What is there to say about the Ramones that hasn’t already been said? They were – and to this day, still are – one of the most influential punk bands of all time. Their 1976 debut was the spark that lit the fuse of American punk rock, and the two albums that followed stoked the flames.
If you ask someone what their favorite Ramones song is, they’ll probably tell you they love “Blitzkrieg Bop”, or “Rockaway Beach”, or maybe even “Commando”. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but those who thumb their noses at the band’s output after Rocket to Russia are doing themselves a major disservice. From their iconic self-titled debut to their 1995 farewell Adios Amigos, everything the Ramones did in their 22-year career is worth a listen.
The 80’s are an interesting chapter in Ramones history. The decade began with the release of their controversial Phil Spector-produced album End of the Century. This record had some great songs – “Chinese Rock”, “Let’s Go”, and “Rock ‘N’ Roll High School”, to name a few. However, Spector’s over-the-top production just didn’t make sense for the Ramones, and unfortunately, this album fails to tickle my loins.
Pleasant Dreams is a pretty good record, but lacks the raw energy of everything pre-End of the Century. Subterranean Jungle had its moments, but was a mostly unremarkable album by the band’s standards. The neutered drum sound that even Marky Ramone hated is pretty hard on the ears, too. But great songs like “Psycho Therapy”, “Outsider”, and “Somebody Like Me” make it slightly easier to forgive the odd production and the fact that there are three cover songs on this record.
The real turning point for the Ramones was when Richie Ramone took over on drums in 1983. A year later he would make his studio debut on my favorite record: Too Tough to Die. Richie’s powerful style of drumming gave the band a much harder edge that revitalized their sound for a new era of punk. Songs like “Mama’s Boy”, “Wart Hog”, “Danger Zone”, “Human Kind”, and “Endless Vacation” proved the Ramones were, in fact, too tough to die.
For fans of the band’s poppier side, the trio of “Chasing the Night”, “Howling at the Moon”, and “Daytime Dilemma” offers up a healthy dose of bubblegum. The album’s closer “No Go” might be one of the catchiest Joey Ramone ever penned. If this song doesn’t at least make you bob your head, there might be something wrong with you.
Also noteworthy is that Too Tough to Die saw Tommy Ramone and Ed Stasium return to the control room for the first time since 1978’s Road to Ruin. Of the band’s fourteen LPs, this is probably the most well-produced. Gone are the synthesized drums, horn sections and violins; Tommy and Ed trimmed the fat and delivered a great, organic-sounding Ramones record.
Richie’s drum sound is big and the thumping kick of his bass drum makes my floor (otherwise known as my neighbor’s ceiling) shake when I put this record on. Johnny’s guitar sounds tough as fuck, and Joey Ramone turns in an excellent vocal performance, perfectly matching the tone of each song. And of course, Dee Dee shines when he takes the lead on two of the album’s most frenetic tracks “Wart Hog” and “Endless Vacation”. I think this is the closest the Ramones ever got to capturing their “live” sound in a recording studio.
My lone gripe about Too Tough to Die is that its track sequencing leaves a lot to be desired. Why would you start a Ramones record with the three slowest songs on the tracklist? Other people seem to share my opinion, and thankfully, someone made a Spotify playlist called Now Even Tougher to Die, with a re-sequenced tracklist that makes the album flow a lot better. I mean, come on, “Durango 95” just makes sense as the opening track.
So, go on, indulge yourself. That’s right, kick off your shoes… put your feet up. Lean back and enjoy the melodies of Too Tough to Die.