RAMONES (THE FAMILY TREE) - Various Artists (Musicbrokers/Fuse)
Two discs of Ramones-related material from bands ex-members were in, or guested with, plus a couple of 1975 demos by the Bruddas thrown in. How could he resist?
It's true that the sum of the Ramones exceeded the parts. Which is to say that the solo efforts of Joey, Marky and Dee Dee weren't without merit, but that playing in the Ramones set a benchmark that nobody could re-visit. Some ex-Ramones could accept it. Johnny retired to watch baseball and hardly ever only went back into the studio. Dee Dee churned out five albums, toured a bit but eventually walked away from music and painted - before an ill-fated, one-off return to smack wiped him off life's canvas. Cancer of course took Johnny and Joey much too soon.
So you get 28 tracks for your troubles and they're mostly punk or punkish powerpop. The exceptions are Tommy Ramone's bluesgrass outfit Uncle Monk - who sound like an oasis of moonshine in a desert of concrete and leather jackets - and Joey's John Cage cover ("The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs") where he out-weirds the keenest Thorazine fan. Call me a heathen and wash my mouth out with Carbona but it's unlistenable.
Not so the rest of this trip, a third of which I'd heard with the balance throwing up some absolute gems. There's the double-shot of Johnny Ramone playing with Slim Jim Phantom and his Swing Cats on covers of "Good Rockin' Tonight" and "Viva Las Vegas", with Lemmy on the former, and a scorching version of "Cherry Bomb" that unites Marky, Wayne Kramer and Cherrie Currie.
"The Bowery Electric" was a Spanish 45 - a Joey Ramone trib by The Bowery Electric Crew, a NY band who perusaded Marky, CJ and Tommy Ramone to guest. Not mawkish at all, it's rather great in a melodic rocking sort of way and a must-hear.
On the other hand, Osaka Popstar proves supergroups aren't always a good idea. Their cover of "The KKK Took My Baby Away" is a dud. Marky, Jerry Only, Ivan Julian and Black Flag's Dez Cadena are the culprits.
Marky is nothing if not ubiquitous in his after-life and the Intruders tracks underline what an underrated band his first post-Ramones project was. "Don't Blame Me" is a raucous rocker with barroom piano and Joan Jett on vocals from the second Marky Ramone and the Intruders album, "The Solution To Your Problems". There's a foot-to-the-floor version of the Mop Tops' "Nowhere Man" that'll rock your wig off, and both their albums stake a claim for being the most consistent work by an ex-Ramone.
Dee Dee's Dutch-based group ICLC were also worthy contenders for that title and their "I'm Making Monsters For My Friends" is from their sole "I Hate Creeps Like You" album (and of course was appropriated by his ex-bandmates as they started to run out of steam). This is a better version of that song and Nina Hagen imparts characteristic vocal weirdness.
Still on the subject of the most out-there Ramone, Dee Dee's hard-to-find solo cover of a Metallica song, "Jump In The Fire", works better than his Nirvana cover "Negative Creep".
Overly clean production and some excessive self-parody dogged subsequent Dee Dee records - as for the rap album, I'm not even going to go there - but guest appearances by Joey ("I Am Seeing UFOs") and Lux Interior ("Bad Horoscope") were among the better than average songs from "Zonked". "Now I Want To Be Sedated" is one of those self-referencing songs that appeared on the superior "Hop Around".
Joey's Sibling Rivalry project with brother Micky Leigh spawned one forgotten but notable EP. Three tracks, "Sibling Rivalry", "See My Way" and "On The Beach", make the cut and will make you regret they didn't make an album.
"Good Enough For Me" and "Do It To Me" show CJ Ramone's band Bad Chopper were/are no slouches in the straight-up, rock-it-out vein. His cover of the snarly "Punishment Fits The Crime" with Argentine band Bien Descoupados is formidable.
The verdict? While some recent releases (and tours by ex-members, I have to admit) have carried the odour of something out of the bottom of a barrel, this one's imbued with enough leather-clad value to make it well worth springing for, should you be a fan. - The Barman
WE'RE OUTTA HERE! - The Ramones (Music Club/MRA)
Why are we reviewing a live album 10 years after it was recorded and nine years after it came out? It's being re-issued locally (in Australia) for one. Plus it's by the Ramones.
There are people who think the Ramones are a fashion label, a Volcom exercise in safe, homogenised branding mindlessly worn by mall-rats around the world. There are people who watch Idol and Big Brother too, the current equivalent of 1984's soma for the masses. I'm not going to rag on those people. Some of them might be reading this, and there's the slightest hope that, interest piqued, they might drill down past the fashion accessories fixation and seek out the band's music. If so, good on ya baby.
There's an American term about things (generally TV shows) that have "jumped the shark". Jumping the shark has nothing to do with cable TV stars chasing stingrays. The term refers to something that's crossed over into lameness, something that's outlived its usefulness and pushed the envelope, for one more season or album, to become a parody of itself, essentially morphing into a steaming turd. "Rescue From Gilligan's Island", anyone?
The great thing about the Ramones is that they never did "jump the shark". Sure, the second-half of their career wasn't as singularly incredible as the first half, but what run of LPs by any band could be compared to their first four albums and come out on top? They were so perfectly rock and roll, so much a re-invigoration of a medium that had lost its way, that nothing much before or since else can hold a candle. No band churns out perfect album after perfect album (although the Stooges came close - then again there were several different bands using that name, each different from the other). Not the Stones and certainly not the Beatles. So let's get everything in perspective.
This is the last Ramones album. There have been a couple of live things dug up (from the late'-70s) but they weren't conceived of as actual releases while the band was still around. And I'm not going to document, let alone rank, the plehtora of re-packagings and compilations that have breached the levy since. "We're Outta Here" was intended to put the lid on the career by documenting the 2,263rd and final show by the final line-up of the last word in punk rock bands.
And it does it very well, with a couple of qualifiers. Did the Ramones - the definitive New York City band - have to wind things up in Kill City (aka Buttown aka Los Angeles) for any reason other than Johnny Ramone had moved there? And did they really have to invite along a host of guest singers to join them onstage? Lemmy I can handle, Dee Dee Ramone's presence was essential, but the fewer reminders I have that Eddie Vedder steals oxygen from more deserving people on earth the better. But even intrusive cameos (and neither Soundarden or Rancid add anything meaningful) can't ruin the moment.
And it's one that's well-captured. This isn't the live high point that "It's Alive" (from 1976) which almost defies critical quibbling, but it's a damn sight better sounding than "Loco Live" (where Marky Ramone's post production gives a hard lesson in how not to record cymbals) and not as annoyingly truncated as "Greatest Hits Live" (16 successive tracks, a Ramones show does not make). Johnny's guitar still needs to come up in the mix, and Joey's warbling is a too up-front. You could also question why "Warthog" wasn't the choice of song for Dee Dee to tackle (C.J. Ramone certainly has) and ask why he was so fried that he couldn't recall his own lyrics to "Love Kills" but that would be unkind. This is as good an example of latter-day Ramones live sets as you'll hear, and it covers most of the song bases (there being an amazingly wide variety from which to select).
You pays your money and ya gets 32 songs, most of them classics. A bargain in anyone's language. They're powering but at least the Bruddas were past that stage of rushing off every tune at such lightning speed that Joey had to slur his words just to keep up. It doesn't come better than "Shock Treatment" segueing into "Rock and Roll High School" and then "Sedated". The "Spiderman" cover that follows is almost a letdown.
"Any Way You Want It" shuts things down and while it must have been a salve to Joey's lifelong Britpop fascination and is seamlessly incorporated into the Ramones playlist, there must have been higher points to go out on. But with every member of the band happy enough to bail out without saying goodbye to each other, you can draw a conclusion that they were (mostly) happy to bring down the curtain. 22 years and with Joey in poor health, it was time to go. Me, I'm glad to have experienced them in the flesh. If you didn't, this album might be one of the closest things to doing the same, but don't stop yourself there. - The Barman
WEIRD TALES OF THE RAMONES – Ramones (Sire/Rhino)
No, you’re not imagining things. That hollow sound you’re hearing is Sire and Rhino scraping the bottom of the Ramones barrel and coming up empty. Other than remastered, expanded editions of “Acid Eaters,” “Adios Amigos,” “Animal Boy,” “Halfway To Sanity,” “Mondo Bizarro,” and “Brain Drain,” it’s strictly “been there, done that” on the repackaging front, the band’s notoriously spartan way of conducting business not inspiring any search and recovery missions for dusty, eroding analog tapes. If recent photos are any indication, however, that’s not to say there’s no surprises concealed in Phil Spector’s hair. All those takes of “Rock ‘N’ Roll High School’s” opening power chord he forced Johnny to endure would fill a few box sets of their own, a la the Stooges’ “1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions.”
I’d be the last to suggest they don’t deserve it, but “Weird Tales Of The Ramones” appears to be nothing more than an attempt to pad the coffers of the estates of the three deceased members of the band and the three yet to check into the wooden Waldorf. And I paid for it with my own money.
The ability to separate schmoes like myself from hard-earned greenbacks for music we already own in a different wrapper is what makes the souls of companies like Rhino, Castle, Sanctuary, and my personal favorite - Captain Oi! - so dark. In all fairness to Rhino, however, the Ramones are an easy sell and those likely to buy this four-disc box (three CD’s and one DVD) probably won’t need to be strongarmed. If the band’s high-speed crack-up of three chords and blissful bubblegum aesthetic doesn’t leave you inspired and grinning like an idiot, you’ve got a hole in your soul.
Nearly 30 years after that first album baffled so many clueless radio programmers and hippies who refused to believe the sun had finally set on the summer of love, with nothing more than a brace of songs gestated in suburbia about diversions like television, huffing model airplane cement, and adolescent attitude adjustment with Louisville Sluggers, the Ramones canon still tastes as fresh as a just-cracked bottle of Yoo Hoo, almost magical in its power to remedy whatever may be laying you low, capable of blasting you outside of yourself, making you feel super-alive and able to pretend this moment/hour/day/night is the rest of your life. What else in the realm of the living or dead really matters?
It’s a testimony to the Ramones’ savant-like flair for consistently delivering the sonic goods that things don’t really start to flag here until late in Disc 3, but with the exception of “Mondo Bizarro,” I’ve never really been a much of a believer in the C.J.-era songwriting anyway so that may just be my tough luck.
The DVD is all gravy, although most of it will be familiar to owners of “Lifestyles Of The Ramones” on VHS. And while most videos in general leave me perplexed, the clip for the cover of The Who’s “Substitute” scales new heights of incomprehensibility; something to do with a cave dweller who dreams of picking up hot babes while masquerading as fat Elvis, encountering The Cramps and Michael Berryman from “The Hills Have Eyes” along the way. Conversely, “I Don’t Want Wanna Grow Up” and “Spiderman” are the embodiment of truth in marketing, da bruddahs finding themselves reincarnated as comic book and animated cartoon characters, respectively.
As with any Rhino project, the packaging is impeccable and for long-time fans may be the only reason to spring for this one, if a 50-page, oversized comic book featuring the art of Sergio Aragones, Bill Griffith, John Holmstrom, Mary Fleener, Xaime Hernandez and others turns your crank that is.
By this time, it’s probably safe to answer Dick Miller's puzzled question in "Rock & Roll High School" that yes, their parents do know they are/were Ramones. “Weird Tales” does its damnedest to let the rest of the world in on the secret, offering up a golden ticket into their hermetically-sealed universe of celebratory dysfunction. Hardly essential for the faithful, but a tantalizing little package for collector scum.- Clark Paull
Yes, I scored this. I already owned the entire back catalogue, in three formats for some releases. Of course you should own this too. - The Barman
NYC 1978 - Ramones (King Biscuit Flower Hour)
If seeing a Ramones show is on your list of things to do before you die, you're shit out of luck and ought to be kicking yourself in the ass HARD. With Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee now having vacated the planet, no-one will ever taint the memory of the band by mounting some sort of half-assed, ill-advised reunion tour Marky's apparently joined The Misfits on some sort of semi-regular basis, Tommy's concentrating on engineering and producing, and who knows what CJ's doing or where Richie is?
So much has been written about the Ramones, especially in the last 10 years, that for me to rehash the influence their throbbing, amplified, and usually childish whiplash punk genius has had on so many would be not only pointless, but redundant and dreadfully boring as well. I say let's leave the arguments as to who was truly the first "punk" band to hopeless no-lifers like the combined staffs of "Rolling Stone," MTV, and VH1, most of whom were still soiling their diapers and spitting up mother's milk when the bruddahs came up with the bright idea of using guitars and Marshall stacks to wax poetic about girls, dope, and social sickness. In the grand scheme of things, it matters not anyway. Hell, I've reached the point where even using the words "punk" and "rock" in the same sentence makes me cringe.
Chances are if you're reading this, you'd probably have a hard time imagining a world without their tough-as-nails and grey matter-damaging pop-punk workouts fouling the air. Depressing though, innit? As flat-out great as most of their studio albums are - yes, even those released in the twilight of their career (well OK, "Brain Drain" and "Adios Amigos" are sort of sad-sack) - the Ramones were exposed as a true force of nature when they stumbled up on stage and the lights came on.
By my count, this is their fifth live album and its very existence is sort of puzzling. It was recorded at New York's Palladium on January 7, 1978, a mere week after the December 31, 1977 gig at London's Rainbow Theater that was immortalized on 1979's "It's Alive," which many bandwagon jumpers are now calling one of the greatest live albums ever. Duh... Maybe King Biscuitran out of Gentle Giant, Yes, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer tapes to foist on a gullible public?
Don't get me wrong - "NYC 1978" captures the band's original lineup (Tommy on drums) in all of its sweaty, muscular, and cranium-crushing glory, tearing through a 27-song setlist in about 55 minutes that is virtually identical in content and running order to that of "It's Alive," only omitting "Judy Is A Punk." This is the beast at the peak of its bruising, rumbling, buzzing power, hunkering down and only pausing between songs long enough for Dee Dee to count off the next one, grunting like a caveman discovering fire.
Fast? Johnny didn't have time for carpal tunnel syndrome and Joey still had enough wind to spit out all of the words in their blinding covers of "Surfin' Bird" and "Do You Wanna Dance," no small feat. Too bad Johnny never perfected that main riff in "California Sun" though, but come to think of it, that would have been like putting perfume on a pig.
To me, the Ramones were always more of a concept than a band anyway, and the concept was built on a foundation of Johnny's howitzer Mosrite fretfire and Joey and Dee Dee's insanely catchy yet dimwit songs rather than any pretensions of virtuosity. Fair enough. Admittedly, keeping a pace on stage like the Ramones were used to for 20 years, in addition to drugs, drink, and Joey's health problems, took its toll and when they played the last of 2,262 gigs in 1996, they were looking and sounding a little long in the tooth, as born out by their last two live albums, 1991's "Loco Live" and 1997's "We're Outta Here!".
Although virtually identical to this album, "It's Alive" remains the high water mark for Ramones live discs probably because the London punters were a little more enthusiastic than their New York counterparts on "NYC 1978," but that's splitting hairs. It's certainly arguable that like Kiss, the Ramones basically played the same show over and over again for two decades, with minor tweaks to fit in songs from their current studio album. Here's a(nother) chance to hear songs from "Ramones," "Leave Home," and "Rocket To Russia" in a live setting at a point fairly early on in the journey that would ultimately land them in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Call it a hunch, but something tells me this one's not going to remain in print very long. - Clark Paull
END OF THE CENTURY - The Ramones (Rhino)
TOO TOUGH TO DIE - The Ramones (Rhino)
PLEASANT DREAMS - The Ramones (Rhino)
SUBTERRANEAN JUNGLE - The Ramones (Rhino)
After four albums of slash-and-burn buzzsaw pyrotechnics, all layered with pure pop sensibility, 1980's "End Of The Century" saw da bruddahs Ramones' Wall Of Noise battle producer Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound to a virtual draw, and Joey's aspirations for pop success finish in a dead heat with Johnny's staunch punk populism.
Although Spector's production is a muddy sounding hit-and-miss affair when applied to Marshalls and black leather, with individual instruments indistinguishable on some tracks, the band's signature air wreck sound shines through on stormers like "I'm Affected," "I Can't Make It On Time," and "This Ain't Havana."
Completists should once again be happy with the plethora of bonus tracks - demos of "Danny Says," "I'm Affected," "Please Don't Leave," "All The Way," "Do You Remember Rock & Roll Radio," and the "Rock 'N' Roll High School" soundtrack version of "I Want You Around."
"Remixed," "remastered," and "Ramones" just don't seem to fit together in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence, so it should be a no-brainer that the main reason to buy this re-issueof "Tough Tough to Die" is for the 12 bonus tracks tacked on at the end, most of them rough versions of songs which ultimately wound up on the original album, like "Planet Earth," "Endless Vacation," "Mama's Boy," and Dee Dee's vocal version of "Danger Zone," as well as a dicey take on the Stones' "Street Fighting Man."
Although many thought the band was flogging a dead horse at this point in their career, "Too Tough To Die" served notice that the Ramones weren't ready to roll over just yet, veering stylistically from hardcore punk ("Wart Hog") to brash pop ("Chasing The Night" and "Howling At The Moon") to upside-down rockabilly on steroids ("No Go"). A keeper...
Although Graham Gouldman's production on "Pleasant Dreams", the band's first set of all originals, was dismissed by some as too light or too pop, it's hard to find fault with an album that features so prominently the Ramones' three-chords-and-a-cloud-of-dust formula for success.
Throw in big sing-along choruses like those in "The KKK Took My Baby Away" and "You Sound Like You're Sick," seven bonus tracks (including "Touring," which manages to cop every Beach Boys song ever written, and a bunch of demos new to these ears, like "Sleeping Troubles," "Kicks To Try," "I'm Not An Answer," and "Stares In This Town"), and the type of magnificent packaging we've come to expect from Rhino, and it's yet another no-brainer in this latest slew of re-issues. Besides, who listens to a Ramones album for production values?
Besides making cranky, middle-aged ex-hipsters like myself feel really old, conventional wisdom probably dictates that "Subterranean Jungle" will best be remembered as the album that spawned "Psycho Therapy," the Ramones' touching ode to teens and Tuinal.
Shame, really, because in addition to a brace of covers done up Ramones style ("Little Bit O'Soul," "Time Has Come Today," and, as a bonus cut, "Indian Giver" - featuring an unbelievable tone from the guitar of Johnny, or was it Walter Lure?), six new originals from the twisted pen of Dee Dee, and Joey's poignant "Every Time I Eat Vegetables I Think Of You," there's something here for the socially disaffected in all of us. Demos once again lead the charge of bonus tracks, including songs I wasn't even aware were part of the band's canon, works-in-progress like "No One To Blame," "Roots Of Hatred," "Bumming Along," and "Unhappy Girl." - Clark Paull
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