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Friday, 19 May 2017

Revisiting Animal Boy - Ramones (1986)

Animal Boy - Ramones
Beggars Banquet/Sire
Produced by Jean Beauvoir
Released 19th May 1986
US Chart #143
UK Chart #38

Side A

Side B

    Joey Ramone – Lead vocals (all but Love Kills and Eat The Rat)
    Johnny Ramone – Lead guitar
    Dee Dee Ramone – Bass guitar, backing vocals, lead vocals (Love Kills, Eat The Rat)
    Richie Ramone – Drums, backing vocals

Additional musicians
    Walter Lure - extra guitar (on some tracks)

Singles On Animal Boy
UK Releases 
(There are Lots of Links Down Below so click on them to listen to further tunes from the band)

Released June 1985
7" and 12" Vinyl
UK Chart #81

Released April 1986
7" and 12" Vinyl
UK Chart #69

On the UK and  The Netherlands Release (You) Can't Say Anything Nice (written by Richie Ramone) was the second B-Side on the 12" version. 

 A-Side: Something To Believe In

B-Side: Animal Boy
US Single
Did Not Chart

A-Side: Crummy Stuff
Released July 1986
7" and 12" Vinyl
UK Chart #98 

*The band filmed a special video for the song.

It had been just a little over 20 years since the Ramones released their Debut Self-Titled Album and in May 1986 they unleashed their 9th Studio Album, Animal Boy.

On the previous release, 1984's Too Tough To Die, the band had made one of their finest albums in a long time returning to a much edgier Punk sound than the previous "Pop" geared albums of Pleasant Dreams and Subterranean Jungle (both most surprisingly did not chart in the UK but did so in the US). There was a certain amount of expectation about the follow-up album as to whether it could live up to what had gone before. With former member of The Plasmatics, Jean Beauvoir on board as Producer it looked hopeful!

Eleven months prior to the release of the album, in June 1985, came the single Bonzo Goes To Bitburg. Sources at the Ramones' U.S. label, Sire Records, and its parent company, Warner Bros. Records, gave differing reasons for not releasing the single in America: The Sire products manager said the decision was "both financial and political"; an anonymous Warner Bros. source claimed, "It just wasn't considered a good enough record." Clearly that person from Warner Bros didn't have a clue what he was talking about! The band had never released a single before that was so Political and it was an outright attack upon sitting President Ronald Reagan.

"Better call, call the law
When you gonna turn yourself in? Yeah
You're a politician
Don't become one of Hitler's children"

The song was written in reaction to the visit paid by U.S. President Ronald Reagan to a military cemetery in Bitburg, West Germany, on May 5, 1985. Reagan laid a wreath at the cemetery and then gave a public address at a nearby air base. The visit was part of a trip paying tribute to the victims of Nazism and celebrating West Germany's revival as a powerful, democratic ally of the U.S.

Reagan's plan to visit the Bitburg cemetery had been criticized in the United States, Europe, and Israel because among the approximately 2,000 German soldiers buried there were 49 members of the Waffen-SS, the combat arm of the SS, which committed many other atrocities. Among those vehemently opposed to the trip were Jewish and veterans' groups and both houses of the U.S. Congress. The phrase "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" was coined by protesters in the weeks leading up to Reagan's trip. Employed as an epithet for Reagan, Bonzo is actually the name of the chimpanzee title character in Bedtime for Bonzo, a 1951 comedy starring Reagan. The phrase also echoes the title of the film's sequel, Bonzo Goes to College (1952), though Reagan did not appear in that picture.

Before departing for Germany, Reagan ignited more controversy when he expressed his belief that the soldiers buried at Bitburg "were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps." In his remarks immediately after the cemetery visit, Reagan said that "the crimes of the SS must rank among the most heinous in human history", but noted that many of those interred at Bitburg were "simply soldiers in the German army... There were thousands of such soldiers for whom Nazism meant no more than a brutal end to a short life."

Discussing the inspiration for the song, Ramones lead singer Joey Ramone, a Jew, explained that the President "sort of shit on everybody." Interviewed in 1986, he said,

"We had watched Reagan going to visit the SS cemetery on TV and were disgusted. We're all good Americans, but Reagan's thing was like forgive and forget. How can you forget six million people being gassed and roasted?"

(The above section regarding the backdrop to writing the song was "borrowed" from Wikipedia! - Doug)

The song title was changed for the album to My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg) apparently to placate Johnny Ramone, who was a staunch conservative and fervent supporter of Ronald Reagan (and George W. Bush years later!).

Then in April 1986 came what I think is one of the Ramones best singles ever, and infact what I consider to be their best song - Something To To Believe In (I know, a lot of people will complain about that one!) and the other A-Side being Richie Ramone's Somebody Put Something In My Drink. The second track was also a song written by Richie and it is him singing on it. Joey Ramone supported Richie's vocal and songwriting contributions: "Richie's very talented and he's very diverse... He really strengthened the band a hundred percent because he sings backing tracks, he sings lead, and he sings with Dee Dee's stuff. In the past, it was always just me singing for the most part...I encouraged Richie to write songs. I figured it would make him feel more a part of the group, because we never let anybody else write our songs."

I remember when Sheena Is A Punk Rocker was released in the UK as a single back in May 1977 and reading the Single Review in the NME by Charles Shaar Murray who said: 

"Look, all The Ramones songs sound like hit singles and then don't sell, but this song is so flat-out delightful that not even the nasty boring dull-as-bleedin' dishwater Republic will be able to resist it. The sheer charm of and essential niceness of Dolly Ramone's four horrible sons is gonna win out." 

I so wish Charlie's words had come true because he was perfectly spot on. Whilst Sheena became their first charting single in the US and the UK there was a decade of Single releases that followed which either failed to chart or crawled into the lower basement of the Charts (the only exception being Baby, I Love You which peaked at #8 - and wasn't even a Ramones song!). Here was another single, a Double A-Sided release in Something To Believe In / Somebody Put Something In My Drink that screamed LOUDLY HIT RECORD!...but it wasn't, just barely crept into the Top 70 (squeaking in at #69)! As I said above, Something To Believe In is my favourite Ramones song EVER! I love the video they did for it when it was reissued as the B-Side of Crummy Stuff (which only charted at #98 in the UK). A co-write between Dee Dee Ramone and Jean Beauvoir it stands as one of those great "hopeful" Ramones songs (and yes there are more than a few of them!). :

"I can't be someone else
I don't feel that it's hopeless
I don't feel that I'm useless

I can't throw it all away
I need some courage to find my weakness
And with your love, I know with all my heart I can win"

The song was later recorded by The Pretenders shortly before the death of Johnny Ramone. He produced the song and it was included on the We're A Happy Family: A Tribute to Ramones album.

When the album arrived it was not quite I expected, and although it went higher in the charts than Too Tough To Die, it was nowhere near as good! It does have a few great moments besides the Singles that were included: Animal Boy penned by Dee Dee and JohnnyShe Belongs To Me - which I had first thought must have been a Joey song because it has a lot of the elements of 60's Pop that the singer seemed to love, but it was actually written by Dee Dee. Mental Hell - a Joey song that seems to have captured a lot of his own personal dysfunction!

Even after 31 years I still can't get to grips with a lot of the other songs on the album. I know it seems like some kind of "musical blasphemy" to some to be critical of a band that they like (and hey, I not only liked 'em but loved them also!) and that one is to assume that everything they released is the best thing ever since sliced bread, but you have to be realistic about things. If a song is not good what's the point in defending it to the hilt?

I never ever liked Love Kills (I know quite a few people who totally love it) as I was never enamoured by the whole Sid and Nancy scene that developed after their deaths. Apeman Hop, Crummy Stuff, Eat The Rat, Freak of Nature and Hair of the Dog will never ever turn up on my favourites list of Ramones songs. As it is my blog I feel that I can get away with saying that and when it all comes down to it what music we like or dislike comes down to personal taste so if you actually like these songs then I am fine with that (I wouldn't pretend to understand why you do though) but to me they were just filler, nothing special about them at all. Basically half the album's tracks I liked and the rest I can't be bothered with. The first two Singles offered some hope that it was going to be another cracker but sadly it didn't live up to the expectation for me! The tracks that I have mentioned that I like from the album are ones that I still do play quite a bit even all these years on.

Making it his pick for "album of the week", New York Times critic Jon Pareles wrote that the Ramones "speak up for outcasts and disturbed individuals", (even when we may not agree with everything they release! - Doug).

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