The Ramones : Rockaway Beach
On November 4, 1977 The Ramones released Rocket to Russia, their final studio album as the original quartet. (Drummer Tommy Ramone would become a producer who would eventually add The Replacements's Tim to his resume). To many critics, Rocket to Russia was one of The Ramones's finest moments, polishing up their debut album sound. I'd rate it just a step behind the debut because I have to patience for covers ( "Do You Wanna Dance", "Surfin Bird") from a band that could write such great tunes.
From Robert Christgau's A rated review:
Having revealed how much you can take out and still have rock and roll, they now explore how much you can put back in and still have Ramones. Not that they've returned so very much -- a few relatively obvious melodies, a few relatively obvious vocals. But that's enough. Yes, folks, there's something for everyone on this ready-made punk-rock classic. Stoopidity, both celebrated and satirized. Love (thwarted) and social protest (they would seem to oppose DDT). Inspired revivals (the Trashmen) and banal cover versions (Bette Midler and Cass Elliott beat them to "Do You Wanna Dance?"). And, for their record company and the ears of the world, an actual potential hit. If "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" was the most significant number eighty-four record in history, what will "Rockaway Beach" do for number twenty? (Did I hear five?)
Rocket to Russia is the best American rock and roll of the year and possibly the funniest rock album ever made. Not that the Ramones are a joke -- they're more worthwhile than almost anything that's more self-conscious because they exist in a pure and totally active state.
Rocket shows substantial progress in the group's sound -- it has opened up so that hints of Beach Boys harmonies float among the power chords, kind of like moving with the Who from My Generation to Happy Jack. Certainly, there is nothing resembling the lock step of the first two albums holding them back. The guitars still riff relentlessly, but they are freer within the murky sound, and the songs give them much more to work with. It is some kind of tribute to suggest that the least effective songs on the album are the oldies, "Do You Wanna Dance" and "Surfin' Bird." And if this is a hilarious album, it is also astute: "We're a Happy Family" and "Why Is It Always This Way" are extremely funny just to the extent that the situations are horribly typical.
Despite the title, the Ramones aren't about escape. Reductionist aggression never is -- conquest is more like it. And if you're alienated by it, that's because you're supposed to be. The Ramones explore the dirty truths that pop music and rock designed to "entertain" have to cover up. This is truly the land of "No Fun" -- none asked for, none given. Just action, constant and unyielding, pleasant or miserable.
Most contemporary music -- yeah, even the New Wave stuff -- asks why we've slowed down or complains about the fact. The Ramones consider this irrelevant. The question they pose is more interesting: why can't you keep up? I dare you to try.
The Ramones' most straight forward and primitively basic of all rock deliveries magically contain an implied and endearing sense of melody. The group's third album, together with its slight but elemental tongue-in-cheekiness and themes of rebellion, escape and the nuances of American life, offers an outlet for both thoughtful and invigorating release. The same formula rigidly holds throughout and a sharper focus illuminates most of the 14 songs for special individual appeal. Best cuts: "Rockaway Beach," "I Don't Care," "Teenage Lobotomy."