The Ramones: It’s Alive!


It’s Alive!

Sire (46045

It’s about bloody time. It’s Alive!, the Ramones’ 1979 tour-de-force double-LP live album, has finally gotten a domestic release, a mere 16 years behind the rest of the free world. Everything that’s gone wrong with this country since then, from the Iranian hostage crisis to the O. J. Simpson trial, can no doubt be attributed to Americans’ lack of easy access to the one live album that could obliterate all of life’s nagging little problems in a 1-2-3-4! barrage of amphetamine-laced bubblegum, fueled by punk attitude, a twisted AM pop sensibility, and a stunning use of nearly three chords.

Okay, so we’re getting carried away here. But critical objectivity tends to fly out the window when it comes to the Ramones. Many still view the group as a joke, while a select few (very few) others regard the Ramones with near-religious devotion. And let there be no doubt which side of that argument this scribe favors: the Ramones rule, pal, It’s Alive! is the greatest live album ever recorded, and if you don’t agree, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. Plus you’ve got bad breath.

Seriously, although It’s Alive! may not convert many non-believers to da cause, it’s a bracing, invigorating slap of Carbona-strength Hai Karate for righteous pinheads everywhere. Recorded live in London on New Year’s Eve 1977, It’s Alive! offers 28 faster-than-sound samples of unfiltered Ramonesness, culled from the group’s first three albums.

This was also one of the last appearances of original drummer  Tommy Ramone, who’d already been replaced by Marky Ramone by the time of It’s Alive!‘s original release. Although Marky is undeniably a (much!) more accomplished drummer than Tommy, the Ramones lost something irretrievable when Tommy left. Marky is heavier and flashier, and he’s propelled the Ramones to faster and faster rhythms, but Tommy’s light touch added a buoyancy that the group has been unable to replicate since.

And the band is in absolute control throughout this disc. Compare the military precision and passionate urgency of It’s Alive! with the detached, throw-away performance on 1992’s Blitzkrieg-by-numbers Loco Live, and there can be no doubt which disc captures Forest Hills’ Finest at the peak of their in-concert skills.
Color photos from the original LP’s gatefold have been changed to black-and-white for the CD insert (presumably so you can still sort of make them out in this cursed reduced format). But the sonic buzz is still there, an ephemeral thrill made timeless, preserving a fleeting moment when it really seemed possible–inevitable–that four guys from Queens could save rock ‘n’ roll. My fellow Americans, everything’s gonna be all right now.

2021 POSTSCRIPT: my appreciation of Marky Ramone has continued to grow over the decades. What hasn’t changed? It’s Alive! remains my all-time favorite live album.


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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?

An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

This piece is a modified version of what I wrote for This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio when Pete Shelly passed away in late 2018, repurposed as a chapter for my forthcoming book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). Ultimately, however, the Buzzcocks chapter didn’t quite fit in with my plans for the book. It be that way sometimes. Nonetheless, the chapter is presented here for your enjoyment.
THE BUZZCOCKS: “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)”
Single, United Artists Records [U.K], 1978

Singles Going Steady was my introduction to the music of The Buzzcocks. Although it was really just a compilation of the group’s singles, it was the first Buzzcocks album released in America. I cherished it from that day forward. “Ever Fallen In Love?” “What Do I Get?” “I Don’t Mind.” “Orgasm Addict.” “Love You More.” “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays.” “Harmony In My Head.” “Promises.” Classics, all of ’em. And that was just Side One!

I’m sure I read about the band before that visit to the record shop, but I can’t remember whether or not I’d heard any of the songs before snapping up my copy of Singles Going Steady. Either way, I knew: My music. My kind of record. My kind of band. Music firmly rooted in the example of the 1960s British Invasion, music that couldn’t have existed without British punk (and American Ramones) making it possible. 

Other than Steve Diggle’s “Harmony In My Head,” all of those amazing tracks on Side One of Singles Going Steady were written or co-written by Pete Shelley. Shelley and Diggle were inspired by The Sex Pistols, but informed by a working knowledge of hooks and harmonies, the power of pop, the sheer thrill of what a 45 rpm record could do when played loud, when played on the radio. Some called The Buzzcocks the punk Beatles. To me, another touchstone seemed closer to the mark: The Buzzcocks reminded me of The Kinks.

I can’t explain exactly why. Maybe it was a vague similarity in the quirky nature of the lead vocals. Maybe it was the shrugging off of any pretense of perfection, the casual embrace of its own ragged glory. For whatever reason: God save The Buzzcocks. Now and always, God save The Buzzcocks.

Although The Buzzcocks’ “What Do I Get” has shown up (incongruously) in American advertising–one still awaits the day when “Orgasm Addict” will appear in a TV commercial for ED drugs–the group’s signature tune has to be “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” (shortened to just “Ever Fallen I Love?” for the American LP). The song’s lyrics reflect a same-sex relationship, though the notion of falling in love with someone we shouldn’t have transcends the specifics of sexuality and gender politics. Few of us have been fortunate enough to avoid that trap entirely, to never find ourselves ensnared with a boy or a girl who ain’t nothin’ but trouble, however that trouble manifests its ornery self. The Buzzcocks’ recording is convincing and commanding, making what may be a really bad romance sound really good, at least on the stereo. Where it’s safe!

Ever fallen in love? With a guy or gal who just isn’t right for you, or perhaps with a style of music that will mark you permanently out with the in crowd? Testify, brothers and sisters. The pundits said punk wasn’t built to last. Pete Shelley passed away suddenly in December of 2018. The music outlasts us. It will outlive us all. It’s okay to fall in love with that.


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Quick Spins

The First Rule / Welcome To Sucksville

The First Rule

Welcome To Sucksville

The First Rule’s “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” Was definitely one of the highlights of 2017 for me. Wound tighter than a Swiss watch, this punk outfit crammed nineteen tunes onto that disc, impressing me with punk songs that stuck in my cranium like pop songs. Adding to their first-rate writing skills is the fact that they’re a local band, which really put me in their corner.

The band has upped their game since then, as the production, playing and songwriting are notably tighter and more distilled here. Guitarist Chelsey Corrin left the band last year, but still contributed to a lot of these tracks. Singer Nicholas O’Malley is present and in fine voice, though, sneering his way through the opening one-two punch of “War Machine” and “Little Miss Narcissist.”

“Better Things” starts out as an acoustic declaration before vaulting into a grinder for the fed-up among us. This one really gets to the point in a hurry, which is what these guys (and girl) are good at. My fave of the set, however, is the hyper-yet-sentimental “I Knew You When,” an ode to the old friends who we looked out for in the old days, who have finally seen fit to get themselves together. A top-shelf effort.