Rocket To Russia
Sire Records, 1977
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/08/1998
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The Ramones are a band that are best experienced in small doses.
Of course, how could anyone say this about a band whose albums usually averaged about a half-hour in length, and most songs clocked in under three minutes? Take the band's third album, Rocket To Russia. The last album to feature Tommy Ramone (who also produced the album under his real name) behind the drum kit, this album contains some great material within its 14 tracks. It also contains songs that get real tired, real quick.
There's no denying the intensity of the three-chord guitar work of Johnny Ramone or the grunting vocals of Joey Ramone; these two things alone help power this band, backed by the thumping bass work of Dee Dee Ramone and the frantic skin work by the aforementioned Tommy Ramone. If you're looking for classics from the Ramones catalog, you'll find many of them on this album, which opens up with "Cretin Hop". A less-than-two-minute blast of thunder, it is a solid start to the album. Also included on Rocket To Russia are "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker," "Teenage Lobotomy," "Rockaway Beach" and the song that started it all for me, "We're A Happy Family". (Believe it or not, I hadn't listened to The Ramones seriously until I got into college radio in 1989.)
The fact that The Ramones add two cover songs into the mix on Rocket To Russia shouldn't be surprising; they dusted off "California Sun" on their previous album Leave Home. Choosing "Do You Wanna Dance?" is surprising, however; the original from Bobby Sherman didn't seem like it had any punk overtones in it. However, the boys from the Bronx do a respectable job with it. Their selection of "Surfin' Bird" seems more natural; even the original version seems like it had an early punk flavor mixed in with the Sixties surf rock sound. If any bad was born to cover this song, it was The Ramones.
However, many of the remaining songs on Rocket To Russia are not the band's best work, and some of them start to grate on the listener's nerves after a while. "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" is a weak effort at a ballad - something that just didn't seem right for The Ramones to be tackling at this stage in their career. Likewise, "Why Is It Always This Way?" is meandering and pointless. Other tracks like "Locket Love," "I Can't Give You Anything" and "Ramona" are decent enough efforts, but not much to write home about.
In the end, though, well over half the album is entertaining, and even the casual fan might find some true joy in the nuggets that have remained hidden to all but the diehard fans. Rocket To Russia has some great moments on it, but it does get a little tiring in the end. Then again, how can anyone really get tired of an album that lasts only slightly longer than most television programs?