End of the Century (Deluxe Edition)
The members of the Ramones loved early 1960s pop, and were especially taken by producer Phil Spector’s dense and sophisticated Wall of Sound production for such acts as The Crystals, The Righteous Brothers, and The Ronettes. So after making four albums without even sniffing a hit single, the band hired Spector, who’d spent the 1970s working alongside the likes of The Beatles, John Lennon, and George Harrison. It was august company, and the four Ramones believed that associating themselves with Spector would pay off, creatively and commercially. Things didn’t go as planned. The band was accustomed to recording quickly—often performing just three takes of a song—and were soon stupefied by Spector’s painstaking, even puzzling, perfectionism. The producer would force Marky Ramone to hit a single drum, or tell Johnny Ramone to play the same chord, for hours at a time, as Spector tweaked the sound. Bassist Dee Dee Ramone, admittedly an unreliable narrator, claimed Spector pointed a loaded gun at his chest, while other band members talked about the producer’s cruelty, paranoia, and love of guns. Things reached a breaking point when three of the band flew back to New York from LA (vocalist Joey Ramone was the only one who stayed). Spector brought in session musicians and added keyboards and saxophone to the arrangements, and, according to Dee Dee’s 1998 memoir, also replaced him on bass. The result was 1980’s End of the Century, one of the Ramones’ most muddled efforts. Only “This Ain’t Havana” and the militaristic “Let’s Go” would have fit on earlier albums—and they wouldn’t even have been standout tracks. Meanwhile, the lyrics to “Do You Remember Rock ’n’ Roll Radio?,” which Joey wrote, make the Ramones sound like nostalgic old farts—“Lately it all sounds the same to me”—rather than robust rock revolutionaries. “Danny Says” is one of the few good songs about the boredom of being on tour, but Spector’s lethargic production is like a BarcaLounger for the ears. And “Chinese Rock,” a song about heroin addiction, proves that Los Angeles session musicians don’t know how to play punk rock. The pairing of Spector and the Ramones—which made sense on paper—simply never clicks. The producer weighs down the group’s music with embellishments, rather than trusting in its minimalist power. There’s even a clumsy remake of “Baby, I Love You,” a song Spector produced and co-wrote for The Ronettes in 1963. But the Ramones aren’t to blame for that; as guitarist Johnny Ramone once noted, Joey was the only band member to appear on the track. It’s no surprise that you can’t make a great Ramones album without the Ramones.