Temptation to veer from the path off A to Z Playlist has beset me. On Monday 28th May I hastened with purpose to Jumbo Records to get the new Joey Ramone album, “Ya Know”, released over a decade after his death, and billed as his long lost second solo album.
Last week I felt I skirted the edge of rule infraction by listening to Osaka Ramones. Could I really justify breaking away during P week for Ramones, The again? With week R being a fortnight away, and for the sake of the spiritual purity of my quest to rediscover my own music on a strict alphabetical basis, I decided not to listen to it just yet.
However, vinyl is a work of art: it’s a 12” canvas, in which is wrapped the product in all its non-digital glory. The only purer physical format music could take would be a wax cylinder.
So I am going to skirt the very brink of temptation and review this so called lost recording and judge this book by its own cover. I will review the album without listening to it, and do so with my journalistic integrity remaining completely intact.
First things first it’s a double LP leaving a number of options:
1) Shortly before his death Joey Ramone took a drastic swerve towards pieces of extended prog rock.
2) The LPs play at 45 rpm just to make them sound that little bit better.
3) There’s a lot of empty space on the discs.
Upon opening cellophane option 2 proves to be the right choice, although with heavy hints of 3 as well. This is a good start. A quick scan of the credits bears more positive omens: Richie Ramone drums on a number of tracks; fitting, as after he walked out on Ramones, The mid-tour, forcing them to draft Elvis Ramone for two shows, they probably thought they’d be dead in the cold cold ground before they ever accepted him back into the fold. Other names of note on the sleeve are Ed Stasium and Daniel Rey, who produced Ramones, The albums between 1977-80 and 1987–89 respectively (Daniel Rey also has the dubious honour of producing fellow Ramone Dee Dee’s rap album as Dee Dee King).
Celebrity appearances, a terrible mar to these kind of things, is limited to Joan Jett. A final person of note on the record sleeve is Mickey Leigh, Joey’s brother. I think his name appears on this disc more than Joey’s, he also has a broad range of credits, ranging from Executor to Executive Producer to Conductor. His attempts to integrate himself with Joey’s work are so blatant, that he might as well call himself Mikey Ramone.
The more I analyse what I have in front of me, alarm bells start to ring. The record sleeves are gloriously annotated with Joey Ramone’s lyrics, the antithesis of poetry in motion, but genius nonetheless. But, someone decided it would be good to present every song in a different font (thankfully excluding Comic Sans), and to spread the lyrics across only three of the four available sides so that they don’t actually correspond to the side that you would be listening to. This person was Mickey Leigh: Art Director and Inner Sleeve Lyric Design.
A final concern is hidden deep deep in the notes: the final paragraph of the final side, right down on the bottom right. It transpires according to Mikey Leigh: Attorney at Law and Sea Lion Tamer, that Daniel Rey only has credit on any tracks as he was in possession of Joeys final vocal tracks following the singers death from lymphoma in 2001 and he was holding them ransom. A condition of him releasing the tapes was getting a producer credit, which he does, although it’s asterisked and linked with Mikey’s above comment. Mikey, it seems, squabbles as well as the brudders did amongst themselves. Something, which they reported, made life in the group a misery endured simply because there was nothing else that they could do in life. This argumentativeness and small-mindedness continued long after the eventual breakup of Ramones, The and manifested itself when Joey’s posthumous Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame award was left uncollected on the podium following their induction.
But my friends, this is mere politics, and Punk is about the music. This album has been a long time coming, which I assume is due to a determination to do Joeys legacy proud and not just down to legal wrangling for possession of recordings.
Fifteen tracks sounds like a good punch number, the eponymous Ramones, The debut had fourteen and that’s as good a benchmark as any. Only two tracks are potentially recycled material: “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” and “Life’s a Gas”, both songs previously released by Ramones, The. “Merry Christmas…”, like all good Christmas songs written be a Jew, and probably in August, has previously been released on the Joey Ramone Merry Christmas… In My House? EP 2002, “Life’s A Gas” however has never been rerecorded to my knowledge - this means it has never been rerecorded.
The sticker on the sleeve promises “Fifteen new and unreleased songs” - I think I’m being misled. But even so, that’d still leave me thirteen new Ramone, Joey songs to listen to, right?
So, a long battle to get the tapes; sloppy production efforts from the sibling in the shadows trying to take his piece of the spotlight; potentially recycled material passed off as new? But, a classic drummer back in the fold; production from the man who helped define the Ramones’ sound from albums two to five plus It’s Alive?
Signals are mixed, and the man’s been dead for eleven years. I’ve cast my eye over what I can for now. All that remains is to hear the music. You can make a start on that yourself by visiting JoeyRamone.com where you can download a free copy of What Did I Do to Deserve You?. As for me, I’m going to sit here and think about what “Rock ‘N’ Roll is the Answer” may sound like, for two more weeks, and then I can listen to it and see how my intuitions on the album pan out.
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