In the video for the song itself that comes at the end of ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, there’s a shot of Joey Ramone in front of a blackboard that the director cuts into and away from over the duration of the song. There’s a phrase written on the blackboard, drawn from the lyrics of the song:
“I don’t care about history”
Joey, of course, points to the words with a pointer as he sings them.
However, as he shifts his stance back and forth during the rest of the song, his body occludes most of the phrase such that for most of he time he’s on screen, the black board actaully, in a literal sense, reads:
“I do care”
So. I should have titled my post about American Hardcore and Please Kill Me “I don’t care about history” instead of the lame paraphrase of the Clash’s “I’m so bored of the USA” that I chose.
I stand by much of my thinking in the earlier post. I’ve grown pretty jaded with rock literature over time, because it seems, mostly, to tell the same story over and over again. That story is almost always tragic, which, in my opinion, is because of the terrible working conditions people who choose to pursue careers as rock and pop musicians are exposed to. Whether you’re on the road or you stay close to the base, you don’t get paid very well, there’s no health insurance, and you’re encouraged to drink and do drugs, etc., etc.
But I’m not here to crab about how fucked up the industry is. I’m here to say it loud:
The Ramones are the greatest rock band of all time.
After reading the books I mention above, I started thinking about the Ramones a lot, partly because of my flip dismissal of Dee Dee. Well, there was the rap thing, but what about the Ramones material? The answer is, he contributed some great songs; frequently they are kind of dumb. This is a part of the genius of the band.
Let’s hit the books, shall we?
1976: Rocket to Russia
1977: Leave Home
1978: Road to Ruin
1979: It’s Alive *
1980: End of the Century
1981: Pleasant Dreams
1983: Subterranean Jungle
I stop here becasue I never really cared for any post Subterranean Jungle recordings – the urge to speed of hardcore entered the mix, and understandably enough, the musicians began to explore more diverse sonic textures (translation: keyboards and synths, ick). All in all, as the sound becaome more commercially palatable, my interest in it declined.
* I only just learned that this was a European release that did not become available in the US until 1995. I bought it in Switzerland in 1982, and it is ESSENTIAL – the later live recordings of the band are simply not as good, as perfectly executed as the performances on this record, a 2-LP set when orginally released.
Look at that track record! Until Pleasant Dreams and Subterranean Jungle, there’s not a bad record in the bunch, not even a bad song! (YMMV) Pleasant Dreams was my first Ramones Record; then I got the first record, and eventually picked up all of the records listed above before Subterranean Jungle came out (so, like over a year or so).
Because Pleasant Dreams introduced me to the sound of the band, in some ways it is the record I’m most intimate with; however, it’s not my favorite: that’s definitely It’s Alive. And my favorite songs are from all over the map, but nothing surprising: I can still spontaneously sing every word to “Danny Says”, “Sedated”, “Needles and Pins”, “California Sun” and probably more that I haven’t thought of.
So why are these guys the best? It’s hard to say, really; consistency is a part of it. My other candidate for best rock band of all time is LA’s X, who have a much more varied, and in some ways more ambitious catalog. Their two best records, “Los Angeles” and “Wild Gift”, contain some incredible songwriting, both lyrically and structurally. Doe and Cervenka deliberately set out to transcend rock songwriting by ignoring conventions of structure and meter while mantaining the brevity and intensity of the form; however, this sort of approach is difficult to maintain over time, and their most critically acclaimed album, “Under the Big Black Sun”, consistently disappoints me even today.
The Ramones’ work, however, deceives via its apparently ambition-free design and execution. Of course, having an LP produced by serious nutcase Phil Spector gives the lie to that: however much that record may have been slagged in the press at the time, it was an act of heritage, a statement by the Ramones that they were the inheritors of Motown, of the Beach Boys, of all the great American pop and rock produced prior to the AOR era.
This assumption of that mantle is wholly accurate on their part. These albums represent the apotheosis of American postwar pop. Long may it wave. Dee Dee and Joey, I’ll see you soon enough, and thank you.