"All punk is is attitude. That's what makes it. The attitude" - Joey Ramone
Around June 1977, a friend of mine was getting into punk and brought round a tinny tape recorder to play me firstly, The Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen, which was banned from radio, and secondly the first Ramones album. I was blown away by both - fascinated by these buzzsaw guitar-driven short sharp bursts of energy. I had never heard the like. It was a seismic moment. I loved The Ramones from then on, first seeing their frantic, bombastic live show at Friars Aylesbury on December 30th 1977, the night before they recorded the It's Alive album at The Rainbow in London. For more information on The Ramones at Friars, Aylesbury, check out https://www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk.
There then followed a run of great albums that didn't deviate much from the formula of crashingly loud, breakneck punk with sixties bubblegum pop influences, delivered by a band who had a lovable goofiness about them.
In 1980, I was about to see them live at Canterbury Odeon, where I was studying, I thought I would go and have a curry beforehand as I had heard that was what The Ramones did. My friend and I were gobsmacked to walk into the restaurant and see Dee Dee, Johnny and several members of the road crew quietly eating their curry and chatting in the far corner. We didn't bother them, just nodded, so they knew we were fans, and ate our own meal. An hour later we were touching Johnny's guitar as he played. Great memories.
Blitzkrieg Bop/Beat On The Brat/Judy Is A Punk/I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend/Chain Saw/Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue/I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement/Loudmouth/Havana Affair/Listen To My Heart/53rd & 3rd/Let's Dance/I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You/Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World
"Doing an album in a week and bringing it in for $6,400 was unheard of, especially since it was an album that really changed the world. It kicked off punk rock and started the whole thing—as well as us" - Joey Ramone
In 1976-1977 the world had not seen anything like The Ramones. Who were they ? What were they? How did they come about? Let’s be honest, The Ramones were an extremely odd bunch, like the four geekiest/sociopathic kids at school gathered up in one group. But what a revolutionary sound they produced. For such a beautifully simplistic band, their influence has been immense, musically and culturally. Ramones T-shirts are still de rigeur, all these years later. The Ramones took the essence of rock 'n' roll, surf pop, girl groups and strip it right down to the basics - guitar, bass and drums and made it louder and breakneck fast. It was brash, silly, uplifting and bloody well in your face exciting.
Bizarre lyrics, buzzsaw riffs, thumping drums, frantic songs that rarely exceed three minutes (if not two). Music had never really seen or heard anything like it. It really was a ground-breaking album in its totally goofy simplicity. It was the very antithesis of all that "prog rock" indulgence. Short, sharp and machine gun loud. As I said earlier, they were odd characters too - four weirdos masquerading as "brothers" with the "surname" Ramone - grotesquely tall and spindly Joey, looking like some strange wading bird (but the most sensitive and intellectual of the group); borderline psychopath druggy Dee Dee; disturbingly right-wing, reactionary Johnny and drummer Tommy who you always felt was the slightly detached, more "normal" one. All wearing leather jackets and torn jeans, they were a fashion sub-culture personified. They had geeky obsessions with comic books and their imagery, Nazism, Communism, mental health and, surprisingly, sunshine and summer surf fun (odd because they all looked pretty unhealthy). They also had long hair, something supposedly anathema to punks. Yes, a decidedly odd group.
This was US punk, too - a different beast to its socially-conscious, rebellious UK equivalent. US punk was urban, disaffected and counter-culture but it didn't have the political axe to grind of the unemployed or discriminated against followers of the UK punk movement. The Ramones were no Clash, Sex Pistols, Jam or Stranglers. In many ways, they were quite different. They had a tongue-in-cheek humour that the permanently angry UK bands often lacked, something acknowledged by Jean-Jaques Burnel of The Stranglers as he explained why he liked them. However, in the brash, no-nonsense approach they were exactly the same.
On to this - their now iconic debut album from 1976. Great punk cuts abound - Blitzkrieg Bop, Beat On The Brat, Judy Is A Punk, Loudmouth. It is US punk Heaven. Just listen to that intro to Blitzkrieg Bop as the drums, bass and guitar come in. Pure punk heaven. It really is two minutes of meaningless magnificence.
The lyrics are full of paranoid nihilism too - I Don't Want To Go Down To The Basement, Now I Want To Sniff Some Glue and Chain Saw. All very "noir", menacing and urban. However, the group always had a bit of a romantic weakness, as the geeky, teenage yearning of I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend showed.
The jewel in the crown in the latest extended edition of the album, however, is the two live sets from The Roxy. Surprisingly good sound quality for the time and the superior of the It’s Alive live release, sound-wise.
This remastering of the iconic 1976 debut album from The Ramones is a so-so affair. There is not much you can do to “remaster” the all out thrash of that buzzsaw guitar, rumbling bass and pounding drums, not forgetting Joey Ramone’s strange bleat of a vocal. The 2016 remaster is therefore as ok as it can be. I am not a mono fan, so, unfortunately the mono mix does nothing for me. Neither can I see the need for it. I can understand the Beatles, Dylan, Beach Boys mono vs stereo thing, because much of that music was originally recorded in mono. In 1976, not even punks expected recordings to be in mono.
PS, was that a harmonica at the end of the wonderful Chris Montez cover, Let's Dance ? Always wondered. I'm sure none of The Ramones could play harmonica.
Finally, there are many, many Ramones stories around but this remains my favourite, told by Chris Frantz of Talking Heads:-
"... touring was fun. I remember our tour manager, on the way from Bristol to Penzance, asking "would you like to see Stonehenge?". We said yes, but Johnny said "I'm not getting off the bus, it's just a bunch of of old fuckin' rocks!". Dee Dee said "no Johnny, I wanna see Stonehenge". Talking Heads wanted to see it too. But Johnny stayed on the bus...".
The non-album tracks that were floating around at this time were a prototype version of I Don't Care, which later appeared on Rocket To Russia, which has a strangely whiny vocal from Joey; I Can't Be, a buzzy but also bassy number similar to most of the others (what a surprise!); the minute-long thrash of I Don't Wanna Be Learned/I Don't Wanna Be Tamed with its simple bass line and an early version of What's Your Name, that later appeared on Leave Home as What's Your Game.
LEAVE HOME (1977)
"I wrote most of the stuff I contributed at my apartment in Forest Hills before I left and moved back to a place in the city. I had no amp at home, just an electric guitar. I recorded it onto a cassette and played that back at rehearsal. We had better production, we were playing a little faster, and we had a lot of songs accumulated. We were in really good shape for that album" - Joey Ramone
The Ramones hit on a formula with their seismic debut album from 1976 and they basically stuck to it here - two minutes or less per song of guitar, bass and drum all-out attack on your senses matched with oddball lyrics and a few pinches of tongue-in-cheek humour. A slight difference to be found here in comparison to the first album is that there were a few more surf pop-ish good time numbers making it a bit more commercial an album in places. Tommy Ramone's drums are more loose and catchy in tone on this album, almost swing-ish, more Mony Mony in style. Check out California Sun and Suzy Is A Headbanger as examples.
Released in early 1977, this was the album where the formula from the iconic, breakthrough debut album was improved upon a bit, in terms of studio and production levels. It doesn't lose any of the first album's rough and ready power though. Just a bit more polished and some of the songs are a bit more poppy and tuneful. Why, there are even a couple of semi-ballads in there in I Remember You and What's Your Game. Surf pop is there in California Sun, Oh Oh I Love Her So and the great, infectious punk single that was Swallow My Pride. There is the goofy Suzy Is A Headbanger, the daft but lovable Pinhead and the full on 1-2-3-4 thrash of Now I Wanna Be A Good Boy, Glad To See You Go and Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment. The more rounded, warmer, clean sound that so added to the next album Rocket To Russia's appeal began here. The somewhat harsh left/right stereo separation of the first album had been fine-tuned as well. There is a throwback to the harsher sound of the debut album in Carbona Not Glue, which was not actually included on the original UK vinyl release I bought back in 1977, being replaced by Babysitter. It has subsequently been added to CD and digital releases.
There is some proper breakneck punk on here, but also some addictive power pop stuff too. An interesting memory for me also is that I remember first hearing the line "I Met Her At The Burger King" in Oh Oh I Love Her So. I didn't know what a "Burger King" was!
The afore-mentioned What's Your Game, I Remember You and also the appealing, catchy Babysitter are "slowies", with a goofily romantic side to them, but Commando, You're Gonna Kill That Girl and You Should Have Never Have Opened That Door see a return to full on, searing, ear-splitting punk. So, despite the relentless attack, there just a few subtle differences around on here that make it a more varied album than its predecessor. The visible clue for me has always been in the covers - the debut was black and white, industrially monochrome. This one was a bold pastel blue and it is suitably brighter in places, musically. I have always thought of it as "the blue album". This is maybe totally irrelevant, of course, but it is something I have always felt.
With regard to the latest expanded issue of the album - do the words "Ramones" and "Remastering" have any real relationship? The studio work of The Ramones is probably the least in need of remastering of any band. That said, there is a full, bassy warmth to this latest remastering that has not been there before and serves as a counter to the full-on guitar of most of the tracks.
The other versions of the album you get here - the 40th Anniversary mix and the Sundragon rough mixes are both appealing in their own way. I am not quite sure how they differ from each other, particularly the "40th Anniversary mix". I really cannot detect much difference, if I am truly honest! In relation to the original album, I find the Sundragon Tracking Mixes just a bit "rougher", more bassy, more "drummy" - more defined somehow. Maybe a tiny bit more melodic. Again, not sure what the differences really are, but they are there. The alternative versions are worth listening to. Very similar to those on Rocket To Russia.
The extras - instrumental versions, demos versions, alternate lyric versions are of only initial interest to me and no more, I'm afraid. The live stuff is as you would expect - rough and ready, but that what a Ramones gig was like. Not an "audiophile" in sight. Thank God.
All in all, though, if you a fan, you will still want to get it. If you just want the original album, download the individual tracks.
A few potentially interesting alternative versions from the time the "bubblegum mix" of Glad To See You Go; the "soda machine mix" of Oh Oh I Love Her So and the "psychedelic mix" of Pinhead. The honest, however, none of them sound that much different to their originals. I was expecting things to sound a bit different but was left a bit underwhelmed.
ROCKET TO RUSSIA (1977)
Cretin Hop/Rockaway Beach/Here Today, Gone Tomorrow/Locket Love/I Don't Care/Sheena Is A Punk Rocker/We're A Happy Family/Teenage Lobotomy/Do You Wanna Dance/I Wanna Be Well/I Can't Give You Anything/Ramona/Surfin' Bird/Why Is It Always This Way?
"It's best to do it quickly ... You do not wanna sit there and bullshit. It's your money they're spending" - Johnny Ramone
The Ramones had fully established what they were about by this album's release in late 1977, building up a sizeable cult following within the punk sub-culture, playing frenetic gigs to excitable crowds of pogoing punks. Veterans from their first album like myself knew what we were going to get by now and eagerly waited its release. It didn't disappoint. There were the "brothers" on the cover, in leather jackets and jeans (they were never seen in anything else), with pink writing this time (the previous albums had been black/white and blue respectively. The next one would be yellow, the one after that red). The music would be the now expected mix of buzzy, frantic punk, poppy, catchy surf pop and a couple of slow "ballads". The Ramones doing ballads? Wow.
Even more so than the previous album, Leave Home, this was the album where breakneck punk fully met surf pop and goofball lyrics complete the "chewin' out a rhythm on my bubblegum" pleasure. Surf pop. Power pop. Call it what you will, it is there in the wonderful Rockaway Beach, the cover of Surfin' Bird, in Ramona, Locket Love and the cover of Do You Wanna Dance. The obsessions with health, particularly mental health abound in the abominably addictive Cretin Hop, I Wanna Be Well and the ludicrous but irresistible Teenage Lobotomy. Then there is the goofy humour of We're A Happy Family and the quirky Why Is It Always This Way?.
Punky nihilism is there too in I Don't Care, while I Can't Give You Anything is a cynical "anti-love" song. Then there is one of the first "punk ballads" in the lovely Here Today Gone Tomorrow and, of course, there is the "hit" - the iconic, singalong punk pop of Sheena Is A Punk Rocker. All great 1-2-3-4 stuff.
Overall, this album puts forward a convincing case for being The Ramones' most cohesive, flowing and effective album. It is half an hour of pure sometimes silly but always appealing punk pleasure. The drums pound hard but always melodically, the guitars chop, buzz and stab and Joey Ramone's unique strangely bleating voice rides high over all the aural mayhem. Hooks and singalong melodies are all over this album, together with a cleaner, warmer production than on the two previous offerings. It was punk but it was new wave and power pop too, making it one of the best albums of the late seventies.
I have to say that every subsequent album failed to fully measure up to this one. I loved those quirky cartoons that accompanied the lyrics too (pictured on the inner sleeves above).
With regard to the latest edition of the album, the studio work of The Ramones is probably the least in need of remastering of any band. That said, there is a full, bassy warmth to this latest remastering that has not been there before and serves as a counter to the full-on guitar of most of the tracks.
The other versions of the album you get here on the latest expanded release of the album - the "tracking mixes" and the "rough mixes" are both appealing in their own way. I am not quite sure how they differ from each other. In relation to the original album, I find the Tracking Mixes just a bit "rougher", more bassy, more defined somehow. Again, not sure what the differences really are, but they are there. The alternative versions are worth listening to.The extras - instrumental versions, demos versions, alternate lyric versions are of only initial interest to me and no more, I'm afraid.
All in all, though, if you a fan, you will still want to get it. If you just want the original album, download the individual tracks.
The non-album material from the time included an early version of It's A Long Way Back To Germany with Dee Dee on vocals that give it a grittier feel and an alternative version of We're A Happy Family which features just the voices used on the original's fade out. It is an amusing minute. There is also an early version of the pop punk of Slug that appeared in the Road To Ruin sessions.
IT'S ALIVE (1977)
The set comprises twenty-eight songs yet the whole gig lasts only fifty-three minutes, such is the breakneck nature of the all-out assault on the senses. The songs are separated only by endless "1-2-3-4"'s and a couple of verbal intros from Joey - "after eating our chicken vindaloo... I Wanna Be Well... and "this is for all you lonely hearts out there..." for Here Today, Gone Tomorrow.
The first three songs make for a absolutely classic opening salvo - Rockaway Beach, Teenage Lobotomy and the wonderful Blitzkrieg Bop. The energy is incredible. You had to be there, I guess, to really get it, but hopefully it comes across for anyone who was unlucky enough never to have caught them live. My one tiny gripe is that the album has never been remastered*, so its sound is a bit dull and even with turning up is not quite as crisp as it might be. But that is not really too relevant - it's The Ramones. Just turn it up - 1-2-3-4!!
* As of 2019 a remaster is available, but only as a part of a four CD, four gig live box set (which incidentally includes the gig at Aylesbury that I saw, (pictured wonderfully below by Geoff Tyrell. I was in that crowd somewhere, although I can't see myself) and costs £70. It is available via streaming services, however, and the sound is much improved. The other three gigs included are the original London one, Birmingham and Stoke-On-Trent. The set lists are virtually identical so probably only the London one is necessary as it has the best sound, but any of the others have their raw, live appeal.
ROAD TO RUIN (1978)
I Just Want To Have Something To Do/I Wanted Everything/Don't Come Close/I Don't Want You/Needles And Pins/I'm Against It/I Wanna Be Sedated/Go Mental/Questioningly/She's The One/Bad Brain/It's A Long Way Back To Germany
"'Road to Ruin' reflected not just the Ramones' enduring love for the sixties pop, but a nagging desire to expand beyond the confines of 120 seconds in search of a new vocabulary of harmonic hooks, albeit linked to the guitar-crunching sonics established on their first three albums" - Tommy Ramone - producer
Released in 1978, "Road To Ruin" followed three iconic "1-2-3-4" Ramones albums of punk rock heaven. By now, they felt the need to show they weren't not just three-chord wonders. The "new wave" had begun, and acts like Elvis Costello, Blondie, Talking Heads, The Jam and The Clash were diversifying and showing considerable songwriting skills. Maybe The Ramones felt they had to compete in similar fashion, or maybe they just fancied trying something different. Maybe the record company wanted them to shut more units. Either way, this album saw a sensitive Ramones ballad in Questioningly and the country-ish lilt of Don't Come Close was a single which had a new wave style melody to it - certainly not a two minute fist pumper/pogoer. The cover of The Searchers' Needles And Pins ploughed a similar furrow. Even the catchy I Wanna Be Sedated seemed a little more singalong and a little less three chord guitar thrash, despite its repetitive structure. Check out those layered handclaps, overdubbed guitars and the mighty drum sound on there too. The Ramones were getting close to a "wall of sound" - maybe it was not surprising that they subsequently chose Phil Spector to produce their next album.
Original drummer Tommy Ramone had been replaced by ex-Richard Hell & The Voidoids drummer Marc Bell (who became Marky Ramone), while Tommy went on to production duties. Personally, I preferred Tommy's more melodic drumming to Marky's powerhouse thump. Production-wise, though, Tommy added something because this was the group's most polished sound thus far. This was partly due to the considerable overdubbing of guitar sounds and keyboards together with re-mixing that left behind the raw, edgy sound of the debut album in particular. The days of pure punk were over, it seemed, as The Ramones tried to make it bigger, commercially.
Only twelve tracks on here too as opposed to the fourteen on the previous three. Those songs must be getting longer! The Ramones were going all Led Zeppelin.
There are still some copper-bottomed punkers, however, in Go Mental and Bad Brain, which sees the band revisit their mental health obsession. I Don't Want You, I'm Against It and She's The One are a bit Ramones-by-numbers, to be honest. Nothing really memorable about them, however. I have to say the same, really, about I Just Want To Have Something To Do and I Wanted Everything. The closer, It's A Long Way Back To Germany has an appeal, though.
Despite the fact that I consider it inferior to the previous three albums, by far, I still have a nostalgic affection for this album. I remember buying it on the day of release back in 1978 and being a bit underwhelmed, though, in comparison to Rocket To Russia. The yellow vinyl was mightily impressive though, so much so that I still always remember it as The Ramones' "yellow album" and the cover art certainly adds to that effect. Still, The Ramones are The Ramones - there is always something to enjoy.
Finally, did all this new production style and more mature songwriting result in the hoped-for increased sales? No. It was the band's worst-selling album to date. So much for breaking into the mainstream, despite performing Don't Come Close on Top Of The Pops. I must say that was a very odd thing to witness, for someone who had experienced the pandemonium of a Ramones live gig.
2018 40th ANNIVERSARY REMASTERED EDITION
This 40th Anniversary remaster is not as easily available as the previous three in the series, although a digital download is on amazon, as well as a vinyl/CD set.
As with the others, the question of whether anything by The Ramones needs remastering is a valid one. However, listening to this, the remaster of the original sounds pretty impressive. Listen to those cutting, slashing guitars right at the end of I Just Want To Have Something To Do (the first sign of The Ramones playing anything more than the riff chords). The bass on I Wanted Everything comes over full, muscular and resonant. Don't Come Close just explodes right out your speakers with a big bassy boom. Needles And Pins also has some excellent bass too. It is on the “ballads” that the bassy remastering is most apparent, and Questioningly provides another example.
The alternative mixes are, rather like the ones on the previous three 40th Anniversary re-releases, even more bassy and warm-sounding. The slight tinniness that the original album always had is not present and the album sounds more like it maybe should have done. Sort of purer. I really enjoyed listening to these. Many people may not notice a difference, but I am sure most Ramones-oholics will. Don’t Come Close has none of those high-pitched additional guitar twangs. It is played in pure, typical, chugging Ramones style and is very appealing for it. Tracks like I'm Against It , I Don't Want You and the excellent I Wanna Be Sedated all sound great. The latter is beautifully punchy and bassy. Go Mental just sounds raw, edgy and somehow better than the original. In a way the whole “alternative” album does. The same was certainly true of the Leave Home and Rocket To Russia alternative mixes. Something pure and essential about them. I am not sure how the Rough Mixes and 2018 mixes differ, however. Both sound fresh and vibrant. The Rough Mixes contain a frantic, breakneck I Wanna Be Sedated which is the very essence of The Ramones. The same goes for Don’t Come Close.
The live tracks from 31 December 1979 are raw and lively as you would imagine. The sound quality is ok, not outstanding, but perfectly acceptable.
The non-album material from the sessions for this album includes the fast-paced (after a slow beginning) heavy thump of I Walk Out and the more appealing, poppier thrash of S.L.U.G. . There is also the catchy and bopping good time of Yea Yea, which would have been a welcome addition to the album, actually.
Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio/I'm Affected/Danny Says/Chinese Rock/The Return Of Danny And Judy/Let's Go/Baby, I Love You/I Can't Make It On Time/This Ain't Havana/Rock 'n' Roll High School/All The Way/High Risk Insurance
"He levelled his gun at my heart and then motioned for me and the rest of the band to get back in the piano room ... He only holstered his pistol when he felt secure that his bodyguards could take over. Then he sat down at his black concert piano and made us listen to him play and sing "Baby I Love You' until well after 4:30 in the morning" - Dee Dee Ramone
In 1980, The Ramones brought in the production genius that was the legendary Phil Spector for this, their fifth studio album. They had diversified just a little on their previous album, Road To Ruin, and this outing saw them broadening their horizons even more while still remaining true to their punk roots. The commercial success they craved (despite their unknown's ethic and fanbase) was still somewhat eluding them. Given their love for sixties pop you would have imagined that Spector would have provided the necessary difference to make their chart dreams reality. To a certain extent this proved to be the case and with Spector's help, they laid down a killer cover of The Ronettes' Baby I Love You, although nothing could hope to compete with the original. Why, it even included orchestration. Strings? On a Ramones record? Wow! They appeared slightly sheepishly on Top Of The Pops singing it too.
Although this single was a surprise success, the sessions with Spector were fraught with tension, apparently, with a popular (possibly apocryphal) story circulated at the time of Spector brandishing a gun at the band, forcing them to play the first chord of Rock 'n' Roll High School endlessly until they got it right. That said, he certainly brought out the best in the band on some of the tracks.
Rock 'n' Roll Radio was a big production "wall of sound" tribute to old rock n rollers and DJs. Most of the other material was more punky - the catchy Rock 'n' Roll High School (used in the film of the same name; my own personal favourite in All The Way; Richard Hell & The Voidoids' Chinese Rock; the more punky This Ain't Havana and High Risk Insurance. All these are punk in nature, but still have a tunefulness to them, as indeed does the almost laid back feel (at times) of I'm Affected. The same applies to all of The Return Of Jackie And Judy, Let's Go and I Can't Make It On Time as well. Maybe this was down to Spector's influence. He seemed to have a moderating effect on the group's instinctive punkiness. This would be continued by 10cc's Graham Gouldman on the next album.
There does appear to have been a definite effort to tone down the all out industrial punk attack that so characterised the debut album. Joey's influence, I am sure and Spector's. Eventually, over the next two albums, this approach would cause ructions within the group, until the more brash Dee Dee got his way again on the more caustic punk of Too Tough To Die.
Another favourite is the "slowie", Danny Says, about their road manager, featuring a lovely melody and delivery by Joey.
This is just a little different from what we had come to expect from The Ramones, within reason - they even used a few extra bits of percussion and I'm sure there is a acoustic guitar in there somewhere.
The only non-album track from this album's sessions would appear to be Please Don't Leave, with its sixties pop hints, catchy chorus and rat-a-tat drum sound in places.
PLEASANT DREAMS (1981)
We Want The Airwaves/All Quiet On The Western Front/The KKK Took My Baby Away/Don't Go/You Sound Like You're Sick/It's Not My Place (In The 9 To 5 World)/She's A Sensation/7-11/You Didn't Mean Anything To Me/Come On Now/This Business Is Killing Me/Sitting In My Room/Touring
"By 'Road To Ruin' and "End Of The Century', I was doing the majority of the songwriting. I started feeling that the Ramones were faceless; there were no individual identities in the band" - Joey Ramone
This was a “crossroads” album for The Ramones. Hiring ex-10 cc guitarist Graham Gouldman to produce the album, hoping for more commercial success, it resulted in conflict between band members Joey and Johnny, the latter who wanted the band to concentrate on the raw punk of their first three albums, whereas the singer preferred the more poppier sound to be found here. It seems Joey won out in this case because this is a Joey album all day long.
Tracks like the instantly appealing She’s A Sensation, 7-11 (with its references to Blitzkreig Bop and The Beach Boys) and the lyrically mystifying The KKK Took My Baby Away are actually melodic, exciting power pop type songs as indeed is the rhythmically intoxicating It’s Not My Place (In The 9 to 5 World). A track like this actually shows a real development and diversification in The Ramones' sound. Even musically punkier tracks like You Didn’t Mean Anything To Me and the solidly riffy We Want The Airwaves have a lighter, tuneful delivery. The harder songs like This Business Is Killing Me and Sitting In My Room are closer to Black Sabbath-style hard rock than punk in places, to be honest, but despite that the poppy handclaps and tambourine beats are pretty omnipresent, however, nowhere better exemplified than on the catchy All's Quiet On The Eastern Front. All the tracks have a poppy veneer and attractiveness to them, even the heavier ones. Dee Dee and Johnny must have been appalled! The whole thing is like a breath of fresh, breezy air.
Don't Go is very sixties pop-influenced and sounds very much like a Joey track. You Sound Like You're Sick is more of a punky number, with echoes of The Buzzcocks on its "oh-oh-oh" chorus back up vocal and more of those infectious handclap drumbeats. The same punky thrash can be found on You Didn't Mean Anything To Me, yet the vocal still has a lighter, more melodic feel to it. I have to say that Gouldman's production is somewhat tinny throughout though, lacking in a bit of depth and warmth. This is heard on the handclappy Come On Now quite clearly - there is a slight coldness to the drum sound that is possibly there due to the production team's efforts in making it sound sixties-ish.
Touring is a nice surf pop-ish singalong slice of fun to end the album with, featuring lots of early Beach Boys-style lyrics. The album was Joey right up to the end.
This album is really nothing like the first three albums at all (certainly not the first two). Although you can still tell it is The Ramones, even Joey’s voice seemed to carry a different timbre now, trying to be more like his beloved 60s pop.
Music media reaction, on the whole, was negative, feeling the band had “sold out” “gone pop” and the like. This is slightly unfair, one feels. What were The Ramones supposed to do? Produce annual replicas of their first album for the foreseeable future? Had they done so, they would attracted negative feedback for doing just that.
Personally, I have always quite enjoyed this album, although I fully accept that the previous five are the five essential Ramones albums. This is the unfortunate point where their output becomes non-essential, however.
There were several non-album cuts from the sessions for this album - the infectious Blondie-like sixties-style pop of Chop Suey, complete with Chinese-sounding backing vocals, the typically riffy Ramones pop of Sleeping, the frantic racket of Kicks To Try, the Dee Dee-style I'm Not An Answer, the similar Stares In This Town and the chunky I Can't Get You Out Of My Mind. These latter three would all have fitted nicely in to the ambience of Too Tough To Die.
SUBTERRANEAN JUNGLE (1983)
Little Bit O' Soul/I Need Your Love/Outsider/What'd Ya Do/Highest Trails Above/Somebody Like Me/Psycho Therapy/Time Has Come Today/My-My Kind Of Girl/In The Park/Time Bomb/Every Time I Eat Vegetable It Makes Me Think Of You
"I was lying on my bed, watching Kojak when Joey calls me and says, 'Mark, I feel bad about this, but, uh, you can't be in the band anymore.' I deserved it. Joey was okay about it, but the others, forget it. No one called me after that. If it was today, Joey would've said, 'Why don't we take off for a month and you get sober?' But I didn't want to tell Joey or the band about my being in rehab, because I would've been admitting my guilt" - Marky Ramone
This is a most underrated Ramones album, recorded at the height of a fractious atmosphere within the group. It is very much a Joey Ramone album, concentrating on the sixties pop style he loved so much. The songs are deliciously hook-laden and the guitar far more melodic than typically punk. They would evert to punk basics for the next album, Too Tough To Die but this one should not be overlooked. It is a joyous, energetic singalong romp.
Little Bit O' Soul is a catchy, cowbell rhythm-driven poppy opener, with Joey on fine vocal form. I Need Your Love is typical Joey Ramone. As with all this album, the production is a bit tinny, but it does not detract too much from the ebullience of the song. Outsider is far more Dee Dee Ramone - full of chunky punk riffs and lyrics about social detachment. What'd Ya Do is also archetypal 1976-78 grinding, punky Ramones. The frantic Highest Trails Above, like the previous two tracks, gives the lie to the notion that this is not a punk album. Of course it is, it's still The Ramones.
Somebody Like Me has echoes of All The Way from End Of The Century. Psycho Therapy was copper-bottomed Dee Dee and would become a live set staple for the remainder of the band's career. It has hints of Go Mental from Road To Ruin to it. Time Has Come Today is a solid, muscular and appealing rock number that last over four minutes! The Ramones Over four minutes? Surely not! This is one of the heaviest numbers they had done. It is a cover of a 1967 track by The Chambers Brothers. They were a "psychedelic soul" band, and this was a very "rock" number for a soul band. The Ramones played it pretty straight to the original.
My-My Kind Of A Girl, as you may expect, is a harmonious, summery Joey romancer. In The Park is an upbeat poppy new-wave track. Time Bomb is more retro, punky Ramones. The quirkily-titled Every Time I Eat Vegetable It Makes Me Think Of You is Joey's fun sign-off to this enjoyable, lively, vibrant album. It was already culturally out of time in 1983, however, and was probably only bought by die-hards. Even myself, who was there at the beginning, didn't buy this at the time. It would be many years before I retrospectively got hold of it.
Among the considerable amount of non-album material was the catchy drum-driven pop of the glammy, Suzi Quatro-ish Indian Giver and the melodic but powerful "Joey pop" of New Girl In Town, which is a really good track. Also impressive was the early Jam-influenced No One To Blame, complete with Weller-style guitar bit in the middle. Roots Of Hatred is a chugging, mature song - proper rock full of broody atmosphere. Bumming Along is a lively punker while Unhappy Girl is an amusing summery pop song from Joey.
Mama's Boy/I'm Not Afraid Of Life/Too Tough To Die/Durango 95/Wart Hog/Danger Zone/Chasing The Night/Howling At The Moon (Sha-La La)/Daytime Dilemmas (Dangers Of Love)/Planet Earth 1988/Humankind/Endless Vacation/No Go
"As we got ready to make 'Too Tough To Die', we were focused in the same direction, and it made a difference. We knew we needed to get back to the kind of harder material we'd become known for. The pop stuff hadn't really worked, and we knew we were much better off doing what we did best" -Johnny Ramone
By 1984, punk had long since expired, new wave too, even new romanticism's make-up was running. What was around was actually not too much at all. What was needed was an antidote in the now increasingly irrelevant Ramones giving us more of the same. After a brief flirtation with slow ballads every now and again, they returned to their no-nonsense punk roots on this muscular, uncompromising album. Indeed, they certainly were too tough to die. Great cover too.
The Richard Hell-ish Mama's Boy is a reasonable opener, while I'm Not Afraid Of Life has vague echoes of The Doors in Joey Ramone's vocal and also Department S's Is Vic There. Too Tough To Die is a brooding, menacing rocker. Durango 45 is a brief instrumental based around a classic punk riff, circa 1977. It leads straight into the raucous punk romp of Wart Hog. Dee Dee Ramone is, maybe not advisedly, on vocals.
Danger Zone is a typical slice of Ramones thumping punk. The poppy, catchy Chasing The Night even has some keyboards swirling around and an infectious chorus. The best track on the album for me. Not far behind is the singalong grind of Howling At The Moon (She-La-La). Amazingly, on such a retrospective Ramones album, these two tracks are both over four minutes long! So too is the next one, the riffy Daytime Dilemmas (Dangers Of Love), which is another cracker. It has great backing vocals/guitar interplay at the end.
Planet Earth 1988 is future shock rocker, full of stonking guitar and drums. It is another one I love. A typical Ramones intro pounds us into Humankind, as if it is 1977 again. Just turn it up. Endless Vacation, however, is a bit of a turkey, with sort of madcap vocals and breakneck riff that characterised what punk would turn into in the nineties. Dee Dee is on vocals once more - give us Joey back again, please. Thankfully, he returns for the bopping, energetic No Go.
There is a convincing argument that says that this was The Ramones' last great album, and also their first since the late seventies. I wouldn't disagree with either of those statements.