Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Ranking The Albums: The Ramones Version

I've been on a pretty huge Ramones kick for the last couple weeks so I thought "well I may as well do a blog post on blogger about them for the first time in over a year. The Ramones are one of the best and probably the most important punk rock band of all time. Their sound never changed all that much over the course of their twenty year, fourteen studio album career but the quality of the releases certainly did. Here' a quick rundown of all fourteen of them in what I consider their worst to their first.

14. Halfway To Sanity (1987)

Even though a lot of their 80's albums are not very good, The Ramones never really made a truly horrible one either. Halfway To Sanity is about as bad as it got but it still has a few redeeming songs in "I Want To Live," "Garden Of Serenity" and Real Cool Time" but for the most part this is a very nondescript, lifeless album that's as close to a pure failure as the band ever recorded.   

13. Brain Drain (1989)

If Halfway to Sanity is the Ramones worst album, Brain Drain sure isn't much better. This was the last album Dee Dee would play on and the infighting within the band may have been at an all time high.  The only reason it's higher is because "I Believe in Miracles" and "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight) are better songs than any on Halfway. It also has their highest charting single ever in "Pet Sematary" but that song kinda stinks so it's not a really good selling point. The other songs are all pedestrian efforts that just reek of a band going through the motions. 

12. Animal Boy (1986)

Animal Boy find The Ramones treading very close to heavy metal as Johnnie's guitars are downtuned, the production is layered (too much so) and a number of songs feature Joey giving particularly aggressive vocal performances.  There's also a whole lot of subpar material here as well so it doesn't really matter what the sound necessarily is. Animal Boy also has perhaps the worst (and laziest) Ramones song ever recorded in "Crummy Stuff." On the positive side "Somebody Put Something in My Drink" and "Something To Believe In" are pretty good rockers and "She Belongs To Me" is a better than average ballad. The real highlight is "My Brain is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitberg)" Joey's takedown of Reagan that Johnny would not let the band release under it's original name (the Bonzo part). It's catchy and full of life, two things the Ramones struggled to pull off in the late 80's.

11. Mondo Bizarro (1992)

Mondo Bizarro doesn't feature a whole lot of high quality songs but the addition of new bass player C.J. Ramone did seem to give the band a bit more energy. It's not a return to form by any means but "Censorshit" (Joey's attack on Tipper Gore and the PMRC), "The Job That Ate My Brain" and a cover of the Doors "Take it as it Comes" are all good punk songs  Meanwhle the departed Dee Dee gave the band two string mid-tempo songs in "Strength To Endure" (sung by C.J.) and "Poison Heart." The rest of the album again suffers from fairly indistinguishable material but at least it's performed with some zest.

10. Acid Eaters (1994)

If Acid Eaters is proof of anything it's that The Ramones suffered more from a lack of quality material in the late 80's and early 90's than anything. They rip through covers of The Amboy Dukes ("Journey To The Center Of The Mind"), The Who ("Substitute"), Bob Dylan ("My Back Pages") and CCR ("Have You Ever Seen The Rain") with a fire and vigor not heard on a Ramones album in a decade. Even the slow songs (The Rolling Stones "Out of Time," The Seeds "Can't Seem To Make You Mine" and the Animals "When I Was Young") are full of energy. It's far from a classic covers album but overall it's pretty good.

9. Pleaseant Dreams (1981)

After failing to make a commercial dent with their classic 70's punk albums, The Ramones attempted to crossover to the pop market in the early 80's. Pleasant Dreams is their second attempt at this and while there are some excellent songs here, the production by 10cc member Graham Gouldman is soft and still and robs the songs of any of their power. "We Want the Airwaves," "The KKK Took My Baby Away," "It's Not My Place (In The 9 to 5 World)," and "She's A Sensation" all have memorable hooks and manage to overcome the stale production but the rest of the songs just sit there, waiting to be rescued. As far as pop sellouts go, The Ramones could have done worse but Pleasant Dreams could have been a lot better. 

8. Adios Amigos! (1995)

The final studio album the Ramones ever recorded isn't a classic by any stretch but it's a more than admirable way to go out. Joey's health was starting to fail a bit by this point leading to more mid-tempo songs and C.J. sings lead on four of the 13 songs. Their cover of Tom Waits' "I Don't Want To Grow Up" was a spirited rendition (and a minor hit) and the albums other cover (The Heartbreakers "I Love You) is excellent as well. "Life's A Gas," and "She Talks To Rainbows" are fine ballads while "Got a Lot To Say approaches hardcore and "Cretin Family" is a nice callback to the bands early years. A couple of the C.J. sung songs are two of the better tracks ("Makin Monsters For My Friends," "The Crusher") and Dee Dee even shows up to sing a verse on the closing "Born To Die In Berlin." The Ramones knew going in that Adios Amigos! was going to be their final album and as a swan song, it does not disappoint. 

7. Subterranean Jungle (1983)

Subterranean Jungle featured more cover songs (three) than any other Ramones album (not counting Acid Eaters) and those three songs help make up for the lack of consistency among the original material. The Music Explosion's "Little Bit O' Soul" and The Boyfriends "I Need Your Love" are both obscure enough covers that most people may think they're originals (I certainly used to) and the kick off the album with style and hooks. The Ramones also do a straightforward version of The Chamber Brothers "Time Has Come Today" that isn't as essential but it's perfectly acceptable. As far as the originals go "Outsider," "Psycho Therapy" and "Time Bomb" are the kind of catchy pop-punk the Ramones  could pull off with ease early in their career and "My-My Kind of a Girl" is one of their better slow songs. The strength of the covers makes Subterranean Jungle worth seeking out. 

6. End of the Century (1980) 

End Of The Century was the Ramones first real attempt at pop music. They got one of their heroes in Phil Spector to produce it but the results did not turn out as well as they had originally hoped. Spectors wall of sound production wasn't a huge detriment to the 60's radio tribute "Do You Remember Rock 'N' Roll Radio?" and the ballads ("Danny Says" and their Ronette's cover "Baby I Love You") but it absolutely neutered the harder material. "I'm Affected," "Chinese Rock," "The Return of Jackie and Judy," "This Ain't Havana" "Let's Go" and a re-recording of Rock 'N' Roll High School" are all great songs that simply can't fully overcome the stagnant production that robbed Johnny's guitars of all their edge and power. End Of The Century certainly isn't a bad album but it could have been a great one.

5. Too Tough To Die (1984)

The Ramones seemed to find their focus in 1984, they scrapped the attempts at mainstream acceptance and emerged with their last truly classic album. Too Tough To Die features a nice variety of different styles including catchy punk ("Mama's Boy," "Danger Zone," "Humankind" the title track), pure pop ("Chasing the Night,"Daytme Dilemma (The Dangers of Love)," and "Howling at the Moon (Sha-La-La)"), rockabilly ("No Go") and riff driven hard rock ("I'm Not Afraid of Life" "Planet Earth 1988"). All these songs are fantastic and even the ones that verge on filler status are enjoyable. Throw in the instrumental "Durango 95" and the two manic songs that Dee Dee sings lead on ("Wart Hog," "Endless Vacation") and you have the most eclectic album of The Ramones career and also one of their best.

4. Road To Ruin (1978)

I go back and forth as to whether Road To Ruin or Too Tough To Die is a better album. I'm going with RTR here since it's a more traditional sounding Ramones album but it's close. While it's not quite up to the standards of their first three and a couple of the rockers are pretty by the books, "I Wanna Be Sedated," "She's the One" and "I Just Wanna Have Something to Do" are as good as anything the Ramones ever recorded. There's also a couple of the best ballads of the bands career in "Needles & Pins" and "Questioningly." It may not be an all time classic punk album but it is a classic Ramones album.

3. Leave Home (1977)

Here we are, the Holy Trinity of Ramones albums (and maybe even punk rock in general). Trying to decide on which of these next three are better is a fools errand and I guess I'm going to be that fool. Even though Leave Home is full of classic songs, it doesn't have quite as many as the other two higher on the list. But still the list of amazing songs here goes beyond the well known "Gald To See You Go," "Gimme Shock Treatment," "Pinhead," "You're Gonna Kill That Girl" and thee cover of"California Sun." "Oh Oh I Love Her So" and "Swallow My Pride"have hooks as big as any Ramones song and "Suzy Is A Headbanger" and "Commando" aren't far behind. The two slow(er) songs "I Remember You" and "What's Your Game" are both awesome as well. There are a couple weaker tracks mixed in but Leave Home is ultimately every bit as good as the two albums ahead of it. 

2. Ramones (1976)

This is where it all began. On a song by song basis Ramones and Leave Home are very similar with some of the performances here actually being lesser but there's no denying the importance and influence of this record. All it takes is the opening three chords and "Hey, Ho, Let's Go!" chant of "Blitzkreig Bop" to establish the sound the Ramones would largely stay faithful to their entire career. "Beat on the Brat," "Judy is a Punk," "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue," "I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement," Havana Affair" "Listen To My Heart," and "I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You" all follow the same approach and it never gets old. The street corner tale "53'rd and 3rd," the lovely "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" and the Nazi themed "Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World" give the album just enough needed variety to keep the listener from getting lost in the beat but really who wouldn't get lost in this. Punk music rarely gets better than Ramones and it never gets more important than this landmark.

1. Rocket To Russia (1977)

This is it, the indisputable best album of the Ramones career. There's not anything close to a bad song, there's the perfect variety of fast and slow tempos and more classic's than any other Ramones record. "Cretin Hop," "Rockaway Beach," "Sheena is a Punk Rocker," "We're A Happy Family," "Teenage Lobotomy" and their covers of "Surfin' Bird" and "Do You Wanna Dance?" are all on Rocket To Russia. There's also the beautiful ballad "Here Today Gone Tomorrow," the pure punk of "I Can't Give You Anything" and "Why Is It Always This Way" as well as the mid tempo "I Wanna Be Well" and "I Don't Care" which are all as good as the more well known songs. Even the lesser tracks ("Locket Love," "Ramona,") are pretty great. As I said before, choosing between these last three albums is nearly impossible and all three are required listening experiences. Punk rock (and music in general) does not get better than this. 

1 comment:

  1. I still love 'Rocket To Russia', having been a subhuman, punkrocker before and after my accident; however, the rest were just going downhill fast. You're brilliant enough to know (as I can see by your putting in the QUOTES around those albums - it kinda tells me a lil' sumtin about your intelligence), the filthy rich destroyed'm [literally] as do they with all musical groups. God bless you. Meet me Upstairs and we'll rock.