Rocket to Russia

Rocket to Russia

All four members of the Ramones were songwriters, which explains why the group was so prolific in its early years, releasing five albums between 1976 and 1980. And though the band members didn’t labor over their songs—some of which didn’t even have bridges—what they lacked in patience they made up for in power and playfulness. Those skills paid off with 1977’s Rocket to Russia, the Ramones’ third effort—and a record Rolling Stone described as “possibly the funniest rock album ever made.” As with the group’s previous releases, Rocket to Russia finds dark punchlines by embracing mental instability: The hook in “Teenage Lobotomy” is mostly singer Joey Ramone chanting “Luh-bah-tuh-MEE” over and over, while the joyful “Cretin Hop”—which has been covered by Metallica and Masters of Reality—benefits from Joey’s elastic, nasal phrasing of the word “cretin,” which mixes pride and horror. (Alas, the Cretin Hop failed to become a nationwide dance craze.) Elsewhere on Rocket to Russia, “We’re a Happy Family” functions as a cartoonish spin on An American Family, the groundbreaking 1973 PBS documentary series that exposed the complicated life of an affluent, dissolute California clan. The song features one of the band’s best-ever rhyming schemes—one that includes “Queens,” “beans,” “magazines,” and “Thorazines”—while the chorus ends with a revelation that won’t make the family Christmas card: “Daddy likes men.” In addition to the jokier numbers, Rocket to Russia features two all-time Ramones classics: “Chewing out a rhythm on my bubble gum,” Joey sings on “Rockaway Beach,” a nearly poetic song written by bassist Dee Dee Ramone. It’s an ecstatic adventure full of genuine longing for a dilapidated beach in the Ramones’ hometown of Queens, New York, where water erosion had forced the city to close 13 blocks of seashore. The song has the same spirit as The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” but in place of the unsoiled Pacific Ocean, it celebrates an area that one New York City official described a “natural disaster area.” (“Rockaway Beach” didn’t achieve Beach Boys-like success, but it did land the Ramones on Billboard’s Hot 100.) Joey Ramone had written “Sheena is a Punk Rocker”—which had appeared on some pressings of the group’s previous album, Leave Home—about the transformation of a city girl from a Studio 54-type into someone who likes hard, fast punk music, and the song has a persuasive, spring-loaded energy to it. On Rocket to Russia, even negative songs like the power-chord-loaded “I Don’t Care” and “I Wanna Be Well” are loads of fun. Guitarist Johnny Ramone once called this the best Ramones album—and who are we to argue?

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