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Tuesday, 28 July 2009

A New Appreciation for The Ramones Part 3

The band that had sung about being a "Happy Family" back on 'Rocket to Russia' in 1977 was anything but happy in 1983 when they came to together to record their seventh studio album. Relations between the members were very fractured and during time in studio at least one relationship got back on track and that was between Johnny and Dee Dee. They jointly wrote 'Psychotherapy' and it was the song that saved 'Subterranean Jungle' from being another failed attempt at greatness. By the end of recording Marky was gone. Fired due to his excessive drinking and by time the band hit the road they had a new man on the stool, Richie Ramone (Reinhardt). Marky appears on the cover but as you can see he is almost hidden behind the window and not alongside his fellow band members.

Actually it was this album that was a turning point for the band. With it's release they left behind their dreams of Billboard Chart success and as Gil Kaufman says in his liner essay for the expanded edition, they "focused on just being themselves." Good thing as well because the album tanked reaching only #83.

'Subterranean Jungle' is an odd album because it includes three cover versions (it opens with two, The Music Explosion's 1967 #2 hit, 'Little Bit O' Soul' and The Boyfriends 'I Need Your Love' and also The Chambers Brothers song 'Time Has Come Today'), maybe that was a reflection of the fact that the band were struggling to write songs on their own or with each other.

The rest of the album is not brilliant by The Ramones standard and in my mind only 'Psychotherapy', 'Outsider' and 'Somebody Like Me' really stand out. 'Time Bomb' which featured in many live shows was Dee Dee's first outing as the main vocalist on an album.

Richie's first album as a fully fledged member of The Ramones would be 1984's 'Too Tough to Die', an album that some say is their last truly great album. It was and is a vital return to form. As if in celebration at reaching their 10 year mark they brought Tommy back to produce alongside Ed Stasium. The only exception to their production was Dave Stewart at the controls for 'Howling at the Moon' (a track that almost seems out of place on the album in my mind).

The video is a bit rough and recorded live in Manchester in 1985

They showed on The Old Grey Whistle Test that they were still a force to be reckoned with. A fantastic three song set including 'Warthog', 'Chasing the Night' and 'Mama's Boy'. Having been absent from the UK for 5 years they played four nights in London to great acclaim.

I have a bootleg of the final night of the Lyceum shows (27th Feb 1985) and it is a remarkable 32 track set:

Durango 95 / Teenage Lobotomy / Psycho Therapy / Blitzkrieg Bop / Do You Remember Rock 'N' Roll Radio? / Danger Zone / Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment / Rock 'N' Roll High School / I Wanna Be Sedated / Beat On The Brat / The KKK Took My Baby Away / Go Mental / I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You / Suzy Is A Headbanger / Let's Dance / Too Tough To Die / Smash You / Chinese Rock / Wart Hog / Rockaway Beach / Surfin' Bird / Cretin Hop / California Sun / Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World / Pinhead / Mama's Boy / Highest Trails Above / Sheena Is A Punk Rocker / Chasing The Night / Judy Is A Punk / We're A Happy Family / Howling At The Moon / Commando

32 songs in 64 minutes! Richie once said "There are three speeds with The Ramones: fast, pretty fast and very fast!" (Sounds interview 1985)

'Too Tough To Die' did better in the UK than in the States reaching #63 but the band were not overly focused on the charts anymore. It was all about the music.

The tracks I really rate on the 'Too Tough' album are the title track 'Too Tough to Die', 'Warthog' which some think is quite cartoonish, 'Chasing the Night', 'Daytime Dilemma' and 'Planet Earth 1988' in which Dee Dee wrote some very prophetic words: "The solution to peace isn't clear/The terrorist threat is a modern fear/There are no jobs for the young/They turn to crime turn to drugs/Battleships crowd the sea/16 year-olds in the army/Our jails are filled to the max/Discrimination against the blacks"

Joey said years later that "A lot of people had started to give up on us. But 'Too Tough to Die' reinstated us and put us back on top." That was a tough place to be when you consider that bands like Black Flag and Husker Du were in their element in those days.

The Ramones were no longer considered to be the Punk kings and the music press was not overly kind to the band on release of this album but 25 years on I still consider it to be one of their finest albums. They had struggled for a good few years now but it seemed like they were back on track with this one. Most bands would have hung up their guitars if they had two albums that went down like a lead balloon, but The Ramones were fighters to the end and the title of the album was really a reflection of what that purpose of heart they possessed was about.

To be continued
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