Sunday, July 20, 2014

Rocket To Russia - The Ramones

Rocket To Russia
The Ramones
Sire SR 6042

A post for the late Tommy Ramone, the last of the original Ramones.  Tommy was the drummer on the first three albums by the band and under his real name Tommy Erdelyi had a distinguished career as a producer.  This is my favorite Ramones album.  I have to admit that when I first heard the Ramones, I did not like them.  I thought they were primitive and stupid.  Of course that was the whole point, but my tastes were formed by classic rock, I believed in fancy guitar solos and pretentious lyrics.  I was too brainwashed by the crappy music of the 1970s to understand what the Ramones were attempting to do.  Then I heard "Nuggets" and fell for the Clash, Blondie and Elvis Costello.  My aesthetic perspective shifted dramatically.  When I bought "Rocket To Russia" a couple of years after it came out, I loved it.  Much of it follows the classic Ramones formula, fast paced primitive paeans to idiocy like "Cretin Hop," "Rockaway Beach," "Locket Love," "I Don't Care," "Teenage Lobotomy" and "I Can't Give You Anything."  The standout tracks include the hilariously subversive "We're a Happy Family" with its immortal stanza "sitting here in Queens, eating refried beans, we're in all the magazines, gulpin' down thorazines."  "Why Is It Always This Way?" is remarkably macabre with its lyrics about being unable to forget a girlfriend who committed suicide and is now preserved in a bottle of formaldehyde.  "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" transcends the Ramones' formula achieving classic status with its irresistible catchiness and its timely lyrics.  It is a testament to the vapidity of that era that the song was not the massive hit single it deserved to be.  The band shakes loose from the formula for a few tracks.  "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" offers a change of pace with a mid-1960s style love song.  "Ramona" also features a more pop-oriented song structure reminiscent of the early Kinks as well as slightly more sophisticated lyrics (by Ramones standards anyway.)  "I Wanna Be Well" also slows things down a bit for a more poppy flavor although the repetitive drug addled lyrics are pure Ramones.  These songs show the band trying to expand their sound, a trend they would explore more deeply on their next album, "Road to Ruin."  The album is rounded out by a pair of well chosen covers, a hyper-paced version of Bobby Freeman's "Do You Wanna Dance?" and a faithful performance of the Trashmen's moronic classic "Surfin' Bird" that is right in the Ramones' wheelhouse.  There is not a weak track on this album.  I think it is the band's masterpiece, the ultimate expression of their original message and style.  There was nowhere to go after this.  The album's lack of commercial success led the band to attempt to create a more popular sound in their future albums with mixed success.  "Rocket to Russia" remains one of the great records of its era, or any era really.  It has hardly aged at all.  It still sounds fresh and exciting, its energy, creativity and vitality continue to have immense appeal.  Tommy Ramone may have passed from this world, but this record's excellence insures that his name and work will not be forgotten as long as people still feel the urge to rock.  Recommended to fans of the Stooges.

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