In the space of two years The Ramones released their first 4 studio albums, 1976 – 1978. This mirrored the punk explosion in the States and the U.K. (and elsewhere I guess).
The Ramones would go on to release 14 studio albums. I see the band going through four phases despite many citing that “all the songs sound the same” (they don’t).
Personally I lump together the first 5 albums : Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket To Russia, Road To Ruin and End Of The Century. The second phase I see as just two albums : Pleasant Dreams and Subterranean Jungle.
The first 5 albums are as strong a period of music by a band you will find. Slight personnel changes do not alter much. Every album has great, great songs. The debut album is one of the best records I have ever heard. It made me buy a drum kid as a spotty teenager. Inspired.
Leave Home has legendary songs but a poorer production. Rocket To Russia ups the bubblegum ante and delivers in spades. I’ll get onto Road To Ruin in a bit. End Of The Century despite a 2 year gap (1980) needs to lumped with the first 4 albums – I can’t say why – it just does.
Pleasant Dreams & Subterranean Jungle show the band embrace and acknowledge the 80’s. Those 2 albums sound different. They step back a bit and offer experimentation one could argue.
Phase three sees the Ramones kind of come back. With only a year separating Subterranean Jungle from Too Tough To Die (1984) the latter album mentioned has a totally new sound. Sure, its still the Ramones but the style, production and range of the songs is wider than ever before. True that the band would never top their astonishing debut but Too Tough To Die is a reinvention.
Phase three, for me is Too Tough To Die, Animal Boy and Halfway To Sanity. I do like Halfway To Sanity way more than I should. Great production and strong songs mixing the bubblegum with the rockier sound.
Then phase four sees the band dip. I’m never going to dis any Ramones album – ever, but the band were phasing out. You can hear it. Brain Drain, Mondo Bizarro, Acid Eaters and Adios Amigos just aren’t as good as any of the previous albums. Let me state again – they are a legendary outfit despite the phase out.
If I was to order the albums in greatness I’d go :
2. Rocket To Russia
3. Too Tough To Die
4. Leave Home
5. Road To Ruin
6. Halfway To Sanity
7. End Of The Century
8. Subterranean Jungle
9. Pleasant Dreams
10. Animal Boy
11. Brain Drain
12. Adios Amigos
13. Mondo Bizarro
14. Acid Eaters
This is only my own take on the bands back catalogue. All albums are worth a listen. The Top 5 are essential listening.
So, why am I writing up Road To Ruin? Well, it was the first album I heard by the band. Like my recent Stranglers write up the album was in the Nice Price range. It was affordable. As a 15 year old a mate and myself took a gamble on bands we’d never heard – but knew would be great. I bought White Light, White Heat by The Velvet Underground – and my mate bought Road To Ruin.
I was listening to bands such as The Cramps at the time and wanted The Ramones to sound that bizarre. The artwork on Road To Ruin kind of suggested they would sound like The Cramps. They kind of did and didn’t fit what I was expecting.
I Just Want To Have Something To Do bursts in with a very solid perfectly pitched sound. Instantly the Ramones sound like a punk Beach Boys. The sound is punchy. The vocal is clear and Joey Ramone showcases a fantastic voice. He can sing. Not too long and not too short the track builds and Johnny Ramone’s guitar begs to solo. It doesn’t (solo) but electrifying streaks shard as the track properly climaxes.
I Wanted Everything is longer than the storming opener. It’s not a builder – it maintains it’s momentum the whole way through. The track speeds by like an overtaking car doing a constant 90mph in the fast lane. As it disappears on the horizon you just gaze in near awe.
Don’t Come Close is a slower affair. A 60’s feel somehow. Pop punk but not boring at all. How’d they manage that?
I Don’t Want You is a solid post love song. A heavy but not overpowering riff flies. Joey’s voice sounds incredible, it’s punctuated by Dee Dee, Marky & Johnny just doing their thing – and it is the sound of gloomy glory.
Needles & Pins is a cover (Sonny Bono) and has the vibe of a female Phil Spector outfit. It sits well on the album and it’s the perfect time to lower the gears. A track with wide appeal.
I’m Against It ups them gears immediately. The track brushes the previous track away, the band glance sideways at it and sneer. Brilliant lyrics. Robust sound. Anti- everything, for no logical reason, but were with ’em all the way.
I Wanna Be Sedated is Road To Ruin encapsulated. Fierce yet controlled. A clap-a-long chorus and delicious “Ba Ba BaBa’s”. One of the best tracks despite them all being killer not filler.
Go Mental saws it way out of your speakers. Like I’m Against It the track is a more full-on tilt. The production is so clear. The song is supersonic. It fades out like a nutter heading out for a night on town passing you by on the street.
Questioningly offers shades of Country Music. Eh? – but this is the Ramones remember, they can do no wrong. Listen closely and quite a beautiful vibe reveals itself.
She’s The One rekindles the bands regular sound. Somehow full on but still not a track that is not “a racket”. Bubblegum love songs that this band sit at the summit of by a weighty distance.
Bad Brain was on first listen my favourite track. I wanted the band to be The Cramps – this was the closest the album offers. The breakdown wibbles, wobbles and Joey chucks wickedly wonderful vocals our way.
Its A Long Way Back fazes the album out. Again a sound that captures the whole album in one go. Not over fast. Not slow. The Ramones sing about Germany (which they do a lot) but never make clear why. As the Sire label spins away and stops you just begin to love the band. As an introduction to the band it was a great listen. It still is…