4 Random Thoughts on the Ramones

17Apr12

I’ve been in a Ramones mood lately. It comes on from time to time, as I listen to the same things over and over again but in new ways, different times, and so I find myself back in the good graces of these 4-plus idiot geniuses. Here are some random thoughts:

1.) The contribution of any active Ramone cannot be undervalued. With most bands, you can usually hang most of the work load on one or two members. For example, the Rolling Stones. People always seem to paint the side characters as having important parts in the band’s success, like how Brian Jones rooted the band in the blues and contributed vibes to “Under My Thumb.” But really, when push comes to shove, it’s Mick and Keith’s band. Jagger wrote a ton of songs, and there are some albums where Richards plays nearly every instrument. These two also ran with the whole “face of the group” angle, which isn’t something to be undervalued. This happens especially with American bands, where for some reason, the focus falls on one singular “genius” at the center. CCR had Fogerty, the Beach Boys had Wilson, Weezer has Cuomo.

With the Ramones, it’s different. What you see is (almost) what you get. There’s no member coasting along for the ride*. Dee Dee wrote a lot of their greatest songs, but he didn’t write all of them. He also made a major contribution toward the band’s punk legitimacy. Joey’s vocals were strange and weird, and the fact that he was an ugly dude singing lead made him stand out beyond all other bands. He also carried the band’s heart, always keeping the group rooted in bubble-gum pop music. One could argue that Johnny’s contribution was/is over-rated. But Johnny contributed one of the most important elements of the Ramones’ legacy: the guitar sound. That buzz-saw engine drives the whole thing. By virtue of being a revolving door, the importance of any Ramones drummer might be low, but I think I’d only believe that based on my lack of drumming knowledge. While not as front-and-center as Johnny’s guitar, the drumming had to work hand in hand with the guitar — almost more than any other band prior.

This band equality might have more to do with each man’s talent limitations, but it’s still there and it feels unique.

2.) The cool contrarian in me wants to name “Leave Home” as their best album, but really that’s just the cool contrarian in me. It might have a lot of my favorite moments though, starting right off the bat with “Glad To See You Go.” My newfound love of “Carbona Not Glue” only helps confirm these feelings.

3.) The first 7 tracks of “It’s Alive” — basically Disc 1, Side 1 — are possibly the greatest, most torrential line of tracks the band ever produced. “Rockaway Beach,” “Teenage Lobotomy,” “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “I Wanna Be Well” (an undervalued piece of bad ass, bleeding into my favorite transition and into…) “Glad To See You Go,” “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment” and “You’re Gonna Kill That Girl.” Just writing them out, it looks great. But to hear it, you feel that machine cooking.

4.) If the love of a band can be determined by how many demo tracks someone has, then the Ramones are my favorite band. This is mostly helped by the fact that the lion’s share of my Ramones collection has emerged during the 2000′s reissues with lots of bonus tracks, but I have the same type of thing for Elvis Costello’s “This Year’s Model,” and I don’t listen to them at all. The Ramones implemented so little studio trickery, most of their album tracks were just second drafts off the demos. That means that if you like the album track, the demo isn’t going to be far off. What’s more is I actually prefer the demo versions of “Danny Says” and “It’s a Long Way Back To Germany” to their fully-produced counterparts.

*Not that the Bill Wymans of the world do this. I don’t mean that. But I’m always reminded of something a college friend of mine said, during a discussion about Van Halen: “It always seems like every band has three really talented guys and one dude who could have just as easily ended up working at a gas station.”

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