#385: Rocket to Russia, Ramones
I know I rip on RS for being stuck in the Seventies, but 1977 was truly a bonkers year for punk. To name just a few landmark moments: X-Ray Spex released “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” and Iggy Pop released Lust For Life. And just one year previously, the Sex Pistols released the watershed Never Mind The Bollocks, scandalizing just about everyone.
It may surprise you to learn that the Sex Pistols royally pissed the Ramones off. They literally blamed this record’s lack of commercial success on the Sex Pistol’s anarchic attitude. Johnny Ramone literally said, “These guys ripped us off and I want to sound better than this.”
Maybe that’s why the production value on Rocket to Russia is so much higher than on their debut. Honestly, while this record is slightly less earwormy than Ramones, it made me realize that I hadn’t given them enough credit. Because the Ramones weren’t punk in the same way, say, Patti Smith or the Velvet Underground were punk. I love those bands, but there’s something so deliciously poppy about the Ramones. They’re just doing dark, heavy pop songs. Just look at the record’s first single, “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” which is full of great harmonies and has an extremely catchy chorus. It’s inspired by the comic book vixen Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. It doesn’t get much more pop culture than that.
I was surprised by their varied style on this one, too. Of course there are some songs about being a dirty little wastoid. See: ode to apathy “I Don’t Care”, ode to poverty “I Can’t Give You Anything”, and ode to cretinhood “Cretin Hop.”
They also try their hand at surfer rock. “Rockaway Beach,” “Locket Love,” and “Ramona” are both so Beach Boys, all layered voices and buoyant rhythms. And then there are the one or two mournful love songs, both just as awkward as any punk asking a girl on a date. (“Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” and “Do You Wanna Dance?”)
Another great quality of Rocket to Russia: the Ramones get dark. The optimistically titled “We’re a Happy Family” watches a family sling drugs at the president and the pope. “Why Is It Always This Way” mourns a friend who commits suicide. But the ones that disturbed me the most were the ones that deal with DDT poisoning, the insecticide that the US banned in 1972. In both “Teenage Lobotomy” and “I Wanna Be Well,” characters are sickened by the chemical. Concerning!
But ultimately, the whole record sounds sleeker and shinier than the rub-some-dirt-in-it Ramones. Honestly, I just love the fact that their hatred of the Sex Pistols kicked it all off. Raise your hand if you’ve ever done something awesome just to spite someone else.
Fun Fact: Jon Bon Jovi’s cousin Tony Bongiovi produced this!