The Ramones continue to make great albums in the 1980's but inter-band drama heats up, dubious business decisions are made and a few legendary people get fired.
The year was 1980. The Ramones had just done and album with legendary producer Phil Spector. This would be their 5th classic album and they had just made a movie. They were starting to be recognized as legends. But they still had no hit songs and no big albums. The Phil Spector album, End of The Century was set to come out early in the year and everyone was hoping the Ramones would finally break through. My Name is Harley Isaac Rother, I’m a musician, rock n roller and now podcaster. Welcome to Guitars and Stolen Cars - Season 1 The Ramones Episode 7 - Not so Pleasant Dreams
Lead singer, Joey Ramone was living with his girlfriend Linda and they were planning on getting engaged. As the new Ramones record, End of The Century was set to come out, there was an issue with the album cover. They took a photo without their signature leather jackets, and the label had the idea to use it as the cover. Maybe the leather jackers were the reason the albums weren’t selling? The Band voted. Johnny wanted the Jackets on the cover. Dee dee and Joey thought they should try it without the jackets. They were wearing the jackets on all the other albums, so maybe they were due for a change. Marky didn’t get a vote, because he wasn’t an original Ramone. That was it, two against one. No jackets on the album cover. Johnny said he felt like they were selling out.
Still End of the Century was a great album. Maybe not quite as good as the previous four and certainly not the greatest of all time, as Spector had wanted, but still it was great. The Ramones meet Phil Spector, come on! One interesting track on the album is Chinese rocks. Chinese rocks was a street name for a type of heroin. The song came about because DeeDee heard Richard Hell say that he was going to write a junkie song even better than Lou Reeds Heroine. Well not if DeeDee got to it first. But the Ramones rejected the song because they didn’t want to do a song about hereon. Sniffing glue and carbona fine, but you have to draw the line somewhere.
Since the Ramones didn’t want the song, Deedee gave it to Richard Hell. Richard Hell gave it to Johnny Thunders. Thunders recorded the song and credited himself, his bandmate Jerry Nolan, Richard Hell and DeeDee Ramone as the song writers. In reality Dee Dee wrote the song, Richard Hell added one lyric - Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan had nothing to do with writing the song at all. DeeDee didn’t really mind but Johnny Ramone wouldn’t let that stand. Nobody other than a Ramone should get credit for a Ramone written song. So they put Chinese Rocks on the new album to set the record straight, crediting the writing to The Ramones. The lyrics make it the ultimate junkie anthem. “The plasters falling off the wall, My girlfriends crying in the shower stall, Its hot as a bitch, I shoulda been rich but im just digging a Chinese ditch. i’m living on Chinese rocks, all my best things are in hock. I’m living on Chinese rocks, Everything is in the pawn shop.” Both versions of the song are great but I think the Ramones with help from Phil Spector do the better version in my opinion. Here’s Johnny Thunders version. You can hear the Ramones Style mixed with Thunders on NY Dolls Style <> Now Here’s the Ramones with the Spector production.<>
And of coarse there was the albums single, Baby I love you. A far cry from a punk song, none the less, a great track. Phil Spector wrote the song and the original version was by the Ronnetts in 1963. Although the Ronnets were a trio, Ronnie Bennet aka Ronnie Spector is the only Ronnet on the recording. She sings the lead and the backups vocals are done by two studio musicians, Darlene Love and a teenaged girl and named Cherilyn Sarkisian. Cherilyn Sarkisian would start going Cher a few years later and become one of the biggest pop stars of all time. Anyway here’s the Ronnets doing baby I love you. A classic but I think The Ramones version is even better than the original. Joeys voice is in top form and Phil Spectoss wall of sound is complete with a sting section is in full effect <>
The other single released off the album is Do You Remember Rock N roll Radio? The song features Blitzkieg Bop Style chanting and the production is deliberately evocative of earlier rock eras, featuring a prominent organ playing and a horn section. <> The listener is repeatedly asked if they remember different fixers of early rock n roll radio including their early hero Murray the K as well as Allan Freed. Allan Freed coined the term Rock N Roll. <>
A fan favorite off the album is Danny Says a tribute to their manager Danny Fields. The song starts off totally Phil Spector 60’s pop style.<> Then Ramones guitars come in <>
The Ramones flew to England to support the album.
In England, Baby I love you, The albums single, went to #8 and the album went to 14. Not bad that’s a hit. In America, the single failed to chart at all and the album went to 44, their highest spot ever. But at the same time, nobody was writing home to say hey we have the 44th biggest album out right now. Goddammit once again, the major success the Ramones wanted had alluded them.
In England, they performed on the Music TV shows, Top of the Pops and Old Grey Whistle test. The BBC Orchestra played the string parts on Baby I Love You. At the Old Grey Whistle Test, Roger Daltry from the Who was hanging out backstage. He told Marky Ramone that they would never amount to anything in leather jackets. Marky told him to “go drink your fucking tea”. They toured England and did shows in the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy. Dee dee noted of this European tour, that they were playing the same venues they’d been playing for years but “all of a sudden these very young girls were at the gig - not for the Ramones but for Baby I Love You.”
After they got back from Europe, something had to change. They felt like they were treading water. Before the Ramones even had a record deal, they were marketing themselves as a band where every song could be a hit. Now they had 5 great albums, a movie and had worked with one of the biggest producers of all time. But still no hit songs in America and no big albums. It was time to renew the management contract with Danny Fields and Linda Stein. Some in the band didn’t want to. So they took another vote. Johnny Ramone, a creature of habit wanted to stay with the old team. DeeDee and Joey didn’t. Once again Marky didn’t get a vote because he wasn’t an original Ramone. So it 2 against 1 it was time to find a new manager.
Gary Kurfirst was from Forest Hills, just like the Ramones. He was managing the Talking Heads and the B-52’s, both bands that had at one point opened for the Ramones and were now having huge hit songs and eclipsing them. Back when the Talking Heads opened for the Ramones, the Ramones tried to shaft the Talking Heads on the light show. Headlining bands often to this to openers, as you don’t want the opener to have as big of a lighting show as the headliner. But Kurfirst made a fuss right away and The Talking Heads got to use the Ramones lights. Johnny liked that attitude, fighting for his band. Dee Dee commented ““In the music business you dont get anywhere except by shouting, threatening and fighting,”. So they hired Gary Kurfirst as the new manager of the Ramones. Danny Fields, who had hung out with Andy Warhol, worked for the Doors and signed Iggy Pop and the MC5 and then managed the Ramones, had this to say “I cant blame them. 5 Years and still not sold any records, but they played all over the world, and were famous.“
After Europe, the Ramones wasted no time and went on tour again. East coast, the south, Canada, and California. And then Something new. 7 shows in Japan, 9 Shows in Australia and 3 in New Zealand. And then back to England and Europe a second time that year. One interesting show on the European tour, was playing the former imperial palace in Barcelona, Spain. The repressive regime of the dictator Franco had only recently fallen, and the Spanish people were ready to rock. The Ramones shared the bill progressive rock artist Mike Oldfield and played in front of 200,000 people.
Something else happened in 1980. Linda, the girl Joey was planning on marrying, started having an affair with Johnny. Joey was either oblivious or chose to look the other way, but people were noticing. Not good.
The Ramones took it relatively easy for the first half of 1981. They still played shows around the tristate area but no major tours. But they had a new manager, and it was time for a new album.
The label insisted they use the Producer Graham Gouldman. Gouldman had written a bunch of hit songs during the British invasion, like For Your Love by The Yardbird, and Bus Stop by The Hollies. He also played bass in the successful band 10cc. Still, a pretty odd choice for a Ramones producer. Gouldman’s idea was to bring the Ramones sound into the 1980’s. Phil Spector, in many ways brought the Ramones back to the 60’s, Gouldman wanted to bring them to the future.
When they started tracking, Gouldman, told Johnny to turn down his amp because it was buzzing. This was a red flag for Johnny. They had already done 5 albums and nobody had ever asked him to turn his amp down. Johnny was going to hate this album, even more than the last one.
Then something bad happened, Joey found out about Johnny and Linda. That was it. Joey and Johny didn’t get along before, but now they stopped speaking entirely. They would never speak more than a few words to each other again.
There is lots of speculation that songs on the album, Pleasent Dreams, are about this affair. One such song is The KKK took my baby away. Johnny was a conservative. Was Joey knocking him by calling him The KKK? Actually no. The song had been written much earlier. When Joey was in the psychiatric ward before the Ramones started, if you recall back to episode two. He met some girls in there. One of them became his girlfriend for awhile, and they briefly lived together. The problem was the girl was African-American, and when her parents found out she was living with a white guy, they made her come back home. Joey, as a sarcastic joke said the KKK took his baby away. That was the Inspiration for the song. Not Johnny and Linda.
Still another song on the album leaves one guessing. Don’t Go. Some of the lyrics are: she was everything to me, the sun, the moon the earth, to me. How I ever let her go I’ll never know. Don’t go don’t go don’t go baby don’t go don’t leave me this way. Was that about Linda? We may never know but we do know that Joey never fully got over this betrayal. <>
The album with Gouldman, Pleasant Dreams is another great album, IMO its even better than End of the Century. It sounds very 80’s and very Ramones which is exactly what Gouldman was going for. It’s also the first Ramones album not to have any 60’s covers on it. It sounded very commercial too. It still has the punk edge, but the songs would be totally fitting on the radio next to Sing and the Police or Debbie Harry and blondie. In fact, Debbie Harry sang some backup vocals on the album, so did Kate and Cindy from the B-52’s and Russel Mael from Sparks. The most remembered track is definitely The KKK took my baby away. It had the Ramones sound with great pop hooks <> Was a song that mentions the KKK in the chorus too edgy for radio, even though they were the bad guys in the song? We will never know because Sire records decided not to release it, or any other song as a single in America. No single, means no chance at radio play as radio DJ’s played singles, not albums on air.
This is a pretty baffling decision. Why bring in a new producer, and go for a commercial sound if you’re not even going to try to have a hit song. I have a theory but it’s only a theory. Johnny Ramone has said many times that after End of the Century, the Phil Spector album flopped, he gave up on ever having a hit song, or a big selling album.
Johnny was also the most involved Ramone when it came to business decisions. To have a hit song, the record label has to spend money on promotion. The money from that promotion, comes out of the bands royalties. Since Johnny had already come to the conclusion that the band was never going to have a hit song, and he hated wasting money, he wouldn’t even splurge for hotel rooms if he could help it, it would make sense that he and the new management would decide not to spend money on radio promotion. Which is too bad because just as Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler had said, the Ramones were ahead of their time but by the 80’s, the times were starting to catch up. But this is just a theory. However there were some interesting observations in Monte Melnics book On The Road With The Ramones. ex Ramone, Tommy said “I wish they had thrown some money at radio, it wasn’t getting promoted.” Gary Kurfirst, the new manager disagreed, “They didn’t have any hits, but it wasn’t for lack of effort of lack of money being spent on them. It was just that radio did not want to play them.” Richie Ramone, who wasn’t it the band yet, would agree with my theory, “When we finally got the albums a little more radio friendly, nothing came of it because it costs money to promote something. Johnny And kurfirst didn’t want to spend money”.
Whatever the case, not releasing a single seems very like a very dubious decision. Joey never gave up on the radio. The album opens with a song he wrote We Want the Airwaves. <>
Aside from not releasing a single, there was something else different. The album gave credit to which Ramone had written each song. On all the previous albums it was just say Ramones. Dee Dee and Joey, who wrote most of the songs, wanted to be recognized as the great songwriters they were. The album cover is very odd. It’s a cartoon silhouette of what to me looks like a Dick Tracy villain with a spotlight on them. It’s not that cool looking and doesn’t really fit the music or the band. Oh Well. It’s also the first album cover not to feature the band.
The Ramones went back on tour to promote their new album, The east coast, the west coast, the south, the midwest and Europe. The opened for the Kinks in Arizona and Peter Frampton in Saratoga Springs NY.
Since Joey and Johnny no longer spoke, this was the beginning of a classic bit of Ramones lure. They would both be sitting in the same van, and obviously could hear each other, but would talk through a third party. Usually Monte Melnic. Ramones roadie George Tabb recounted to author Everett True “Johnny would say something like, will you tell Joey to shut up, and play different music? Johnny would want to put on a baseball game. So Joey would go , Monte, tell John that I want to listen to the soundtrack from hair. Then monte would say Johnny, Joey wants to listen to the soundtrack from hair. Johnny would go “tell that asshole that I have to hear the game”. Monte would say, asshole, Johnny says you’re an asshole, and he wants to hear the game. these guys were right next to each other. but that was how the conversation split. Dee dee would be laying down and Marky would be trying to ignore all the crap” Joey’s brother Mickey commented “Joey and Johnny conversations were so odd, it made dee dee look normal”.
Marky recalled of this era “By oct 81 I was doing more drinking. Joey was also drinking more and deedee was doing coke, psycho drugs, and smoking a lot of pot. I always felt I was in the middle of the bickering. Every time I’d talk Joey, Johnny would get upset. If I talked to Johnny, Joey would get upset. Then there was dedee with his schizophrenic personality. Deedee would jump out of the tour van and want to fight everybody. Johnny would tell him to come back in or he’d kick his ass. Since deedee was afraid of johnny hed do what he said.” Pretty crazy
Like he said Marky was drinking a lot, probably to reave the stress of being in a van all day, everyday with guys who hated each other. Tour Manager Monte Melnic said “I watched Marky slug down 15 double martinis and still walk around tell jokes and being the life of the party”. Marky could put em back but it was coming to a head. After a show in Columbus,Ohio, Marky drank 18 doubles of 151 proof rum. He couldn’t walk. Normally, the Ramones always traveled together, but I’m guessing because Marky was so messed up, they let him get a ride from a fan who said they could drive him. It was a ten hour drive from Columbus to their next show in Virginia Beach. The next day Marky was extremely hung over so he goes to the bar for a hair of the dog. The legendary baseball player Roger Maris is sitting at the bar. Maris knows about the Ramones and they start hanging out and getting drunk all over again. Marky’s ride to Virginia beach never shows up. It’s getting closer and closer to show time. They try to charter him a plane, but when Marky speaks to the pilot on the phone, the pilot can tell Marky is drunk and says the plane is no longer available. Marky couldn’t make it, and the show had to be canceled. Not even Dee Dee had ever made them miss a show. The Fans rioted. The band made Marky pay for every expense associated with the show, including the damages done by the rioting fans.
1982 would be a relatively slow year for the Ramones. They played around 70 shows. 70 shows is a lot, but they had been doing more like 150 in previous years. In, 1982 They were mostly doing one offs gigs, or shows in the tri-state area. Seymour Stein brought Sire records newest signing, to see the Ramones, Madonna. One hi-light was the US festival, which was put on by Apple Computers Steve Wozniak. 300,000 people attended. The Ramones were the second band on the 1st night of the 3 day festival. The lineup of their night was Gang of Four, The Ramones, The English Beat, Oingo Boingo, The B52’s, The Talking Heads and The Police. New Wave had really taken over.
The other unique show The Ramones did that year, was in Bangor Maine, opening up for Cheep Trick. The show was organized by Steven King, the hugely famous horror author. Steven King was a big Ramones fan and he wanted to bring them to his home in Maine. After the show King invited the Ramones to his house to hang out. Cheep Trick didn’t get invited. Steven King wanted to hang with The Ramones!
At the end of the year it was time to work on a new album. On the way to a rehearsal, Marky’s 1960 Cadillac Coup De Ville caught on fire. The engine went up in flames. Because of that, he missed the rehearsal. Johnny was pissed, Marky had missed a show last year, and now he was missing a rehearsal. Even though he had a good excuse, to Johnny punctuality and organization was everything. Showing up late, or not showing up at all was totally unacceptable. This was strike two.
Since Graham Gouldman, didn’t bring the Ramones any success yet anther hotshot producer was brought in. Ritchy Cordell. Like Gouldman, Cordell had written some hit songs in the 60’s, but he was also having some huge success as a producer. He produced, I Love Rock N Roll by Joan Jett. It was the number one song in America.
Once again, someone that used to open for the Ramones had made it to the top. Blondie, the Talking Heads, the B52’s, Tom Petty, Billy Idol and now Joan Jett had all gone from Ramones openers to the top of the music industry.
Or as Johnny put it “It would weigh on us when we’d see our opening acts become huge the next year, and they weren’t even any good.” Despite what Johnny says, these were great artists but, so were the Ramones.
The new album they were working on had some great songs. But Marky was having some problems. First, the band wanted to put 3 cover songs on the album. Most Ramones albums, up the this point, had one maybe two cover songs, but three seemed like too much. Marky objected.
He was also butting heads with the producer. Well that, and he was sneaking in booze to the recording session. The recordings were going well, until they started listening back to the takes. Marky, who had been secretly drinking vodka, in the bathroom, objected to the drum sound. Richie Cordell, The producer had put a lot of effects on the drums, which was pretty common in the 80’s. But Marky didnt like it. He told Cordell “Your’e making them sound like you wrapped them in a paper bag and flushed them down the toilet.” Marky started berating Cordell demanding he take the effects off. “You’re fucking with the Ramones sound. This is basic stuff. I shouldn’t even have to mention this. You’re the producer. You’re responsible for the drum sound. You need to do your homework.” Berating you’re producer who also has the #1 record out is not a good look.
The next day, Walter Lure who played lead guitar in Johnny Thunders band, was brought in to do some extra guitar work as Johnny Ramone never played lead. Walter Lure, was in on the hidden Vodka stash and he started getting drunk with Marky. And then, Marky started in on the producer again. “Am I alive?… On The tape I sound like a drum machine. And not even a good drum machine”.
The next day Walter Lure brought his drummer with him, which Marky thought was weird. But Marky sat back at the drums and they kept working on the album. It was going alright, until Deedee, newly sober, discovered Marky’s hidden Booze stash. Deedee took the hidden bottle out of the bathroom and brought it into the studio “Look what I found”. Marky was busted. And then he refused to play on the 3rd cover song on the album, Time has Come Today, originally by the Chambers Brothers. Marky thought it wasn’t right for the band, and he wanted nothing to do with it. He was probably right but he was also probably drunk. The drummer that Walter Lure brought with him, finished the album. According to dee dee, who is known to embellish stories, it got so bad in the studio, that at one point Marky pulled down his pants, stuck his bare ass in the air and started flapping his arms like wings and yelling “Im the chicken beak boy, Im the chicken beak boy. Half man, half chicken. Chicken beak boy”. As he was doing this he was overturning furniture and breaking things. they had to lock him in a room. Whether this actually happened or not, that recording session was strike 3 for Marky. He missed a show, he missed a rehearsal, and now he was drunk at a recording session. They did the album cover shoot on the NY subway train car and Joey, Johnny and Deedee are in the subway car and Marky is off to the side looking through the window. Joey called Marky a few days later to tell him he was out of the band.
Marky was fine with that. More time to drink and less bullshit to deal with Marky said; “I was relieved because I didn’t have to deal with Joey and Johnnys continuous animosities towards each other, or dee dee’s cocaine, mental drug crap and insane pot smoking.”
It was 1983. The Ramones had a new album in the can with another big producer, but they were out a drummer. See you in the next episode Too Tough To Die.