AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #185 : THE RAMONES

AN EPIC GUEST POSTING by Dirk

of Sexy Loser fame

Hello friends,

as I said to JC: I really think this ICA – thingy wouldn’t be complete without an entry about The Ramones, surely one of the finest bands who ever walked the earth. If you are one of those rare creatures who never heard of them: four blokes from New York, all with the same surname, equally bad haircuts, a different drummer all the time, all dead by now. And what they really say at the start of ‘Pinhead’ is: “Gabba gabba, we accept you, we accept you, one of us”: that’s all you need to know basically.

So here you are, problem though is that everything has already been said and wrote about The Ramones, there are no clever anecdotes of my own I could come with for your enjoyment! Apart from one, that is. You’ll find it at the very end of this essay. So what I did eventually just was a copy/paste – job, because I found some quotes on various sites which could turn out to be of some interest at least. You can sue me later, Wikipedia …

Also the tunes should – at least by and large – be known by heart by everybody, so big surprises cannot be expected below, I’m afraid.

So, perhaps, at the end of the day this ICA will only make those of you happy, who, like me, had the chance to see the band live a few times within the last decades. And weren’t they just marvelous each and every time?! Hearing the songs again will bring back excellent memories of their gigs, that’s for sure. At least it worked for me!

With an output of 14 studio plus a few live albums in their career, it wasn’t that easy for me to decide for ten songs only. So I went the comfortable way, as I so often do, and concentrated on the first ten studio albums and chose one song from each of them. You see, I’ve been listening to these records for – partly – 40 years now, and of course there are some songs which I like a bit better than I like others. This changes on a daily basis though.

So here are my choices for today, folks, enjoy!

01 – ‘Beat On The Brat‘ (from “Ramones” (1976): Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy)

“When I lived in Birchwood Towers in Forest Hills with my mom and brother, it was a middle-class neighborhood, with a lot of rich, snotty women who had horrible spoiled brat kids. There was a playground with women sitting around and a kid screaming, a spoiled, horrible kid just running around rampant with no discipline whatsoever. The kind of kid you just want to kill. You know, ‘beat on the brat with a baseball bat’ just came out. I just wanted to kill him.” (Joey)

02 – ‘Suzy Is A Headbanger’ (from ‘Leave Home’ (1977): Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy)

“Suzy Is a Headbanger” was inspired by the 1947 film noir ‘Nightmare Alley’, with the lyrics detailing a female involved in the punk rock scene.

Most of the songs were written in the band member’s homes, rather than at a studio; “Suzy Is a Headbanger” was written in drummer Tommy Ramone‘s loft apartment. Joey Ramone later recalled:

“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.”

03 – ‘Rockaway Beach’ (from ‘Rocket To Russia’ (1977): Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy)

“Rockaway Beach” was written by bassist Dee Dee Ramone, and was inspired by the Beach Boys along with other surf music bands. The title refers to a neighborhood and beach in Queens which Dee Dee was a fan of, as confirmed by Tommy and Joey.

04 – ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ (from ‘Road To Ruin’ (1978): Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Marky)

“I Wanna Be Sedated” was described by the author Brian J. Bowe as one of the band’s “most classic” pieces of music. After a show in London, Joey told manager Linda Stein: Put me in a wheelchair and get me on a plane before I go insane”. This quote would be the chorus to “I Wanna Be Sedated”, whose lyrics invoke the stress which the band was under during touring. It is the most downloaded song from the catalog by The Ramones.

05 – ‘Danny Says’ (from ‘End Of The Century’ (1980): Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Marky)

“Danny Says”, the third track, was a lyrical depiction of what the band constantly went through while touring—soundchecks, autograph sessions, interviews, etc. The title “Danny Says” refers to the band’s tour manager Danny Fields giving the members instructions, schedules, and demands. According to Joey, the ballad was inspired by Lou Reed, who had released the songs “Candy Says” and “Caroline Says”. Joey’s brother Mickey Leigh called the song a “masterpiece” and said it “remains one of the most captivatingly beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.”

The album was produced by Phil Spector , famous through his work with The Ronettes, The Righteous Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner, The Beatles and John Lennon, among others.

During the studio work, Spector’s recording methods were different from those the Ramones were accustomed to from their four previous studio albums. The band recorded their earlier compositions in the shortest time possible for the lowest feasible budget, with a relatively low production value. With End of the Century, the band experienced Spector’s infamous perfectionism, and a budget of $200,000 to fully record and produce the album.

This method of recording caused conflicts to arise. Bassist Dee Dee Ramone wrote of Spector’s obsessive techniques: “Phil would sit in the control room and would listen through the headphones to Marky hit one note on the drum, hour after hour, after hour, after hour.” During the recording of “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School”, Johnny was forced by Spector to repeat his part hundreds of times over the course of several hours. Sire Records owner Seymour Stein relates: “To Johnny, this must have been like the Chinese water torture.”

06 – ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’ (from ‘Pleasant Dreams’ (1981): Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Marky)

During early stages of the album’s development, Joey was dating Linda Danielle. After the album was released, however, Danielle left Joey and became Johnny’s girlfriend. Ramones’ road manager Monte Melnick relates: “Joey was devastated. It affected him deeply. Johnny knew it was bad and kept Linda totally hidden from that point on. She didn’t come to many shows and if she did he’d hide her in the back; she wouldn’t come backstage. He’d run out to meet her and leave as soon as they were done.” While Johnny would eventually marry Linda, Joey held a strong grudge against them both, and, though they continued to perform and tour together, the two rarely talked to each other. Joey explained that Johnny had crossed the line once he started dating Danielle, and noted that he destroyed the relationship and the band right there. Johnny defended himself by stating that had Danielle not left Joey for him, “he wouldn’t have even been talking about her and saying how much he loved her because he wouldn’t have been obsessed about it.”

Though it was long rumored that the album’s third track, “The KKK Took My Baby Away” was written about Johnny stealing Joey’s girlfriend, the song was reportedly written some time before Joey had found out about this. Joey’s brother Mickey Leigh relates: “The fluky connection between Johnny and the KKK raised a specter that keeps friends and fans speculating to this day. At the time, though, it had to be an unusual situation for him being that, as often happens with song lyrics, his words now took on a whole new meaning.”

07 – ‘Little Bit O’ Soul’ (from ‘Subterranean Jungle’ (1983): Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Marky)

Johnny obtained more control over the musical style because the band members experienced conflict amongst themselves, specifically rooted in each member—excluding Johnny—facing issues with addiction. Both Joey and drummer Marky Ramone were dealing with alcoholism, while bassist Dee Dee Ramone was severely addicted to cocaine and was undergoing psychotherapeutic treatment.

In the cover photograph, Marky is featured peering out the subway window—Marky was positioned this way after Johnny asked photographer George DuBose to do so because “they were kicking him out of the band, but he didn’t know it yet.” Marky recalled that he “liked that shot, but [he] knew something was up.”

“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)

The album opens with two cover songs, the first, “Little Bit O’ Soul”, was originally written by John Carter and Ken Lewis. The second track, “I Need Your Love”, was first performed by Bobby Dee Waxman. Johnny thought that the fact that the album featured three covers (the third one being ‘Time Has Come Today’, originally by The Chambers Brothers) was a bad idea, saying, “we shouldn’t have, but I was happy with the guitar sound on it.”

08 – ‘Daytime Dilemma (Dangers Of Love)’ (from ‘Too Tough To Die’ (1984): Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Richie)

The album marked the debut of new drummer Richie Ramone, who replaced Marky Ramone after he was fired for excessive drinking. The album’s lyrics were written mainly by guitarist Johnny Ramone and bassist Dee Dee Ramone, while lead singer Joey Ramone did not participate in the process as much as usual because he “wasn’t feeling well” prior to recording. Joey did, however, write the lyrics for “Daytime Dilemma (Dangers of Love)” after receiving help with the guitar part by Daniel Rey. Johnny Ramone recalled:

“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.”

09 – ‘My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg)’ (from ‘Animal Boy’ (1986): Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Richie)

Side B begins with one of the band’s only politically based songs, “My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)”. The lyrics comprised Joey, Dee Dee, and Beauviour’s feelings while watching US President Ronald Reagan visit military cemetery in Bitburg, West Germany to pay tribute to the victims of Nazism. In an interview with East Coast Rocker, Joey explained: “What Reagan did was fucked up. Everybody told him not to go, all his people told him not to go, and he went anyway. How can you fuckin’ forgive the Holocaust? How can you say, ‘Oh well, it’s OK now?’ That’s crazy!” Dee Dee also asserted that Johnny had made the band seem right winged. “It was the first time we could make a statement to show we weren’t prejudiced,” he explained. “We’d just had these skinheads at our gigs, punks walking around wearing swastikas.” Johnny disliked the song and refused to play the song live, saying Reagan was his favorite president of his lifetime.

10 – ‘Go Lil’ Camaro Go’ (from ‘Halfway To Sanity’ (1987): Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Richie)

Both the next track, “Bop ‘Til You Drop” and the fifth track, “Go Lil’ Camaro Go,” were described by True as “dire ‘fun,'” saying it sounded “as if they’ve been tossed off in a couple seconds—and probably were” and that Joey sang with a “drink-ravaged voice.” Thompson wrote that “Go Lil’ Camaro Go,” a duet with Blondie’s Debbie Harry, “had a style similar to bubblegum pop.”

At an East Hampton, New York, concert on August 12, Richie left the band due to financial conflicts; band members believed it also had to do with his love life. Joey would later state, “I felt screwed. Me and Richie were friends. He was more than just the drummer. But he was out for himself. He said he would do the New York shows for $500 a night. I’m sure he felt he had us by the balls, as our album was coming out.” Richie felt that he was not being paid enough for all he was doing with the band, and reportedly left to take a higher-paying job as a caddy.

Johnny took matters into his own hands, asking around to see if they could find a replacement drummer at least for the remainder of the tour. Clem Burke of Blondie filled in for Richie for two shows, performing under the alias of Elvis Ramone. Johnny deemed the whole situation a “disaster” because of Burke’s drumming style, commenting: “double-time on the hi-hat was totally alien to him.” Burke was criticized for playing “Durango 95“‘s fills incorrectly, and for misplaying the introduction on “Rock ‘n’ “Roll Radio”, forcing Johnny and Dee Dee to improvise on stage. He also was reportedly unable to maintain the faster tempo of the songs “Freak of Nature” and “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment.”

Because of this, Marky Ramone, who was the band’s drummer before Richie and after original drummer Tommy Ramone, was asked to return. He had been fired after “Subterranean Jungle” partially for his style but mostly because of his alcoholism. Once he was sober, however, he began playing in Richie Stotts‘s heavy metal band King Flux, as well as his own band, M-80. Within the week Marky was touring with the band again.

And that’s it, friends! There was more to read than to listen to, I hear you say. And you’re right. Although, live, the band played those ten tunes even faster.

Which brings me to the promised anecdote, so bear with me when there’ll be even more to read for you:

With the pleasure I had to be forced to join the German Airforce back in early 1991 – obviously – as a consequence of having to give up my job for a year, suddenly came a substantial lack of money. So, on the weekends, when apparently the Russians were not supposed to invade Germany, and therefore only skeleton staff had to be at the fighter bomber squadron, I tried to earn some money. Luckily I had a friend from school who had become some sort of ‘manager’ for a ska combo from Krefeld, The Braces. They, in their turn, were lucky to participate in whatever ska wave it was that was hip at the time, the third or fourth, I never can remember these things. So at their gigs and at gigs for other combos I would help to set up the equipment , do the paydesk, be a runner, organize the prostitutes, theses sort of things. No, I made the last one up. Although, and this is true, on one occasion, where I did the backstage at a festival, Judge Dredd, who was bit of a ninny I thought, really asked me to get him a prostitute. ‘Bugger off’ I told him, so he continued drinking his free drinks instead.

Either way, in the summer of 1991 The Braces got the chance to play ‘Berlin Bizarre’, rather a big festival held a bit out of Berlin in a wonderful old amphitheatre in a forest. Quite why The Braces got the chance to play there, I will never fully understand. I mean, they played along with New Model Army, Iggy Pop, The Ramones, Fehlfarben amongst others … all big names, right? Perhaps I should mention they played at the very beginning of the festival, if memory serves correctly not even the sausage stands were opened at the time they entered the stage. Which sort of puts their appearance at this festival into perspective. Either way, the manager got hold of a fair amount of backstage passes, so we hired a minibus, threw in all of The Braces and their equipment plus a few close common friends of the manager and me.

Amongst those was the mighty Fatman, him and me started our apprenticeship together and worked in the same company for three years. Now, the Fatman had no interest whatsoever in indie/punk rock/alternative music/ska, he would listen to Elvis only. And I mean only. I think he owned every record that Elvis ever made. And that was quite a few, I suppose. Still we could convince him to join us, so he was put into the bus as well and off we headed to Berlin.

The festival started, and after The Braces finished the gig, a few of them decided to leave for a few hours in order to take the tram into Berlin and most of us joined them. The Fatman though was too tired, he didn’t want to go, he wanted to stay backstage and take a nap instead. And why not, I mean, the music was not of interest for him anyway (as they didn’t have Elvis on the line-up), it was a sunny day, and the backstage area was huge. Huge, and consequently a bit crowded with all sort of people who had access to it. Of course the stars had their own backstage area, even more important, set a bit deeper in the forest, the regular mortals like us wouldn’t be allowed to enter it. How we would have loved to have a few words with Iggy or one out of The Ramones, but even though our backstage passes read “Extremely Bizarre”, the security blokes wouldn’t let us come even close to the stars’ area.

Early afternoon we returned from Berlin and found the Fatman at a backstage bar in a grumpy mood. “What happened?”, I said. “Oh”, he responded, “I walked around a bit after you lot left, had a few more beers, and then I lay down in a corner on the grass to take my nap. And I just feel asleep when some idiot kicked my leg very hard, halfway fell over me and landed on my stomach. I opened my eyes, pushed him off me, shouted rude words at him and that made him disappear. He mumbled something, but I couldn’t understand him. I mean, I was half asleep, only when seeing his back I realized that this must have been a girl, you know, long hair and very skinny. I felt rather bad for calling her an arsehole, but she was already a few meters away. And, worse of all, I couldn’t dose off again after that.“ “No matter, Fatman”, I said, “these things happen”.

The evening came, we had even more beers, watched Iggy from our “Extremely Bizzare Special Tribune” and waited for The Ramones to come, they – rightly so, of course – were headlining the whole event. The mighty sound of “Durango 95” blasted out of the speakers whilst the fake fog disappeared more and more and very slowly you could start to see what happening onstage. We stood there in awe, waiting for The Ramones to become fully visible in the remaining fog. Only The Fatman sat, still not even slightly interested in what was going on. The fog went away, ‘Teenage Lobotomy’ was counted in and all of a sudden The Fatman jumped up from his seat, pointed at Joey Ramone and shouted at the top of his lungs: “See, that’s the stupid slut who woke me up!!!”.

Still, even today, nearly 30 years later, I can’t come overcome the fact that Joey Ramone virtually lay on The Fatman while I was strolling through bloody Berlin in the unbearable heat. Why didn’t I decide to take a nap instead?

“Chance has never yet satisfied the hope of a suffering people.”
(Marcus Garvey)

DIRK