Song of the day – 460: Joey Ramone
I’m not just grasping at straws here.
There’s a new Joey Ramone solo album out. I found I couldn’t listen to it, first five times I tried – I couldn’t get past the bog-standard boogie of opening song ‘Rock’N’Roll Is The Answer’. If God had intended Joey Ramone to be fronting AC/DC she would’ve had him fronting AC/DC. She didn’t. She intended Joey Ramone to be blessed with the most wonderful male voice equivalent of Ronnie Spector and have him fronting the most visually and sonically perfect male rock’n’roll group of the past five decades. Fair enough, I understand Joey not being entirely happy with that. (Why would anyone be happy with their lot?) But… fucking boogie? (This shouldn’t be read as a slight on AC/DC, more a comment about inappropriate forms of music.) Bangs did indeed weep.
Six listens in, and I convince myself to hold steady with the faith, even though I’m aware that the sound of the ‘new’ Joey Ramone solo album – his second, if anyone is counting – may well bear little or no relation to what Joey Ramone did during his life. It wasn’t like anyone pushed out the boat during that last decade of Ramones albums, either. So, skipping past the second track, ‘Going Nowhere Fast’, which is like something from goddamn Brain Drain, and the third track (‘New York City’ which at least has the merits of being obviously sincere, even if I’m going to throttle someone if I ever hear Joey welded to that fucking whoomp-whoomp-whoomp of a drum sound again), I am suddenly totally … wait … could it be … ?
In 1990, I traveled to New York City for the first time.
If that wasn’t magical enough by itself – all those years spent imagining what the skyscrapers in Spiderman comics actually looked like – I was journeying alongside fellow Melody Maker writer Chris Roberts. He was interviewing his idol Debbie Harry. I was interviewing Joey Ramone in his East Village apartment. (No. You probably don’t understand. I formed a new wave a capella group – The Legend! And His Swinging Soul Sisters* – with my brother, and mate from work, just so we could sing Ramones songs on stage. I led the chants of “Hey ho/Let’s go” on the underground home after Ramones played at the Rainbow. Dee Dee played a solo on his teeth cos I shouted out he should during an equipment breakdown. I didn’t eat for a week so I could buy Too Tough To Die on import, and then my little white kitten jumped on my Dansette very first time I played it.)
We ate at Denny’s on Times Square the night before, and went up and down all the elevators we could find just so we could look at the lights.
Anticipation. Magic. And no, Joey didn’t disappoint one bit.
I was supposed to be around his apartment for an hour. I ended up staying for several while we looked at his collection of psychedelic 60s posters and he played me demos of local bands he was trying to help promote, and demos of his solo stuff, a project he’d never realise during his lifetime… and those demos were so special, so magical. Country-tinged and melancholy, there was one song that just hit me fair and square, like ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ or ‘KKK’.
I’ve been banging on about them – and that song in particular – ever since. Why hadn’t these been released rather than the lazily produced stuff thrown our way? (No, not lazy: just without any vision or understanding of the magic.)
And wait… no, it couldn’t be. The last, the only time I heard this song was in a Manhattan apartment over two decades ago: OK, the production from halfway in is semi-ruinous, but there’s no mistaking that plaintive tone, that minimal so sweet self-harmony, the loneliness at the core. Now I find myself unable to listen to the ‘new’ Joey Ramone solo album, but for entirely different reasons. I can’t get past the fourth song in.
My treasured memory.
No, of course, Joey doesn’t need to be fronting Ramones to be magical – witness End Of The Century (which often wasn’t Ramones) or that joint single with Ronnie Spector on kill rock stars, or the Holly (of the Italians) duet, or the Paley Brothers collaboration, or The B-52s collab… No, of course, Joey doesn’t need to be singing a particular style. It”s just that Ramones are Ramones, y’know …
I am so so happy I’ve rediscovered this song. All the magic is flooding back in.
*The Legend! And His Swinging Soul Sisters got our first gig this way.
Me and my mate from work – Dave Smith, The Very Busy Man – used to sing along to the radio at work. We thought we were great, agreed we should do it on stage. One day, I saw an advert in the back of the NME for a nightclub looking for exciting new innovative acts. So I gave the feller Richard Strange a call. “You should book us,” I told him. “We’re a new wave a capella group, we sing entirely without instrumentation, we’ve got suits, dance routines, no music – and it’s all punk classics.” He told me he loved the idea, could I send him a tape. I hesitated for a second. “We don’t have any tapes,” I told him (we didn’t actually exist). “We don’t believe in them, because we believe the live experience is everything.” Pause. “That’s great,” he exclaimed. “Can you play next Tuesday?”