Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket to Russia, and Road to Ruin (Rhino)
Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., July 13, 2001
Ramones (Warner Archives/Rhino), Leave Home (Warner Archives/Rhino), Rocket to Russia (Warner Archives/Rhino), Road to Ruin (Warner Archives/Rhino)It's now accepted as common knowledge that the Ramones kicked off the slow-burning punk revolution, saving greater rock & roll from the flatulent bacchanal it had become in the mid-Seventies. Yet beneath Johnny's chainsaw guitar, Dee Dee's hoarse "1-2-3-4!" and the late Joey's paeans to pinheads and glue sniffers was a genuine reverence for Top 40's golden era that was missing from most of the bands that sprung up in the Queens quartet's wake. Subsequently, few bands (punk or otherwise) have a four-album winning streak like Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket to Russia, and Road to Ruin. The group's first four albums have finally been reissued with original cover art, bonus tracks, and enough improvement in fidelity to render Sire's early Nineties repackagings hopelessly inadequate. You might not think the Ramones' minimalism warrants meticulous remastering, but reissue producer Bill Inglot manages to jack up the band's sonic attack without compromising the intent of the original recordings. Cut in 1975 for $6,000, the Ramones' self-titled debut benefits most. "Blitzkrieg Bop," the Ramones' answer to the Bay City Rollers' "Saturday Night," bounces Beach Boys ebullience in delicious contrast to the jackhammer guitars and baby-let's-play-war lyrics. Leave Home picks up where Ramones left off with classics like "Pinhead" and "Commando." The reissue includes "Carbona Not Glue," a great ode to huffing removed from Leave Home after the first pressing due to complaints from the Carbona people. Better still, it includes a 1976 recording of the Ramones' first L.A. gig. The 15-song set captures a hungry band eager to prove themselves to an audience hearing them for the first time. Given the backhanded genius of "Teenage Lobotomy," "Rockaway Beach," and "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," 1977's Rocket to Russia was the breakthrough that should've catapulted the Ramones to fame. It did not. When the band returned the following year with Road to Ruin, their core approach was slightly mitigated by more traditional pop styling. Joey's oft-overlooked vocals take center stage on a sullen remake of "Needles and Pins" and the twang-tinged heartbreaker "Questioningly." Nevertheless, the album's most enduring track is the bop-happy "I Wanna Be Sedated." Rhino's reissue also features material from the great Rock 'N' Roll High School soundtrack, including an electrifying five-song live set. Though the Ramones released a few more compelling albums before their 1996 retirement, the first four are jam-packed, genre-defining classics that guarantee the bruddahs a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It's just too bad Joey won't be around for the induction.
(Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket to Russia)
(Road to Ruin)