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This was also one of the last appearances of original drummer Tommy Ramone, who’d already been replaced by Marky Ramone by the time of It’s Alive!‘s original release.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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