Ramones Mania

The Ramones

Sire Records, 1988

http://ramones.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/15/1997

As hard as I try, I just don't quite get The Ramones.

Oh, sure, I love some of their songs. That's what possessed me to pick up their 1988 best-of Ramones Mania in the first place. There are moments where Joey and the boys are miles above their competition.

But unlike other punk bands from the same time frame (Sex Pistols, Black Flag, etc.), with The Ramones, I guess you really had to be there. The hits are still incredible, but at times the disc sounds forced and aged.

From the moment they "one-two-three-four"ed onto the scene in 1974, The Ramones became the godfathers of American punk - but I think this was the farthest thing from their minds. All these guys wanted to do was to play rock 'n' roll the only way they knew how - fast, loud and truthful. There is still nothing more exciting than hearing the first chorus of "Hey, ho - let's go" on "Blitzkrieg Bop," though I now prefer Die Toten Hosen's cover of the song. For 132 seconds, time stands still, and the fury of the instruments is a glorious noise erupting from your speakers.

Early on, you also saw this was a band who didn't take themselves seriously. Anyone who took the lyrics to "Beat On The Brat" seriously needed their head examined; this wasn't a serious call to "beat on the brat with a baseball bat." And if you needed a sign as to how "seriously" the band took themselves, just turn to the tracks from the Phil Spector-produced my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 End Of The Century (the best example here is "Do You Remember Rock 'N' Roll Radio"). True punks would have thrown Spector into their amplifiers; The Ramones allowed him to utilize his "Wall Of Sound" to distort theirs. My opinion: it was nice, but it wasn't The Ramones.

Okay, enough babbling about the history of the band - you wanted a review, and you're gonna get a review. The tracks that stand out on Ramones Mania are, more often than not, the ones that are occasionally heard on the radio. "I Wanna Be Sedated," "Blitzkrieg Bop"... the ones that have been burned into our brains. Two exceptions: "Cretin Hop" (originally from Rocket To Russia) and a damn-near-perfect cover of the '60s classic "Needles And Pins." While Joey Ramone's vocals show their limits on this one (and I don't think he's ever pretended to be a good singer), he does an admirable job on the song. Another cover, "Indian Giver," is a flop from note one.

The problem with the disc is that The Ramones are best if taken in small dosages. This two-record slugfest ends up clocking in at just over 50 minutes - and with 30 songs on it, no less. Still, there are times that one three-minute song seems to last hours. Case in point: "Somebody Put Something In My Drink" off the Jean Beauvoir-produced Animal Boy. Cripes, if the whole album is like that one song, then I don't think it's worth my time checking it out. And if that's Joey grunting out the vocals, then he needs to get back to the "New Yawk" style of singing he did so well.

Other cuts on the album hold up okay on their own, like "We're A Happy Family," "Teenage Lobotomy" and "Pinhead" - but the angst of a disco-infected '70s world doesn't hold the piss and vinegar today. "Rock 'N' Roll High School" may have been fresh then, but it's so much fodder today. (The Ramones seemed to recognize this fact, recently calling it a career, albeit an album or two too late.) Still others, like "The KKK Took My Baby Away," were silly then, and they're pointless now.

And it's not that the stuff sucks. "Bonzo Goes To Bitburg" is actually a very well-written political criticism of then-president Reagan. Also working for the band's behalf is they've often been teamed up with excellent producers (Tommy Erdelyi, Spector, Ed Stasium) who knew how to use the studio to the band's benefit. The drums on "I Wanna Be Sedated" are incredibly crisp, as is the guitar work.

It is an interesting picture of punk rock in its early stage through the time period where "punk" was a four-letter word. And with the emergence of bands like Green Day who owe their present successes to bands like The Ramones, I think there will always be interest in the band. So, Ramones Mania turns out to be a good starting point for people who are interested in seeing what the early days of punk sounded like - bad pictures and all.

Rating: B-

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sire Records, and is used for informational purposes only.