No.2 Leave Home • The Ramones
(Sire Records, 1977)
Having already unleashed their shockwave punk-pop on a stunned world with the 1976 debut LP Ramones, the four buddies from the Bronx entered Sundragon Studios in New York in early 77 to tape its follow-up. My brother and I were just 18 at the time, and had heard Blitzkrieg Bop on John Peel's programme, we were astounded. After listening to Elton John, Queen and ELO, this was quite amazing stuff! Short bursts of powerful pop delivered at breakneck speed! We were instant converts.
So when one sunny Saturday we were record-shopping in our local town centre and spotted Leave Home on import from the USA, my brother snapped it up, leaving him broke but excited. And with good reason, because when we got home and played the damn thing it was fucking awesome! The sense of humor was silly, cartoonish and contagious. Glad To See You Go whizzed by, with its chilling payoff, 'gonna take a chance on her, one bullet in the cylinder.'
Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment related a tip from one pal to another: 'heard about these treatments from a good friend of mine, he was always happy, smile on his face, said he had a great time at this place', sung with a discernible grin from 8,000-feet tall Joey, accompanied (as on every track) by those thrilling, napalm guitars.
This is followed by one of the great songs, I Remember You. A slow pace, crystalline cymbals and a really gorgeous pop melody, ushers in Joey's Karloff-like croon, adding up to a rather touching love song. the six simple lines are repeated, accompanied by some deceptively expert background vocals, and then its all over. And then whey! Were on a rollercoaster, it's summer, the girls are in tiny skirts and leather jackets and everything is GROOVY.
Oh Oh I Love Her So, is the second classic track in a row (after I Remember You), with yet a third on the way! Lyrically, it's teenage fantom; 'he met her at a Burger King, they fell in love by the soda machine, the kids were hangin' out by Coney Island' - another bubblegum tune, allied to chainsaw guitars and authentic fifties doo-wop vocals. These songs could have been written by Lieber and Stoller and taped by Sam Phillips.
The third classic in a row is the absurd, astounding Suzy Is A Headbanger, our favorite track on the album for some months at the time. How to describe the nuclear dazzle of this maniacal song? It's tough but I'll have a go. The guitars, multi-tracked (probably about four or five, all playing the same chord sequence in unison) crash in as the track gets under way, then abruptly fall away as colossal drums pound out a primitive beat. The brothers then enter the fray with their story of the girl who just will not be prevented from shaking her cranium to the Ramone's loud row. 'do it one more time for me' they sing with glee, and the guitar/drum passages arrive again, now as a sort of Glitter-dramatic middle bit. Pinhead is their curious sympathy vote to a bizarre minority - voices are garbled, overdubbed, sneering, squeaking and laughing and treated with varispeed to emphasise the freak element.
Now I Wanna Be A Good Boy is Ramones-by-numbers, but we are back on hallowed ground again with the next true classic, Swallow My Pride. There's something indefinable about The Ramones, a song like this should be awkward and silly, but they approached it with such love and reverence for the material that the end result is yearning, and really rather noble. It is lyrically a song about optimism, about throwing off the shackles of negativity and looking to the future: 'things were looking grim but they're looking good again', accompanied by those chiming, golden guitars.
What's Your Game is a bit of a filler, but these tracks are rarely over two minutes long. They whizz by, so it's not long before the next wonderful treat, the only cover version on the album, an obscure American minor hit from the sixties, California Sun. The original is great, (I can't remember the band, woops!), but The Ramones version cuts it to shreds. The sound level for this and the penultimate track on the album, are even louder than everything else! A sunny, golden promotional vote for the Californian Way Of Life (girls in bikinis! Sunshine! Surfing! etc), it is immense fun.
Commando follows. It is riff-heavy, and deals with the Vietnam debacle from an anti-war perspective, but it still manages, incredibly, to be a fun punk-pop workout, the way The Ramones approach it. It is also hilarious, the fourth rule is: eat kosher salamis!
You're Gonna Kill That Girl is fantastic, massively exciting nonsense. As a trebly guitar twangs resoundingly, Joey moodily sings an almost funereal tribute to a girl he sees in the street, then the pace picks up and storms off at a thousand miles an hour! The lyrics get really insane: 'he knocked her on the floor, but he wanted just a little bit more'. The guitars shimmer with glorious reverb, and the narrative seems almost frantically cinematic.
The final track, You Should Never Have Opened That Door, is a bit of a filler, but it hardly matters. Leave Home was, for me, The Ramones great defining moment. If you like noisy but tuneful, punky pop, then this is for you.
SJ reviews No.3 Real Life by Magazine