Now that you’re finally done blowing up your grandma’s outhouse courtesy of the good folks at Butterball, how about you blow out your ear-drums? Can you believe it’s been 40 years since Rocket to Russia hit record shelves? 40! That’s a whole Maggie Gyllenhaal. But gabba, gabba hey, have the years been good—as they have also been to Ms. Gyllenhaal—and Rocket to Russia is as explosive as ever.
If you are a student of rock you know the significance of the year 1977. This is the year punk took over the mainstream, clad in leather with a baseball bat in hand. While bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash said naughty things about the Queen, the states were blitzkrieged(?) by a gangly quartet of garage-dwelling no-goodniks from Queens, NY. Breaking out the year before with the punk rock album equivalent of the Declaration of Independence, the Ramones were riding high. They’d released two critically acclaimed albums in less than a year, toured extensively, and set the attitude and aesthetic of punk rock.
Rocket to Russia was recorded in the summer of ’77 with a $30k budget—the band’s biggest yet—during a full-on cultural youth movement. Songs like “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” and “Teenage Lobotomy” set the tone for a new breed of apathetic youth, ready to bang their heads and take names accordingly. Not to mention the Ramones did it all with three chords and some shouting here and there, but damn it, if they aren’t the best chords and shouting money can buy.
Separating Rocket to Russia from its predecessors, there’s a definite leaning towards pop on the Ramones’ third go around. ‘60s surf standards like “Do You Wanna Dance?” and “Surfin’ Bird” appear but that doesn’t mean the band goes soft. Oh no. Even when covering the hits of yesteryear the Ramones always play quick and dirty, like a brawl in a dive bar. The original “Rockaway Beach” may sound like a California surf song but when the Ramones play it, you know they aren’t emulating the California sound. This album bleeds New York.
Tommy Ramone continues his role as both drummer and co-producer, resulting in a surprisingly polished punk recording. The only stipulation for Tommy, along with producers Ed Stasium and Tony “Bon Jovi’s cousin” Bongiovi, was that album had to have “better production than the Sex Pistols” of which the Ramones felt were a subpar package of the same product. Joey Ramone continues to spew his darkly hilarious sentiments while Dee Dee and Johnny plunk away without a care in the world. The results are some of the Ramones catchiest tunes in an album that rivals the greatness of their debut record.
Rhino and Warner Bros. released a 3-disc CD Deluxe Edition of Rocket to Russia last week and if I still lived in the real world—not cyberspace—you know I would scoop that up and hop ‘till my Keds become bloody nubs. It’s what the Ramones would want looking down and rocking out in rock and roll heaven. You better believe they are banging their heads and taking names too. You better watch your self St. Peter.
Favorite Tracks: “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,” “Rockaway Beach,” “Sheena is a Punk Rocker “