrong with you boys? 'The solution to peace isn't clear/The terrorist threat is a modern fear'? Wow, thank you Dee Dee, for opening my eyes on the matter. Yes, everybody keeps talking about the Ramones' ever-growing political and social awareness and how it distinguishes the early who-gives-a-fuck Ramones from the later I-sure-give-one Ramones. Well, I liked the early Ramones better. If I really want to hear political commentary, the least I can do is go listen to the sermons of Joe Strummer, who was at least smarter and better educated on the matter than the Ramones - while at the same time being just as brutally honest.

However, it's not just the political commentary; the lyrics in general are getting more 'complex'. Goodbye, early minimalism. Nowadays, when you want to express anger, you have to cope with the following poetic genius: 'But I see an old lady with a shopping bag/And I wonder is life a drag', sung at face value. I mentioned somewhere that it was hard for the Ramones to get "self-parodic", what with being essentially a parody in the first place; but this goes beyond self-parody... this is uninteresting. Simply that. The criterion "smart/stupid" doesn't apply to the Ramones, but the criterion "interesting/uninteresting" does, and Too Tough To Die is a formal return to the days of old that somehow doesn't manage to capture the true essence of the days of old.

Not to mention Dee Dee's several laughable attempts to catch up with the present - his hardcore sendups 'Warthog' and 'Endless Vacation' are nothing but dumb, unfunny, uncatchy, and utterly derivative pieces of generic crap, crowned by his, er, "vocals". In a better age, the band might have worked on these more and turned them into something really humorous, but not today. Today, Dee Dee is just angry. Just angry, that's that.

So why an 11? Because most of the other songs are still good. So the lyrics suck (just don't pay them attention), so their attempts at sounding hardcore are about as successful as Uriah Heep doing 'Roll Over Beethoven', but the conscious "return to basics" approach still manages to energize the band, and when they manage to marry that energy to a good hook, the result can't even be spoiled by cheesy dated synths, like on the Busta Jones-cowritten optimistic dance tune 'Chasing The Night', where, for once, Joey manages to recapture the brilliant vibe of 'California Sun'. Even better is the doo-wop-meets-bubblegum cheerful insanity of 'Howling At The Moon (Sha-La-La)'... surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, it is the least Ramones sounding tune on the album, with big electronic drums, keyboards (some of which almost sound like a harpsichord!), and production courtesy of the Eurythmics guy, but it is my favourite because even if there's no buzzsaw on that one (hey, there's almost no guitar on it, apart from a few choruses), spiritually it's still vintage Ramones, unlike 'Warthog'.

Out of the "angrier" rockers, one should probably single out 'Mama's Boy' and the title track, both of which use syllable repetition to the required so-dumb-it's-brilliant effect; 'Danger Zone', slightly spoiled by the pseudo-hardcore 'you flipped your lid' midsection, but redeemed by the flaming guitar solo (yes, by now the Ramones are doin' 'em regularly) and the catchy chorus; and the fifty-second instrumental 'Durango 95', which later became a regular concert opener for the boys, if I'm not mistaken. The almost Goth-like 'I'm Not Afraid Of Life' is also atypical of the Ramones, and a rare successful attempt at writing a really creepy song. But the album still ends with a sunny-dayish Joey shouter, 'No Go', an unpretentious piece of rockabilly that would put the Stray Cats to shame.

So when you go through it piece by piece, Too Tough To Die is simply that case of an album where it doesn't work in theory but works on practice - I hated it the first three times I listened to it, understood that I dearly love it by the fourth time, and tried as best as I could to synthesize my mixed feelings in this review. If it didn't work, send your complaints not to me, but to Dee Dee Ramone, Esq., Sixth Circle, Frying Pan Row, Second Sector To The Left Of The Handle.



Year Of Release: 1986

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

Proceed with caution! Gold bullion found among land mines!

Best song: MENTAL HELL

Track listing: 1) Somebody Put Something In My Drink; 2) Animal Boy; 3) Love Kills; 4) Apeman Hop; 5) She Belongs To Me; 6) Crummy Stuff; 7) My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg); 8) Mental Hell; 9) Eat That Rat; 10) Freak Of Nature; 11) Hair Of The Dog; 12) Something To Believe In.

Well, considering 1986 was the worst year in history as far as music is concerned, what do we expect of the Ramones? To make a generic synth-pop album?

Hey, you got it! Animal Boy IS a generic synth-pop album! At least, in parts. But far from the worst I've heard. Electronics, in the form of echo (on both the metallized guitars and the robotized drums), and in the form of cheesy keyboards, is everywhere on here. Yet the synthesizer onslaught did happen to coincide with the Ramones' desire to get back to their true nature, and I can't say overproduction spoils the record a whole damn lot. It does spoil the very last song, the Ramones parody on Michael Jackson's 'We Are The World' campaign - their "universal anthem" 'Something To Believe In'. Although you really wouldn't know it for a parody if it weren't for the controversial video that accompanied it. Without the video, though, the song is little more than a pretentious throwaway, made even worse by the fact that it's the Ramones, of all people, who are displaying pretentiousness.

Another thing I'm really worried about is how little Joey contributes to the proceedings. He's basically got two contributions here, one of which ('Hair Of The Dog') doesn't register anywhere for a hundred miles in sight. The other one ('Mental Hell'), however, is exceptional, and maybe one true classic off this record. That three-note riff is probably recycled as usual, but by 1986, I've really lost count, so I could care less. The fact is, the riff is angry and edgy, and Joey's 'I'm not feeling very well, I'm not feeling very well' shakes across the room in such a manner that you actually start to wonder if he really was feeling very well - which I seriously doubt. The frantic song conclusion - 'Mental! HELL MENTAL! HELL MENTAL! HELL!' - should be paid serious attention. It's arguably the wildest, most desperate yell of paranoia that Joey ever let out that far, and considering the fact that it was he - the good natured Beach Boys of the band - who wrote that song, well, it does scare me.

On the down side, Dee Dee is still playing the fool with his "hardcore" send-ups: 'Eat That Rat' is every bit as moronic and unlistenable as 'Wart Hog', except that Dee Dee slows down the speed of his vocal delivery to let us hear the political message of the song: 'You wanna play a game of cat and mouse/With the President in the White House'. Not much better is the title track, although that one at least rolls along at reasonable speed and lets Johnny play something vaguely resembling a riff consisting of more than one chord. Remember, the Ramones rarely need more than three chords, but they always need more than one. The Ramones on one chord is as much of a ridiculous thing as the Ramones on fifteen chords.

Politics continue on the well-known anti-Reagan sendup 'My Brain Hangs Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg)', a relatively catchy half-punk, half-synth-pop number that again leads the Ramones in the wrong direction. Yeah sure, so the president was an asshole when he laid his wreaths on the Nazi graves; so somebody like Sting or Bono would be more qualified to sing about that. Or, well, fuck "qualified", I don't really care what the Ramones are singing about as long as they got themselves a nice riff to hang onto, and this song doesn't have one. Instead, it has lots of cheesy backing vocals and lots of silly synthesized "chimes" attenuating the vocals. Well, at least the vocals are passionate enough. Ironically, they had to rename the song from its original 'Bonzo' title because Johnny wouldn't have it, legend says. So he would have the song but not the title. Whatever.

Other than that, there's not much to say. Richie Ramone writes a song on here, calling it 'Somebody Put Something In My Drink', and it happens to suit the Ramones spirit - more or less, although musically it is more of a metallic Judas Priest-style anthem. Then again, who really cares. If the Ramones want to put some heavy metal on their album, I won't protest as long as it does what good heavy metal is supposed to do. Does it? Well... more or less. The vocal melody is catchy and the emotional flow is right there. Let's not forget, actually, that we prize the Ramones for their vocal hooks primarily; personally, I have ceased paying major attention to whatever Johnny was playing after around the second album. All that's necessary is that there be more than one chord present!

Dee Dee contributes another sprawling ballad, 'She Belongs To Me', replete with the sentimental refrain 'don't tell me how to love my baby, she belongs to me' - we sure went a long way from 'I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend'. Predictably, it's the song that suffers the most from synthesizeritis, but again, you can't resist the nice vocal overtones. Or maybe you can resist the primal idiocy of 'Crummy Stuff'? I know I cannot. I know it's nowhere near as good as the original Ramones, but I still can't help a silly giggle whenever I hear that tune. Or when I hear the Zulu speech in the introduction to 'Apeman Hop'. It's just the simple things in life, you know. Leave room for the simple things in your life and who knows, maybe one day you'll wake up and you'll want to hear Animal Boy in its entirety. And give it a 15 out of 15! Ha! That'll be the day when you've proven your superiority over the universe!



Year Of Release: 1987

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

Not a very promising title, if you ask me. The saner a Ramone is, the less worthy I find him.

Best song: BOP 'TIL YOU DROP

Track listing: 1) I Wanna Live; 2) Bop 'Til You Drop; 3) Garden Of Serenity; 4) Weasel Face; 5) Go Lil' Camaro Go; 6) I Know Better Now; 7) Death Of Me; 8) I Lost My Mind; 9) A Real Cool Time; 10) I'm Not Jesus; 11) Bye Bye Baby; 12) Worm Man.

Well, at least this one starts out promisingly. The keyboards are still there, but they have toned them down just a wee bit, and if I'm not mistaken, the electronic sheen has been almost removed from the drums, giving Ritchie Ramone a last chance to demonstrate his (lack of) talent - this would be his last album with the band. So 'I Wanna Live' takes itself way too seriously to be an undisputed Ramones classic - Dee Dee and Daniel Rey's lyrics are a notch above "horrendous" as far as confessional, psychoanalitic lyrics go (well, at least I'm kinda amused at lines like 'I'm a gypsy prince/Covered with diamonds and jewels/But then my lover exposes me/I know I'm just a damn fool'), but that doesn't make them genius. Yet the melody is still undisputably high-quality as far as Ramones simplicity goes, with the chorus reminding me of 'I Just Wanna Have Something To Do' by its sharp, razor-blade-like delivery. You could also say that the song gets by on its "despair vibe" alone: the older these boys get, the more their humour is washed away with bitterness, and at this point, the bitterness is so real and sincere it almost makes me experience pity or something.

The irony is felt stronger on the album's strongest track, the metallic rave-up of 'Bop 'Til You Drop'. It's hard to tell who they're taking a shot at with this one - on one hand, the song sounds like a death sentence to the commercialization of punk ('stick 'em up, give me your money'), on the other hand, the irony's all yours, Dee Dee, and you probably know it. 'You're thirty five, still pushing a mop - bop 'til you drop'. But irony or no irony, the song kicks major ass! It takes that two-note riff you have on AC/DC's 'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap' and does something radically different with it, faster, less syncopated, and actually more complex - but, of course, it's still the Ramones. I love that goddamn song. And, unlike so many of their contemporary rockers, this one doesn't even try to incorporate a guitar solo!

It gets spottier from then on, but you could probably predict that one. The "hardcore" stunt this time around suddenly gets transferred to Richie: his 'I'm Not Jesus' rips along at demon speed, but if you ask me, it's more thrash metal than hardcore punk. Which, of course, is even more ridiculous, because I personally can't see the Ramones competing with the likes of Slayer. They don't even have a proper Cookie Monster vocal guy! At nearly three minutes long, the song properly takes its place among the worst piles of shit the band has committed to tape. Dee Dee, on the other hand, only comes around with one "hardcore" track this time around, and even that one, 'I Lost My Mind', is not so much hardcore as it is standard rock and roll sped up to the max: it even has a distinguishable riff, the one you can also hear on the Kinks' 'Mr Churchill Says' and probably in several billion other places. Dee Dee's "Vomit Was Here" style vocals never change, though, so count this as another failure.

I can never make my mind up about 'Go Lil' Camaro Go', either. It's sort of fun to listen to once, but it's way too much of a self-conscious "we wanna make another pseudo-surf classic" thing than anything else. The 'Papa Oom Mow Mow' reference; the vocal theme that is arguably the most repetitive in the band's career; and stupidest of all, Debbie Harry's guest vocals (what, did they want to make the song sound sexy or something?), this detracts from the fun and shows that the joke has maybe turned back on the Ramones after all.

Still, there's plenty of decent material here to save the record. 'Garden Of Serenity', for instance. A fast moving angry "classic rocker" with a stupid repetitive arena-rock chorus - I have no idea why it works, but it does. Arguably there's something entrancing about the way Joey barks out 'In the garden of serenity! In the garden of serenity!'. Or maybe it's because his voice has become so hoarse and barky he almost sounds like a rabid Jim Morrison in spots (impression immensely boosted by the necromantic whiff in the lyrics: 'Meet me in the graveyard/We'll walk among the dead/On the midnight odyssey/Riding in my head'. 'Death Of Me' is even more bitter and self-deprecating: 'stop this crazy carrying on/It's gonna be the death of me', Joey barks out, and he almost sounds like he means it.

All in all, the more I think about it, the more obvious the message is: almost all of these songs are of the "look at us, we're seriously fucked" variety. The ridiculous 'Lil' Camaro' is the only "positive-minded" song on here, along with maybe Joey's 'A Real Cool Time', which is a decent pop-rocker, melodically the little paralysed brother of 'I Wanna Be Sedated', lyrically just another early Sixties send-up. Joey's only other contribution, by the way, is 'Bye Bye Baby' - a lengthy ballad in the Phil Spector tradition, capturing the essence of the Phil Megasong quite nicely but not really adding anything else. So you could say Joey as a songwriter was still feeling pretty good, but certainly you couldn't say the same of Joey as the singer - and Dee Dee as the main songmeister, of course.

Well, at least you can't accuse the guys of acting inadequate - they see their problem and they feel crappy about it. 'Stop this crazy carrying on': I have absolutely no idea why they didn't. You can't say they didn't see they were trapped inside this image, yet they never did anything to break the vicious circle, not at least since End Of The Century, really. On the other hand, who are we to say when a band should break up and when it shouldn't? This particular band felt like it shouldn't, and that was their decision. They just couldn't imagine their fate without the Ramones - and to break the conglomerate would be a brave and extremely risky thing to do. Well, for the moment, at least.



Year Of Release: 1989

Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9

Boys - do NOT succumb to the danger of becoming the Scorpions! Do NOT do it!


Track listing: 1) I Believe In Miracles; 2) Zero Zero Ufo; 3) Don't Bust My Chops; 4) Punishment Fits The Crime; 5) All Screwed Up; 6) Palisades Park; 7) Pet Sematary; 8) Learn To Listen; 9) Can't Get You Outta My Mind; 10) Ignorance Is Bliss; 11) Come Back Baby; 12) Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight).

As close to "shit" as the Ramones ever got, but still not getting there. It's just that the sound they got on here sucks so much, I don't ever feel like listening to any of these songs. Richie is gone, Marky is back, and now instead of sounding like a cross between a synth-pop and a hardcore punk band, they try sounding like a generic hair metal band. Loud, overwhelming drums; power chords a-plenty; riffs that seem oh so aggressive before you realize they have not an ounce of emotionality or memorability; and worst of all, that lame production style which tends to suck all the liveliness out of the sound. You know, like you take that song and start pounding it with a sledgehammer until all the sharp edges have been beaten into pulp and there's, like, nothing at all to make one second of the song be different from any other second of any other song. Boom! Boom!

It isn't nearly as depressed and pessimistic a listen as Halfway To Sanity, but that's mostly because under the thick glossy production you can't really make out anything that's going on. The songs sort of arrive, then they sort of stay there, then they sort of leave, and their mood is sort of in between comedy and seriousness so I can never really tell. Maybe you, the listener, can. This is all mostly anger - not so much "without a cause" as "without true understanding".

That said, one thing I can't deny is that the songs are still catchy. That's right, the day the Ramones stop writing songs that don't at least have a catchy chorus is the day the Beatles reunite (including the dead ones) and record a fifty-minute jazz jam in memory of Ornette Coleman. That's a problem, actually: by 1989, one starts taking the Ramones' catchiness so much for granted it sort of slips away that it's not the easiest thing in the world to write one catchy song, and the Ramones had written TONS of these, and as far as hooks go, were still going pretty strong in 1989. So before starting to scream about how much Brain Drain is a whiny has-been bag of rubbish, say honestly - can you get the chorus of 'Pet Sematary' (sic!) out of your head? I'll bet you ten bucks you can't, and I'll stick to 'em no matter how much you're gonna protest, you lying scumbag! Okay, so the lyrics to the song suck (references to 'ancient goblins and warlords' should be prohibited on Ramones albums, even if they're used strictly metaphorically), and the cheesy keyboards are oh-so-Eighties, and the instrumental melody is more or less non-existent, but the power of the chorus can't be denied. I myself am not a big fan of Dee Dee's struggle with his inner demons, but I appreciate the emotionality and sincerity of this 'anthem' out of any particular context.

'Pet Sematary' is the only well-known "classic" on the album, but I personally wouldn't even call it the best song - not with all these hi-tech synths turning it into a potential MOR standard (well, it never has turned into anything like that, not to my knowledge, at least, but face it, it could have!). My favourite is 'Don't Bust My Chops', a classic punk rant that does recycle the 'Blitzkrieg Bop/I Don't Care/I Wanna Be Sedated' riffs for the [insert an ordinal number that I can't count up to here] number but does that, as usual, in a way that you only start suspecting that once the song is over and you've thoroughly enjoyed it and God is that a great transition between the full-sounding verse and the 'don't bust my chops baby don't bust my chops' "minimalistic" refrain. Besides, the song is so stupid it almost reminds me of the good old days.

The opening 'I Believe In Miracles' has the very same riff as its main feature, but is also a relatively convincing anthem, this time around with not a single goddamn keyboard line in sight. And on 'Learn To Listen', they almost manage to recapture the kind of power that made their rendition of 'Surfin' Bird' into an instant classic - except that now they're louder, heavier, Joey barks rather than sings, and they cannot refrain from including a guitar solo (granted, it's short and decent, but still, guitar solos, boys, how much lower can you fall?). But the 'learn to listen, listen to learn, you gotta learn to listen before you get burned' chorus is still a late-coming stroke of genius.

Joey is still pushing the sentimental ballad thing on us, and 'Can't Get You Outta My Mind' is actually a nice twist - he hadn't yet tried out criss-crossing the style with metallic overload, and it works, almost giving the song a suicidal, "deeply doomed" feeling. Besides, look at those lyrics! There's, like, two or three lines of text repeated over and over again! Now that's what I like about my Ramones indeed. Unfortunately, he then follows the song with his own take on the Slayer aspect of the band, the dumbass speed-rocker 'Ignorance Is Bliss', which wastes a potentially good riff on a generic politically-minded screamer. You know, the funny thing is, I almost pity their drummer, because he is the only guy who is really forced to play at super-fast speed - Johnny is a fast guitarist, sure enough, but he can't play that riff faster than he does, and as a result, Marky is the only one who really has to follow the Slayer pattern, chuggin' along like an express train on turpentine and yet still leaving himself enough time to play a relatively complex fill from time to time.

Bypassing the rest of the songs ('Punishment Fits The Crime' is the only other one that deserves a specific mention because of the weird subtlety in the verses - I swear, Dee Dee must have been listening to J. J. Cale before recording that one), let's summarize: sucky production, recycled melodies, unclear emotional response, but somehow overall it does not amount to a hundred-percent suckjob. But apparently, Dee Dee thought it did amount to a suckjob - because he quit soon after the album's release.



Year Of Release: 1991

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

Well, I guess Dee Dee's absence is not that big of a problem onstage, at least. Considering they got other problems.

Best song: yeah right, like I'm gonna choose out of thirty-two different ones.

Track listing: 1) The Good, The Bad And The Ugly; 2) Durango 95; 3) Teenage Lobotomy; 4) Psycho Therapy; 5) Blitzkrieg Bop; 6) Do You Remember Rock'n'Roll Radio; 7) I Believe In Miracles; 8) Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment; 9) Rock'n'Roll High School; 10) I Wanna Be Sedated; 11) The KKK Took My Baby Away; 12) I Wanna Live; 13) My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg); 14) Too Tough To Die; 15) Sheena Is A Punk Rocker; 16) Rockaway Beach; 17) Pet Sematary; 18) Don't Bust My Chops; 19) Palisades Park; 20) Mama's Boy; 21) Animal Boy; 22) Wart Hog; 23) Surfin' Bird; 24) Cretin Hop; 25) I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You; 26) Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World; 27) Pinhead; 28) Somebody Put Something In My Drink; 29) Beat On The Brat; 30) Judy Is A Punk; 31) Chinese Rocks; 32) Love Kills; 33) Ignorance Is Bliss.

The fun thing, even if Dee Dee was one of the band's creative fathers and formed a big chunk o' that glue (no pun intended) that held the band together, his departure didn't lead to a lot of changes. Live appearances? Who cares, it's just a few fast-played notes anyway. Studio records? He still contributed songs on a regular basis. Image-wise? His replacement, C.J. Ramone, was so heavily promoted (and so heavily tattooed, just like Dee Dee), that only the most conservative Ramones fans felt the difference.

This is a live album recorded, I think, in Spain in April 1991, probably to justify the Ramones' name after all these years of pseudo-pretending to be of Spanish origin, tee hee. With the CD age, they can happily boost the length up to over an hour, and trustily play more than thirty songs in that short span of time. They also have a much more huge catalog to choose from this time - their repertoire has at least tripled since the humble (but brilliant) beginnings of 1976-77, and they do democratic justice to all of their periods: there's not a single album in their backpack that isn't represented by at least one song. I do have problems with the setlist, though: why the heck is only 'I Wanna Be Sedated' included from Road To Ruin? Their best "experimental" album, and they place it on the same level with the bubblegummy Pleasant Dreams? Sick fucks. Aaarrgh.

On the positive edge, though, without the overproduction, without the big electronic drums, without the lame keyboards, lots of stuff from their latest three or four albums actually sound much, much better than they used to. 'Pet Sematary', for instance. "Potential MOR standard" I called it in my last review? Forget about that, gentlemen! It's a rip-roaring rocker now, of course, and Lemmy Kilmister could be proud of his dear pals: in a live setting, it's a crushing, honest, uncompromised anthem of rebellion. Funny how all it takes is a few dippy synths and a bit of electronic echo on the drums to make a difference, isn't it? Life goes around in strange circles. 'My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg)' is also made into a roaring monster, with C.J. getting all the "na-na-na-na"s in their right places just like Dee Dee before him.

Now back to our problems. Biggest one is: Joey's singing sucks ass. Oh, I know they're playing every song twice as fast as they used to do it in the studio, that's understood - but at least on It's Alive, Joey still struggled to get it all right, and here, he doesn't even try. His voice alternates from mumbling to stumbling to barking to roaring to vomiting, but it rarely amounts to anything resembling real singing. Particularly painful is the effect you get on End Of The Century standards: the "lush" sound Phil Spector managed to get out of Joey is nowhere in sight, instead you just have a bunch of garbled jumbled syllables. Of course, Joey's voice was somewhat shot by that time, but I guess there's also what I call the "Mick Jagger syndrome": the general raunchy, nihilistic nature of the performance eventually causes the singer to fuck all conventions and start barking instead of any different way of enunciating. Hey, nobody can hear the singer anyway behind all that guitar racket, so why bother and try and get the complex babble behind 'Surfin' Bird' right when you can get it all wrong and the crowd will still be going nuts for every movement of your lips?

Another problem is that the faster Johnny plays, the simpler the overall attack becomes. In the studio 'Palisades Park' at least had an almost "tricky" riff, for the Ramones at least; here, it's just the same two barre chords over and over (or three, I don't remember, but there couldn't have been more). Now that's not a big disappointment, and, in fact, in a sense it's not a disappointment at all: it's interesting to see how much further Johnny can "deconstruct" whatever humble beginnings they had begun "constructing" in the studio. But keep in mind these are not quite the Ramones of old. This is a band that had lived through many incarnations, and its latest ones weren't that keen on true minimalism. For a change, at least for once, I wouldn't have refused to hear an intricate riff played here. Nope, ol' Johnny never gives me the chance. Now I'm a-beginnin' to wonder if he really played on 'Palisades Park' in the first place.

Apart from these general things, though, Loco Live is still a hoot. Hey, they might have "experimented" and "evolved" in the studio, but you would never know it from listening to this puppy - every song is given the same energy that characterized It's Alive, and the band is still the same hot-headed monster as before, ripping into every new song like there was no tomorrow, without any breaks or even any announcements (with only a few exceptions - which saddens me, because the song introductions on It's Alive sort of added to the general goofiness. Also, C.J.'s "one two three four"s hardly equal the Dee Dee way of doing things). So, of course, it is impossible to pick any highlights. Don't even try. And I do advise you to get this album, if only for the tracklist - a great way to assess all the different periods of the Ramones brought together in this one place and synthesized like this.



Year Of Release: 1992

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

And the "tens" keep coming. They're unstoppable in their decent mediocrity!


Track listing: 1) Censorshit; 2) The Job That Ate My Brain; 3) Poison Heart; 4) Anxiety; 5) Strength To Endure; 6) It's Gonna Be Alright; 7) Take It As It Comes; 8) Main Man; 9) Tomorrow She Goes Away; 10) I Won't Let It Happen; 11) Cabbies on Crack; 12) Heidi Is A Headcase; 13) Touring.

Another non-radical transformation. The Ramones have gone through their "early Sixties phase", their "Phil Spector phase", their "bubblegum phase", their "synth-pop phase", their "hardcore phase", their "heavy metal phase", having had the genius (?) to make all these different phases completely interchangeable. Here's another one, the "power pop phase". This is, essentially, a power pop album, meaning cute inoffensive vocal-melody-heavy tunes with loud crunchy guitars that are there not to give you great timeless riffs (that's out there in the hard rock territory) but to simply kick your ass while you're too busy digging the vocal hook. There, that's my definition of power pop for the week.

But I'm really serious about this. These songs aren't very angry and they aren't even very fast. But they're rather cheerful and they actually represent a relatively peaceful stage in the Ramones' existence. Having settled down with C.J. as the resident bass player and the "nice guy" of the band, it was time to do something nice and something that wouldn't have no songs like 'Mental Hell' or 'Animal Boy'. If there is any real anger on this record, it's turned radically outside - as in Joey's 'Censorshit', the song that opens the album and is predictably dedicated to Tipper Gore and company. Frankly speaking, the song is so shitty indeed it wouldn't need no censorship: Joey manages to come up with a catchy chorus that isn't catchy, and write accusational lyrics that are so clumsy and clueless I'm not surprised they never put Joey Ramone on the witness list in the PMRC hearings. But on the positive side, it's sort of light and funny, as is almost everything on this album, no matter how much they try to channel their energy in a negative direction.

I mean, what the heck, they even finish the record with 'Touring', which is essentially 'Rock'n'Roll High School' with a new set of lyrics - this time they're not even trying to conceal that they're shamelessly ripping themselves off. You can look at this conclusion as a glorious statement of "we don't give a fuck, we just wanna have some fun", or you might look at it and say that the Ramones are obviously out of steam, or you can choose the first approach on odd days and the second one on even ones and let him upon whom no sin is laid cast the first stone. But one thing's for sure, 'Touring' is hardly the best song on here.

Because there's quite a few nice moments once you're ready to look at this as an unpretentious little power pop album. 'I Won't Let It Happen', for instance. Isn't that an emotionally charged optimistic little ballad? Great jangly acoustic sound and a half-broken-hearted, half-macho-styled Joey delivery that will leave no heart unturned? Why, I could easily see the song as covered by the likes of Tom Petty, for instance. Very simple, but with a tiny little chord change I don't seem to remember from anywhere else. 'Tomorrow She Goes Away' is slightly worse, not the least because Joey has the nerve to put the word "infatuation" in the lyrics, but it's still not hopeless.

And hey, Dee Dee is still providing songs for them. The production and way of playing is so similar throughout that you can hardly separate Dee Dee's contributions from Joey's - everything here is power pop! - but Dee Dee's gift for simplistic, yet powerful songwriting hasn't really diminished. 'Poison Heart' has an anthemic chorus that's almost overblown, but you can't really overblow a song when you give it to somebody like Joey, and it does drive the point home - although look at the lyrics, woncha? Dee Dee gives them this usual "it's my fucking life and I hate it and everyone else" type of song, and they arrange it like it's a phlegmatic testimony of a guy who doesn't really give a damn. Like I said: this record tries to sound angry in places, but fails, perhaps even intentionally.

Actually, there's one song that sounds really disturbed and paranoid compared to everything else, and not coincidentally, perhaps, it's Marky's two-minute rant 'Anxiety' which has Johnny running through a wild punkish riff and Joey putting an echo effect on his vocals. And as a result, it just sounds completely out of place on the album, because everything is so normal and happy and peaceful and here comes this complaint about a crazy world with a rip-roaring tempo and it's like hearing 'I'm Losing You' on John Lennon's Double Fantasy. Because the very next thing is Dee Dee's powerful 'Strength To Endure' which drops all the paranoia into the wastebasket.

Even the choice of the album's single cover version is telling: the Doors' 'Take It As It Comes', a song that will never manage to sound too optimistic, yet still remains one of the "easier" songs in the band's catalog. The cover is a very trusty rendition, with the band even hiring the Psychedelic Furs' keyboardist to play the complicated organ solos - it may be a hint at the questionable whackiness of Acid Eaters, but on here it works relatively well in the overall context.

What else to say? Only that it's still admirable how, all over an entire decade, the Ramones have managed to refrain from making a truly crappy album (although they came dangerously close on Brain Drain). If you want me to say that they sound revitalized here, I'll go ahead and say it. They sound revitalized. That doesn't make Mondo Bizarro a great or even a mildly outstanding record, but it shows that the Ramones still had a relatively respectable future even without Dee Dee. Well, as long as he'd still be writing songs for them, that is.

PS. Fuck it, I'm gonna give it an 11/15 after all. They really sound that good on this record. Can't put my foot on it, but I'm tired of all these tens anyway.



Year Of Release: 1993

Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9

I hate it when they do this to me. What am I supposed to rate it?


Track listing: 1) Journey To The Center Of The Mind; 2) Substitute; 3) Out Of Time; 4) The Shape Of Things To Come; 5) Somebody To Love; 6) When I Was Young; 7) 7 And 7 Is; 8) My Back Pages; 9) Can't Seem To Make You Mine; 10) Have You Ever Seen The Rain; 11) I Can't Control Myself; 12) Surf City.

Whoah. The Ramones' Pin-Ups this is. An album of twelve covers chosen from the band's favourites of the Sixties. Now what's up with that? Well, the basic answer is obvious: it's a way of getting back to one's roots, the same thing that Dylan was doing at the exact same time digging out old folk standards. It is a casual and "musically healthy" procedure indeed - helps you to sort of remember why you're in the business in the very first place. It functions the same way as for me, listening to a 15-star record does: get back to a high standard and get your hopes and energies revitalized in the process.

Another thing is the educational thing: putting this record up for their legions of fans (well, not exactly "legions", maybe, not when compared to Green Day, I guess, but still, you can't deny the Ramones had a solid audience even in the Nineties), they are educating them about the many good things that happened way before their time. Particularly interesting, of course, is their love for Nuggets and Nugget-related old treasures: four of these twelve songs can be found on the boxset today, although in 1993, of course, the situation was wildly different, and it was oh so much harder to come by the Seeds or the Amboy Dukes or even Love, I guess. So up one for the Ramones for whetting the public's taste for classic Sixties garage rock and everything that went along with it.

None of which, of course, make Acid Eaters a classic for the ages. So the record has a utilitarian purpose - supposedly it breathed new life into the band (not for long anyway), and gave a small boost to Sixties' nostalgia (not a very big one either). That was, at the time of the writing of this review, ten years ago. What now? Granted, the record does not suck, but is it really a necessary experience to hear the Ramones trample their way through twelve very different songs, in the process Ramoneturizing all of them so the unexperienced amateur won't even be able to distinguish one from another? I'm not sure of that.

The age of deconstructionism is long gone anyway; had they chosen one single song on here and inserted it into their debut record, it wouldn't be much of a problem (didn't they have the 'Let's Dance' cover on there anyway?), but this is not deconstruction in any case, this is a sincere tribute, even pretentious in spots, and I don't like "tributes". The one song on here that, in my eyes, seriously improves upon the original is the Seeds' 'Can't Seem To Make You Mine', for one simple reason: I'll take Joey's vocals, even strained and forced as they can be, over Sky Saxon's dying-dog intonations any time of day, and at long last, here is a version where the singing does not render obsolete the melodic content of the song. But, on the other hand, this positive effect is neutralized by the one song that's done significantly worse than the original - Dylan's 'My Back Pages'. While all the other inclusions are rockers (or, at least, pop-rockers), this one is originally a slow epic introspective ballad, and turning it into a speedy rave-up makes the proceedings ridiculous and tastelessly parodic.

What else? Love's 'Seven And Seven Is' is the ideal kind of song to be covered by somebody like the Ramones, and they do it justice - but they copy the song note-for-note, up to the nuclear boom at the end. Ex-porn star Traci Lords adds hardly audible backup vocals to 'Somebody To Love', but neither she nor Joey can pull off a true Grace Slick, and Johnny's traditional buzzsaw makes a weird contrast with 'psychedelic' guitar embellishments a la Jorma Kaukonen played by some unknown studio hacks. Pete Townshend himself is said to be guesting on 'Substitute' (yeah, I just heard his whiny tone on backup vocals indeed) - a nice gesture and a competent cover, but no more than that. The cover of 'I Can't Control Myself' is, of course, an obligatory gesture - after all, the Troggs were sort of the Ramones before the Ramones. The cover of 'Out Of Time' confirms my suspicions of how Joey's voice could have, over time, been moulded into a perfect imitation of Jagger's, with the same sexy sneer and the same sharpness. The cover of 'Have You Seen The Rain' is somewhat clumsy because the song suffers from being sped up, but still much more tolerable than the Dylan cover.

And that's about it. Provided you're a big Ramones fan and you've heard these tunes before hearing their original versions, you might wanna proclaim this as one of the band's biggest successes. Provided you're not, you might wanna turn your brain off for half an hour and enjoy this anyway - cuz I never said it ain't enjoyable. Maybe that's the key, actually: to show how good these songs really are even when they're completely stripped of their idiosyncratic qualities and left with little but a basic melodic skeleton, the way only the Ramones do this. In this case, it's a success. Anyway, take that rating with a grain of salt, wilya? I didn't even want to give this any kind of rating. Truly and verily so.



Year Of Release: 1995

Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9

Surely we didn't deserve this pile of un-inspiration for their swan song?..


Track listing: 1) I Don't Want To Grow Up; 2) Makin' Monsters For My Friends; 3) It's Not For Me To Know; 4) The Crusher; 5) Life's A Gas; 6) Take The Pain Away; 7) I Love You; 8) Cretin Family; 9) Have A Nice Day; 10) Scattergun; 11) Got A Lot To Say; 12) She Talks To Rainbows; 13) Born To Die In Berlin; 14) Spiderman.

You know how there are different ways for old bearded rock bands to go out - some go out like supernovas, ending their career with a mighty flash like Abbey Road, and some go out like an old degenerated alcoholic, ending their career with a miserable burp like It's Hard. Well, the Ramones sort of took the middle way here - for a decade and a half, they were just slowly, slowly, slowly fizzling out, like a two-day old bottle of Coke, and when they actually released an album whose title inequivocally hinted at the possibility of it being their last one, nobody even noticed. Nobody but the most hardcore audience paid any serious attention to the Ramones in friggin' nineteen ninety-five anyway.

And I'm sorry to say, but this ain't what I'd call a decent parting shot. Again, I've never heard a flat-out bad Ramones album, but as far as their mediocre output goes, this one is thoroughly mediocre and battles with Brain Drain for the privilege of being called the Ramones' least successful venture. They're still sort of in the "power pop" mood of Mondo Bizarro, but apparently thought they needed a slightly harder edge to go out with, so the guitars are louder and crunchier and a couple of songs are dangerously close to approaching their shitty "hardcore" stuff as far as lack of melody and presence of non-moody ugliness goes. But that's not the main problem. The main problem is, I can't find the vocals. There's no words in me to describe how badly the mixing on this particular record sucks. I hear a lot of Johnny - which helps me better understand that he recycled the same three or four riffs for all the songs on here - but I don't hear a lot of Joey. He's buried somewhere under the avalanche as if they didn't really need these vocal melodies. Now I have nothing against the Axeman but for Chrissake, the Ramones aren't worth one nickel under Brooklyn Bridge without nice, well-audible vocal melodies. What would you like me to do, hum 'Durango 95'?..

There's also the case of C.J. taking lead vocals; apparently, they needed a "singing bass player" for no apparent reason other than tradition - Dee Dee took a few vocals on his songs, let C.J. take his on his. Well, fine. His tone is a bit less ugly than that of Dee Dee (although it is strangely whinier), but it also lacks personality, and furthermore, if he at least used it for good songs, that would be acceptable, but he's wasting it on crap like 'Makin' Monsters For My Friends', a song that could have easily been programmed by a computer given the parameters of a couple dozen previously existing Ramones songs.

And crap is the right word, believe you me. About a good half of these songs aren't even what I'd call songs. They're vamps, pale thin imitations of the stuff the Ramones used to do so well. For almost twenty years, you could at least count on a fun catchy chorus, but now they're going out and they're sort of admitting with this record they can't do it anymore - good thing for them they're going out, then. What was Dee Dee thinking when he was pushing this stuff on them? What reason to exist is there in something like 'It's Not For Me To Know'? Dee Dee's confessional lyrics we've been subjected to for all the past decade? No thank you, never liked 'em even when they pretended to be good (actually, they always pretended to be good, but never really were). Two-chord riff I've already heard in fifty million incarnations? Nope. I want an inspiring, memorable, emotional chorus, and all I get is a shift of loudness and an extra drum fill. That's all I get. That fuckin' sucks.

I count seven fully listenable tracks on the album. Seven, count 'em. The cover of Tom Waits' 'I Don't Wanna Grow Up' works because, well, it's a Tom Waits song, and Tom Waits songs are good, and Joey offers a good and appropriate interpretation. Didn't Tom Waits appear on a Ramones' tribute album recently? If so, that was sort of a nice answering gesture; if not, I'm mooney and looney. 'The Crusher' is a hilarious boxer anthem with the album's best riff (although it's later poorly recycled in 'Cretin Family', on here it works admirably) and one of the album's best choruses indeed - the only thing that could stop you from singing along to 'I'm the Crusher, king of the ring!' would be failing to understand the lyrics, but now that I've leaked 'em out, consider yourself warned.

Joey's 'Life A Gas' is a fun optimistic ballad that doesn't quite measure up to T. Rex's song of the same name, but still recaptures a bit of the band's minimalistic magic - essentially, 'life's a gas' is the only thing that's repeated over and over and over, but the way it's repeated really makes you believe that life's indeed a gas better than if they had both Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman to add their skills to the song. C.J.'s 'Scattergun' also recycles the 'Crusher' riff, but there's something so demented and "amusingly nagging" about the song's clumsily strung bits of scattered lyrics ('smooth bore... scattergun... you are... the only one...') it sort of agrees to stick with me.

But the album's two true gems, as any Ramones fan would admit, are found near the end. 'She Talks To Rainbows' is another Joey ballad that boasts a strange, unique kind of broken hearted moodiness I don't often find on this band's albums. The little bit of kiddy mystique, with the girl talking to birds, trees, seas, and rainbows, instead of talking to Joey, of course, is weirdly seducing - maybe because of the way it's combined with the usual Ramones sarcasm. And Dee Dee's angry, ravenous, near-suicidal 'Born To Die In Berlin' (where Dee Dee was indeed born, so it's sort of a song about missed opportunities and a ruined, useless life) simply crushes every other rocker on the album with its angst and suffering and relentless aural assault - hey, even the riff ain't recycled, although it sure ain't that complex either. After this, ending the album on a "puffed down" note with the 'Spiderman' theme is a reassuring gesture, supposed to show the Ramones are actually leaving the musical world in a good mood, no matter how tough matters can get.

The rest of the songs aren't worth discussing (well, maybe 'Cretin Family' deserves a mention for its impossible cheesiness and "cashing in" on past cliches). They're all sort of here today, gone tomorrow - which cannot, and should not, be said about The Ramones themselves.



Year Of Release: 1996

Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 8

I sure sense the irony in that title, but I'm not even sure they felt it when they churned out this record.

Best song: nah, forget it.

Track listing: 1) Durango 95; 2) Blitzkrieg Bop; 3) Do You Remember Rock And Roll Radio; 4) I Wanna Be Sedated; 5) Spiderman; 6) I Don't Wanna Grow Up; 7) Sheena Is A Punk Rocker; 8) Rockaway Beach; 9) Strength To Endure; 10) Cretin Family; 11) Do You Wanna Dance; 12) We're A Happy Family; 13) The Crusher; 14) 53rd & 3rd; 15) Beat On The Brat; 16) Pet Sematary; 17) R.A.M.O.N.E.S.; 18) Any Way You Want It.

Whoah now, boys, this won't do. Wasn't the last record titled Adios Amigos!? Either be true to your word or be more careful with those album titles. Not that anybody really cared, of course - this bastard of a record was released strictly as a contractual obligation so that the band could finally be left alone by the stupid industry bosses. (I guess the stupid industry bosses spent more money releasing this album than gained collecting sales).

And the album title is the funniest thing about it. Greatest Hits Live is sort of the ultimate cash-in record, done by oldies acts with no hope of pushing any of their new material on any of the world's markets, and even then, out of everybody I know, I'd be hard-pressed to find an artist who actually has an official release named "Greatest Hits Live". For the most part, it's bootleg territory or something like that. But in any case, the setlist here is anything but "Greatest Hits Live". It's all recorded at one New York show with C.J. (I presume - I don't have no liner notes and could care less about locating them), and to a large extent, it's dedicated to promoting Adios Amigos!, which means you'll be getting 'Spiderman' and 'Cretin Family' on here, hardly "greatest hits" if you ask me. Hey, I'm all for 'I Don't Wanna Grow Up' and 'The Crusher', you know, but these aren't greatest hits either.

If I'm not mistaken, the title was just a mockery: the band didn't give a damn about this record (despite the pompous announcement about how "maybe you'd like to know this show is being recorded for a live album!"), and decided to intentionally give it a sell-out-kind-of-name. If you're gonna dirty one toe, you might as well put in the whole foot.

The album is also almost insultingly short - after Loco Live made full use of the CD age with thirty-plus tracks, here there are only sixteen, and the whole show barely runs over half an hour. Now I know that's sort of the norm for Ramones shows, but certainly this ain't the norm for Ramones live albums. Gimme quantity! Hey, fuck you, you don't wanna give me quantity, at least give me quality. What, no quality either? Hey, that's worse than working on a Chinese shoe factory.

So, as far as quality goes, in this late late period Joey Ramone isn't willing to bark as much as he used to five years ago, but that's small consolation considering he's compensating it with getting out of tune and, what's even more painful, out of tempo. Part of it is done consciously, I guess. Well, you can't blame a gentleman who's performed several hundred thousand takes of 'Blitzkrieg Bop' in his life when he decides to prolongate the third "leeeeeet's goooooooooooooo!" in the introduction and completely omit the fourth one, but then again, you don't have to listen to the gentleman actually doing it, don't you? Not me, I don' wanna grow up!

Once again, at this point the Ramones are somehow better suited to singing their recent material than they are to performing the classics. 'Rockaway Beach', in particular, is a total disgrace; where is the vocal melody? Not only is the mix piss-poor, but Joey seems to be totally unable to fit the lyrics into the lightning-speed tempo. Old age. I can't imagine anybody dancing to 'Do You Wanna Dance' either due to the insane tempo - the number of crushed feet and trampled bodies would far exceed the number of seconds in this particular version (ninety-two, introduction included). To be quite honest and fair, I can lay no blame on the instrumentalists: Johnny's riffage hasn't aged a day, C.J. is the perfect replacement for Dee Dee, and Marky is... well, he's the drummer. If you're in the Ramones, either you play it the right way or you don't play at all.

To cut an unnecessary long story short, it's a fuckin' rote collection that you absolutely do NOT need, and I grieve to learn, judging by reviews on, for instance, that there have actually been people who were thus introduced to this great band. Sheesh. If there's anything interesting (not necessarily "good") about the album, it's the two studio tracks that have been appended towards the end. One of 'em is the Ramones covering a Motorhead song dedicated to the Ramones called 'R.A.M.O.N.E.S.', if you can believe it. If I'm not mistaken, Lemmy is on record for saying something like "there's only two true rock'n'roll bands around, one is us and the other one is the Ramones", and as far as his understanding of rock'n'roll goes, he's absolutely right, except I'd add AC/DC to the holy trio... then again, AC/DC normally lack the speed parameter which is so crucial here, so maybe not. Anyway, the Ramones' cover of Motorhead's tribute is kinda forgettable if you don't know the story behind it, but kinda cute if you do know the story.

The other track is the Dave Clark 5's 'Any Way You Want It' - which has most probably reached the Ramones through KISS, in that the song had already been cherished as sort of the ultimate "keep it simple, stupid" power-pop anthem of the days of yore, so the cover is quite symbolic as well. Except that it's fairly weird to hear the Ramones do a song that has a pause as one of its crucial hooks... have they ever done that before? I dunno. It also requires extra syncopation in the chorus which Johnny naturally refuses to do, so if you find the arrangement confusing, hey, that's only too predictable.

In any case, even if you're a Ramones fan, just download these two tracks from somewhere and save your money. Hey, two of the Ramones at least don't need it any more (not to mention Dee Dee had nothing to do with this one in the first place!).



Year Of Release: 1996

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

You. Don't. Say.

Best song: hey, all of them

Track listing: 1) Durango 95; 2) Teenage Lobotomy; 3) Psycho Therapy; 4) Blitzkrieg Bop; 5) Do You Remember Rock And Roll Radio; 6) I Believe In Miracles; 7) Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment; 8) Rock 'n' Roll High School; 9) I Wanna Be Sedated; 10) Spider-man; 11) The K.K.K. Took My Baby Away; 12) I Just Want To Have Something To Do; 13) Commando; 14) Sheena Is A Punk Rocker; 15) Rockaway Beach; 16) Pet Sematary; 17) The Crusher; 18) Love Kills; 19) Do You Wanna Dance; 20) Somebody Put Something In My Drink; 21) I Don't Want You; 22) Wart Hog; 23) Cretin Hop; 24) R.A.M.O.N.E.S; 25) Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World; 26) Pinhead; 27) 53Rd &3Rd; 28) Listen To Your Heart; 29) We're A Happy Family; 30) Chinese Rock; 31) Beat On The Brat; 32) Any Way You Want It.

I only have the album, but actually it's supposed to be a big package including a huge video rockumentary on the Ramones that's very much lauded by the fans. Since I have no reason to believe that it doesn't rule, I'll tell you a priori that it rules and you should get it and be better off than me and let's proceed to the record.

The record contains: the Ramones' very very very last show on this planet after which they all went their separate ways - Joey to star in movies about surf rock stars, Johnny to practice his guitar playing, C.J. to go back to his work in the Marine Corps, and Dee Dee to singlehandedly expropriate all the production from the fields of Columbia. No, no, of course I'm joking and they never did any of these things. But the show, surprisingly enough, is good. Maybe they were so happy about it actually being the last show, or maybe they weren't but were somehow revved up anyway because, after all, it was THE EVENT.

Fortunately, this time it's no meager 36-minute throwaway, but instead, a full show with thirty two songs in total, once again, touching upon every stage of the band's existence and leaving no stone unturned. What I'm particularly happy about is the live performance of 'I Just Wanna Have Something To Do' - I'm pretty sure it was a frequent live favourite, but for some reason, never made it onto a live album before. Well, here it is now, and it rules as expected, along with another Road To Ruin highlight, 'I Don't Want You'. (Now all I need is a nice little live performance of 'She's The One', and my dreams will be complete).

The sound also seems to be generally better, and Joey's singing... well, there still are spots like 'Blitzkrieg Bop' where it leaves a lot to be desired, but overall, he was pretty good that evening. Listen to him belt out 'Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment', for instance. There's this belief that the guy really lost his voice or got it "shot" in later years... I'm not sure it's actually backed up by anything except for the fact that he prefers to bark on many of these late period albums than to actually sing, but that just might have been a fully self-conscious (and pretty stupid) decision. Because when he's at his best on this record, he sings in exactly the same tone as he did in 1976. Go Joey go! I mean, if he gets all messed up on 'Rock'n'Roll High School', it's not his fault, they're just playing too fast, you know.

One thing always worries me: are the "pauses" between these songs real ones? I mean, these tenth-of-a-second-long intervals during which C.J. only has time to belt out another "one two three four"? If they are (they're supposed to be), how the heck all the band members always knew which song was next? Did everyone have a setlist taped to his nose or what? I can't even begin to imagine the process...

Oh yeah, there are also surprises on this last album. Dee Dee comes aboard to join the band in a rendition of 'Love Kills' - although for most of the first verse he forgets to sing into the microphone, and eventually just fucks up the lyrics and refuses to sing anything but the 'love kills, love kills' refrain altogether. They say the performance looks even better on video, but again, I wouldn't know. The hilarious thing is, Joey comes up to the mike after they get Dee Dee off the stage and in his dumbest voice roars out: "'EY! This goes out to Dee Dee Ramone! DO YOU FUCKIN' WANNA DANCE OR WHAT?" And, of course, the band rips into a killer rendition of 'Do You Wanna Dance' (C.J. is being a great help on that one - like the typical "new guy trying to please", he never misses a note when singing backup vocals).

Another pleasant surprise is Lemmy joining the band to sing his own 'R.A.M.O.N.E.S.' onstage, although it's hard for him to keep up the tempo - he only joins in on every second line of the verses. I can't quite discern if he's adding his unique bass abilities to the proceedings, but I do seem to hear an extra rumble in my speakers which could be him, or maybe I'm mistaken. Oh yeah, it is said there's also Eddie Vedder guesting here somewhere, but I couldn't catch that one.

There's a couple of encores they're doing here ("hey! you wanna hear some more fuckin' Ramones?"), ending everything with the quintessential Ramones song ('Beat On The Brat') and the quintessential "dumb-rock" cover ('Any Way You Want It'), and then it's over. Of course you can't help but feel a little sad, especially knowing that in less than ten years, Joey and Dee Dee will never be able to physically be the Ramones any longer, but on the positive side, I seriously doubt the performance could have been all that inspired hadn't it been their last. It's still far from the glorious perfection of It's Alive, but it's a good show. A solid, good farewell show. What did I give it? A 10? I'm thinking of an eleven right now, actually, but I'm sort of lazy about changing that rating. You'll have to do it for me. Mentally.


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