Continuing to astound in his fifth column for The Obelisk, Chris “Woody High” MacDermott of Mighty High pays homage to The Ramones‘ 1984 album, Too Tough to Die and shares a few NYC memories along the way. Awesome. Please enjoy:
My first “Spine of Overkill” column about Venom‘s Welcome to Hell was inspired by a frigid night waiting for the subway. This month’s column was inspired by the intense heat wave we just had on the East Coast. Waiting for the F train at the Broadway-Lafayette station in hot weather is literally hell. I tend to listen to The Ramones a lot in the summer but when it gets downright hot ‘n’ nasty, their 1984 album Too Tough to Die is my soundtrack to sweating. It was released in Rocktober, 1984, which means it has been pumping into my ears via Sony Walkman, iPod and now fancy new iPhone for 28 consecutive summers in New York City. I used to have a cassette with Too Tough to Die on one side and Live at Max’s Kansas City by The Heartbreakers on the other side that I would blast constantly. Listening to these lowlifes somehow made the fact that my sneakers were melting into the pavement a little more tolerable.
Too Tough to Die was a major improvement over their previous album Subterranean Jungle, which found The Ramones working with people who had hit records for Joan Jett. Not long after that in 1983, Johnny Ramone got his head beat in during an argument with some creep and was hospitalized. While he was recuperating, Dee Dee wrote a bunch of great songs and then wrote more with Johnny once he recovered. The result was a hard-hitting kick ass rock ‘n’ roll album in step with their classic first four. Marky Ramone got the boot for being too drunk and was replaced by the excellent Richie Ramone, also a songwriter. Joey Ramone contributed some great songs to the album but it’s really a Dee Dee and Johnny record. Another reason why this album is so good is because it reunited The Ramones with the winning production team of T. Erdelyi (aka original drummer Tommy Ramone) and Ed Stasium.
Side one kicks off with the kick ass “Mama’s Boy.” Johnny‘s guitar blasts a chord and Dee Dee counts the band in. A slower than usual grinding riff announced to everyone that The Ramones were back in full force. Joey‘s voice sounds huge and Elvis-like. Maybe even a little like Jim Morrison without all the annoying poetry crap. Jim could never write great lyrics like “I don’t wanna work in a hot dog stand, be a busboy, messenger or a door man/It’s an abstract world, you’re an abstract man/Abstract city don’t give a damn.” The song speeds up for the chorus, which will forever be altered in my universe because a friend thought they were yelling “Mama mama mama mama mama’s bald!” Following up that song with the slow, moody “I’m Not Afraid of Life” and the fast title-track is a killer one-two-three combo that’s hard to beat. Joey takes a breather while the band kicks out their only instrumental song “Durango 95.” Wikipedia says that “Durango 95″ is the name of the car driven by Alex in A Clockwork Orange, but there also used to be a restaurant named Durango next to Joey‘s apartment in the East Village. It was #95. Drinking beer on the sidewalk across from Joey‘s place was a favorite summertime activity of mine. I’d always have my friends meet me there and we often get to say hi to the great man and, occasionally, get a glimpse of his OCD in full effect as he’d try to kick gum off the sidewalk or go in and out of his lobby repeatedly.
Getting back to the album, Dee Dee takes over the mic on the short and fast “Wart Hog.” The original album’s lyric sheet just put a big question mark under the song title. I guess they felt his lyrics about “junkies,” “fags” and “commies” were a little too over the top. Didn’t matter. Everyone knew the words and loved screaming along at the live shows. “Danger Zone” starts off with some hilarious in-studio dialogue with Joey asking “What song are we doing? ‘Danger Zone.’ OK, ready?” before another two-minute blast of real New York punk takes off. Side one wraps up with Joey‘s “Chasing the Night,” featuring a possible James Gang lyrical reference of being up all night and asleep all day.
“Howling at the Moon” starts off side two and sounds like a Joey song but was in fact written by Dee Dee. It’s the most commercial song on the album and was produced by Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics. The record label was looking for a hit and the band said they’d do a radio friendly song if they left them alone on the rest of the album. I’ve always liked the song and they keyboards don’t bother me too much. I don’t think it ever got too much radio play for them. “Daytime Dilemma” is another more pop-oriented song written by Joey with guitarist Daniel Rey, who probably plays on it, too. Things get faster and louder on Dee Dee‘s “Planet Earth 1988″ which features overtly political lyrics. Johnny Ramone probably hated this song. Richie‘s song “Humankind” is a good Ramones song and his writing debut for the band. Dee Dee gets another lead vocal on “Endless Vacation,” a great song that alternates between slow and heavy and fast and hard. Side two ends with the great rockabilly influenced song “No Go.”
There were also some cool B-sides that went along with the album. The import 12″ for “Howling at the Moon” had a good version of the Rolling Stones song “Street Fighting Man” and a great original called “Smash You.” In 1985 another 12″ single came out for a song called “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” that was later retitled “My Brain is Hanging Upside Down” to appease Ronald Reagan lover Johnny Ramone. The B-side of that single contained a song called “Go Home Ann.” The credits for that song read “produced by Ed Stasium, mix by Lemmy.” I pretty much pissed, jizzed and crapped my pants the first time I saw that. Motörhead and The Ramones have always been two of my favorite bands, but back then I was convinced they WERE the same band. I would tell everyone that some day they would announce a Motörhead/Ramones tour and then the world would self-destruct. I got to ask Joey several times about touring with Motörhead and he always loved the idea. I got to ask Johnny about it, too. Businessman that he is, Johnny said that it wouldn’t make sense since they shared such a common audience. His eyes did light up and had a big smile when I told him to think about how loud it would be.
Speaking of loud, I had the great pleasure of seeing The Ramones many times during the Richie Ramone era starting with Too Tough to Die through Marky‘s return in 1987. They were always great and always really fucking loud. When hardcore punk had its inevitable collision with metal, a lot of punk bands started using bigger amps but The Ramones always had triple stacks on stage. I can verify that most of them were turned on and not just for show. But when they would play L’Amours in Brooklyn things would get even louder than usual. I have no idea if this is true or not but I was told that The Ramones used to bring in some of their touring P.A. to supplement the already deafening house sound system at the club. It wouldn’t surprise me if they did. I was at a few shows at L’Amours and there were definitely some metal regulars who were skeptical about The Ramones. By the end of the night they were converted by sheer volume alone. The loudest concerts I’ve ever seen were at L’Amours — Motörhead, Twisted Sister, Overkill — but I think The Ramones might have beat them all by a few db’s. Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny are all sadly deceased but they live on in my tinnitus.