THE SONG RAMONES THE SAME: A TRIBUTE TO THE RAMONES - Various Artists (White Jazz)
Just in time for the Forest Hills bruddazzz' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, here are 19 bands both famous (Nomads, Hellacopters, Dictators, Wayne Kramer, Backyard Babies) and unknown (at least to me), doffing their lids to Joey and the boys. Comps 'n' tribs are usually a hit or miss affair, but this one's an exception...the BEST one, in fact, I've heard since the second volume of the "Flattery" Radio Birdman trib on No Mango a coupla lifetimes ago.
What made the Ramones great (and as I say almost incessantly these days, they've come a long way from when they were laughingstocks to claim the distinction of being, with Black Sabbath, THE MOST INFLUENTIAL BAND IN ROCK'N'ROLL TODAY) wasn't their most obvious trait (loud dumb guitars), but rather their most subtle (brilliant pop songcraft). What these guys were, in their way: THE BEACH BOYS OF THE SEVENTIES. It wasn't their fault that it took 25 years for their noise to seep down into the universal consciousness (it takes a hell of a lot of baseball games to brainwash the public to chant "Hey, ho, let's go," y'know). And the toons are simple enough that it's easy for a properly-motivated cover artist to put a distinctive stamp or two on 'em.
Thankfully, few of these versions are rote copies, and even the ones that hew pretty close to the originals have something to distinguish them (f'rinstance, the absolutely BRUTAL bass on Sahara Hotnights' opening blast of "Rockaway Beach"). The aforementioned Sahara Hotnights and Satirnine (who essay "Mama's Boy") can't imitate Joey's distinctive adenoidal delivery because, well, because they're GURLS. Cool Millions adds cheesy Farfisa to "The KKK Took My Baby Away" to good effect. And sure, Sort Sol's "Blitzkried Bop" and Per Gessle's "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" don't stray very far from the 'riginals (except for the former's mistranslating the line "all revved up..." as "all RAVED up and ready to go"), but then, why mess with perfection? The most terrifying ones are Whale's Europop deconstruction of "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue" and Wolf's over-the-top, Pat Benatar-ish "I'm Not Afraid of Life." (So you'll know, they appear back to back, tracks 11 and 12. You've been warned.)
The best ones are obvious: the Nomads, with their female auxiliary the Kissettes handling voxxx on "I Remember You" (Nick Vahlberg only SEEMS to be present vocally on this trib due to the similarity of some other singers' voices); the Hellacopters, applying their typically energetic attack to "What'd Ya Do?" (after all, what was "Hopeless Case of a Kid in Denial" if not Nick Royale's attempt at tapping into Everykid's Ubermind the way Joey and Dee Dee did routinely for 20 years?); the Dictators essaying "I Just Wanna Have Something To Do" as if they wrote it (which they could have). Brother Wayne Kramer RECITES "Bonzo Goes To Bitburg" over a hip-hop riddim track, discovering the reggae potential in the chorus (what else would you expect from the man who recast "The Harder They Come" as a rock song?). The Barman's faves (NOT!) the Toilet Boys render a version of "Carbona Not Glue" which ISN'T the worst thing I've ever heard. (ED'S NOTE: You should have seen 'em play with the Dragons in San Diego - you might have changed your mind.)
Venerable but obscure Scandis Wilmer X do a credible "I Can't Make It On Time" with a harp solo, while the apparently Canadian Danko Jones do the same for "The Return of Jackie and Judy." (At this point, I'll confess to harbouring a special affection for the "End of the Century" album, probably because it was the current release the one time I saw the bruddazzz live, at the Dallas Palladium, ca. '79.) My own favourite piece on the album is the last: Jesse Malin's heartbreaking take on "Questioningly," on which the singer realizes every bit of pathos inherent in the toon. (I'm further reminded of the winter of '79-'80 I spent trying to make a band in Aspen, Colorado, with "Road To Ruin" as the soundtrack. Bruce, John, Jay: What in the hell were we thinking?)
Whether or not you were a major Ramones fan, you're sure to listen to this more than the usual run of tribute discs. If you were, consider it essential. Kudos to White Jazz honcho Kalle Schewen for putting it together! - Ken Shimamoto
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