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"We're a Happy Family: A Tribute to Ramones" is a compilation album released in 2003, featuring the songs of American punk rock band, the Ramones, which were recorded by others. Artists on the album are Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rob Zombie, Eddie Vedder & Zeke, Metallica, U2, Kiss, Marilyn Manson, Garbage, Green Day, The Pretenders, Rancid, Pete Yorn, The Offspring, Rooney and Tom Waits.
I don't often see the necessity to record tribute albums, but what I'm about to review is songs put together dedicated to the greatest punk rock band that ever existed, the Ramones. There are a few albums out there that does the same thing, but only one of them was personally overseen by Ramones guitarist, Johnny. The artwork for the album was designed by Rob Zombie and features the band as zombies.
The opener, "Havana Affair", is one of my favourite Ramones tracks of all time. It's a song about the CIA spying on communist Cuba in and around the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion. The lyrics are pretty much a tongue-in-cheek laugh at the expense of the American government's radical proposals for Cuba, and the time changes in the song are ground-breaking for the time. This version was recorded by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and is a slowed down version with a funky twist, compared to what the Ramones did.
"Blitzkrieg Bop" has the staple Ramones chant 'Hey! Ho! Let's Go!" in the lyrics, and this version was recorded by Rob Zombie. The song is a good introduction to the world of punk rock music, and is about the ferocious speed of which someone would dance to the music the band plays on stage. "Blitzkrieg Bop" was certainly a live favourite and Rolling Stone magazine placed it No.92 in their list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Rob Zombie makes the song a more groove-infested version with a solo at the beginning and changing the vocals into his own style. I've always liked White Zombie and Rob's solo stuff, but I don't think this works - especially with the chorus which strings out the title as "Blitz-krieg-bop".
"I Believe in Miracles" is a song written by Dee Dee about life in general. What he's saying here is no matter what he's done in life he's had a good time and he just can't believe he's still there to do it all again. That luck would run out on him in 2002 when he died of a heroin overdose. The first thing that's noticeable with the guitars is that the Ramones are heavier than any previous album. It's still classic Ramones three chord riffs but it has that extra kick to it and Joey's singing is as good on any record he ever made. This particular version was recorded by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder (one of Joey's best friends) and hardcore punk band, Zeke. The guitars sound similar to the original version, although there's a lot more feedback when the notes are played. I've never been a big fan of Pearl Jam but this is a pretty good performance from Eddie Vedder on vocals.
"53rd and 3rd" is a street corner in New York City where male prostitutes attempt to make money. Some have said it's directly related to Dee Dee but I'm pretty sure it isn't, and is just about someone he met attempting to buy drugs. It's another Ramones classic which was covered by Metallica, although it sounds nowhere near as good as the original in my opinion. Metallica tries, but the fire had long gone from the band, unfortunately. This was recorded around the time of Lars' obsession with the drums sounding like they've been recorded in a bathroom and as big as the band is, I often wonder if Johnny was tempted to pull them to one side and say "No, this is how I want it."
"Beat on the Brat" is a song written by Joey about all the spoiled kids he saw when he was growing up in Queens. Johnny's three chord riffs are ever present in the track, and Joey's vocal style is a little different to some songs, but he still delivers it well. The band would pass out bats with the words 'use on a brat' on them at early gigs. Johnny made a strange choice of band to record this version and that band was Irish rock act, U2. The Edge makes the guitar sound really good here but Bono's vocals ruin it for me in the verses, but steal it in the chorus - so much so that he almost sounds like Joey.
"Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" is a song about how good music once was and how it's all become too diverse, straying from the roots of rock and roll. The Ramones are basically saying it's up to them to change this for the better by referring to artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis, T. Rex and Alan Freed. The song is a throwback to that 50s and 60s rock and roll style and has an interesting saxophone sound playing over the guitar. This version was recorded by hard rock legends, Kiss. It's harder-sounding song than the original but they left in the saxophone. Actually, I think they just took it from the master recordings and recorded their instruments over it.
"The KKK Took My Baby Away" is one of the finest punk rock songs ever, but is a song that may not have even come around had certain events not happened. It's really about how Joey's ex-girlfriend, Linda, left him for Johnny. He's not saying Johnny is a KKK member, but he's saying that the two were so far apart politically, that he put them both together to make it sound like he's not being so obvious as to what it's about. I really like the vocal harmony on the chorus of this song, and the version on this album was recorded by Marilyn Manson. As you'd expect with Manson, it's a completely different sound and has no guitar in it. It's a toss-up between this and Metallica's "Beat on the Brat" for most annoying cover on the album.
"I Just Want to have Something to Do" has one of the best lines on any record, with the line "eating chicken vindaloo" making it into the song. I do like the very catchy chorus, too, even if it is mainly just Joey singing "tonight" over and over. It's a song about hanging out with friends but having nothing to do because of poverty. Garbage covered it for this album and Shirley Manson's vocals are very impressive. It tries to stay true to the original song, and I like that.
"Outsider" is a song written by Dee Dee about his alienation in the world, saying how he's alone and doesn't trust anyone enough to get close to them. It has a typical punk rock beat with Johnny's guitar work sounding really good on the original. This version was recorded by Green Day. It's quite a coincidence that a wannabe punk rock band would cover the masters and inevitable, really, I guess. Needless to say, Green Day just don't come close!
The brilliant "Something to Believe In" which was written by Dee Dee and Jean Beauvoir is up next. The video for the song parodied things like Live Aid and the band called it Ramones Aid, with a number of musicians appearing in it like Ted Nugent, Weird Al Yankovic and Spinal Tap. The song is a slow number with a quiet guitar riff in the background and bell chimes make an appearance, too. Joey's singing is perfect on the original version of this song and it reminds me of him and it was the first one I played when I found out he'd died. The Pretenders do it justice with their version, and Chrissie Hynde sounds incredible, even though it's a slower-sounding version that has a haunting melody.
"Sheena is a Punk Rocker" is one of the most iconic Ramones songs of all, and one of the best they ever wrote. It's basically a song in the mould of "Judy is a Punk" in a the way that Sheena abandons her friends that are all going to disco, in order to listen to punk rock. This is another Ramones song which is reminiscent of the Beach Boys style of music. This version was recorded by punk artists, Rancid, and while I'm not a fan of theirs they don't do too bad here. It's sped up with that hardcore punk style and I especially like the backing vocals near the end.
"I Wanna be Your Boyfriend" is a venture into a slower, almost ballad-sounding song. It's a song about falling for a girl and wanting to be with her, and the harmony from the backing vocals makes it sound better than it is. It's not one of my personal favourites because it's too 'soppy' but it works for some. This version was recorded by Peter Yorn and is as close to the original as any song on here. Some took a risk and completely changed the songs - some bombed, some triumphed, but Pete decided to not take any chances, and he pulls it off.
"I Wanna be Sedated" is an absolute classic of a song with a an excellent slab of punk rock that deals with the constant pressures of touring the world and how Joey in particular was burning out and needed a break. This is one of the best Ramones songs ever, and the video to the song has the band sat at a table while chaos resumes all around them. Pop-punk band the Offspring provided the cover for this version and it sounds quite good, coming from a band that I either like or don't, depending on my mood.
On the original version of "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow", it rolls in with an acoustic guitar and Joey's wailing of "Oh oh oh, I love ya", which was specifically designed to help you feel the emotion he's experiencing when singing it, or more specifically, the heartache the narrator is going through. It's a song about being with a woman but knowing that you can't carry on with her, and the chorus sounds wonderful as Joey sings his heart out. Rooney recorded the cover version for the album. If ever there was a case of trying too hard, this is it. It's not that the singer has a bad voice, it's that I just don't care for it, if that makes any sense. It's almost as if he's trying to sound like Joey, but trying to 1-up him at the same time, and that I don't like.
"The Return of Jackie and Judy" is, as Ramones fans would expect, a continuation of the saga of Jackie and Judy, two real life fans of the band who had followed the band from early on in their careers, and what they've been doing since the band's debut album. It sounds a little like "Judy is a Punk" in the main riff but on the original version, Phil Spector's use of that 'head in a bass bin' sound on the drums didn't work out for me. This version was recorded by Tom Waits, who almost sounds like he's been drinking heavily. The vocals are distorted and the guitar doesn't sound anything like the original.
I just adore the opening (and chorus) riff on "Daytime Dilemma (Dangers of Love)", which showed Johnny in a different light instead of labelling him a one-trick pony with three chords. Lyrically, it's about a young girl who was brought up on the right side of the tracks and she falls for someone on the wrong side who is completely the opposite. The band's timing is perfect on this song, probably more here than on any other off the album. This version was supplied by Eddie Vedder and Zeke. The only problem I have with this is that the same act appears twice on the album, almost as if to say we're better than anyone else. Great version, though.
We come to the last song off the album now, which is technically a hidden track but as it's one of my favourite Ramones songs, I thought I'd cover it here. "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World" has an incredibly catchy chorus and one of the best endings to any song, and indeed, album. John Frusciante, then Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist, provides this version and mauls it to the point of not even knowing what it's supposed to be. I like the experimentation, but it just doesn't work here.
In summary, you have to take the rough with the smooth on this album. I'm sure Joey and Dee Dee would have chosen some completely different songs and artists to record them but they had sadly left us at the time that this project was given the go-ahead. I'm surprised that Debbie Harry wasn't asked or any of the Sex Pistols, as they were all friends of the band, and I'm also surprised that Johnny let in songs that simply do not conform as far as the Ramones go. It's a hit and miss album, but mostly hit. I would have given it higher marks but for the bad songs.
1. Havana Affair
2. Blitzkrieg Bop
3. I Believe in Miracles
4. 53rd and 3rd
5. Beat on the Brat
6. Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio
7. The KKK Took My Baby Away
8. I Just Wanna Have Something to Do
10. Something to Believe In
11. Sheena is a Punk Rocker
12. I Wanna be Your Boyfriend
13. I Wanna be Sedated
14. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
15. The Return of Jackie & Judy
16. Daytime Dilemma (Dangers of Love)
17. Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World
My rating: 7/10