Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Ramones [Sire, 1976] A
  • Ramones Leave Home [Sire, 1977] A
  • Rocket to Russia [Sire, 1977] A
  • Road to Ruin [Sire, 1978] A
  • End of the Century [Sire, 1980] B+
  • Pleasant Dreams [Sire, 1981] A-
  • Subterranean Jungle [Sire, 1983] A-
  • Too Tough to Die [Sire, 1984] A
  • Animal Boy [Sire, 1986] B+
  • Halfway to Sanity [Sire, 1987] C+
  • Ramones Mania [Sire, 1988] B
  • Brain Drain [Sire, 1989] B
  • Mondo Bizarro [Radioactive, 1992] A-
  • Acid Eaters [Radioactive, 1993] *
  • Adios Amigos! [Radioactive, 1995] Neither
  • It's Alive [Sire/Warner Bros., 1995] A-
  • Weird Tales of the Ramones [Sire/Rhino, 2005]  

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Ramones [Sire, 1976]
I love this record--love it--even though I know these boys flirt with images of brutality (Nazi especially) in much the same way "Midnight Rambler" flirts with rape. You couldn't say they condone any nasties, natch--they merely suggest that the power of their music has some fairly ominous sources and tap those sources even as they offer the suggestion. This makes me uneasy. But my theory has always been that good rock and roll should damn well make you uneasy, and the sheer pleasure of this stuff--which of course elicits howls of pain from the good old rock and roll crowd--is undeniable. For me, it blows everything else off the radio: it's clean the way the Dolls never were, sprightly the way the Velvets never were, and just plain listenable the way Black Sabbath never was. And I hear it cost $6400 to put on plastic. A

Ramones Leave Home [Sire, 1977]
People who consider this a one-joke band aren't going to change their minds now. People who love the joke for its power, wit, and economy will be happy to hear it twice. Hint: read the lyrics. A

Rocket to Russia [Sire, 1977]
Having revealed how much you can take out and still have rock and roll, they now explore how much you can put back in and still have Ramones. Not that they've returned so very much--a few relatively obvious melodies, a few relatively obvious vocals. But that's enough. Yes, folks, there's something for everyone on this ready-made punk-rock classic. Stoopidity, both celebrated and satirized. Love (thwarted) and social protest (they would seem to oppose DDT). Inspired revivals (the Trashmen) and banal cover versions (Bette Midler and Cass Elliott beat them to "Do You Wanna Dance?"). And, for their record company and the ears of the world, an actual potential hit. If "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" was the most significant number eighty-four in history, what will "Rockaway Beach" do for number twenty? (Did I hear five?) A

Road to Ruin [Sire, 1978]
Like any great group, this one is always topping itself. Album four alternates definitive high-speed rockers--"I Wanted Everything," "I'm Against It," and "She's the One" are as good as any they've ever done--with more candidly lyrical slow ones that rank with the oldie, "Needles and Pins," as compositions. The lyrics of "I Just Want to Have Something to Do" and "I Wanna Be Sedated" test the barrier between their Queens-geek personas and their real lives as professional musicians without a hint of rocky-road bullshit. Only the "Bad Brain" (a title) theme seems repetitious--personally, I'm glad it's fading. But the guitar breaks bring tears to my personal eyes, and I await Gary Stewart's version of "Questioningly." A

End of the Century [Sire, 1980]
Sad. The best cut is "I'm Affected" (note double-edged title); the second best is a Ronettes remake (Joey outsings Andy Kim); the third best is a ballad about their manager (now departed). They also remake two of their own songs--"Judy Is a Punk" (good sequel) and "Rock 'n' Roll High School" (unnecessary Spectorization)--and one of the Heartbreakers' (inferior). And take on the Sports and Joe Jackson with a song about the radio that would be the worst they'd ever written were it not for "This Ain't Havana" and "High Risk Insurance," in which the group's reactionary political instincts finally escape that invisible ironic shield (bet Johnny provided worse-than-Barry-McGuire rhymes like "on your way to life's promotion/You hinder it with emotion"). Phil Spector doesn't make that much difference; his guitar overdubs are worse than his orchestrations, and they're not uncute. But this band sounds tired. B+

Pleasant Dreams [Sire, 1981]
I know number six comes off corny compared to the aural rush and conceptual punch of their first (or third) (fourth even). But song for song it sure beats the fifth, and in future centuries it's not gonna sound all that different from Ramones Leave Home--less focused, maybe, but fun anyway. And I want to know what future centuries will make of American rock having left its first anti-KKK song to an announced Reaganite. A-

Subterranean Jungle [Sire, 1983]
"I'm just a guy who likes to get drunk/I'm just a guy who likes to dress punk," Joey chants as side one fades away, incisively and affectionately locating the real audience he's brought into being after all these years of mythos and stabs in the dark. And despite one hopeless lyric (Dee Dee on Disneyland) and one dubious cover (token pure pop to balance off double-O soul remembrances of the Chambers Brothers and the Music Explosion), this is more worthy of an audience than anything they've done in the '80s. Not a mass audience, certainly not a great audience, maybe not even a cool one--just guys who have finally discovered a taste for the raw roar the Ramones invented (bigger now but no less tuneful) and are smart enough to know that when Joey goofs his way through the five syllables of "psy-che-del-i-cized" he's some singer. A-

Too Tough to Die [Sire, 1984]
Who would have thunk it? With Tommy producing again after five years, these teen-identified professionals (mean age: thirty-three) make a great album, with the cleansing minimalism of their original conception evoked and honestly augmented rather than recycled--just like their unjudgmental fondness for their fellow teen-identifieds. This time the commercial direction is more metal than pop, but satanists they ain't: just as Joey came up with punk's most useful anti-KKK song, here Dee Dee comes up with punk's most useful anti-Reagan song. Dee Dee also imitates Bugs Bunny on steroids on two well-placed hardcore parodies and provides the first single's salutory lyrical hook: "I want to steal from the rich and give to the poor." A

Animal Boy [Sire, 1986]
Even if "Animal Boy" and "Ape Man Hop" were code for B-boy, which they're not, this wouldn't keep the promise of the remixed and retitled "My Head Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)," because these days code is too fucking subtle. And what we get instead is jungle bunnies, two (pretty good) songs about Joey's drinking, another (not so good) one about his misery, Dee Dee one-for-three, the defensive-sounding "She Belongs to Me," the defensive-sounding "Crummy Stuff," and an anthem I believe called "Something to Believe In." If only they could stop squandering their compassion on cartoons and believe in something. B+

Halfway to Sanity [Sire, 1987]
It kills me to say this, but with Richie or whoever on the lam, Dee Dee moonlighting as a punk-rapper, Joey frequenting all-acoustic showcases, and Johnny Johnny, a great band has finally worn down into a day job for night people. C+

Ramones Mania [Sire, 1988]
Begins with "I Wanna Be Sedated" instead of "Blitzkrieg Bop," eh? Odd choice, though it sounds fine, just like everything else they recorded in the '70s, which is why I was hot to lap up the surfeit of this best-of twofer all the way to the third cut, 1980's lamer-than-ever "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" Lessee--forty-five-only mixes, archival 1910 Fruitgum cover, hmm. Look, kids, let me boil it down for you. First Ramones. Then Rocket to Russia. Then Too Tough to Die, which was 1984. After that you're on your own. Have fun. B

Brain Drain [Sire, 1989]
Laswellization neither saves their souls for rock and roll nor turns them into a metal band. First side's basically Dee Dee, period-hopping from the pleasantly dreamy "I Believe in Miracles" to the East Coast surf cover "Palisades Park." Second side's basically Joey, pushing the envelope on "Ignorance Is Bliss," going flat on "Come Back, Baby." For professionalism, not bad. B

Mondo Bizarro [Radioactive, 1992]
More like an old country singer (George Jones leaving Epic, say) than the world's greatest rock and roll band (greater than Mick's side project, anyway), Joey and whoever (Johnny credited on guitar, Dee Dee cowriting two good songs, Marky ditto, C.J. singing Dee Dee) do right by their formula. Reasons to believe: the Dee Dee ballad Joey sings, and the Beach Boys tribute that goes, "Touring, touring, it's never boring." A-

Acid Eaters [Radioactive, 1993]
hippiedom as punk ("My Back Pages," "Have You Ever Seen the Rain") *

Adios Amigos! [Radioactive, 1995] Neither

It's Alive [Sire/Warner Bros., 1995]
Redundant when it was dropped on the punk-besotted U.K. in 1979, this concert is precious history now--seems so impossibly light and quick it makes you suspect they didn't fully sustain their live pace into their forties after all. Partly it's repertoire--the 28 songs reprise their three best albums, and all but a couple are still classics. Mostly, though, it's Tommy, who hung in for five years without ever turning show drummer. They needed Marky (and Richie) to drive them on. But it was Tommy who designed the vehicle. A-

Weird Tales of the Ramones [Sire/Rhino, 2005]
Between 1976 and 1978, the Ramones were a skyrocket who released four more or less flawless albums. Then they turned into a Ford Econoline, touring the world and releasing 11 more studio albums. Many were worthy, but only 1984's Too Tough to Die is worthy of the 25 '70s tracks omitted from this, their fourth or sixth anthology depending on how you count. It's their first box, selected by their late guitarist-leader Johnny Ramone, who was prouder than necessary of both their longevity and his ability to retire at 45 off his catalogue and investments. The '70s albums end on disc one, and the fourth disc is devoted to a recycled video comp that further emphasizes their careerist period. All 25 omitted songs would have fit onto that disc. In descending order of preference, try Ramones, Rocket to Russia, Road to Ruin, and Ramones Leave Home, all available separately. Program out the bonus cuts. [unknown: 3]  

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