Record Review: The Ramones – End Of the Century

Sire Records | US | LP | 1979 | SRK 6077

Sire Records | US | LP | 1979 | SRK 6077

The Ramones: End Of The Century US LP [1979]

  1. Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio?
  2. I’m Affected
  3. Danny Says
  4. Chinese Rock
  5. The Return Of Jackie And Judy
  6. Let’s Go
  7. Baby, I Love You
  8. I Can’t Make It On Time
  9. This Ain’t Havana
  10. Rock’N’Roll High School
  11. All The Way
  12. High Risk Insurance

It seemed to take forever until I finally heard The Ramones! Living in Central Florida at the time, it’s not surprising; the airwaves were so conservative! If it wasn’t Zeppelin, The Nuge, or Southern Rock at that time, faggadaboudit! That I heard this album at all was probably a testament to Phil Spector’s name on the cover. I finally heard The Ramones when WORJ-FM played this album in full as their album hour at midnight [as they did every weeknight] on its late 1979 release. By this point I’d read way too much about The Ramones, but had not heard the first note. This rectified that problem and I quickly purchased a copy of my own soon afterward. Good thing too, because after that aberration, The Ramones never darkened the airwaves at WORJ-FM again!

All of this in spite of the “controversial” reputation of this album in The Ramones canon. The making of this album was shrouded in the usual Spectorian high drama as The Ramones were held captive in his fortified mansion for weeks at a time, had guns waved in their faces, etc. Dee Dee later claimed that he had no idea who actually played on the album after he and Marky “escaped” the compound and hot footed it back to NYC.

Joey Ramone reported that $700,000 was plowed into the album before Sire Prez Seymour Stein pulled the plug and stopped the endless remixing that Spector was wont to indulge in. Stein was highly enamored by The Ramones breakneck work ethic that initially saw the foursome cut 5-6 tracks a day for a few grand and then apologize to him for taking so long! When you can cut and mix a master an LP for $5000 it’s like a license for a record label to print money compared to the drama queen rockstar hijinx that Fleetwood Mac or Pink Floyd would invest making an album with, often to the high six figures. But the slow trickle of sales that The Ramones had compared to Floyd and Mac gave Spector’s offer to produce some weight. The thought was that maybe his superstar production might finally shift a few units of this well loved [by a few] band so the money flowed for this one. In the end, it realized the intention and gave The Ramones their best selling album ever, still, to this day, but your guess is as good as mine if the production ever went into the black.

Me? I don’t care about that. I love this album because its “in the red!” I wouldn’t want to be stuck in an elevator with him, but I don’t deny that Spector could get a powerful sound on a good day. He delivered The Ramones best sounding album with the usual Goldstar Studios “Wall Of Sound” barely contained on the end platter. The credits list Steve Douglas on Sax and Steve Goldberg on keyboards, but truthfully, it sounds like a few dozen musicians are doubling or tripling in the mix.

The drums in “I’m Affected” sound like Marky is being doubled by several tympani following the lead kit to tremendous effect. Of course it’s all slathered in Goldstar’s famous reverb but the end result comes close to sounding like the “drums of god” here. The only drums I’ve heard that begin approach this ideal were on the Holly + the Italians album the following year, produced by Spector disciple Richard Gottherer. Come to think of it, Gottherer co-founded Sire Records with Stein so I would have put money on his sitting in the producer’s chair for The Ramones, but when Spector comes calling, I guess that pulls a lot of weight.

The three singles here would have all sounded fantastic on the radio… in my mind, but in 1980, the sounds of “Do You Remember Rock + Roll Radio,” “Rock ‘N’ Roll High School,” and the Ronettes cover of “Baby, I Love You” were not what radio was wanting to hear. The Billboard top 100 of 1979, the year this album was recorded, is a thick morass of disco, MOR sludge, fake country music, with only the scantiest dusting of the crassest rock music [e.g. The Knack, Van Halen] possible.  Spector or not, this album was definitely swimming against the tide in spite of  Da Brudders giving it their best shot at compromise.

Fortunately, their idea of compromise is closer to most artists’ idiosyncratic best. The familiar Ramones roar is given a explosive boost here by Spector’s methods. The undeniable fact is it’s Spector fan Joey who got to make an album he knew he always had in him. His penchant for the sort of girl group sounds that Spector originally produced let’s him indulge in his romantic best here. The great ballad “Danny Says” manages to be a “road song” that’s not another excuse to roll the eyes back into their sockets as it begins with delicate acoustic guitars and glockenspiel [!] to pick up power with each verse until it ends with a full head of steam as Joey brings it home with his earnest, yearning performance.

That it’s followed by my personal favorite tune on the album that features the toughest sound on the album is great sequencing. “Chinese Rock” is a ferocious rocker and a rare drug song for The Ramones that Dee Dee managed to finally bring aboard, much to Johnny’s dismay. The drums have a pummeling force that’s unstoppable, and Johnny is definitely playing lead guitar on this track. It’s been my go-to track for decades off of this album. Many a mix tape [and even mix 8-track] was enlivened by this little number.

The cover of The Ronettes “Baby, I Love You” was the odd one out here, but Joey sings his heart out and it sounds great, in spite of being a Ramones cut in name only. The orchestra and Joey carry the tune and at the end of the day, it’s Joey’s first solo cut, a few years early. Spector, being the canny player he was, wasn’t going to walk off of this record without a few more points for publishing royalties, but anything that unites the pens of Spector, Jeff Barry, and Ellie Greenwich with Joey’s tonsils is a good thing.

Some Ramones fans may decry this record, but I felt for the last 34 years that it was an even match between legendary band and producer. While it’s not my go-to Ramones album, it is one that puts a smile on my face and at the end of the day, it packs a very polished punch.  There are a couple of ballads here, but really, all of The Ramones albums prior to this had their share of those, too. The tough tracks here [and there are plenty] sound just immense, and the phalanx of session men who probably contributed to the sound were not paid in vain.

Artistically, at least. While this is the best-selling Ramones album, that it managed to only get to the mid 40s on the Billboard album chart is but another chapter in the cosmic injustice dealt to The Ramones. To have “sold out” this successfully and to have only reached #44 on the album charts is sad-making. I still maintain that one could give Ed Stasium the master tapes to The Ramones and have him [slightly] remix “Bitzkreig Bop” and one day, it could scale the charts to attain its rightful place in the top of the charts. Sigh.

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12 Responses to Record Review: The Ramones – End Of the Century

  1. Echorich says:

    Pretty spot on Monk. I was very much in the minority of my rabid Ramones fan friends when it came to End Of The Century, but EVERYONE I knew bought it, played it and had something to say about it. We all went to see the band when they played Central Park Dr. Pepper Music Festival along with 10’s of thousands of others and had an amazing time.
    Chinese Rocks is the core Ramones track on EOTC. But Danny Says is probably the most important and telling track as it has everything to do with their manager Danny Fields who once wrote for 16 Magazine, publicist for Elektra Records – including a contentious relationship with Jim Morrison and helped to guide Iggy Pop, MC5, The Modern Lovers and Ramones through the maze of the music industry.
    Actually it was Road To Ruin, the preceding album that annoyed me and sounded like a sell out. I Wanna Be Sedated is THE most overplayed punk track I can imagine. But the album did start off on a high with I Just Want To Have Something To Do. To work with Spector on EOTC was almost like Ramones giving a middle finger to everyone and I liked that. If Spector had worked with 60’s garage bands rather than studio singers I’m sure this would have been the sound of 60’s American Rock & Roll.
    The real unfortunate thing for me was that after End Of The Century, Ramones just didn’t have any further impact for me. The songs were throwaway and they came off as a cartoon of themselves. The same thing happened for me with DEVO around the same time. I will admit to loving Ramones cover of Chuck “Gong Show/Secret Agent Man” Barris’ Palisades Park – my parents took my brother and me on closing weekend back in 1971.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – No sooner did I finally come aboard the Ramones train than the wheels came off for me too! When I heard the 4 track pre-release EP from “Pleasant Dreams” I thought that the chord sequence in “Airwaves” sounded just like Judas Priest! Was it “Breaking The Law?” Dismayed, I ignored The Ramones from 1981-1992, when I heard “Poison Heart” from “Mondo Bizarro” and liked it a lot. For years I only had “End Of The Century” and “Rocket To Russia” by the band but something snapped in 1992, and today, I have them all except for “Animal Boy!” But I also agree that “Road To Ruin” is the big sellout album. There’s not too much on that one that I liked when hearing chasinvictoria’s copy around the same time that I bought “End of the Century.” Not much there works for me. I also blew off The Ramones live for years since they only came to Central Florida in the mid 80s onward. But I made sure to catch the band for the last two tours! So I never saw Dee Dee, but C.J. has my respect for playing bass after Dee Dee left. I was frankly amazed that when Dee Dee left he said he was still going to write… and did! Lot’s of guys say that when they leave a band, but never follow through.

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  2. chas_m says:

    I too love EOTC tremendously, though Rocket to Russia was my stepping-on point and thus remains my favourite (along with the earlier albums). Like the rest of you, I began losing interest after EOTC, sensing they couldn’t top this (and sure enough, they didn’t). I enjoyed a number of post-EOTC songs after that, but can’t point to a full album I’d buy post-EOTC.

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  3. Taffy says:

    I love EOTC! “Do You Remember Rock N Roll Radio?” is a shoulda been AM radio monster hit, and maybe would’ve been, had it come out in, say, 1962 (er, without the lyric reference to the end of the seventies!). Joey sounds amazing…the sweet pop crooner he could have been in an alternate career.
    My initial live Ramones experience was at that same summer 1980 Dr Pepper music festival show Echo mentions (with warm-up by Holly & The Italians!!!!!!!!!!!!), and I saw them live dozens of times through that farewell tour.
    And Monk…you need the Animal Boy album, as it contains “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” and “Somebody Put Something in My Drink,” two of their 80’s highlights. Altho to be honest, I have a soft spot for the Richie Ramone years in general.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – Oh, I know I need “Animal Boy!” I was just watching the movie “School Of Rock” and the appearance of “Bonzo Goes To Bitburg” drive home that need in a dramatic way. But it’s the single Ramones CD I’ve not seem a used copy of. And you saw the tour with Holly?! They came to Boreblando, but thanks MADD, Florida raised the drinking age barring 18 year old me [who was straightedge before there was a word for it] from entry to the nightclub where said tour happened. It’s a GREAT REGRET that I missed Holly touring that amazing album – one of my favorites of all time. In fact, I think she smoked The Ramones at their own game! I need to respond to your year end list and comment, but time is tight!

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      • Echorich says:

        Monk, Holly And The Italians gained a lot of fans on that opening slot for Ramones. By the way, Johnny, who was possibly the most conservative libertarian I have ever had the pleasure of drinking – again not sure he was ever actually drinking – with would go out of his way to remind people the name of the band was Ramones – NO THE – or “NO DA” as he would say… Johnny and his lovely wife would hang out at Limelight Club in NYC back in the late 80’s and gave my friend Patty and I such a charge when he would get up off his sofa and yell out our names across the VIP room to come join them. He had a fascinating take on politics, society, the music industry and is singlehandedly responsible for Ramones actually making any money when other bands of his generation had nothing to show for it.

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  4. jsd says:

    I saw the ramones live around 1990 and I was… to put it mildly… unprepared. I thought it would be a good time 50’s rock singalong type thing. Nobody told me that they were a speed-thrash band live. Holy crap. I managed to crawl out of the mosh pit to the bar, where a drunk woman proceeded to slur at me: “Listen, buddy, somebody’s getting their head kicked in right now. It ain’t you… (burp) and it ain’t me…. but SOMEBODY.” I nodded sagely and turned back to my beer.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      jsd – Oh? You had never heard “Wart Hog?” Or “It’s Alive” for that matter! Their early sets were 15 minutes long! With a dozen songs!!

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      • jsd says:

        What can I say, I wasn’t really that into them. I knew the “hits” like “Rock and Roll High School” and “I Wanna Be Sedated”, but the studio versions of those songs are not that far removed from the Beach Boys. Anyway, fun show. Just not what I was expecting!

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