Thursday, November 18, 2004

I Take What I Need to Live

This week's favorite album is Hey Ho! Let's Go! , the two-disc Ramones anthology. Sixty-some tracks, and extensive liner notes by David Fricke.

In college at some point I decided I needed A Punk Record. My music collection, then and now, ranged in tone mostly from very mellow (folk, bluegrass) to medium hard (Neil Young, The Who), but I decided I needed one really fast thrashing record, to play at maximum volume on the last day of final exams or other times when I needed sonic release. The one I grabbed was Rocket to Russia, and it served its purpose very well. Later I supplemented the one punk album with "Never Mind the Bollocks" and a Clash or two, but all of these are on vinyl, therefore I haven't played them in about a decade.

So I picked up Hey Ho! Let's Go! and feel like I understand the band much better--thanks partly to Fricke's essay. I'm sometimes guilty of taking a condescending view of punk bands as noble savages, untutored and instinctive, but these guys were deliberate in their choices about sound, onstage image, and aesthetic principles. That signature Ramones sound is really quite beautiful, even sweet when they wanted it to be--"I Want You Around" is the song that's earworming me today. And to be honest, part of what heightens my appreciation for that sound is hearing how they strayed somewhat from it late in their career, with overbearing producers and Joey betraying his deadpan delivery a bit.

A great thing about the Ramones is the combination of twisted humor with bubblegum-pop influences. Yesterday was the first time I ever took a close listen to "The KKK Took My Baby Away," and it's a girl-group song, for cryin' out loud. King and Goffin could almost have written it. (And it makes it real easy to hear what attracted Phil Spector to the Ramones.)

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