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Ramones - "Live January 7, 1978" review

Poster: Hank @ Wed Jun 08, 2011 4:58 pm

Ramones - "Live January 7, 1978"

The Ramones, who were barely able to make a living during their two-decade-plus existence, have been posthumously lionized to the extent that nearly anything one could say in their praise is an instant cliche.

One thing about their legacy is for sure, though : the actual SOUND of their classic first and second LPs leaves a lot to be desired. Recorded on practically no budget in tiny amounts of time, "Ramones" and "Rocket to Russia" actually sound kind of flat and tame. Which is a real drag, considering that they're brimful of some of the best, wittiest pop songs ever written. Wouldn't it be great if all those songs sounded raucous, manic, polished, and at the same time raw? Like Mother Nature intended?

Well, luckily for all of us, King Biscuit Flower Hour Records got a hold of a high-quality recording of a complete early 1978 Ramones set at the Palladium in New York City. They realeased all 27 songs on a single disc in 2003, and boy, is it a doozy!

The Ramones have, perhaps partially due to their glue-sniffing teen-slacker image and partially to their legendary musical simplicity, always had a reputation for being sloppy, chaotic, and unprofessional musicians who paid more attention to the energy of the songs than the actual quality of their performance. This live record proves that old assumption to be utterly wrong. Through the entire set and two encores, the Ramones are completely locked in, focused, and tighter than the lid on a Belvedere bottle when you wake up at 1pm on a Sunday and really, really need a Bloody.

The band's not only tight -- the recording really highlights just how good the "brothers" were as musicians. Joey in particular turns out to be a really splendid singer -- his pitch and tone are consistently outstanding. You can really tell that he's spent a lot of time singing early-60s pop songs in the shower, because his mastery of that gestalt is complete. He projects a lot louder and more forcefully than he does on the records, and it sounds great. Tommy is completely in-time and hits with power. Johnny's guitar is searing, powerful, and massive -- so very much better sounding than on the records. Dee Dee doesn't disappoint, either. It's totally invigorating to hear these songs with excellent sound and frantic passion in the performances.

There are 27 tracks on this record, and not a clunker among them. There are some particular standouts, though : "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" and "I Don't Care" are crushing, "Commando" sounds a million times better than on the record, "Cretin Hop" is infectious, "I Wanna Be Well" is soaked with pathos, and "We're a Happy Family" is chilling. Also, the version of "Surfin' Bird" on this record is maniacal.

I own a lot of records from the 'original' NYC punk era, including some live ones. This set, like no other, captures the zany, frantic, electrifying excitement that I imagine to have been present during that time. Not having been alive when the actual ish went down, it's a blessing to have a rockin' time-machine like this. Not to say that the Ramones sound dated or 'retro' here -- the no-frills music and crisp sound give the record a thoroughly modern feel.

"Live January 7 1978" is simply THE Ramones record to have. It's a treat for fans and will convert any lingering doubters. If you don't get it now, you might end up watching "Wheel of Fortune" reruns while wating for Rush Limbaugh's radio show to come on. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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