Classic Album Dissection: Rocket to Russia

Rocket to Russia (Classic Album Dissection) & Lucinda Williams Review

It's time for Jim and Greg to conduct another classic album dissection. This week they'll focus on“Rocket to Russia”by The Ramones and discuss the making of the album and its lasting influence with drummer and co-producer, Tommy Ramone. Then, stay tuned for a review of the latest alt-country release from Lucinda Williams.

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Music News

The first item in the news is a discussion of last week's Grammy Awards. For Jim and Greg, the Grammy Awards are always about as newsworthy as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fameceremonies. It is their job to cover such things, though, despite the fact that the Awards don't really represent the best music of the year. The Dixie Chicks swept the ceremonies, but Jim and Greg suspect that might have more to do with affirming the Chicks‘ politics than it does their music. The other hype surrounding last Sunday’s broadcast was the much-anticipated Police reunion. The band mates looked as distant as ever, and Greg wonders if they have the stamina to handle a large-scale tour.

Jim and Greg think there might be better gauges of the best music of 2006. The first is the Village Voice Pazz and Jop Poll which takes into consideration the opinions of hundreds of music critics, including our own Mr. Kot. This is the first year that Robert Christgau has not curated the poll, though he was still a voter. The album that reigned supreme with these critics was Bob Dylan's Modern Times. That record did not even make our hosts' top 10 lists. Pazz and Jop's number one single of 2006 was "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley.

Other awards and polls that are worth checking out are the critics poll, aptly named“Jackin‘ Pop,”and the, which posts the cumulative picks of a number of music bloggers. These polls are more timely than the Grammys and are much more inclusive. Jackin’ Pop and Heart On a Stick agreed with Greg and put TV on the Radio in the number one slot.

classic album dissection
Rocket to RussiaRocket to Russia available on iTunes

The Ramones Rocket to Russia

Jim and Greg have mastered the art of the album dissection. This week they try their hand at Rocket to Russia by The Ramones. This was the punk originators' third album, released in April of 1977. Jim and Greg picked this album because of how revolutionary it was at the time. This was the era of Yes, James Taylor and KC and the Sunshine Band. Now that radio playlists are full of songs by bands like Fall Out Boy and Green Day, it's easy to forget a time before punk music. But, until four high schoolers from Forest Hills, NY merged their love of Brill-Building pop and British invasion rock with a big dose of speed and attitude, the sound as we know it didn't exist.

Joey Ramone, born Jeffrey Hyman, sang vocals, Johnny Ramone, born John Cummings, played guitar, Dee Dee Ramone, born Douglas Colvin, played bass and Tommy Ramone, born Tom Erdelyi, played drums. The four began to record Rocket to Russia after recently releasing two other albums and touring the US and Europe. Today, Tommy Ramone is the only living member of that original group. Tommy co-produced Rocket to Russia and wrote many of the songs, and Jim and Greg invited him on to talk about making the album.

It was a treat to get a first-hand account of recording Rocket to Russia from Tommy Ramone. He revealed a number of interesting facts, some of which surprised even our hosts. Here are some of the noteworthy points:

  • Johnny is known for being a speed demon. Tommy credits this with his desire to be a baseball player and his love of the fastball.
  • Joey is the band's original drummer, and Tommy acted as their manager. Tommy took over on drums in order to keep up with Johnny's pace. He had never played drums before, and sometimes outpaced the studio's click track.
  • Seymour Stein was the label executive behind the band. Despite the fact that their sound wasn't popular, he believed in The Ramones enough to boost their recording budget up to a whopping $25,000.
  • The Ramones heard God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols during the recording of this album. Despite not having nearly the same amount of money to work with, Tommy explains that there was definitely a sense of competition. The feeling wa — they ripped us off, and now we want to sound better.
  • The Ramones were famous for being anti-guitar solo. But, there is one on the track "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow." Tommy reveals that this was actually him playing guitar, and assures Jim and Greg that Johnny wasn't miffed by the choice. Tommy was inspired by the guitar solo in "Tell Me" by the Rolling Stones.
  • A number of the songs on Rocket to Russia begin with Dee Dee counting off. The band encouraged their bassist to do this, despite the fact that those counts had nothing to do with the actual speed of the song.
  • Tommy struggles to name his favorite tune on the album, but includes "Rockaway Beach" as one of the best. Jim and Greg agree that the sunny, pop track is a great one, made even better by the fact that the actual Rockaway Beach was not a very sunny place. Juxtapose the sound of the song with the idea of trash in the sand and a syringe in your foot.

Jim and Greg also struggle to pick just one song to highlight from Rocket to Russia. Each one is great, and only clocks out at around two minutes. But, Greg was inspired by something Tommy said during their interview. He explained that the Ramones were ahead of their time, and were perhaps too dark and too subversive for mainstream culture. The song that best exemplifies this is "We're a Happy Family." While Happy Days showed one kind of family life, The Ramones wanted to show another, more realistic one. The Ramones were fans of Todd Browning's film Freaks, and celebrated the idea of being different and freaky in this song.

Jim's song choice also celebrates that freak spirit. "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," only has a few words, but it's a definitely an anthem. The term punk previously had a negative connotation. In this song, the Ramones reclaim the word and give a big finger to anyone who judges them (or Sheena). Musically, the song is also quintessentially rock and roll, quintessentially American, quintessentially Ramones. Jim explains that if he had to choose one track to shoot into outer space and represent what rock music is, he'd choose "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker."

reviewWest (Bonus Track Version)West available on iTunes

Lucinda Williams West

It may not be fair, but Lucinda Williams gets to follow the Ramones. Her new album, West, was released last week. This is Williams‘ eighth album in a 28-year career that has established her as one of music’s premiere singer/songwriters. Williams grew up steeped in literature and poetry as well as rock, country and folk music, and that background has really affected her sound. This album is in the same vein, but takes a somewhat different turn with producer Hal Wilner. Jim loves what Wilner contributes to the album. It feels like you are right there with Lucinda, who is“venting her spleen.”But, Jim has to wonder if everything is OK in the Williams household. The album is just too dark, and too oppressive. He gives it a Burn It. Greg agrees that people should hide their razor blades while listening to this album, but notes that Wilner is really effective at setting a mood and putting William's voice in the forefront. He just wishes that she varied the musical palette more on West. He'd like to hear more songs like the fiery "Come On." It's another Burn It for Greg.


Featured Songs

  1. Gnarls Barkley,“Crazy,”St. Elsewhere, 2006
  2. TV on the Radio,“Wolf Like Me,”Return to Cookie Mountain, 2006
  3. U2,“City of Blinding Lights”How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, 2004
  4. Spiritualized,“Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space,”Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space 1997
  5. !!!,“Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story),”Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story), 2003
  6. Judas Priest,“You've Got Another Thing Coming,”Screaming for Vengeance, 1982
  7. The Ramones,“Teenage Lobotomy,”Rocket to Russia, 1977
  8. The Ramones,“Cretin Hop,”Rocket to Russia, 1977
  9. Sex Pistols,“God Save the Queen,”Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols, 1977
  10. The Ramones,“Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,”Rocket to Russia, 1977
  11. Rolling Stones,“Tell Me,”The Rolling Stones (England's Newest Hitmakers), 1964
  12. The Ramones,“I Can't Give You Anything,”Rocket to Russia, 1977
  13. The Ramones,“Rockaway Beach,”Rocket to Russia, 1977
  14. The Ramones,“I Don't Care,”Rocket to Russia, 1977
  15. The Ramones,“Do You Wanna Dance,”Rocket to Russia, 1977
  16. The Ramones,“We're a Happy Family,”Rocket to Russia, 1977
  17. The Ramones,“Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,”Rocket to Russia, 1977
  18. Lucinda Williams,“Are You Alright,”West, 2007
  19. Lucinda Williams,“Come On”West, 2007
  20. Beirut,“My Family's Role in the World Revolution,”Lon Gisland, 2007
  21. De La Soul,“Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey),”De La Soul is Dead, 1991
  22. Tokyo Police Club,“Cheer It On”A Lesson in Time, 2006
  23. The Gossip, "Listen Up!" GSSP RMX, 2006

Footnotes Dixie Chicks Shut Up and Sing movie trailer Robert Christgau Modern Times Gnarls Barkley Greg's review of TV on the Radio's Return to Cookie Mountain TV on the Radio Rocket to Russia The Ramones Billboard Top 40: 1977 Yes circa '77 James Taylor KC and the Sunshine Band Green Day BrillBuilding British Invasion Rocket to Russia Tommy Ramone fastball click track Seymour Stein God Save the Queen Sex Pistols Here Today Gone Tomorrow“Tell Me” Rockaway Beach (the song) Rockaway Beach (the place)“Were a Happy Family” Happy Days Freaks“Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”“Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”lyrics punk Lucinda Williams West Hal Wilner West